World Wide Communion Sunday
Text: Exodus 17: 1-7

It seems these days the world has come close … even more so perhaps than usual … the islands in the Caribbean that have been so unthinkably battered; the Rohingya people of Myanmar and the overwhelm among Bangladeshi people who are receiving these vast multitudes of traumatized people; the city of Houston, the upended of communities in Florida; and Mexico with its terrifying earthquakes. A little earlier but not forgotten there is Charlottesville; and Yemen. These places and others -- so much of our world has come into our awareness. It’s not like we need to go searching on this World Wide Communion Sunday for images or stories or however else we might touch into that vast community beyond our gathering right here. The world has already drawn near. And so much of it, so many people in dire straits.

You can hear it can’t you, uttered over and over again, in any and all of these places, that same question we hear in that wilderness story: “is the Lord among us or not?” It’s the question that often arises in one form or another when things get really grim … when we land in the place of extremity … when we know we are no match for what we face. In this case, the people of Israel have come into a place after their long day’s journey where there is no water to be found … no spring, no well … not a drop and they are parched … the livestock, the children, the whole lot of them. It’s an impossible place and they begin to panic, and their panic is about to explode into violence against Moses, who has led them there.

It’s not the first time that the people of Israel have found themselves in this place of desperation. Their story until now is punctuated again and again by desperation.  It was famine that drove them as refugees into Egypt, and God provided through Joseph. It was in Egypt that they were forced into harsh slavery and God delivered them with the help of the Hebrew midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ sister and Moses himself who when called into an impossible task responded, trusting God’s “I will be with you.”  Even within this wilderness journey where we meet them in this passage this morning, they have only just come through the experience of arriving into a place with nothing to eat --afraid for their lives that will starve to death.  And then came manna from heaven and the wind blew quail into the camp.  Everyday after, there was bread enough. So there is this big history, even very recent history, of God making a way when there is no way.

So when here they are with no water, wouldn’t you think they’d remember and not need to panic … not need to wonder if God is with them …wouldn’t you’d think?  We might think so, standing as we are looking on. But place ourselves where they are … and where we ourselves have been … and it’s not long before the primary if not only question surfaces ... “is the Lord among us or not?”

Interesting isn’t it, how that place gets named. It’s not called “Water from a Rock” or “God Provides” but Massah and Meribah … “Test” and “Quarrel.” It is remembered in Israel’s story by the way they put God on trial … the way they equated their thirst with God’s absence and demanded a response -- the way devastation for us may become a question of God’s reliability, God’s care, even God’s existence.

And yet there is something about being able to utter that question "is the Lord among us or not?" that is healthy. For to ask is to be engaged … to ask is to be alive in this relationship, in this dynamic that is all about call and response. When there is no permission in us to ask, there is only resignation not relationship … and left to ourselves alone, despair is not far off.

When the sky falls and the earth convulses, when terror strikes in any of its countless ways far from home or right where we are,  Is the lord among us or not? -- it’s an obvious question.  AND it’s a question that demands our patience …it’s often only answered in hindsight.  And it’s a question that by itself might not finally serve us very well.

This past week I came upon this meditation that asks a further question. As I hear it, it’s a question that arises from a place of revelation … an experience of connection with the divine. Listen to this meditation …

Is God among us or not?

The One you question
does not cast a shadow.
Does not look upon you.
Does not walk beside you.
The Present One
breathes in you,
looks out at this world through you,
becomes in full becoming within you.
The One is not a character,
on or off the stage,
not the hero or the playwright,
but the story, in whom you play a part,
the Oneness, to whom you belong.

Are you among your hands and organs or not?
Are you among your cares and loves or not?
Ah, so it is.

Don't ask if but how.
Don't look here or there;
look in your looking.
Your journey is the palm of God.
Your struggle the story of God,
your darkest valley the crack in God's heart.

You aren't small;
you just belong to more than you thought.

When you care, God is.
When you yearn, God is.
Even now, this moment, in your pondering
God is moving toward you, from within.
In your hoping God is loving.
In this world, its spinning glory,
it is we who are among God. [1]

I’m suggesting that we marinate in that for a few minutes …
allowing the Spirit to perhaps show us something we hadn’t seen or known before.

[1] Steve Garnaas-Holmes, "Is The Lord Among Us or Not?" posted on  September 26, 2017