Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Is the Lord with us or not?

Reflections on Exodus 17 & John 4

“Is the Lord with us or not?”  How common a question is this? 

In the story from the book of Exodus we are told this is what the people of Israel were asking, “Is the Lord with us or not?”  At the first sign of trouble in many of our lives this is one of the first questions that slip from our lips as if we have been abandoned to some terrible fate that others excluded from.  Sometimes it is expressed differently in the words, “What have I done to deserve this?”

Of course, the reality is that people everywhere, those of great faith and those of none, face various trials in their life, or as Jesus puts it God, “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Trying to make a connection between these trials of life and God’s actions is a complex and mysterious matrix to traverse, to the point at which many in our so called enlightened western community prefer to ask the question, “Is there a Lord or not?”

The source of such questions is based on whatever our personal understanding of God is.  Do we believe in a god who micro manages our lives; opening doors for us; providing opportunities; or’ trials and tests as if all according to God’s plan? Or, do we believe that the world is independent of God’s action, and that we have freedom in our decisions, and there is a certain ordered randomness of the natural events which occur around us?

Maybe it is we because we ask such questions of God and ourselves that we find ourselves here this morning, not because we are people who have discovered the answers, rather because we are people still searching for answers – in this sense we quarrel with God.

But if we are to listen to Jesus teaching and to be followers of Jesus there are all sorts of questions raised by what he says and does.

Consider for a moment the story of the woman at the well.  The circumstance of her interaction with Jesus suggests she is a woman who might indeed have some significant questions for God about how her life has unfolded.  Her conversation with Jesus certainly indicates that this is the case, but her questioning also involves a desire to listen and to find out more.

Jesus for his part thought speaks in cryptically symbolic language about living water and he names one of the key issues of her life:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

There is a danger in listening for what Jesus might say to any of us, because it is more than likely he will name some home truths about who we are and what we have done in our lives, despite the fact we may see ourselves as faithful church attendees.

Jesus constantly had jibes for those who considered themselves to be the upstanding members of the Jewish community – the so called holy people of his day: the Scribes and Pharisees.  We should be wary of thinking that Jesus’ jibes do not apply to us because consider ourselves holy people.

For example, Jesus raised serious questions about the distribution of wealth and power and given that everyone in this room is rich we must hear Jesus words to the rich young man as particularly confronting “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”

Moreover, Jesus preserved his blessings for those who were poor, those who were hungry, those who were mourning and those who were in prison.

And Jesus injunction to those who follow him was that they should go and share the good news in word and deed teaching others so that the world might come to believe.

The Jesus that many of us would want to follow is an upright citizen who would not ruffle feathers or cause us to question our position and place.  However, the Jesus who the woman meets at the well is the same Jesus who turns over the tables in the temple: he challenges but the religious, economic, social and political systems of his time.

Put bluntly we have sought to domestic Jesus so that following him does not cost us too much. 

I think that John includes the questions that are not asked of Jesus and the woman by the disciples precisely because they were the questions on their minds “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

In short the disciples were offended.  Part of the irony of the story is that it is the woman with whom Jesus has had this chance encounter that goes off the to share the good news of her experience with Jesus whilst Jesus is teaching the disciples that this is precisely what they are supposed to be doing, “see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

The Samaritans of Sychar believe the woman’s story and up the ante proclaiming that Jesus is not only the Messiah but he is indeed the Saviour of the world.  Given the tension between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus day this is an amazing outcome from the story, one that questions the very core of the disciple’s beliefs and ideas about their own religion.

Ultimately, the promise of the woman at the well is that Jesus is with us, Jesus is with unexpected people in unexpected placed.  Or, to go back to Exodus, the Lord is with us. This is the hope that we cling to despite our inadequacies as Jesus disciples that God is with us, that God is for us and that the future which is unfolding is God’s future. 

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