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South Sudan – a new nation that came into being in 2013 – has been wracked by violence in recent months, sparking a mass migration of refugees across the borders of neighboring countries.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring Gambella, Ethiopia, where the Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, former New Testament professor at Trinity School for Ministry, is joined in ministry by his wife, Dr. Wendy LeMarquand. Between the two of them they are ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of the refugees.

Last month Grant and Wendy were joined by the Baroness Carolyn Cox in an appeal for the refugees of South Sudan:

This crisis has had little to no attention in western media. Please share the information with others you know, and consider supporting their relief efforts if you can.

St. Barnabas Day

Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas, so it seems only right to say a few words about him this morning. Scripture actually has a great deal to say about Barnabas. He was a ministry partner to Paul for many years, traveling with him on the first of his missionary journeys. He was a prophet and teacher. He was much loved among the leaders of the early church. They even gave him nickname – Barnabas. His original name was Joses, or Joseph, but they named him Barnabas, which in Hebrew means ‘son of encouragement’.

It’s a rare gift, being able to encourage others. When you think about it, there are so many sources of DIScouragement in the world! Illnesses, losses, maybe a grouchy boss, or a grouchy spouse, or grouchy kids… maybe what we hear on the news, or find in our mailboxes. But how often do we hear ENcouraging things? And when we do, doesn’t it tend to stick with us?

I heard a wonderful example of encouragement this week. Some of you may know Ms. Martha who has been on our prayer list. She’s currently in the hospital for leukemia. This past week was a particularly tough one for her. When word of this got out on the internet a group of around 25 people came to the hospital and took Martha to the chapel and prayed with her, shared communion, read scripture, sang songs, shared stories. If you’ve ever been in the hospital you can imagine how encouraging this would be! If healing is going to happen, encouragement like this lays the foundation for it. Sadly, encouragement like this is all too rare in our world.

Barnabas was an encourager like this. Just by way of background – Barnabas was a Levite – a member of the priestly tribe of Israel. He was born on Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, an important stop on a lot of trade routes. As a result Barnabas grew up being comfortable with foreigners and outsiders. He became a Christian early in the history of the church and was of the five “prophets and teachers” of the church in Syrian Antioch.

But this morning rather than giving you a biography of the man I’d like to try to tell his story from the point of view of someone who might have known him, a member of the church in Jerusalem. Speaking as that person, who might say something like this:

“Life hasn’t been easy for us believers here in Jerusalem but we are a joyful group anyway. 1500 years from now a guy named Shakespeare is going to write the words, ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’. And it kind of feels like that to us. Many of us here are poor, and there are lots of needs but we share whatever we have with joy. Seeing these needs, Barnabas went and sold some of his family’s land and brought the money and gave it to the apostles to provide for our poor and our widows and our children. (Acts 4:36) He wasn’t doing this to show off, he gave quietly, happy to know his land would be producing a crop of a different kind from now on.

“Some time ago there was this Pharisee named Saul. He had nothing better to do with his time than to go around persecuting the church and throwing people in jail and accusing them before the Sanhedrin. He was one of the ones to blame for the murder of that wonderful young man Stephen. Such a gentle soul Stephen was. This Saul… he stood and watched while they killed him… and he said nothing. Then a few months later he shows up calling himself Paul and claiming he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus on his way to Emmaus! Sounds like just the kind of thing he would make up to fool the simple. But Barnabas – he listened to Saul/Paul. He asked questions. He was thoughtful. And he became convinced Paul was telling the truth – not so much convinced by Paul’s words, but convinced by the Spirit of God. Barnabas was the first believer to call Paul ‘brother’ and invite him into the church. He introduced Paul to James and Peter and the apostles and spoke on his behalf until they trusted him. (Acts 9:27) As it turned out, Paul ended up being one of the most convincing preachers our church has ever seen!

“Some time later we got word here in Jerusalem that the church in Syrian Antioch was growing like crazy – and mostly with Gentiles! We also heard a lot of the new believers were from Cyprus. Barnabas – being from Cyprus himself – volunteered to travel to Antioch at his own expense to support these new converts. And when he got there he sent us back glowing letters saying how deeply these Gentiles loved Jesus. Barnabas’ preaching was so powerful the church grew by thousands! Ended up the church got so big he needed an assistant pastor, so he sent for Paul. A few years later, when famine broke out here in Jerusalem it was Barnabas and Paul who took up a collection for us and brought it as a gift from the church of Antioch. (Acts 11:19-30) They don’t just talk the faith up there, they live it.

