Thursday, 30 March 2017

Maundy Thursday - Text John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Loving by serving

Sermon Maundy Thursday
Text John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Loving by serving

The last 12 months or so has seen the news dominated by some of the worst terrorist attacks and threats since September 11.
And again we have seen this played out in Brussels.
The reason behind these attacks is supposedly not because of their hate of the people they are attacking but because of their love for God.
And they believe that this is what God would want them to do.
For Christians we see our relationship with God in the same way:
What we do is because we love God.
And what we do is what we believe God would want us to do.
As Jesus reminds us when he is asked what the greatest commandment is – he responds – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
What is significant however, for Christians, is what followed next:
The 2nd commandment is like it – love your neighbour as yourself.
Therefore we could not express our love for God by hurting our neighbour.
No matter how much a person strays from God – even if they are diametrically opposed to God – they are still created by God and bear God’s image and so to hurt them is to hurt God whose image they bear.
And despite what they believe about God, they are still people for whom Christ died.
But there is also a difference in how we see our relationship with God.
As servants of God we are also servants of one another.
And we are given the example tonight as WE are served BY God.
Jesus was sent as an example of a servant of all.
He came, not to be served but to serve.
And Jesus shows that we don’t serve God or our neighbour by hurting them.
Jesus came to show the love of God expressed in the most intimate form:
God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And now Jesus passes that on to us as he sits down with his disciples and serves them by washing their feet as an act of servanthood.
And then he steps ups and says – a new commandment I give to you – love one another.
As I have loved you so you are to love one another – and by this others will know you’re my disciples.
Not by acts of terrorism, violence or any other form of hurt towards our fellow human beings.
No, by showing unconditional love.
And Jesus will show the extent of that love – not by taking another’s life but by giving his own life.
And then, as St Paul says: what I received from the Lord I now pass on to you.
The giving of one’s life for the serving of God as we see in Holy Communion.
And that’s the big difference – we are servants of God – and servants of our neighbour.
And as servants we serve God and those created in God’s image – our fellow human beings.
Jesus’ model of foot washing exemplifies love and service.
He shows that love is not just an emotion or idea but an action.
And he shows that love is not an action that hurts or excludes.
When Peter wanted to be excluded from Jesus washing his feet he thought he was showing love and respect to Jesus – “You will never wash my feet."
But Jesus shows that love is fully inclusive.
It doesn’t reject anyone – it makes no demands.
So when we come to the table this evening we hear – “take and eat – take and drink” and no more.
Not take and eat if.. or take and drink when…
There are no conditions because God’s gift of salvation and life is available to all through Christ’s victory on the cross.
There is no sin so great that Christ’s death does not cover it – even those who put him to death were offered forgiveness – forgive them Father they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
There is no sin so small that we do not bring it to the cross to hear the comfort of Christ’s forgiveness.
This night was a special night – even though just the 12 were present they represent us all, including Judas who too was offered Christ’s body and blood – none were excluded.
So may you go from here knowing that it’s not about being worthy enough but about being included.
We show God how much we love him by showing the same unconditional love to our neighbour.
Washing his disciples’ feet broke all the accepted conventions for a teacher and master.
But then again, God’s love breaks all accepted conventions.
God’s love commands that we love our enemy.
God’s love commands that we eat with sinners.
God’s love loves the unlovable.
God’s love loves unconditionally.
And we thank God for that because you and I fit into all those categories and more for it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us for God first loved us.
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is not how we would use all the power of God if it was available to us. 
It isn’t the way power is usually used in our world:  nations dominate nations; businesses take over weaker rivals, political leaders call each other names and yell at each other. 
And that’s what Peter couldn’t understand when he firstly wanted to take the glory road, when he refused to have Jesus wash his feet, and when he used his sword to cut off the ear of Jesus’ attacker.
Today’s gospel is an example of using power to the benefit and for the good of others.
Jesus’ use of power is an example to us and it begins by loving and serving God and our neighbour.

So may God bless you as you prepare for tomorrow’s Good Friday where you will again witness the greatest act of servanthood as Jesus lays down his life for us and the world.

