Our Old Testament reading draws us into a terrible tense situation. Moses and the people of Israel are in the desert, without water. While the story may not seem very relevant to us, at first sight, the question that is asked, 'Is the Lord among us or not', is very relevant. It is a question that has been and continues to be asked over and over again. Is God here with us, during the crisis we find ourselves in or not? Where is He in all this?
During this time of tensions; distress; lack of prospects, just as it was felt in the story of Moses, we may all ask that question at times silently or not so silently, when doubts are kicking in, or anger, when again, restrictions are tightened...and we are thrown into isolation, once more
Yet, we are urged to stand firm in our belief that God is with us, that God is love.
How that faith can shape our lives now?
This is how Paul, in all its detail, describes love:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Here we have it... Love spelled out, love as God shows it in His Son Jesus Christ.
It is because God loved us first, with His perfect love, that we can love. He is the source, and therefore it is of crucial importance to stay close to Him. One way of putting it at this time is, when everything happens online, is that we need to stay online with Him; be insistent that the connection doesn't get lost. Awareness of His presence, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
That is what He longs for, and that is why He gave us the greatest commandment, as an anchor in the storms of life:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-40)
Is it easy to love...? Is it easy to be what is described by Paul, to be patient, kind, not insisting on our own way...?
Years ago, I had a friend who said to me she needed lessons in love. She recognised, felt, her inadequacy particularly when it came to love someone.
To love someone can be hard. When it is always assumed, not valued, taken for granted, not appreciated, or even scoffed at, rejected. All these different possibilities are realities in life. You may have your own experiences.
Yet, it is the ultimate purpose of our lives, given by God. You could say that it is everyone's mission to love and with God's help it is not a mission impossible.
Hearing the story of Moses, you may feel for him as his mission seems pretty much a mission impossible. But he learned a lot, from and with God while He found himself thrown into the most impossible situations. And that is why the story can be encouraging to us, for when we find ourselves in impossible situations.
The story also reminds me of the time, long ago, when I was the lucky one who got the job as team leader when working with young people. Having been singled out from my colleagues, I found myself between them and a management committee to which I was accountable. But the management committee was divided, fragmented. A difficult time, yet never without God's help.
We find ourselves in difficult situations. We find ourselves in a fragmented world. And this where God offers His oneness. We can count on Him, just as Moses could in the desert, when He asked for His help. We can count on Him, when we ask Him for help. It says specifically in the book of Deuteronomy,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
What that means is that in Him we see perfect wholeness, loyalty, faithfulness to us. Being Love, God does what He does, out of love and with love comes solidarity. God's solidarity is what He offers to us in times that we struggle; when life gets though.
In our story we see that God helps Moses and the people of Israel, when they are stuck. God's help comes, but in a very strange way.
Moses is told to take his staff and strike the rock on which God was going to stand. How much sense does this instruction make in the middle of the desert?
Still, Moses did as he was told; even though it did make no sense at all. And so God received from Moses trust and obedience, even though Moses did not understand God's way.
We see the ultimate obedience to God in Jesus in our New Testament reading. An obedience that comes from humility, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Humility. How does that fit in this world where the emphasis lies on confidence, achievement, control? How can humility have a place in all that...?
In the book of Proverbs, there is this beautiful saying:
Before destruction, a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour. (Proverbs 18:12)
That honour will be given by God Himself alone, after humility. Jesus says:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29)
Christ humbled Himself like no one else. In Him God came from His high throne in heaven into the world and so He let go His Glory; in order to be a servant; prepared to serve; completely available to God and people. And He did not change His mind when the suffering and death on the cross came nearer and nearer.
Even that night of His arrest, when He knew He was about to suffer and die, He celebrated the last Passover with His disciples, the Passover that celebrates and honours the God who set Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Set free through the blood of His Son. That is what we are.
Jesus remained faithful, loyal to the One who sent Him into the world and so God was able to achieve His purpose through His Son.
That loyalty, that is what God desires from us, His children. Loyalty to Himself and to each other, in response to His loyalty and faithfulness to us.
Is the Lord among us or not?
That is to be discovered by ourselves, not once or twice, but over and over again, when we are open to Him, when we face our own vulnerability and lift our eyes to Him. Just as it has been done by those who went before us, in faith: our parents, grandparents, their parents, and before them Moses, the other prophets, the Psalmist, the disciples when they looked at Jesus, and all those after them throughout the ages. It is to be discovered by ourselves so that, what once has been said by Job in his suffering, can be said again and again, in humility from within the heart:
I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.(Job 42:5)