Is God with Us?

Is God with us or not? It is a question that may be more present in our lives than we may a world where more than a thousand children die every day from starvation and illness, in a world where famines create drastic hunger, in a world where war claims lives not only of soldiers and innocents, but also of refugees who can't have their basic human needs met, in a time when we might feel like we might be surrounded by the prospect of death. And in this particular week I did two funerals, one for a church member who died unexpectedly, and one for a previous church member whose death also was not quite expected. With deaths and tragedies surrounding us, let us look to today's Scriptures to answer the question of whether God is with us through it all.

Our lesson this morning from Exodus reminds us that the people who had followed Moses out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, seen the miracle of God parting the waters so that they may pass safely and then the waters closing in on their captors who pursued them...even they in the wilderness, when they began to feel difficulty, challenge and despair, began to quarrel with Moses. "How could you bring us out into this place so that we will die here? Where is God? Is God with us or not?" So it is a question that goes back thousands of years, even for a people of faith. "Is God with us?" In God's conversation with Moses, Moses is told what to do and God provides for them water, a symbol of something that is essential for all human life, the life of plants and animals. Water. Life-giving water is supplied for them out of a rock in the middle of the desert. So if you can't gain some assurance from that as God's people wandering in the wilderness at that time, you're never going to be assured. But God provided for them at that time.

Jesus answers that question in a different way when he meets the Samaritan woman who was drawing water at the well. And Jesus uses that time of interface with this person who was considered an outcast or untouchable by the Jewish people and had conversation with her and actually asked her to serve him which, had she done so, would have been sinful and defiling to Jesus. But that was not a concern of Jesus. Instead, he used those moments to reach her people, the Samaritan people, to let them know that God provides not only water through this well that their ancestor, Jacob, had dug and that the family had used to keep themselves and their flocks alive, but that God also provided living water, something that God gives to you that lives within you that wells up within you providing you with eternal life and hope.

In our third lesson, in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul begins to speak also on this. And Paul doesn't use so much the idea of water as he uses the idea of Spirit, that this living water that is given to people is Spirit. And he says that this is what gives us peace. 'We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained access to grace in which we stand. And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.' That abiding presence, but also the knowledge that God has made peace with the people through Christ, that God is no longer pushing the suffering upon us, but that God is there to give us eternal life and to give us hope. And in Paul's Letter to the Romans, he acknowledges something that we often know, but don't discuss...and that is that God doesn't promise us that there won't be suffering in this life, that there won't be challenges, that there won't be despair, that there won't be trauma. Those things are not promised to all of us who live in God's ways and who follow Christ. But what we are promised is that the Spirit of God is there to abide with us, to lift us up in the midst of that, to comfort us, to support us, and to give us some sense of peace and hope that God is with us and that tomorrow will be a new day.

In Paul's Letter, he speaks about sufferings and tries to make some sense of this. And it's clear that even the people at that time must have been questioning him, Paul who had been imprisoned and gone through many sufferings himself. And they said, "How can you believe that God is with you in the midst of all these things that you suffer?" So I think Paul may be responding to some of those questions that we don't see. But he talks about this peace that we have obtained through Christ. And then he says, "Not only do we boast, but we also boast in our sufferings, 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 that has been given to us.'

Today, as the Christian church, we acknowledge that, as we are cleansed in the waters of baptism, God's Spirit is poured out upon us. And that is why we added that to the blessing today for our young man entering the Marine Corps., to reaffirm that God's Spirit is in him, has been in him since baptism and goes with him always to give him comfort and to give him hope, and to remind all of us today that, through the water of baptism, God's Spirit is awakened in each of us to give us hope. And even though we must, in our lives, experience hardship and despair and grief, God's Spirit is there to help lift us and carry us through.

That was part of the message spoken at the funeral for one of our members this week. This woman had a certainty about her faith, and she made no bones about it, especially when she talked to me. She was always certain that God was with her, that God was her keeper, and that somehow the Spirit that abided with her was going to help provide for her and her family in whatever crisis came. And that faith really worked well for her. After her house burned down, she said, "Pastor Steve, I don't know what we're going to do, but I know somehow things are going to work out." She knew that God was her keeper and that God abided with her always, and that gave her less fear for the days ahead no matter what she faced. And I was quite inspired by that in her life because that's a rarity.

Even as Christians today, it's a rarity for us to have that kind of trust. But it's good for us to also remember that Christ, through the delivering of the Spirit to us, has given us hope, and that sense of hope abides in us. So no matter what we face, no matter what challenges or struggles come before us, take a moment to realize that the Spirit is with us, that through the abiding living water God's Spirit is awakened in us and is walking with us always. And when we call upon God to be there with us, we will find moments of comfort. They may not come immediately as an instant answer to your prayer as you're praying, though sometimes it might. Sometimes it may come in other ways. But let that happen, and let that hope build up in you again. Let us be people of hope. And in the face of the question that we might get asked by people of no faith who don't understand what we believe (they say, "How can you believe that?" or "You really think God is with you?"), let us have the courage to say, with hope and conviction that, "Yes, God is with me, and God is with us all, and that is part of who I am as a person in the Spirit." I hope that we can find that type of courage in ourselves and that we might rely upon that type of strength no matter what we face, that God is there, and God is our keeper, and God is with us always. Let us pray.

Amazing God, we do thank you that you sustain us in so many ways, that you sustain us with love that we receive from you, from our families and from our friends, and that we are sustained bodily by the food that we eat and the water and fluids that we drink. We thank you that spiritually we are nourished at your table through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, with the bread and with the wine. We thank you that you have given us that gift, but more so that through Christ you have given us the gift of reconciliation with you and an eternal presence that abides through us always. Help us to trust in that, O God, in whatever we face, and help us to be a people of hope who with joy can respond, when people ask, "Is God with you?" that we might say, "Yes, God is with us indeed." In Christ's name we pray and give you thanks.


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