Maundy Thursday - Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – The temptation of “the selfie”

Sermon 2nd April 2015 – Maundy Thursday
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – The temptation of “the selfie”

There is an interesting comparison between 2 of the characters in the account of Jesus death.
Jesus and Pilate.
Jesus stands before Pilate for an extended period of time.
Pilate wants to let Jesus go.
Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:4)
The Jews don’t accept this and demand his crucifixion.
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:6)
Even his wife knew that something was amiss.
Pilate’s wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27:19)
In the end, fearing the Jews, fearing Jesus, fearing his wife, Pilate only has one option:
He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)
Washing his hands was Pilate’s way of looking after himself – if you want to crucify him, you take him and do it.
Compare that to what we see Jesus doing today – washing feet.
But not his own feet but the feet of his disciples.
This is not an act of selfishness but an act of love and servanthood looking out for the other person.
Even Peter is shocked by this unusual act of servanthood –
“You will never wash my feet”. (John 13:8)
Sounds quite pious and what we might expect from a devout follower of Jesus.
But it sounds very similar to a previous encounter between Peter and Jesus where Peter hides his own selfishness behind an act of piety.
Back when Jesus predicted his suffering and death Peter responded with:
“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)
What Peter is really saying is – I don’t want that to ever happen to me.
Peter was a bit like that;
Remember at the Transfiguration where he wanted to build 3 shelters to stay on top of the mountain. (Matthew 17:4)
What about everyone else?
But Jesus saw through Peter’s veiled attempt of self-preservation:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23).
Pilate and Peter are displaying typical human behaviours, thinking of themselves, while Jesus is giving a new commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you. (John 13:34,35)
This is different to the earlier commandment where Jesus says – Love your neighbour as yourself as it still has the starting point as oneself.
Now Jesus is saying to begin by looking at how he has loved us as the starting point.
Jesus loved the sinner.
Jesus put aside his own needs for our needs – “not my will be done but yours”. (Luke 22:42)
Jesus went against social conventions when he touched the leper (Matthew 8:3), when he let the sinful woman touch him, (Luke 7:36-50) when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, (Matthew 15:21-28) when he ate at Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19:1-10) when he told the people to example the Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:25-37) their despised neighbour and the list could go on and on where Jesus looks at the needs of others ahead of his own.
This is a real change for our present society.
We live in a society where the “selfie” is the modern craze where we take pictures of ourselves.
No longer is the camera facing away from us – no it’s now turned in on us – and in fact last year the biggest selling Christmas gift was the “selfie-stick” –
And extendable rod that you attach to your phone so you can take even better pictures of yourself.
Everything in society seems to be going to the “self”.
Many years it began with “self-serve” petrol.
Now we see “self-serve” checkouts at our supermarkets.
Self-managed superannuation.
The “self” is where we are told to put our confidence in.
If you want the job done – do it yourself.
But now Jesus shows us the better way –
To look away from the “self” – to deny oneself and look to Jesus selfless act of giving his love to others.
As you come to Holy Communion this evening, remember that here is the love of Jesus that we are called to look to when he says – love one another as I have loved you.
This is how Jesus has loved you and he will repeat it in chapter 15 when he says:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  (John 15:12,13).
Love begins not with ourselves but by looking to how God loves us which John tells us:

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that God first loved us. (1 John 4:10, 19).

Maundy Thursday - Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Our dinner invitation

Maundy Thursday
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Our dinner invitation

