Is the Lord Among Us or Not?
Now this lectionary story is familiar to all, if not, most of us. There they are – the people of God on one of the ‘biggest detours’ (as one of our colleagues calls it) – 40 years in the wilderness with all that implies. This wilderness paradigm is one with which we resonate over and over again in our lives – as we find ourselves in times of uncertainly. At this particular moment, we find the faithful children of God really struggling with the road they are on. In true human style, they argue with their leader Moses – they accuse him of bringing them to a place to die. They wonder “Is the Lord among us or not?”
They somehow forget how oppressive the life of being a slave in Egypt had been. They somehow forget that they voluntarily went forth on this journey with Moses. They somehow forget that they had already seen the miracle of the parting of the seas. They somehow forget the cloud and the pillar – a constant presence before them. They are thirsty and the prospect of water is nowhere to be found – and so they somehow forget. In their forgetting and fear for immediate survival, they are unable to remember that God has faithfully journeyed with them. In fear and frustration; in awareness that they cannot control the world around them, they whine and complain. And as with all whining and complaining, when it becomes unbridled – they come dangerously close to hurting or destroying the one whom God has used to help release them from bondage.
And then there is Moses – the one God had called. Obedient to God’s call through a burning bush, Moses embraces to challenge to lead a people out of the bondage of Egypt. I suspect the miracle of the parting Red Sea was enough to encourage any leader. But now he finds himself in the wilderness – frustrated and threatened by the very people he has been called to serve. I imagine he is just tired – this gig was clearly more than he bargained for. And so he cries out to God in frustration and I Imagine, some fear. When God responds and directs Moses to use the staff he had used before – Moses obediently strikes the rock from which water will come.
There were several things that struck me in new ways, but the one that really has challenged me was the last question in the periscope – “Is the Lord among us or not?” I had never really seen this line before. I mean – I have seen it, but not really. It is a profoundly important question for a people of faith – perhaps it is the ultimate question – Is the Lord among us or not? Said differently, in what way do we see or recognize the Lord as being among us?
Well, last week we held the first of our presbytery-wide gatherings at Valley Forge Presbyterian Church to discuss the recommendations of the 221st General Assembly. I must confess that I always enter these forums with great trepidation. Gratefully, at this first forum we were reminded of the gifts and humility of our commissioners as they shared their experience in Detroit. We were reminded of how a young woman’s experience as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate at the General Assembly changed the trajectory of her future dreams, as she affirmed her hopes to pursue the ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament. Her testimony touched the hearts of the 100 adults present in that room. There was no doubt in my mind – the Lord is clearly among us!
We were also reminded of our theological differences. These differences bring with them the danger of discounting and discrediting the one with whom we disagree. That is a temptation I believe we must resist – for the very sake of the Gospel. Our disagreeing is not the issue – healthy disagreements help us grow. It is about how we choose to express those disagreements. Will we stereotype the other as an unintentional way of ‘dehumanizing’ them? Will we vilify or ridicule the other as an unintentional way of ‘devaluing’ them? Do we hear our words when we speak them to others? Do we see ‘the other’ when we speak to them? For the truth is that wilderness seasons often tempt us into behaviors that are not of Christ. They often tempt us away from seeing the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters, thus causing us to wonder with those in the wilderness – Is the Lord among us or not?
There is no question that my ministry among and with you can be complicated. And yet there is one amazing gift I receive from our life together – it is the gift of a view not unlike the one we get from Google Earth. I get to see the corporate heart of a people I have already come to cherish. I get to hear the faithful wrestling of our church leaders as they consider how to be relevant in those places where they are called. I get to benefit from the courage and conversations of leaders sharing their hopes for the ministries of their churches. It is from this optic that I can say with all integrity – the Lord is clearly among us!
As to the first presbytery-wide gathering in Valley Forge, I think we did remarkably well. I am grateful for the patience and thoughtfulness of those who shared the concerns, their joys and their questions. It was not always easy. That being said, I am also deeply aware of the complex journey before us because of the votes we must take in November. I don’t pretend to know how it will all turn out, but I will remind us that we are so much more than an afternoon of votes. There is so much more that binds us. I will remind us that in a world of polarization, we are bound together by “blood” – I was recently reminded that we are in essence blood brothers and sisters (the wisdom of yet another colleague). It’s not an image I would have naturally used, but it is pretty compelling.
Finally, I will remind us that the very power of resurrection that we claim to believe in – is powerful enough to enable us to walk through this stage of the journey together into a continued time of renewing, abiding and dwelling. For the truth is that the Lord is indeed among us!
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