“Is the Lord in our midst or not?” the people of the Exodus asked. It seems like a legitimate question when you are experiencing troubles and difficulties. Shouldn’t things go well when the Lord is in your midst? We are tempted to ask the same question when we look at the way things are in the world – war in Ukraine, earthquakes in Turkey, endemic racism in the US, damaging weather caused by global warming, hungry children. We even ask the question on a personal level. We wonder if the Lord is in our midst during a family crisis, a distressing health report, the presence of financial problems, or dealing with addiction. An individual can wonder about the presence of God when experiencing abuse, loneliness, depression, grief. What lies behind the question – is the Lord in our midst or not? – in all these circumstances is the presumption that if the Lord were in our midst we wouldn’t be going through this. Why doesn’t God fix it — throw a few lightning bolts, knock a few heads or whip up a miracle or two to take care of what ails us? Our presumption of what it should be like when God is for us flows from our own protective feelings. A loving mother does all she can to protect her chicks from harm and heartbreak. Shouldn’t the God who loves us unconditionally do the same?
However, there was one time when we know that God was in our midst – when Jesus walked among us. Although he did some pretty miraculous things, they where not the signs of God being with us that he chose to highlight. Instead, we look to the story of Jesus with the woman at the well to see that what characterized God being in our midst was not some exercise of almighty power but rather human encounter. The Lord was in our midst when he asked a strange woman, “Give me a drink.” Not might, not power, not strength but need was how Jesus introduced himself as God-with-us to the Samaritan woman. Jesus needed a drink. He was thirsty. He was looking for some help. The Lord can be in our midst, it seems, when exhibiting vulnerability. Of course as the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman reveals, the need that Jesus was experiencing was not simply one of physical want. Rather, he needed to reach out to her, to connect with her, to give something to her. The thirst of Jesus was that she would come to know God was in her midst just as she was.
The exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman – “Go call your husband and come back.” “I do not have a husband.” “You are right in saying ‘I do not have a husband’” demonstrates that Jesus wanted her to understand that God was with her even with her faults and failings. This should cure us of the temptation that God will come to us, will be in our midst, once we get our act together. No, God is in our midst here at St. James right now, today, on 29th and Wabash not because of any goodness on our part but because of God’s goodness. It is God’s thirst for us, not our seeking after God, that gives us the blessed assurance that no matter how things seem to be going, we can rely on the fact that God is for us so who can be against.
Because she experienced God being with her the Samaritan woman became the first apostle, the first missionary disciples. She had news too good to keep bottled up inside of her. It needed to be shared. I’ve just read this great book, you’ve got to try it. This recipe that I am cooked was so delicious, you would love it. Did you see how great the Sox are looking down in Arizona? Have you tried this hack on the internet? When we have something good, we want to share it. The Samaritan Woman shared with her neighbors what it was like for her to encounter God in the person of Jesus. Doubtless they thought to themselves, who are you to be telling me about God? You are a bigger mess then I am. But she understood it was not herself she was talking about but what God was doing in her that mattered. Can we not do the same here in Chicago?
What is most striking about the efforts of the woman is the reaction of the townspeople. When they checked out her report they found that it was true – the person of Jesus was for them as for her the very presence of God. They said to her, “We no longer believe because of your word for we have heard for ourselves.” That is the crucial move. While it is great that someone tells us that the Lord is in our midst, we have to experience Gods’ presence for ourselves. It is great that those who are Irish or Italian or Polish have a heritage which conveyed the faith but until you experience God’s presence in your life it’s only that, a heritage. It’s great that your grandmother insisted on your being raised a Catholic but until you experience God within you it is a pious memory. It’s great that you went to a Catholic school and learned who Jesus was but until you meet him for yourself in your own heart it is just a history lesson. We can no longer rely on the faith of those around us on our way to God. It is our own encounter with all of its ups and downs and ins and outs that provides the opportunity to feel the presence of God in our midst. The Church, the Bible the preacher provides a road map that can get you to God but you’ve got to get in the car and drive there yourself to experience the joy of having God in your midst, of knowing God is with you right here, right now, today.