Every day in my emails I receive several offers for cheap meals.
They are often very restrictive on when you can use them and what you can order.
Often you can’t use them on Saturday evenings and you can only order certain things off the menu.
They’re great, as long as it fits in with your availability.
On a few occasions I have bought them and not used them because we just couldn’t find a date that suited us and the restaurant.
Tonight we have all received in invitation to a meal.
And there are no restrictions.
We put some on them ourselves – children have to have done First Communion or Confirmation.
Some congregations still insist on – Lutherans only for Lutheran altars.
Today we have a less strict instruction that’s referred to as Responsible Communion practice, still with some restrictions where the person is to be baptised, believe in the Trinity, confess their sins and believe in the Real Presence.
Maybe you can think of some others over the years.
But the reality is, this invitation is for all.
Sometimes churches might exclude those we believe are unworthy because of a lack of repentance:
We call that “excommunication”.
And yet Jesus did not example this at the Last Supper as Judas, whom Jesus knew would betray him, participates in that Holy Meal.
This is a meal for all people – it is inclusive rather than exclusive.
We might participate in different ways:
We might gather around the altar or have continuous communion.
We might take a wafer or a piece of bread.
We might intinct or we might take the bread and wine separately.
We might drink from the common cup or from an individual cup.
We might kneel before the altar, or stand, or receive it where we are seated.
We might receive it at church or in a private communion at home or in hospital.
It makes no difference.
What is significant is what we are receiving.
We are receiving Jesus’ body and blood that was shed for us on the cross as payment for our sins.
And that’s what is important.
This meal is Jesus gift to us as we journey through this life to our home in heaven.
It is a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven where we will gather together with God and all his family to celebrate our new eternal life in heaven.
That’s not to say that some of the teachings we have aren’t important as long as they don’t take away from the Sacrament.
And they take away from the Sacrament when we give the impression that somehow the Sacrament is a reward for our faith or that a person must be a certain standard before they can present themselves at the altar.
I have experienced that in the past when a person hasn’t come to the altar because they felt that they weren’t worthy enough to receive Holy Communion.
We get a hint of that from Peter today when he refused to have Jesus wash his feet because he felt that he should be washing Jesus feet.
You will never wash my feet."
But Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me
John the Baptist had similar reservations:
"I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" (Matthew 3:14)
We can understand Peter and John.
This is totally different to anyone’s understanding of God.
But this is a very different God.
This is a God who emptied himself and took the form of a servant.
This is a God who serves us.
This is a relationship between a Father in Heaven with his children created in his image.
It’s no different to the relationship between earthly parents and their children.
Parents serve their children.
They feed them, they clothe them, they protect them, provide home and shelter.
They would sacrifice for their children.
We come to the table with the same understanding – that here God feeds us with Jesus body and blood, clothes us with Jesus righteousness, protects us from the world and the devil, provides us with a home in heaven where he has promised he will return and take us to.
God sacrifices the life of his own son for us – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
So come to this table tonight and let God serve you.
There is nothing you bring except open hands to receive all that God has to give to you.
In Jesus is the fullness of God and in the Bread and Wine is the fullness of Jesus.
So here you receive all that God has to offer you – God holds nothing back.
Come as you are, children of God, love by God.

Year A 2017 - 5th Sunday in Lent

Sermon 2nd April
Text John 11:1-45 – Jesus, the final Word.

Today’s gospel reading is again a very long reading but at the heart of message is the question or statement made by both Mary and Martha and also the crowd to Jesus.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And some of the crowd who saw Jesus weeping said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
No doubt it is among the questions that many people ask when the reality of death confronts them.
Or when any tragic circumstance happens aren’t we tempted to look to God and ask “why”?
Why did you let this happen?
Why didn’t you stop this from happening?
Why does God allow the terrorist acts to occur.
Why does God allow tragic circumstances to happen to anyone, let alone Christians?
Is it wrong to think like that?
Not if we look at the examples in the Bible.
So many of the Psalms are written inspired by this desire to know why life goes against us at times.
Psalm 130 has the Psalm writer crying out to God - Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord.
Job wondered why he was suffering even though he was so faithful to God but wondered - Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? (Job 21:7)
So too, Jeremiah struggled: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1)
It is a difficult understanding why an all-powerful, all loving God allows or at least doesn’t prevent evil to succeed.
But, sadly, that is the world we not only live in but a world we asked upon ourselves by our disobedience in the beginning when the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil was allowed to enter into our existence.
God’s good creation was interrupted by evil when Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to see and experience the existence of evil.
And part of that evil was the introduction of death, as God warned Adam:
You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17)
But what Jesus does here in John’s Gospel is show that death, which came by the knowledge of good and evil, was not going to be the final word.
Jesus says to Martha:
 “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
So Jesus doesn’t deny that death is part of the human life now, but he says – even though they die, they will live.
John’s Gospel sees Jesus as the coming of a new creation where the darkness of evil is overcome by Jesus’ light.
That’s why John’s Gospel begins the same as Genesis: “In the beginning”.
Genesis reads: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
John’s Gospel reads: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same Word that created the world – let there be light – now becomes the word that became flesh and dwelt among us as God’s light in darkness – and the darkness could not overcome the light of Christ.
So God deals with death and evil not by removing them but by not allowing them the final word.

Because of our free will God had to allow Good and Evil to coincide, including death, but God immediately set in plan a redemption – a saviour – who would crush the head of death and evil that was snapping at our heels and overcome it. (Genesis 3:15).
It’s interesting that while Genesis Chapter 3 outlines the fall of Adam and Eve – John Chapter 3 overcomes it with the Gospel that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
The world is filled with experiences where we can ask – where is God in this.
If Jesus were here this wouldn’t have happened.
That simply isn’t true otherwise there would be no need for heaven.
The reality is that in this world we’re going to experience the consequences of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
The difference is that these will not be the final word for those who believe in Jesus’ Christ – the resurrection and the life..
Jesus speaks the last word just as he spoke to the tomb that had held Lazarus when he said; “Lazarus, come out!”
Jesus shows that not even death has the final word which to many is just that.
Without Jesus, death is death.
Without Jesus death is the final word.
The raising of Lazarus is the last sign or miracle that Jesus does in John’s gospel.
Everything has been leading up to this last miracle because it is the one that affects us all.
We won’t all experience some of the conditions that Jesus healed – blindness, leprosy, hunger – but all of us must face the reality of death.
And here Jesus shows that death must submit to his authority even though it would appear that death has the final word.
Jesus doesn’t remove death from our lives but he ensures us that death is not the end.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life and whoever believes in him, even though they die, they shall live.
So Mary and Martha weren’t correct in their statement.
Even if Jesus had been there Lazarus still would have died – perhaps not on that occasion but certainly later at the end of life, as the book of Hebrews says in Chapter 9, verse 27: “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”.
Jesus didn’t linger before going because of a lack of compassion.
It was widely believed in Jesus’ culture that the spirit of the person would hover for 3 days.
Allowing for 4 days in the tomb assured people that Lazarus was well and truly dead.
Death had done its worse to Lazarus and Jesus overrode it.
So it’s not that Jesus’ presence would have prevented Lazarus death but his presence assures Lazarus and all of us of eternal life after death.
It doesn’t deny the pain of death when someone we love dies.
Even Jesus’ himself who is the resurrection and the life cannot hold back his emotion and weeps at the death of his dear friend.
So this is not downplaying death but reassuring us that the one who has defeated death also has compassion for us in the midst of death as we have our high priest who sympathises with us having experienced death himself and the death of a loved one.

So it is to Jesus and only Jesus that we look to in death and suffering as only Jesus can offer that hope that death is not the final word but the one who is the Word of God is the final word.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Year A 2017 - 4th Sunday in Lent

Sermon 26th March 2017
Text: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Big isn’t always better

