Is the Lord Among Us?
Is the Lord among us? And if he is, is God a he or she? What does God-among-us look like? What does, God among us, do? How do we know that God is among us?
We spend time in our discernment about what kind of church we want. We talk about children’s ministry and a columbarium, about newcomers and a photo directory. We talk about hikes and small groups and more Bible Studies, more money and sometimes we sort of sound like we are asking for water to drink and there is none. Is it important to us that, as people of God, God is with us.
Is the Lord among us? That’s what they said, the Israelites in the wilderness. Who are they? They are the people we meet in the second book of the Pentateuch, that is, the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch is a collection of 5 books that begins the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures.
We all know, of course, what the 5 books are. I didn’t even remember, even though I took a Bible Class in High School. When I was 29 I decided to read the Bible. I was traveling with some people who attended church more than I did. I was too embarrassed to start at the beginning with Genesis, so I began my own adventure in the scriptures by reading Exodus, the second book. And then came Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are lots of great stories in Genesis and also in Exodus. But if you haven’t read, especially Leviticus, I am warning you, it is full of rules. If you haven’t read through those first 5 books of the Old Testament, the easiest way I found was to read them, especially Leviticus, before dinner. My husband liked to read out loud, so he’d read a chapter or more as I made dinner. Just a little nightly routine. But when it came to Leviticus, we took turns and we laughed a lot reading about how many cubits high and long the temple was to be built.
However, today you and I are reading from the 17th Chapter of Exodus. Exodus tells us of the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt , of their deliverance and their travel to the Sinai Peninsula. From chapters 5 to 14, we learn of the escape from Egypt and in Chapter 14 we heard the old familiar story about the Red Sea closing in on the enemies.
Today the story takes us away from high intrigue and drama to the sometimes dry and repeated, mundane scenes of everyday life. They traveled on and on. Day after day, making camp and taking it up again. I imagine they would have been very grateful to have our lightweight, easy-to-put-up tents. And we do all that work and take nearly complete kitchens with us camping because we think it is fun for a vacation!
Long ago, in this land, far into the wilderness of Sin, at Rephidim (which means support) there were God’s people, who had wandered off into the wilderness of their day. It was 40 years of wandering before they came to the promised land of Canaan to a land they would call home. Some, including Moses, never completed the journey home. But among those who did not complete the journey, there were people whose lives of steadfast love and faith in their God, kept the whole community slowing moving forward.
Moses was called by God to be their leader and the people quarreled with him. They demanded “Give us water to drink.” They whined, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our livestock with thirst?” And they said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
We do not live long ago in a far-away land. We live here in our twenty first century world. But I think each of us may have moments when we wonder if the Lord is with us… or not.
This church is over 100 years old. When it began there were only a few families. Some of you may have been here from the end of the 40’s and 50’s. And at least a few of you have been here as early as the 70’s. You had children who grew up here. There were a lot of families, because in those years all the Churches were full. It was after the 2nd world war.
Praise God, peace had come! Yet in the years ahead North Korea and Viet Nam reminded us that it wasn’t all peace. The prosperity that Wilson told us in the 30’s was “Just around the corner” was here! Carmel’s golden rectangle was alive with the sound of music and people and money. And it seemed that we knew that the Lord was with us.
The decades pass too quickly and Christianity everywhere is changed. Like the Israelites in the wilderness we are calling out for more. More money. More children. Well, more parents. We have enough grandparents! And why don’t we know each other anymore? About a year ago I remember going through the church directory with a long time member and there were pages of people we didn’t know and others we were not sure had moved or were still alive. I guess we have to know each other first.
Is the Lord among us? Or not? Some say, “To begin we need a photo directory.” Others say, “I’ve never been invited to another parishioner’s home and I’ve been here for four years!” I guess we have to know each other first, to be the body of Christ, to be “family.”
The Israelites in the Wilderness of Sin had no water. The land was dry. We are in a time of drought ourselves and we conserve water and wonder if there will be enough in 30 or 50 years. But we have water for showers and cooking and some of us are re-doing our gardens to include plants that don’t need as much water. We aren’t yet dying for lack of water. What is the “water” for which we thirst? It is the Love that tells us that we know we are loved by God and each other, that is, the only thing that can quench our thirst?
On the 14th of September we had the second Discernment Meeting. At that time, Jenny Nobis spoke up saying that we need to have a photo directory. We have a directory that is filled with names of people who attend this church and about 3 times as many names of people who want to be considered a “Friend of All Saints.” All it takes is someone to organize and a few others to help with the computer and a few people to take photos and we will have a directory of people who are the active body of Christ at All Saints. After the meeting I approached Jenny and told her that I would take photos on several Sundays at all three services. Today I have put a sign-up sheet in the back of the church. If you can help organize, make calls, enter information on the computer, take photos or print out and fold directories. Then sign up and we’ll give the list to Jenny.
Of course, the Lord is among us. We are not Israelites in the wilderness. We are followers of the Christ who calls us to be one with him and the Creator. We understand that Pentecost means that the Holy Spirt lives in us. How then can we know God, if we do not know each other? My challenge to you today is to go the next step and that would be taking the time to know each other, so that you may appropriately show God’s love to each other. If we do not know what pains or joys another person is experiencing, we do not even know how to pray for them. But most times taking the time to listen without having to fix their issues actually shows more love than anything we can do.
There are always reasons and exceptions why we can’t invite someone to our home, but most of us are able to invite someone to our home, for coffee or a glass of wine or a meal. You may think you have to have an immaculate million dollar home and prepare a feast. That is not what Jesus did. He broke bread with people under trees (go on a picnic), in homes, eating bread and fish or meat and whatever was grown there. Inviting someone into your home is showing them that you accept them, that you love them, and that you care about them.
The question I leave with you is not, “Who has invited me to their home?” That can lead to only to self-pity or aggrandizement. The question is how many other parishioners or work colleagues, who are not family or longtime friends have you invited into your home? Or at least sought to know better than a passing comment at coffee hour?
Is the Lord among us or not? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the clear vision to see that we are not in the wilderness and what we need most to keep us going… is love? The deep wells that contain this love are sitting right next to you. They are members of your family… some that you aren’t talking to. They are the talented, interesting, sometimes lonely and lovely people you have yet to meet.
Drink of that water. Let the love inside you come out to meet the love in another. And you will know that God’s love is among us. Nothing can stop God’s Love from existing whether we are participating in it or not. Nothing can obliterate it from existing, for it is God’s love that made our world and all the world’s to come.
There is a meaningful poem that echoes this inner knowledge that God’s love is here among us and will be always. It is written by Jean Valentine when she was in Iceland and it is called “Icebergs.”
In blue-green water God you have come back for us, to our fiberglass boat.
You have come back for us, & I am afraid (But you never left)
Great sadness at harms. But nothing comes now, after, can be like before.
Even when the icebergs are gone, and the millions of suns have burnt themselves out of your arms, your arms of burnt air, you are with us whoever we are then.
– Jean Valentine
We can’t be what we used to be, we are something different now but God’s Love in us is the same and we are his body in this world.
Go forth into the world this day and be God’s Love to each other and you will know that “The Lord is among us!”
The Rev. Cynthia M. Spencer (Retired) preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel