St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for October 1, 2017 

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
October 1, 2017
Proper 21 A
Exodus 17:1-17; Matt 21:23-32
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "Is the Lord among us or not?" Our reading from the Book of Exodus this morning tells of the Israelites still wandering in the wilderness, after they have escaped from the brutal treatment of the Egyptians. They have been wandering for awhile now, though we don't know exactly how long. They had previously complained to Moses that there was no fresh water to drink. The only water around was bitter. Moses makes their plea to God and God changes the water to something that is more sweet. Then they complain because they are hungry. They have run out of the food they brought with them and they blame Moses for leading them out into the desert to die of starvation. Moses calls to God who send manna in the morning and meat in the evening.
     In the passage we read this morning, they have moved on in their wandering and once again they are without water. They must have water to survive. Again, they blame Moses who they say has brought them out into the desert to die from thirst. Moses pleads with God. "What shall I do?" he says. "They are about to stone me." God instructs Moses to take his staff in his hand and to strike the rock at Horeb with it and water will come out. He called the place Massah, which means "put to the test" and Meribah, which means quarrelling, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord.
     Is the Lord among us or not? The Israelites ask. They seem to have forgotten that God led their escape from Egypt, from sending the seven plagues to force the Pharaoh to let them go, to the parting of the Red Sea to help them escape. God has provided for them daily with food and water in the wilderness, and still they do not understand that God is with them. We may be asking, "What more signs do they need to know that God is with them?" "Where is their faith?" we might say. However, we are looking at it all in retrospect when it is easier to see the bigger picture. And don't we, even today, ask "Is the Lord among us or not?"
     Although none of us may have experienced starvation or thirst to the extent of the Israelites in the wilderness, I think all of us, at one point or another in our lives have wondered if God was with us or not. Most of us have experienced a time in our lives when things felt hopeless, when we felt lost and filled with fear and estranged from God.
Is the Lord among us or not? We may feel this way went we get a life-threatening diagnosis, or find that our spouse wants a divorce, or we lose a good job, or we can't pay our bills. Is the Lord among us or not?
     What we want is reassurance that God will not abandon us, that God is not out there somewhere, but is right here with me, in the midst of the sometimes ugly details of our lives. We ask the question again and again and again because we need to know that God is with us now....and now.....and now.
     God cares for us not only as individuals but also as a people, made in God's image. When we see war and violence and oppression all around us, we may ask, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Throughout history, people have responded with wars and violence when they are faced with threats to their power or authority, or fear of the other, or a threat to their survival. Think about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the wars, the terrorism, the persecution of whole groups of people because of their race or religion or gender.
     When will this ever end, we say after each atrocity. Why doesn't God end this madness that we heap upon ourselves? Because if God stopped all the violence and killing and hatred in the world, then we would not have free will. We would be like puppets on a string, not free-thinking people created in God's image and gifted with intellect.
    We all long for peace in this world, to get along with each other. But the probability that all humans beings would be willing to lay down their weapons and their conflicting ideologies seems impossible. So what should we do - give into disappointment and despair? Give up?
     Paul tells us to remember that "it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work" to fulfill God's purpose. Paul tells us that our lives should reflect the God who is within us, in whose image we are made.
     Jesus showed us how to live with evil in the world. His life, death and resurrection are our guide and prove that God is with us, no matter what the world throws at us.
     We should not give in to thinking that any effort we may make to bring peace to this world is irrelevant or insignificant in the face of evil. God is our power and our strength and we need to continually visualize a world in which peace is triumphant and our efforts are making a difference.
     With the recent hurricanes that have battered our shores, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, and the earthquakes that have rocked Mexico - as we see the devastation and destruction, and the fatigue and despair on the faces of the residents - it is easy for us to ask, "Is God among us or not?" Natural disasters are not something we can stop, though there may be ways to change our impact on the environment. God never causes us pain and despair. God does not distance Godself from us. God is with us always, whether we feel God's presence or not, whether we are on the mountaintop or in the pit of despair. God is there with us.
     God is among us always, every second of every minute of every day. God loves us and wants the best for us. But sometimes that doesn't happen. When times are tough, we must remember again and again and again that God is among us, within us, around us, supporting us, loving us, lifting us up.
     Is God among us? The resounding answer is YES! Amen.
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