On the front page of the Knox Leader newspaper there was an article which really interested me.
And its opening paragraph read:
RELIGION is booming in Knox with people flocking to weekend services and the city’s biggest churches looking at major expansion plans to cope with demand. Knox’s CityLife Church is creating a new $11 million centre in Wantirna South — paid for by its congregation. Senior minister Andrew Hill said more than 5000 people attended services each week.
It then spoke about another Knox Church:
Hillsong is proving so popular it is set to move to Knoxfield after outgrowing its Bayswater home. It plans for a church for up to 900 people at 557 Burwood Highway,
And as always I look at myself and ask: what am I doing wrong.
Once again I fall into the trap of judging God’s work on outward appearances, something that God time and again went against.
It’s not saying that big isn’t good but big isn’t the only indicator of where God is working.
I think it’s great that these churches are expanding and that they have had the media coverage but we mustn’t fall into the trap that God is only working there and not here.
Like so many people I couldn’t be a part of something that big.
I like the small and close intimate surroundings when it comes to worship, so where would I go if that was the only way that God operated.
So often we see God going against what we perceive he should do to show he is active and succeeding, like in our Old Testament reading when it came time for Samuel to find a replacement for Saul as King of Israel.
Samuel looked on the first-born of Jesse’s sons Eliab and thought – this is him – first born, handsome, tall:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
One by one Jesse’s sons are rejected until he finds out the youngest hasn’t been presented - he is out looking after the sheep – considered the lowest of positions in the family.” He would become King David, the most successful and beloved King of Israel.
So often we see God intentionally choose the lesser – the 2nd born:
Abel was chosen over his older brother Cain.
Jacob was chosen over first born brother Esau
Joseph’s son Ephraim over his brother Manasseh.
And even in choosing Israel as his chosen nation and people we hear: "The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! But it was because the LORD loved you. (Deuteronomy 7:7,8).
It’s interesting that David’s grandfather, Perez was the 2nd born also but it was how he was born that is interesting.
Hi brother Zerah was born first with his hand coming out of the womb.
A scarlet ribbon was tied around his hand and declared the first born.
But his hand was pulled back into the womb and Perez came out ahead of him. (Genesis 38:27-20)
Even in the New Testament we read that God chose his disciples specifically in mind what others wouldn’t:
St Paul says: think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1;26,27).
It’s not saying that God doesn’t choose big or seek worldly success in churches but it’s not what WE should be looking for as the only signs of God’s work.
But that’s what we do.
We see small churches as not as successful when we look at the thriving churches around us.
God works in unexpected ways which don’t always seem that glorious or spectacular.
Who would have thought that spitting on the ground and putting mud on a blind man’s eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam would be the way to do such an amazing miracle?
Surely he could have done it in front of the 5000 he fed as a huge spectacular act.
Why didn’t Jesus just say – open your eyes and see – like he did to the crippled man – get up and walk – or “stretch out your hand” or “get up” as he said to Jairus’s daughter – an opportunity to amaze the crowds and achieve more followers.
Just as Jesus used different ways and means to achieve God’s mission so too as Lord of the Church Jesus continues to use different ways and means to achieve his mission in the world.
I can think of any number of people that would walk away from church if it was huge and successful in worldly ways because that’s not what they are looking for.
That’s not how they connect with God spiritually.
The Great Commission wasn’t “build it and they will come” but Go into the world and make disciples.
So our constant challenge is to keep looking at our mission that God has placed before us.
And we have that mission in our mission statement:
At Ringwood it is: Living the Word: a people formed by God to be his presence to those around us.
The focus is in the sending out into the world to be God’s presence in the world.
At Knox it is: Called to worship; chosen to serve.
Again the focus is outward – serving.
But in both cases -  being God’s presence and chosen to serve begin in the church to be equipped.
Formed by God to be his presence –
Called to worship –chosen to serve.
The purpose of the church is not to be built up but to build up.
To build up the people of God.
And that’s why at Knox we are called – the house of the church.
The people are the church.
It is the people that we are building up.
Sure, we’d love to see our church building overflowing.
We’d love to see our children and grandchildren filling the pews.
We’d love to see visitors coming and staying.
But we need to be clear that our vision doesn’t become about building up OUR Kingdom but God’s Kingdom.
And I’m not saying that is what the bigger churches are doing but recognising that the church comes in all shapes and sizes and styles.
Just as Christians come with different strengths and callings.
King David would go on to be the greatest of Israel’s kings and from his line would come the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ.
But what made David so great was not the success he had in leading his Kingdom but in that he let God lead him.
David would fail the humanity test – committing adultery with his neighbours wife and covering it up by having him killed in combat.
But his heart would always follow God and led him to write the most beautiful and famous of Psalms – Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd – I shall not want.

And so too that is where our greatness will come by allowing Jesus to be our Good Shepherd and leading us to where he would have us go.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Year A 2017 - 3rd Sunday in Lent

Text Exodus 17:1-7 - Is God among us or not?

What do you expect when you come along to church? Do you expect to come away feeling like you’ve just had the most amazing experience ever being blessed by being in the presence of God? Do you feel like you’ve had that mountain top experience like Peter, James and John when Jesus appeared before them in dazzling white speaking with Moses and Elijah and you just don’t want to leave or you can’t wait to come back again? Or maybe not.

Maybe you’ve come along to church and gone away feeling less than ordinary. Maybe you’ve come back from Holy Communion and felt no different. Maybe you’ve come along to sing your heart out and found hymns so difficult to sing or songs you’ve never heard of and you’ve wondered – what’s the point. Maybe the service has ended and people are saying how great the sermon was and you can’t even remember a word that was spoken. Maybe you’ve spent your whole time trying to keep your child quiet and not taken anything in. Maybe you’ve come along and no one has spoken to you or noticed that you’re visibly upset. Or maybe you missed a week and nobody noticed.

These are among the many experiences that I hear about and experiences that I too have felt. They are experiences that make us wonder like Israel and ask - “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7) Questions of faith don’t get any more  basic than that, do they? "Is the Lord among us or not?”

It is the question the disgruntled Israelites asked in the desert. At times it is our question too to our experience with God. But why did the Israelites ask this question? After all that the Israelites had witnessed God doing it’s amazing that they still ask whether or not God is with them. But one thing it does show – if we judge God’s presence with us on physical proof it will never last.

