Is the Lord with Us or Not?
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March 19, 2017
Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
John 4:5-42

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

We are a people of rules. Ask any six year old, and they can tell you the rules. And the rules are the rules for them and everybody else. Which works until the rules do not work anymore.

One rule is that if you are good and righteous, wise and faithful, then bad things should not happen to you. And conversely, the rule is that if you are wicked and selfish, foolish and unfaithful, then good things should not come your way.

But the book of Job made it into the Bible, too. And in that story, Job does all the good stuff, but still faces pain and loss, grief and suffering. And his friends sit there for so many chapters arguing that there must be some rule he failed to follow, some ordinance he must have broken. The book of Job is an extended argument against the idea that the rules are the most important things. Because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. And yet, God is God.

Our stories this morning are stories that mess with our sense of how things “ought to be.” They disrupt the idea that the rules are the rules.

A people are wandering the wilderness with no food, no water, no maps, no GPS. What is supposed to happen when people do this? People who do this die.

The Samaritan woman at the well. Because Jesus is a stranger, he is not supposed to talk to her. He is Jewish, she is Samaritan. She’s a woman he has not been introduced to. Or, if he knew her, if he knew about her past, her history, even more so he is not supposed to talk to her. The rule in that day is that good, religious people do not associate with someone like her.

But the ones wandering in the wilderness are fed by manna, are given water from the rock.

God is the God of exceptions.

Jesus not only talks to this woman, he already knows her history, and he speaks to her as he would anyone else.

God is the God of exceptions.

If our life is mixed up, or messed up, or chronically difficult, what is the rule? It seems like it is just gonna keep going the way it has, and life will get worse. Tomorrow is going to look a whole lot like yesterday.

But God is the God of exceptions!

In the United States, our public theology is that God is with us. Our moneys says in God we trust. But our nation looks a lot more like Rome, to Egypt, to Babylon in the Bible than to the kingdom that Jesus preached. We trust everything except God in our public policies and our systems and structures.

The current rules in the US are that health is a privilege, not a right. Medicine is a commodity. So is nutritious food. So is clean water. You can get a burger off the dollar menu, but a salad with anything approaching vegetables is seven bucks.

And health, wealth and prosperity are seen as signs that we are right with God. So if we are poor, if we are hungry, if we are struggling with depression or mental illness, if we get sick, if we are dealing with a chronic illness, we must not be right with God, we must have somehow sinned, we somehow do not measure up, we are not worthy of God’s providence.

That is the rule by which society plays the game right now.

But Jesus shows us the God of exceptions.

When facing the hardships of the wilderness, the Israelites had the humility and chutzpah to ask, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Humility, because unlike our national identity that says, “But of course God is with us,” they know that God is God, and God cannot be contained by human institutions or human will. And Chutzpah, because they are willing to ask the question.

Is the Lord with us or not?

Well, are we a people of the rules, excluding those who do not fit society’s view of proper and right?

Are we a people of the rules, being all about guilt and blame?

Are we people of the rules, trusting that God will help those who help themselves?

Or are we like Jesus?

The rules say to love those who love us and hate those who hate us. But Jesus says, love those who hate you, love your enemy, bless them and pray for them.

The rules say to look out for number one. But Jesus says that when we care for the least of these in our midst, we are taking care of the very Son of God.

Jesus who…

  • eats with the outcast,
  • feeds those who cannot afford food,
  • heals those who we are afraid to go near,
  • breaks the sabbath to feed people
  • touches the unclean,
  • remembers the forgotten,
  • sees those we overlook,
  • loves the unlovely, the unloving,
  • calls those who are certain that God is on their side to repent,
  • and challenges every expectation we have.

The very idea of grace breaks the rules. And Jesus is all about grace.

Is the Lord with us or not?

Is love more evident than judgment? Are mercy and grace more powerful than guilt and shame? Is the power of forgiveness more important than gaining personal or political power? Are we trying to love one another beyond all expectations, the way Jesus has loved us?

If so, then I would say yes, the Lord is with us. If not, then let us pray to the one who makes all things new, that we too would be transformed by the unconditional love of God we know in Jesus.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.