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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lent 3A March 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"What gives me life is the knowledge that there is someone who loves me unconditionally, irrevocably, and absolutely. That assurance is liberating, it's healing, and it's invigorating." 

"Life Giving," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.

"She is not a prostitute. She doesn't have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her
story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms "

Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well, David Lose, The Huffington Post, 2011. 

"This text suggests in a number of ways that it is not about what we know but who we know."

Commentary, John 4:5-42 (Lent 3A),Meda Stamper , Preaching This Week,, 2011. 

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


O God, the living fountain of new life, to the human race, parched with thirst, you offer the living water of grace that springs up from the rock, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Grant your people the gift of the Spirit, that we may learn to profess our faith with courage and conviction and announce with joy the wonders of your saving love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 4:5-42
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

It is probably good to remind ourselves that the Samaritans are the Israelites who were not deported during the Assyrian occupation. They did not go with Isaiah to Babylon. They settled in Palestine with the Gentiles. They had recently been a fight between the Jews and the Samaritans and the Romans had intervened. (Chris Haslaam points us to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.6.1-3 118-36; Jewish Wars 2:12.3-5 232-46). [NJBC]

Shechem was a real place, maybe called Askar. The geography is important as a revelationary vessel of who Jesus is. Chris Haslaam does some great research and reminds us that "in Genesis 33:19, Jacob buys land at Shechem. In Genesis 48:22 he gives land to Joseph and his brothers, giving Joseph a double portion. In Hebrew, portion sounds like Shechem. See also John 1:51, where Jesus tells Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. Jacob, with his ladder to heaven, is the type (forerunner) of Jesus. [NOAB] [NJBC]" So we cannot underestimate the power of the place in memory and prophecy within the tradition of the first followers of Jesus. 

Jesus begins by breaking down the barrier between them by asking her to give him a drink. (Jews and Samaritans did not share things in common.) This invitation though leads into the revelation of Jesus as not only the Son of God, who has come down and is with us, but also as the one through whom all things come. Jesus is the gift.  Jesus is the living water for those who thirst. Jesus is the one who will give the Spirit of life. 

We remember then also that the water rose to the top of the well for Jacob, that in Jeremiah 2:13 God is the fountain of living water. As Christians we see the revelation clearly and powerfully, but for her in the midst of this story she asks the questions that many must have been asking of Jesus. We might well remember that for those still seeking God or in the midst of a dark place on their pilgrimage the question she asks are important and worth hearing again - even if we have not asked them yourself in a long time. She questions, "Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 

Jesus then responds. While the well obviously had been enough for the great herds of Jacob, and his family, one will always thirst again. So Jesus is speaking of a different thirst the thirst and hunger for God. He is the bread of life who has come down from heaven. Like the words of God to Moses, "I am goiiong to rain bread from heaven for you." (Exodus 16:4) Here I am so very struck by the beginning of a switch. The place, the earth, the well, the water, and the bread...are earthly physical things. Jesus is holding up a mirror to our human condition in some manner and saying that while you have the need and desire for these basic things your soul hungers for something different. 

Believing that the world will give to you what is needed for spiritual things is misguided. Jesus is offering to this woman and to us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." We might remember furthermore that in 10:10, Jesus says: “‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’”. So just as last we and this week we see the reoccurring themes of the incarnation. Jesus comes from above. So too we see the imagery of spiritual life flowing from God, in Jesus, to the Holy Spirit and out into the world.Jesus continues: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.The theme continues then as Jesus offers a vision that worshiping God then is not located to geography. 

Here in this Holy place, which offers us a revelation of who Jesus is, is not the only place where Jesus is found. Those who follow him and those who are filled with the Spirit find and discover that God is worshipped and followed in all places and in all times. A disciple does not have to make their pilgrimage to a place but that God is with the pilgrim everywhere. Likewise the responsibility of the pilgrim is to make God known and to worship God in all places of their daily life. These are revolutionary and revelationary words. 

 Humans from the very earliest of recorded history have desired to mark out sacred space in the world, to separate the sacred and the profane. Our desire to continue to build altars in the world and churches and sanctuaries illustrates this fact. The reality is though that as Christians we believe in a God in Jesus Christ who came and walked with us and left the holy places and went out. It is this God that beckons us still. Clearly gathering that Jesus is different and special she says, “‘I know that Messiah is coming’” There is a lot of conjecture about who the Samaritans thought and how they thought about the messiah's coming. Most agree it was something like a hope for a new prophet, a great prophet, like Moses. This is partly based upon the fact that they used the prophetic books, while most Jews only used the first five books of the scripture. Chris Haslaam writes about the next verses: “I am he”: Perhaps Jesus points to his divinity, in an echo of God’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’'”. 

