Lent 3 March 15, 2020 – Sermon

Lent 3 March 15, 2020 Psalm 63, Genesis 29:1-2,9b-13; John 4:3-42 We who are thirsty… ************************************************************** We’ve just read together through the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anybody anywhere in the bible. Reminding us – last week we were listening as Jesus spoke with a religious leader named Nicodemus who came to visit him by night. And at the end of their conversation Nicodemus, the scholarly religious authority figure was still in the dark… Not understanding Jesus… Today a woman of Samaria (and now we’re reminded Jews and Samaritans avoided each other’s company and would not normally share hospitality with each other) – but today a Samaritan woman meets Jesus in broad daylight and remains in lively conversation with him… Gradually coming to see more and more of who Jesus truly is… This is a longer conversation today by comparison with last week. And at the same time, a relatively brief conversation within the larger story of the love of God that begins even before the first book of the bible… And in this larger story, we now find ourselves in a story within the story… in the biblical narrative of a man and woman meeting at a well that begins in Genesis (24)…. as… Abraham, patriarch of Israel, sends his servant to find a bride for his son Isaac back in the country he and his wife Sarah left when God said go…And the servant goes back to Haran, and comes to a well, where he prays for success…And as he prays, here comes Rebekah, tending her family’s sheep. And behold, Rebekah becomes the wife of Isaac – and later the mother of Jacob – who we’ve seen today returning to that same well in his grandparent’s home town – where he meets Rachel, shepherding the sheep. And Rachel becomes his wife. Their son Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt… And 400 years later, their great-great-great grand-nephew Moses flees Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave driver. And arrives in Midian, where he sits at a well and meets a group of shepherd women watering sheep – drives away some other shepherds harassing them – and marries one of them, Zipporah. Long story abbreviated – up to now anytime a man and woman meet at a well in the bible, marriage happens. So we have expectations… though – Of course we know Jesus is not like other men. (Mild understatement.) So – we listen closely… As Jesus engages with this woman in a different kind of courtship… Wooing her with words of mystery and wisdom… Coaching her to know him as Messiah… Never forcing the conversation… Just offering the gift of Who He is and what He has to offer… (and…) As with Nicodemus last week, there’s some word-play at work here… as Jesus asks for water – and the woman asks “what’s a Jewish guy like you doing talking with a Samaritan woman like me?” And Jesus replies “if you knew the gift of God and who you’re talking with, you would ask and he would give you living water.” (And…) We can hear her skepticism… but also a hint of interest… in her response… as she says, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket, and this well is deep. Where do you get this living...

read more

March 2016 – Late for Lent

I think I was almost ready for the start of Lent. At least our Ash Wednesday evening worship service was, thanks to the Holy Spirit, and thanks to our music leaders and singers, a rich spiritual experience for me… (It didn’t hurt a bit that a pair of snow storms just before Ash Wednesday had given us a little more time to enter into the spirit of preparation for Lent…) But suddenly we’re nearly halfway through Lent…And I’m nowhere near where I hoped to be… in this season of slowing down… making more time for prayer… fasting and abstaining… and other spiritual practices. I’ve been intending to pray more and cut back on time spent on the computer. But I don’t feel up to speed on either of these. (Though maybe that’s not the best metaphor… for this season…) I don’t know exactly where the time has gone, but… in one of our recent Sunday gospel lessons Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, saying “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:31-35.) And I can imagine a very large brood of little chickens, with myself in the midst of them all, and us all chirping together, “Lord, I’m trying to get there under your wing, but… I’ve got meetings to go to, people to call back and visit, chores to do, and a whole lot of email to answer before I can get there… But I really do mean to be there, under your wing, real soon… Well, at least just as soon as I can… Meaning, I guess… eventually….” And I can also hear Jesus speaking in the parable he gives us in this coming Sunday’s gospel, where a landowner has a fig tree and he complains to the gardener about this tree that has not born fruit for three years. “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” And this gardener (who sounds like an old fashioned organic gardener, since he’s not apparently planning to spray with high potency chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc.) says “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9.) And it can be easy to give in to a sense of gloom or defeat… And wonder if I’ve been bearing any fruit at all….Depending on how I hear this story Jesus tells. It’s often been assumed by interpreters that God must be the landowner in this parable, and Jesus must be the gardener, pleading for a little more time for the tree, which must be Israel or the church or perhaps each of us…. Which on one level does seem to be implied… But maybe there are other ways to hear the story? Maybe Jesus intends for this parable to get us pondering fruitfulness from a different angle. In another gardening story (John 15) Jesus tells us he is the vine – and God the Father is the gardener – who prunes the vine, cutting away unfruitful boughs (so there is still accountability in the story) but mostly pruning back branches to get...

