Tag Archives: mission of God

Thirst

A Sermon for 19 March 2017 – Third Sunday during Lent

A reading from the gospel of John 4:1-42.  Listen for God’s word to us.

     “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4 But he had to go through Samaria.  5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon.  7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true!”  19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 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.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).  “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”  27 Just then his disciples came.  They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”  28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.  She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  30 They left the city and were on their way to him.  31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’?  But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”  39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”  40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  41 And many more believed because of his word.  42 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.””
This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!
      Monday in Kansas City, the NEXT Church national conference began.  You’d think with a name like NEXT Church, this would be a conference put on by flashy young clergymen from one of those non-denominational, mega, pop-up churches.  But, believe it or not, NEXT Church is a network of church members, youth leaders, educators, pastors, professors, seminarians, and ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This national network of Presbyterians believes “the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful, and more agile” (www.nextchurch.net/about-next/).  Their website includes relevant resources, an opportunity to be a part of a monthly web-based roundtable, and story after story of churches telling the ways they are re-imagining treasured ministries.  There’s even a submission from a SMALL church of this Presbytery that created a 20-minute Ash Wednesday pod-cast to reach 1,000 listeners – something they did in addition to a drive-through line in their parking lot for commuters to receive the imposition of ashes on their way to work.  Sounds pretty cool to me!  . . .  In addition to having a website filled with such creative options, NEXT Church also hosts an annual conference.  This year, some 220 first-time attenders joined another 300 or so folks for a week of honest, inspiring conversation around the theme Wells and Walls:  Well-Being in a Thirsty World.  They spent all week around the gospel of John’s story of Jesus, tired out from his journey, breaking down walls as he sought out a local well.
     It may be shocking to hear, as the gospel details early in this story, that even Jesus was thirsty along his journey.  Jesus seems to indicate that it’s four months before the harvest, so likely that puts them in the heat of summer, at noon, mid-way through the five-day trek of the 100 miles from Judea where Jerusalem is, back to his home district of Galilee, where Jesus undertook the majority of his ministry.  Intentionally he takes the short cut.  Maybe because he’s exhausted from the journey.  More likely because he’s not afraid of the long-standing walls between people.  Though the Samaritans may not be included in his people’s definition of one of us; the gospel of John tells the story as if he had a messianic need to go through Samaria.  He may be tired out from his journey so that he sits at a well – likely hoping to quench his body’s thirst.  But within, he also has another thirst.  He has a thirst – a craving inside to encounter those of this world who thirst.  This is the gospel, remember, that one chapter prior tells of Jesus encountering at night the Pharisee Nicodemus.  According to the gospel of John, the last time we hear of Jesus in conversation with another; he tells that treasured truth:  why God sent him into the world.  Out of love, we hear on the lips of Jesus in John 3:16, the Word was enfleshed; not to condemn but that no last one would perish.  The thirst that drives our Christ is to fulfill this mission of God’s.  To complete this work, Jesus explains to his disciples after they return and find him talking with a woman, of Samaria, who has been passed from husband to husband.  She happens to be the one who walked up in this foreign land through which Jesus decided to travel.  So she becomes his first Samaritan disciple who runs off to tell everyone else about the One she encountered at noon at the well.
     It’s hard to tell when we’re thirsty, isn’t it?  I listened to a friend this week who is worried she could end up hospitalized from de-hydration, as she was two years ago, because she can’t seem to remember to stop throughout the day to take in the water she needs.  Due to a recent flood in her area, it doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to, but it’s still right there – with her in her computer case as she travels from place to place going about her daily work.  According to Water.org, an international nonprofit organization that has been working for 25 years to address the global water crisis; 663 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.  That’s one in 10 people on this planet, or twice the population of the United States, without safe drinking water.  That’s a lot of thirsty, prone to disease and death people who literally need water to drink.  . . .  I could tell you stats about how many today describe themselves as spiritually thirsty but not turning to the church for connection with the Divine.  A growing number of spiritually curious people in the United States do not see evidence that church-goers’ lives look any different than their own unchurched life.  But we don’t need the stats to know how deep the thirst.  We know the stories.  Grown children who may still consider themselves Christian but do not participate in a local church; it seems irrelevant.  Siblings who don’t make it a practice to be in worship anywhere – if they ever did.  Neighbors who most likely spend Sunday mornings lounging and catching up as a family rather than racing over here – or to any of the other ga-zillion Nashville church options.  Even those who want to be here, but no longer can be due to illness or mobility or physical capacity.  Everywhere we look today, we see thirst.  We, who come here week after week, also thirst.  . . .  What’s going to quench those parched places in us and in others?
     The gospel of John presents One who stays with the woman.  Locked in what seems like a heady-battle, she questions and queries as one determined to protect her heart.  With every response, Jesus just takes her deeper; deeper to the scorched places within.  He meets her where she is and won’t allow any rules set up between them to get in his way.  He is thirsty for her not to perish, which in the gospel of John has to do with a state of living right now, today.  The eternal life that is God’s will is not just about eons to pass.  Eternal life has a flavor that better matches our understanding of abundance – a state of being now that our Creator wants for us all.  It’s the difference between a stinky, still pond of water and a fresh, gushing spring coming right up from the ground.  Or the difference in a defensive woman at a well and a filled-with-vigor witness who drops her jar to sprint back to the village to tell news too good to be kept inside.  It’s one filled with a joy-ful spirit who finally knows herself accepted in the eyes of the Divine, cherished as one welcomed into the fold.  Standing in the presence of the One whose love will wash over her every morning like waves refreshing a tattered soul.  Simply Jesus reveals himself unto her until, at last, everything within comes alive.
     He wants it for us too.  And for every other person of this world who thirsts.  Somehow the two go together – that when we are filled, the Spirit of God comes pouring right back out.  We know it because in this story, Jesus never does get a cup of cool water from that well.  His thirst is quenched in his encounter with the woman and those of her town to whom she introduced him.  We’d do well to remember:  it is in fulfilling the mission of God, Christ’s thirst is satisfied.  . . .  It’s like that with life-giving water.  Ebbing and flowing between us like waves.  No walls able to stop it.  It just keeps crashing up against any defenses, slowly wearing ‘em down, until we’re drenched in God’s life-giving love.
     For us all in this world who thirst, may the Living Water flow!
     In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
                                             © Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)