“But I think the thing that really showed Barnabas’ true colors was the way he always defended the underdog. Like the time a bunch of old-fashioned religious types started saying the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. They almost caused a church split! But Barnabas, along with Paul, went and spoke to the church leaders in Jerusalem, and told them all about the miracles and faith among the Gentiles. And after searching the scriptures the leaders decided Barnabas was right. They wrote a letter to the Gentiles putting their minds at rest about circumcision. In that letter they described Barnabas and Paul as ‘beloved [disciples] who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ And that’s pretty much how we all feel about them. They are much loved by all the people.

“Another time Barnabas defended the underdog was the time he defended the disciple John-Mark to Paul. (Acts 15) Paul invited Barnabas to revisit the cities they had preached in together and Barnabas agreed but wanted to bring John-Mark along. John-Mark had been on their first journey but never got to complete the mission – he was called home about halfway through. We never did find out why, but Paul thought John-Mark was a quitter and said so to Barnabas. Barnabas stood up for John-Mark, which ticked Paul off big-time, and they had such a falling out they decided to go their separate ways. Paul took Silas with him on his journey instead of Barnabas, and Barnabas took John-Mark on a journey to Cyprus. It was a sad day for us to see Paul and Barnabas divided against each other like that. It didn’t last though. True, the two of them never traveled together again, but Paul had wonderful things to say about Barnabas in his letters. And rumor has it that Paul, talking to Silas one night, said he was sorry for the way he had treated Barnabas, saying ‘…but love is supposed to be patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way…’. They say that’s where it came from.

“So if you ask me about Barnabas – ask anyone who knows him for that matter – we’ll tell you he’s a man who is generous and courageous, faithful and dependable, discerning God’s truth, risking his life for the gospel, putting his reputation on the line to support others. He’s full of mercy and forgiveness. And he’s not one to fall for ‘proof-text’ arguments. You know the kind of arguments I mean: where you get caught between a rock and a hard place, like ‘should we pay taxes to Caesar or not’ – remember that one? Jesus was always good at finding a third alternative to these proof-text arguments, and Barnabas is good at that too. A better prophet and teacher would be hard to find.

“The world could use more like Barnabas, but I think they broke the mold when they made him. Still we could do a lot worse than to take a few pages from his book. We don’t all have the same gifts, but all of us can be encouragers.

“One word of caution though – where it comes to a man as good as Barnabas, people sometimes forget that he’s just the messenger, not the message itself. God, Father Son and Holy Spirit – is the best encourager of all. Not to take anything away from Barnabas, mind you – but even he would say that his life is meant to point to Jesus.

“In Scripture, the Holy Spirit says Barnabas is “a good man, full of the Spirit and of faith” – and the Spirit doesn’t say things like that about just anybody! He’s someone whose footsteps we can follow. But even better, he gives us a picture of how much God wants to encourage us with His mercy and His kindness, His faithfulness and His truth.

“A blessed St. Barnabas Day to you all.” AMEN.

Preached at Church of the Ascension, Oakland, Wednesday June 11, 2014

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We Made It!

It only took seven years attending part-time but I finally made it!
Master of Divinity degree, 2014.

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity (formerly “Episcopal”) School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA is an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.  Founded in the 1970s as the only evangelical Episcopal seminary in the United States, Trinity quickly became the fastest-growing seminary in the Episcopal denomination.  The name “School for Ministry” (as opposed to “Seminary”) was given because its founders wanted the focus of Trinity’s education to be on reaching the people outside the school’s walls, not hunkering down in ivory towers.

With the fragmenting of the Episcopal church in the 21st century, Trinity has chosen to shed an exclusive denominational relationship in favor of growing ecumenical and international partnerships.  Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians are now trained for ministry at Trinity as well as Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Jesus Is…

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16)

How long has it been since you went outside at night and looked up at the at the stars in the sky? You know the feeling you get? Gazing at the stars, you begin to imagine how vast the universe is, and how small the earth is (and we are) by comparison. It’s a feeling like awe mixed with humility, and for those of us who know God there is amazement and praise mixed in too.