read more

In the wilderness – March 2015

Every year in Lent we vicariously follow Jesus into the wilderness to learn from his forty days of testing and temptation… Each gospel tells the Jesus story in its own way. Matthew and Luke in their telling of the wilderness story say Jesus fasted the whole forty days and experienced three temptations from Satan. But St Mark, most succinct of gospel writers, takes only two short verses (1:12-13) to tell the whole wilderness story, omitting all specifics of the testings and never even mentioning fasting… Yet Mark adds a detail neither Matthew nor Luke includes – telling us Jesus was with the wild animals in the wilderness. And – in Mark the Holy Spirit actually drives Jesus out into the wilderness (the Spirit leads him in Matthew and Luke) – and angels are there all along, waiting on Jesus – with the wild beasts, and Satan the tempter and tester, and most of all with the Holy Spirit – all together in the wilderness… Which is how I remember my wilderness days. Wilderness time always seems to be an all-of-the-above-and-all-of-the-below-experience. I’m seldom sure when it’s the Spirit driving me out into the wilderness and when it’s just my heart longing for wilderness time… But for many years I’ve sought out wilderness… Which wasn’t hard to do when I lived in Vermont on the edge of wilderness – on a dirt road, heating with wood, at the intersection of a class 4 dirt road (unplowed in winter) where I’d walk, every morning, often seeing deer, flushing partridges from their woodland cover, glimpsing fox or rabbit, skunk or porcupine (at least noticing their tracks)… In season, I’d take my fly rod and walk the forested banks of small brooks, catching wild brook trout… Wade northern rivers far from the nearest road…Paddle a canoe around remote ponds and lakes, fishing early and late in the day when few if any were out on the waters… Often I’d journey farther into the wilderness for days at a time, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, and beyond to the upper Connecticut River in New Hampshire and the rivers of the Rangely Lakes area of Maine, where I’d virtually always see moose…standing majestic in the boggy end of a pond…or crossing roads unexpectedly at night… Wild beasts are always there in the wilderness. And certainly Jesus is never afraid of wild beasts – nor are they afraid of him. And whenever I remember I’m in the wilderness mainly to be with Jesus, I’m not afraid either. Even when huge but not-very-bright moose jump out in front of my car… If I’m praying properly my foot’s always ready to hit the brakes… Even that time in northern Minnesota, winding my way through brushy fields after dark, after exploring an unknown trout stream, trying to find the road and the car by compass and star light..And that brown bear suddenly running across the field a hundred yards ahead of me in the light of the full moon…I didn’t have time to be afraid, it happened so fast. But silent prayer always – and all was well… And another five minutes and there was the road… and the car, just around a corner… And probably the angels were helping me navigate all the while… As I prayed… Lord Jesus Christ...

read more

Welcome to Lent – March 2014

Every year, by tradition, we read one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness as we begin the season of Lent. Jesus heads into the wilderness, led by the Holy Spirit, to be tested and tempted by the devil. We go with him. Which doesn’t sound like much of a blessing to me on first take. But the word Lent literally means Spring, and with practice, I’ve actually come to look forward to Lent. I remember a visit to Prince Edward Island several decades ago. While driving the back roads I noticed a woolen products factory with a sign offering blankets for sale. Going in for a look, I was greeted by a man, who offered an informal tour of the factory. The place was old, the power looms were ancient. “It’s all running well,” he said. “Every year we shut down production for a month. We take every piece of machinery apart for inspection and greasing, and repairing as necessary. We can’t get parts anymore for this equipment,” he said, “so we really have to take very good care of it.” But setting aside a month to take apart and put back together the equipment – fixing things before they break – the looms kept running, year after year, making warm, beautiful blankets and employing local people. This is one of the ways I visualize Lent. Not to apply the metaphor to excess – Lent’s not about us taking ourselves apart and putting ourselves back together. Lent’s not a self-help program. Lent’s a getting-help-program. But Lent is especially about slowing down – even stopping altogether – long enough, consciously enough to make time enough to open ourselves up for God to inspect, tune-up, repair, and put back together again; better than we were. Modern machinery can usually be fixed or replaced speedily. People take longer. Our parts, like those at the woolen factory, are often hard to replace. And even when we can replace a knee or hip with a manufactured part, our bodies need weeks of rest to make it all work properly. This too, of course, is a metaphor.  No one comes close to getting it all together once and for all in the short span of Lent’s 40 days (six and a half weeks, with each Sunday in Lent counted as a “little-Easter,” exempt from traditional Lenten practices). We’re not going to be all-new people even by doing our very best and most intentional Lent. But Lent is enough time to make a noticeable difference. Lenten practice works, when we make the appropriate leaps of faith, slow down, and make time to let God work in us before we hit our breaking points. The season of Lent is modeled loosely on Jesus’ time in the wilderness – a time for reflection, prayer, fasting or abstaining from distractions (not necessarily even from foods, but definitely from anything that distracts us from God). By tradition we also emphasize giving and forgiving. But Lent’s not a technical fix, and many other spiritual practices can also work. (There’s no substitute for prayer for discerning God’s intentions for each of us.) I’ve come to think of Lenten practices as a tool kit of Best Spiritual Practices, which, used regularly, keep us growing in God’s grace, better able...

read more