One Life

16 November 2014 sermon — Matthew 25:14-30

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

Click here to read scripture first: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRS)

Several years ago I sat through a long and arduous meeting across from a woman wearing a t-shirt that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. It really was so alarming that I found myself deep in thought rather than paying attention to the agenda for which we were gathered. The t-shirt read: “You have one life. Do something!” . . . “You have one life. Do something!” . . . Wasn’t that the message we heard a few weeks ago on All Saints’ Sunday as the chime rang for each loved one we named? Isn’t that the silver lining of the dark cloud of death? Every time we come face-to-face with the loss of a loved one, at the same time, we come face-to-face with the reality of our limited time. Our days are not infinite – not in the life we know now as human beings. . . . Sure we have the promise and hope of life everlasting with our God. But here and now, we only have one life. It is expected that we do something!

Jesus might as well have been wearing the very same t-shirt as he talked to his disciples that day. Mind you – according to the gospel of Matthew’s telling of the story – these words come just two days before the drama of Christ’s final Passover. They’re in Jerusalem – well, right outside on the Mount of Olives, actually (Mt. 24:3). And certainly at least one of the twelve was intuitive enough to know the tension is mounting. The one who’s been busy giving away his life each day for the life of the world is about to face his riskiest investment yet. He’s about to march right into Jerusalem, and though he doesn’t want to swallow the biter cup of suffering – as his prayer in the garden reveals (Mt. 26:39), still: he’s willing to keep himself open come what may. Even if the outcome is death, he keeps his trust in his father: our God of Life. . . . This one, who is on his own high-risk adventure, is the one who tells the story we heard today as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.

It’s like three people, Jesus says. Maybe we should start it the way we love all stories to start. Once upon a time there was an extravagant owner. He wanted to see how his folks would do. So he called them together and gave to each way more than any could imagine. He was careful to consider what each might be able to handle, so as not to overwhelm. Yet lavish, immense amounts were granted. . . . According to Jesus’ telling of the story, one was given the equivalent of 75 years of a day laborer’s earnings. One 30 years of a day laborer’s earnings. One 15 years of a day laborer’s earnings (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 4; Lindsay P. Armstrong, p. 309). . . . They really weren’t given any instructions. Just entrusted with such enormous gifts. I guess the owner figured they all knew each other really well: out of love for the one freely giving, the three would know just what to do. I mean, love begets love. Generosity evokes additional generosity in open, pure spirits. So, of course, the owner simply trusted they would not squander the gift.