There’s a saying that was popular a few years ago: “Don’t tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is.” In a way today’s scripture readings send a similar message. They all point to God’s absolute power, including His power to save. But I’m not sure the old saying is right about one thing: I think it’s OK to “tell God how big our problems are”. In Psalm 38 King David certainly does not hesitate to go into detail about how big his problems are! He’s passionate and descriptive, and I think God appreciates the honesty and directness. David also knows that in spite of the situation he finds himself in, his present and future are secure in God’s hands. He says in the end, “It is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord, who will answer.” (Ps 38:15)

In his letter to the Colossians Paul likewise expresses confidence in God’s power to help and preserve his people.

The letter to the Colossians is an unusual one (as Paul’s letters go), in that he is writing to a church he didn’t start, to people he never met. The subject matter is also not typical for Paul. Many of Paul’s letters are written either as a follow-up to his missionary journeys, or to settle differences between church members. There’s none of that in this letter.

Apart from offering some fatherly advice on how to live a Christian life, Paul basically has two reasons for writing this letter:

  1. To prevent potential problems in the Colossian church, and
  2. To express his gratitude and some words of encouragement.

The potential problems in the Colossian church are only hinted at in the first chapter of Colossians. In later chapters Paul expresses concerns that the Colossians are surrounded by a culture in which other spiritualities and philosophies are popular topics of conversation and practice. He was also concerned that problems in the church a few miles away at Laodicea – mentioned in Revelation Chapter 3 – might spread to Colossae. (Paul intended that this letter be read in the church at Laodicea as well, as he says in chapter 4.) Paul begins to address these potential problems in our reading from this morning, but only by inference.

Paul also wants to send thanks and praise to this faithful church in Colossae. He leads off his letter saying “I have received glowing reports about you” – about your faith and hope and love for the saints. Paul is in prison as this letter is being written, and he takes great comfort and encouragement from hearing these reports… which are being given to him by the Colossian’s own pastor, who just happens to be sharing Paul’s jail cell! Paul and Epaphras are encouraging each other, keeping the Colossians in prayer, and together sending them a word from the Lord.

In their prayers for the Colossians, Paul and Epaphras ask the following: “that [the Colossians – individually and collectively] may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will… in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… so as to walk worthy of the Lord… pleasing to him… bearing fruit in every good work… increasing in the knowledge of God… be strengthened with all power… for all endurance and patience… with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [them] to share in the inheritance of the saints.” (Col 1:9-12)

That’s a mouthful! But they ask with confidence, knowing who it is they are talking to. The saviour, Jesus, not only gives the Colossians a share in the inheritance of the saints, but gives them an anchor of hope that cannot be moved. Paul is sure of the Colossians’ salvation. When Paul talks about certainty and confidence, he immediately looks to Jesus. And starting at Colossians 1:15 Paul’s words become passionate and poetic – in the original Greek it almost sounds like Paul is singing. (In fact many Biblical scholars believe Paul was either quoting a hymn or paraphrasing one because the language is so beautiful.)

Paul says, “this Son of God, this Jesus, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins: Jesus is _____.” Fill in the blank. Paul takes the phrase “Jesus is…” and runs with it. He goes on listing all things Jesus IS. Follow with me, beginning in verse 15.

Col. 1:15 – Jesus is… “the image of the invisible God.” The Greek word ‘image’ here is icon, which means pretty much the same in Greek as it does in English. Jesus is an image meant to convey truth about God and to inspire worship. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus!

Also in verse 15 – Jesus is… “the first-born of all creation”. In Jewish society (as well as in many others) the first-born has a place of prominence, of leadership. Paul is saying Jesus has THE place of prominence in all creation.

Col. 1:16 – Jesus is… “the one in and by whom all things were created” – and Paul goes on to list heaven, earth, what is seen, what is not seen, thrones, powers. In other words, everything!   Everything was created “by Him and through Him and for Him.” Jesus is the source, the designer, and the means. All things created for his pleasure, everything that exists, everything we see, and everything that we don’t see. It’s all about Him!

Col 1:17 – Jesus is… “before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Everything that exists, exists in him. Jesus was there at the very beginning and has been taking care of creation ever since. Just as an aside: I’m not talking about creationism vs. evolution here. That’s not my point, and it’s not Paul’s point either. The point is Jesus is bigger than any human understanding. His is the first word, and His is the last word.

Col. 1:18 – Jesus is… “the head of the body, that is, the church” At this point Paul shifts from the greatness of Jesus in the universal sense to the Jesus who relates to us. Jesus is the founder and leader of our community as Christians.

Also in verse 18 – Jesus is… “the firstborn from the dead” Not just the firstborn in creation, but the first of us human beings to walk out of the grave alive, never to die again. His resurrection is the promise and down-payment of our own resurrection. Jesus has opened the door to eternity.