This is the first of a series of self-revelatory sayings, all echoing an Old Testament formula This is particularly striking in those sayings (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) in which Jesus uses the words I am without any predicate. This verse is in striking contrast to the synoptic gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to disclose to anyone who he is. Perhaps he felt he could say openly in Samaria what would have seriously impeded his mission in Jewish territory. [BlkJn]

So what we have just witnessed, like the conversation with Nicodemus, is that Jesus is continually in conversation with those who do not yet believe. As Lent is a time for new converts to be prepared for baptism and confirmation, and the whole of the church is to be renewed in its faith, the message of the woman at the well and her conversation helps us to remember the power of conversation with those who do not yet believe. We are to listen and reveal who Jesus is. We are to be out in the world. We are to engage and make holy all the places we make our pilgrim way. To make places holy through conversation with all people, perhaps even those who are the most separated from us by either wealth, or status, or ethnicity.

Look at what happens in the text:Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” When we dare to do this we will find and discover that the converts zest for new life, living water, and the holy spirit will renew the greater community and draw others to Jesus Christ. We too will be renewed and have the opportunity to leave our buildings and go with them out into the world. 

All receive not from our testimony but from God's empowering Spirit that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. What happens is that the disciples show up and they are all upset for many reasons, most of which probably escape us today. (I think we spend a lot of time on the woman's background and on why they are upset because Jesus talks to her. This seems less important than the conversation about conversion and evangelism) Jesus responds to them with at proverb and a teaching. Jesus begins with this proverb: Four months more, then comes the harvest? In everyday language the proverb may have simply meant, "what's the rush?" You have to remember when you sowed seed,instead of drilled seed into the ground, you had to wait for the seed to take root. So we have this beautiful image of Jesus saying just be patient. It is a parallel conversation with the actions of the towns people. See the seeds are taking root in the people's ears and hearts. Sowing and reaping are the work of the disciple. And, sometimes the disciple does not get to see the fruit of their labors. We live in such an instant society we want to see the change now! 

We want to see new disciples made from our proclamation now! The reality is that if we are like the sower, and are focussed on the work of the sowing we will have a great harvest - though someone else may be the one to harvest for us. In fact Jesus is saying that part of living in the kingdom now, part of living in the reign of God, is the proclamation of the word. When we do this both the sower and the reaper rejoice together. As we think of our own Christian story between John and Acts, we can see that while Jesus stays with them for a few days, it is Philip in Acts who returns sows some more and reaps. (see Acts 8:5-17) This is a great passage to talk about evangelism, conversion, the work of the church in the world. It has images of how we meet people where they are in the world where they live. I hope you enjoy exploring what is a very full passage, it is itself a deep well from which much living water can flow.
Some Thoughts on Romans 5:1-11

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"So for Paul peace is about being in a right relationship with God, not as some distant judge nor as someone who is trying to draw us up into himself, but as one who is expansively living love out into the universe."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Trinity, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping."

"Hope," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.Justification, from Whistling in the Dark

"In the space of five verses, the second reading for Trinity Sunday mentions God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit."

Commentary, Romans 5:1-5, Mary Hinkle Shore , Preaching This Week,, 2013.

Paul is clear that humanity was not doing so well on its own and that now because of the work of Christ we have a mediator with God.  He is very clear that this particular work of mending the relationship resides at the foot of Jesus upon the cross.  

Paul writes, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."

So it is here that we find the key to Paul's understanding of the atonement.  For Paul, we are spared what we are truly due to pay to God for our sinfulness only by Jesus' action on our behalf. We are given grace, we are restored, we are united once again.  There are many debates about this and many scholars will go on endlessly about the meaning of this passage. In its very essence what we know is that Paul believes (as I do) that the crucifixion is the cross-roads of the salvation narrative.

Paul writes, "But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."  As John Newton reminds me reconciliation is always and foremost a vertical action that takes place between humanity and God through the work of Jesus.

We are in fact unable to do the reconciliation work between us, that horizontal work, if we don't recognize that it is always dependent upon the vertical work of Jesus. Why? Because as Paul says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die."

It is this vertical work that is our grace. It is this work that justifies us. It is this work that brings peace. It is always God's work and God's work in us that enables these things. It is never by our own merit. It is God's faithfulness in us that provides the endurance and produces the character and the hope.  It is the very fact that God's love for us is constantly poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And for Paul it is poured out from the cross.

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