Perhaps the owner forgot that fear is powerful. Fear gets its fangs in us and before we know it, we’re stuck. Immobilized. . . . How often has Spirit come to us with grandiose ideas? Crazy thoughts about things like starting over. Or trying something new. Opening ourselves to the person in need before us. Or investing more of our time and energy that another might grow. Spirit nudges us all the time into the ways that lead to life. And when we’re listening; if we’re paying attention; too often fear gets at us before the new thing even is given a chance to begin. . . . Now what if that would have been Christ’s approach? Where would we be – where would the fate of God’s entire creation be – had Jesus allowed fear to get the better of him that week in Jerusalem as he faced all that lie ahead? . . .

Once upon a time, one who was given an extraordinary amount went out in fear. He dug a hole. Not wanting to lose or waste or take any sort of risk whatsoever with what of his master’s he’d been given; he buried in the ground that which had been entrusted to him. He allowed fear to rob him of the opportunity to know great joy. . . . As one commentator has written, he played it safe, which is “something akin to death, like being banished to the outer darkness” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 4; John M. Buchanan, p. 312).

We have one life.

Of course, there are other ways to understand this story. There’s always more than one way to understand whatever we hear. One preacher questions why we always relate the master of this parable of Jesus with the big M Master of the Universe. (Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Parable of the Fearful Investor,” Nov. 13, 2011: http://chapel.duke.edu/worship/worship-services/sermons-bulletins/2011-sermons-archive). Reading from another angle, she wonders if this third slave wasn’t the hero of the story. The whistle-blower of sorts who refused to participate in an economic system, like the one of Jesus’ day, that was eating up the simple people of the land while more fully filling the deep pockets of those profiting from the way it had come to be. Might Jesus have meant the master of this parable was a lower-case m master who just was trying to get more for himself in the end – no matter the cost to those hurt by it all. If we read it that way, this parable becomes a code to Christ’s disciples that refusal to participate with the powers that be will lead to the wrath of those powers coming down upon our head. As he’s about to experience in Jerusalem, do something as rash as not perpetuate the unjust system and the system will ensure we are put out. Taken away the little that we might have and thrown out into utter darkness as one totally worthless in a world set up to take more and more for themselves. . . . The truth remains: We have one life. And just wait until we hear the parable Jesus is about to tell next – at least according to the gospel of Matthew! Come back next week for that one.

Maybe you’ve heard the brilliant words of the poet Mary Oliver. In a poem entitled “The Summer Day,” Oliver writes, and I quote: “Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean — the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down — who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.” Oliver writes: “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me,” she writes, “what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver, The House Light Beacon Press Boston, 1990 on: http://www.bemindful.org/poems.htm).

We have one life: one wild and precious life. An amazing gift to us from God.

One thing we might commit to do is invest a little bit more of it in the mission of God. If you were here last week then you might have heard the Minute for Mission in which one member said that she gives of her time, talents, and money because she wants to be a part of this church. She wants to be involved in the ministry this church is doing – things that she knows matter to God even more than they matter to her. . . . Many of you already are investing in God’s work through this church by participating in bible studies and Sunday School and other opportunities to shape your heart and mind a little bit more into the heart and mind of God. Some of you are around here a lot: fixing what’s broken, listening to the need of a struggling stranger, welcoming whoever enters into our fellowship hall or food bank or sanctuary. Most all of you are giving financial offerings each week that go to pay the electric bills of this church, and ensure we are inspired by beautiful music, and even have a pastor to call upon when you need someone to help you sort through what God is up to in your life. I wonder if each of us could step up a little bit more. Maybe increase our financial pledge by just one small percent in the year ahead. So that if you have been giving $2,000 this year, increase it one percent to $2,020 in 2015 – that wouldn’t be too harsh of a stretch for most of us, would it? If you only have been attending worship, try getting involved in one additional ministry of the church – not necessarily to be in charge of it, but maybe just show up to be present next year in one more way. If you have been great among us at using your talent of organizing, maybe begin to utilize your talent of encouragement too. You get the idea. What if every one of us invested a little bit more of who we are and what we have for the work of God through the ministry of this church? . . . We only have one life: one wild and precious life.

So: hide it? We cannot. Play it safe? We cannot. Risk it all, invest it lavishly like our Lord, in absolute trust of the abundantly, Life-giving Master? I know it may not sound very prudent – or even very Presbyterian. Nonetheless, here and now, we’ve got just one wonderful life. . . . For the life of the world, why not risk it all? In the end we too might hear: “Well done good and faithful servant! . . . Enter into the joy of your extravagant master!” (Mt. 25:21).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)