Col. 1:19 – Jesus is… “the one in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell”. This verse actually looks back to our Gospel reading for today. In Matthew 3:17, after Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Spirit descends and we hear God saying, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This phrase well pleased in Greek is the same word used in Col 1:19 – the fullness of God is well pleased to live in Jesus. This is why Jesus can say in John 14:9 “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one”.

Col. 1:20 – Jesus is… “the one who reconciles all things to himself, in heaven and earth, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Not by power; not by force; but with tenderness and love and self-sacrifice, the creator of the universe steps down from His throne, suffers, and dies to secure and restore all things, including you and me.

Col. 1:22 – Jesus is… “the one who reconciles us in his body through death, in order to present us holy and blameless.” Praise God!

How much of this depends on us? Not one thing.

Given all this as truth, then, what does Paul say to the Colossians? How would he have them respond?

Verse 23: “Be steadfast in faith” – ‘hold on to what you have,’ he tells them. Paul has said earlier in the letter how well the Colossians have been living their faith and their hope, and loving God’s people. Paul says, ‘keep on doing that’. He says, “not shifting away from the hope we have received in the Gospel.”

In these words Paul sounds a lot like the apostle Peter in his first letter, where he says, “By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:3-5)

Peter and Paul agree. They say, ‘don’t let the so-called wisdom of the world distract you’. Stay the course. Continue in the faith; hold on to the hope of the gospel; and in the words of the English pastor Charles Simeon, “Rest assured that He who created and preserves the universe can – and will – preserve you and me.” AMEN

Sermon preached at Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh, Wednesday May 7 2014
Scripture texts: Exodus 19:16-25, Psalm 38, Colossians 1:15-23

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A friend posted this on Facebook today and I had to re-post it here.  It’s a blast from the past, part of the soundtrack of my young adult life. Glad to have it where I can find it and share it with friends.

Without further ado… comedian/musician/mathematician Tom Lehrer.  Enjoy.

~

 

 

 

 

Mo and the G-20 – A Fable

Allow me to introduce Mo. He’s a middle-aged man with a checkered past, but for the past couple decades he’s been a solid citizen, working in the family business – cattle ranching – and helping raise his two boys.

One day Mo was out taking care of the animals when God paid him a visit.

“Mo,” God says, “My people are in trouble. They’re being strong-armed into working ten-plus hours a day, sometimes seven days a week… and if they don’t work those long hours they can’t afford to keep their homes or feed their families. They don’t have time or energy for Me any more. And they’re starting to feel like I’ve given up on them and like I’m only watching them from a distance, and that’s not true. So listen. There’s a meeting of the G-20 coming up shortly. I want you to go. Tell the world leaders My people need three days off to worship Me.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that God’s voice can’t be mistaken for anything else, Mo would have thought he was going crazy. For sure the delegates at the G-20 would think he was crazy. Mo told God so. But after some discussion Mo agreed to go, accompanied by his brother Ron.

When he arrived at the G-20, Mo found his name already on the speakers’ list.

Mo got up to speak and he delivered God’s message just the way God had given it: “This is what the Lord says, the living God. Let My people go and have a three-day weekend celebration with Me out in the countryside.”

The G-20 delegates exchanged glances and a few muffled giggles. Then the Moderator got up to speak:

God?! What is this god you speak of? I don’t know any god. Why should I listen to him?”

Mo shrugged. “This is all I can tell you. God met with Ron and me a few weeks ago and made His wishes known. He wants His people to have a three-day weekend to worship Him. Do we dare to disobey God?”

The Moderator laughed. “Why should we give people three days off?! The workers are nothing but a bunch of lazy bums. Projects need to be completed! Get back to work!” And he kicked Mo and Ron out.

Later during the G-20 sessions world leaders voted to expand the work week to 50 hours a week and abolish time-and-a-half for overtime.

The two competing TV news sources reported the incident this way:

Channel One – “Breaking news from the G-20. Christian farmer claims God told him to demand three weeks off for every Christian worker in the world. Muslims are up in arms and claim prejudice. Story at eleven…”

Channel Two – “Delusional farmer says God wants people everywhere to have three months off work. This command can’t be found in the Bible – in fact the Bible says work is good and God hates laziness. So this man can’t have heard from God. The whole story is a pack of lies created by Channel One to discredit Christians.”

Neither channel mentions the increased workload or the abolished time-and-a-half.

