Or perhaps we’re more likely to cry ‘where is God in all this?’ – perhaps we might say this in response to a personal crisis, when things are getting on top of us, when one thing after another seems to be going wrong. Or when we see family or friends in difficulties; when we look at the many, many terrible situations in the world and we say ‘where is God in all this; what is he doing about it? doesn’t he care?’
And so we can understand how the Israelites felt when they grumbled about their situation in the wilderness. ‘What is God playing at? Why did he bring us here to this awful desolate place. Is the Lord among us or not?’
Now given that they were without water, we might think that their complaints were pretty justified – after all they wouldn’t last long without water to drink. But then if we read the previous chapter of the book of Exodus, we find that the Israelites have already been provided by God with food to eat – the manna from heaven and the quails. God has provided for them – and continues to do so – in the verses immediately before today’s first reading we read that the Israelites ate manna for all of the 40 years that they were in the wilderness. And yet in this latest situation they find themselves in, a water shortage, they don’t trust God to provide them with what they need.
The journey that they began on so enthusiastically and joyfully has turned into a bit of a drag.
How often do we set off on a journey in good spirits and full of enthusiasm only to find we hit a problem and our mood changes? The motorway is jammed following an accident, the train is delayed because of a power failure or the flight is cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Do we wait calmly and patiently or do we respond with anger and frustration? Some of you will know that I spent several hours in A&E on Monday evening. It was easy to understand how frustrating long waiting times can be for those who have families to care for, commitments to attend to or who are worried about their own situation or that of others. The staff were amazing – kind, apologetic, thoughtful, stretched to their limits. Hardly fair to take it out on them and I’m pleased to say no one did. But is the Lord among us or not?
The Israelites grew impatient and weary and rather than taking their moans directly to God, they take out their impatience and discomfort on Moses, demanding the seemingly impossible.
They blame their leader much as we are inclined to blame politicians, the way fans blame a football team manager. So often in response to a failure of some system or other, people demand the resignation of the person in charge – whether that person had any direct responsibility or not. Rather than letting the leaders work to change the system, they are replaced. Should we do more to resolve things for ourselves, take more responsibility to put right things that we see that are wrong, rather than leaving it to other people and then grumbling when we don’t like the result?
Yesterday at Boyton’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting, I presented a shortened version of the ‘Look to the Future’ presentation which was given to the churchwardens and elders last November. And I intend to do the same at our forthcoming Annual meeting on. One of the slides reminded me that it is “Vitally important that decisions are made by PCCs, not imposed by the Diocese” – or anyone else for that matter – not the archdeacon, the rural dean or the vicar! On Friday the church remembered Thomas Cranmer who was martyred – burnt at the stake – in 1556 for his protestant beliefs, for protesting against the power and control of the Roman Catholic church; for wanting ordinary people to be able to worship in their own language and have a say in the way the church was run. And, of course, he wasn’t the only one.
When it comes to choosing a way forward, a 2020 vision for the future, no human being is going to tell us what to do; what that vision is. We have to prayerfully discern it for ourselves. Please, if you care about this church and the future Christian presence in this parish, come to the annual meeting; come to the 4 week course in May; let us explore together the exciting future that God has planned for us here on the peninsula, rather than grumbling when we find ourselves in a wilderness that was not of our choosing.
Like many of us – like many organisations today – the Israelites seem to have a vertical view of leadership: people, Moses, God. Some would say a hierarchical view – where there are succeeding levels or layers. In fact, if we look into the root of the word ‘hierarchy’ we find that it comes from the Greek of which one meaning is ‘rule by priests’. When things don’t go their way the Israelites automatically question whether God is with them or not.
Jesus’ model of leadership is quite different. Look how in the gospel reading he is clearly in command of the situation and is recognised as a leader – yet not by taking charge. Instead, he makes himself vulnerable; he asks for a drink; he does something different – he speaks not only to a strange women but to a women who is a Samaritan. He breaks not one but two Jewish taboos; he draws the woman out in conversation. More of a God in relation, sitting alongside, seen through other people, rather than God on a pedestal. If God is alongside us we do not need to ask whether God is with us or not, we just have to look at the people around us.
Jesus showed us that God is indeed with us, alongside us, one of us, in a very different way to the Old Testament view of a remote yet all-powerful God. Jesus showed us that God is beside us and within us as well as above us. In John’s gospel it is God who is vulnerable, God who is thirsty. Yet he sustains and refreshes us with more than physical water. God chooses to minister through people – he chooses to spread the message of his kingdom through the least likely of people – a woman, a Samaritan, untrained, scorned by those who had kept the Jewish faith over centuries, takes the message that God has come among us to her friends and neighbours and they too come to faith.
So as we Look to the future, let us remember that God IS with us but also that we may meet him in what might seem to us the most unlikely of people.