No matter what God does for us today, as soon as something bad happens we will question our faith. And that’s why Jesus resisted the people’s request for more and more miracles. Because they kept asking for more and more. And that’s what happens when your faith is based on personal experience. We then begin to look for worship and church life for reasons that don’t build up our faith but entertain us. And all of a sudden worship becomes even more meaningless and boring even though initially it was very entertaining. So we need to think about our reason as to why we come to church. Is it to be entertained or to be nourished by God’s presence with us?

God had worked powerfully on Israel’s behalf to rescue them from Egyptian slavery. Once freed they had no sooner set out across the desert when they "… grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Their thinking became very irrational: Why couldn’t we have died in the land of Egypt instead of coming into this desert to die of famine?"  Even though God had performed a great number of miracles the people did not trust that God would continue to care for them.

Grumbling became the Israelites’ way of life and how they dealt with adversity. In their anger they turn on Moses as representative of God.  At one stage they even asked Aaron to make new gods for them- a golden calf which they thanked for leading them out of Egypt. (Exodus 32) Moses becomes the focus of their anger, but they are really angry with God. They grumbled for food, now they need water. They complained to Moses and once again God provides for them. Despite their lack of trust, God brings forth water from a rock. Their faith in God was so shallow: God has freed them from slavery, fed them in the desert, given them water from a rock and promised to give them care and guidance during their 40-year journey.  But they will continue to grumble and distrust God each time adversity struck.

We have a lot to learn from this lesson from Israel. As we read their experience we know there was never a time when the Lord was not with them. But in their experience they believed otherwise. God provides for us each day but sometimes we believe otherwise. We are reminded again and again of our dependence on God and God’s gracious generosity towards us in the Prayer Jesus taught us. "Give us this day our daily bread." But it is so easily forgotten.

So too we can easily forget what church and worship are and that God has promised to be here with us and for us. And when we come away from worship feeling uninspired we can feel like saying – Is the Lord among us or not. So rather than look at what we want to get out of worship we need to keep looking again at what God brings in worship – and for that we look to Paul who details what God brings: We are justified by faith, We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
We have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; We have the glory of God. This may not be what we feel but it’s what we have.

There are times when I don’t feel saved – but I look to what God has promised. What I feel and what I know are 2 different things – and which one do you think Satan works on? When we have our faith based on what we have rather than what we feel, we then have strength for those times when we would question our faith, as Paul again says: We know 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. So while suffering may be what we experience, raising lots of doubts and questions, God’s love being poured into our hearts is what we have been given.

If our faith is based on what we want and what we experience then suffering places a huge challenge to our faith. And we see those churches that base their faith on experience say things like, if you had more faith you would be healed – or you are suffering because you don’t have enough faith. And so the Israelite’s faith in God began to waiver every time their experience became negative. And we then begin to question God’s love for us and as the Israelites concluded because of their experience – Is the Lord among us or not.

For Paul, God was always among us, particularly in those times when our human experience would suggest otherwise with statements like: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  And God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) In 2nd Corinthians Paul spoke about the power of Christ resting on him in those times of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9) – times when we might be tempted to ask – is the Lord among us or not.

God doesn’t prove his love for us by preventing difficult times in our lives. No, God affirms his love for us by drawing near to us like a loving parent draws near to their child when they are suffering. When a child suffers it doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t love them. But what suffering produces in a parent is an empathy that draws them even closer. And for those of you who are parents you know that you would gladly take their suffering on yourself. And that is what God has done as God made him who had no sin to become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The sweet exchange of the father for his children. That’s the reality of God’s love for us even if we don’t feel it.

The problem with dealing with experiences is that they vary. What happens in one situation may not necessarily happen the next time. What happens for one person may not happen for another. You may pray for healing and are healed but next time the healing doesn’t come. I’ve seen it so many times. Faith is about promise and promise is about trust. That’s what Israel didn’t do – they didn’t trust that God would provide for them. That was the basis of the very first sin with Adam and Eve – they didn’t trust God and wanted to be like God instead. Jesus resisted that temptation to turn rocks into bread and knew God would provide. He didn’t grumble and he didn’t fail to trust. And he took that trust right to the cross.

Sometimes our life experience make us question God as even Jesus did when he cried out – my God, my God why have you forsaken me. But he would learn that God didn’t forsake him and he won’t ever forsake you. That’s God’s promise and it’s not about how we feel but about what God has promised. Is God among us or not? God is certainly among us as he promised in the living waters of our baptism – I am with you always. And he is certainly among you when you receive Holy Communion.  This IS my body. This IS my blood.

Is God among us? Yes he is because that is what he has promised.