Ya got to wonder . . . is God with us or not?
That was the question the Israelites were wondering as they waited for Moses to produce some water for them to quench their thirst in the desert. Our reading this morning is the fourth occurrence of the Israelites complaining since they hightailed it out of Egypt . . . the fourth time that they moan and groan . . . whine and lament . . . and, it is still early in the story as this is still only the beginning . . . this story goes on for forty years and they are well on their way to setting a record for complaining. The Israelites keep looking at back to their time in captivity . . . sure life was hard, but they had shelter and were not wandering around in the middle of nowhere; they had food and were not hungry; they had water to drink and were not thirsty; they had a life—as bad as it was—and were not constantly wondering where their wandering was going to lead them. They really wondered about God . . . is God with them or not!
Don’t we all? Don’t we all wonder from time to time whether or not God is really with us?
If any of us is half-way participating in life then we should all know that life is not always easy . . . should know that life can be difficult . . . overwhelming . . . depressing and oppressing . . . a burden that sometimes feels as if it is more than we could ever bear . . . down-right crummy. Life is hard. Author and Catholic priest Andrew Greeley puts it this way:
“Life is filled with so many senseless events. Mindless tragedies fill our newspapers every day--airplane crashes, the murder of innocent children, insane terrorism, natural disasters. And much in our own lives seems without purpose or meaning--like a rainstorm on a picnic day, a bad cold when we are having a party, a handicapped child, the early death of a parent or spouse, a broken marriage, a car that won't start in the morning, a wrong number in the middle of the night, the treason of friends and envy of neighbors.”
Life is hard and sometimes, we the faithful, wonder . . . where is God!
Sometimes we are quick to judge the Israelites as being ungrateful and whiny people after everything that God has done for them up to this point: brought plagues and disasters upon the Egyptians to get them their freedom; led them through the Red Sea when it seemed as if they were about to be annihilated; fed them when they were hungry and thought they were going to starve to death; and, now, gave them water to quench their thirst. It seems as if the Israelites have a memory problem . . . have they forgotten all of these experiences of God’s presence in their journey?
And, yet, we are no different than the Israelites when it comes to our own faith journeys. Whatever memory defect that the Israelites suffer from seems to be one that even we experience from time to time in our own lives. Often our faith is based upon what we want God to do for us . . . how we want God to conform to our needs and necessities in ways that make sense to us and happen when we want them to happen. We judge God’s faithfulness to us by God’s ability to deliver the goods. God is with us when God is doing what we want God to do for us.
The problem with this is that we don’t want to stop and consider what God has done for us in the past . . . we don’t want to consider the evidence that is all around us that speaks to God’s presence being with us. The Israelites, with short-term memory loss apparently, do not consider all that God had done for them despite the fact that all of them experienced it first-hand. They have forgotten the plagues . . . forgotten the splitting of the Red Sea . . . forgotten the bread from heaven. They are thirsty and they want something to drink and they want it now!
And, that is the problem . . . it must be instantaneous . . . it must be right now. Like the Israelites we lack patience. Our concerns are immediate . . . we are looking toward the future . . . we want God to solve the issue right now. In our minds, if God is everything that we think God is, then what is the big deal for God to clean up our lives for us, after all, God created the heavens and the earth. We throw at God our desires and we want God to fix them . . . fix them now or at least no later than tomorrow. And, we wonder . . . is God with us or not?
This sort of faith is great as long as we get what we want when we want it . . . but, does it ever really work that way? What happens in those long pauses of silence and stillness when the darkness descends and there is no response from God to the prayers we lift up? What happens when nothing turns out the way that we want it to . . . things don’t work out as we hope that they will? Well, we wonder . . . is God with us or not?
How quickly we forget.
When was the last time you sat down and reflected upon your life and God’s presence in that life? When was the last time that you considered those times in your life that God answered your prayers . . . provided a miracle . . . helped you through the difficulty you were experiencing? When was the last time you paused, reflected, and acknowledge God’s presence in your life whether it was a good time or a bad time?
We need to remember . . . we need to look back on our journey of faith. We have all seen the story about the footprints in the sand . . . where there are a series of two footprints in the sand that represent Jesus walking with us . . . and, how there were times when there were only one set of footprints in the sand. The assumption is that Jesus has left the companion to make the journey on his or her own; but the truth is that those are those moments when Jesus actually carried the individual in hard times. That is what we need to remember . . . we need to remember that God’s presence is always with us . . . always!
In our remembering we come to realize that God is not the solution waiting to happen or some sort of quick fix to numb the pain. No, God is a presence in and with our challenges of life. In our suffering we discover an opportunity to discover that presence of God in our lives . . . God joins us in our darkness . . . joins us in our suffering. Thus it is that we become more than our problems or their solutions . . . we become one with the God who loves us and showers us with grace and presence never to abandon us. As the Apostle Paul says:
“We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5)
In our story, Moses names the place where the water is provided Massah and Meribah. Do you know what these two names mean . . . what they represent? Well, I can tell you that they do not mean “the source of abundant water” or the “rock where the Lord provided”. Massah means “testing” . . . Meribah means “quarreling” . . . Moses names this as a place of trial, contention, and strife. It is here that the people experience the presence of God . . . it is here that they have their thirst—both the physical and spiritual—quenched and satisfied. It is here that they know the presence of God . . . that they know that God is with them . . . always with them.
Life is hard . . . it makes us wonder . . . we wonder where God is . . . we wonder whether or not God is with us . . . we allow ourselves to utter the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”
How will you answer that question for yourself? Amen.