Mo goes home to the ranch and looks up to the sky. “Why Lord? Why did You send me to do this? Now the people are in a worse place than they were before.”

God says to Mo: “You just sit back and you watch. I’ve got something big up My sleeve, and I have a pretty big sleeve…”

 

(inspired by Exodus Chapter 5)

 

The Woman at the Well

WellYarda

Somewhere around the year 30 AD, Jesus and his disciples were preaching the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom against the backdrop of the Roman empire and their occupying forces.

You could say “it was the best of times and the worst of times.” And because Jesus, in our Gospel reading for today (John 4) is traveling from the Temple Mount and Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, we could call today’s reading…

“A Tale of Two Mountains”

A long time ago, in a far away place, there lived a woman. She was pretty much your average woman… except that she’d been married five times.

We don’t know her name (I wish we did).

We don’t know how old she was, but if you figure an average of 5 years per husband with a first marriage at fifteen, by the time our story takes place she’s at least in her early 40s.

I mention this because somehow I always pictured her as young, but she wasn’t. She was most likely old enough to be Jesus’ mother. And she felt older – tired, worn out.

The woman lived in the city of Sychar in Samaria, known today as the West Bank. It’s a hard-scrabble land: mountainous, rocky, and dry. She lived not far from Mt Gerizim where the Samaritans worshiped, and not far from Jacob’s Well.

For the women in those days, the daily trip to the well was the highlight of the day. Women spent most of their time working in the extended family compound but once a day they went out and walked part-way up the mountain to the well to get water. And as they went they met neighbors and laughed and talked and caught up on the latest news. “How’s Aunt Mary?” “How are the kids?” And because it was hot, and the water jugs were heavy, the women went to the well first thing in the morning, when it was cool.

But this particular woman – she never went in the morning. She wasn’t welcome. I mean, five husbands…! At best that was a very long streak of really bad luck. If only one of the marriages had ended in divorce – we don’t know that any of them did – but if only one had, she would have been socially unacceptable.

But at this point it didn’t matter – now she was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She was no longer welcome among respectable people. She was shunned by the women of the town. She came to the well in the heat of the day – at noon – so she wouldn’t have to hear their words or look at their accusing eyes.

In a way, after all these years, she kind of liked having some time to herself. It gave her time to think. She was glad that, even as bad as things were, at least she still had her health. She wasn’t begging for money at the city gate, and she’d never been a prostitute. And sometimes as she walked up the path to Jacob’s Well she thought about the ancestors who had walked that path before her: Jacob, the patriarch, the one they called Israel… whose name means “he wrestles with God.” She could relate to that. Standing in the place where Israel stood she sometimes wrestled with God herself. And his sons: Joseph… Benjamin… Judah… all twelve of the brothers and their families. Some people said even Abraham had walked these paths once. When she thought about all the generations that had gone before she felt proud. Proud to be a Samaritan. She may not have been the most upstanding person in the world but at least she was a good and loyal Samaritan.

On another mountain, in Jerusalem, Jesus had just finished having a long talk with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Like the woman, Nicodemus had walked up a mountain alone, at an odd hour, not wanting to be seen. And in his own way he too was wrestling with God. Jesus had talked with him, done his best to answer the unasked questions, and now Jesus was tired and wanted to go home to Galilee. So the next morning he and the disciples set out northward. At midday, exhausted and hungry, the disciples went to grab a bite to eat while Jesus rested by a well.

That day, just like every other day, the woman of Sychar arrived at the well around noon… and a strange man sitting there! This was not good. Everyone knew a woman – a decent woman – would never be caught traveling alone. This was dangerous. Who was he? What was he going to do?

“Think fast” she thought to herself, but it was too late. He’d seen her. There was nothing for it but to get the water and get out as quickly as she could. If he was a decent man he’d ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there.

No such luck.

“Give me some water,” he said. No ‘please’. No ‘hi how are ya?’ Just a demand. From a man who – judging by his accent – had no business making any kind of demands of a Samaritan. Which she figured she’d better remind him.

She asked, “How is it that a Jew like you is asking for a drink from a Samaritan woman like me?”

If the conversation had taken place in our time she might have said: “hon, do you know who you’re talkin’ to?”

Because that’s exactly what Jesus heard, and it’s exactly the question he answered: “If you knew who you were talkin’ to, you would ask him for water, living water, the gift of God.”

Really? –she thought. That was a daring answer. This was a daring conversation to begin with! He’s unconventional. He says curious things. She kind of liked him. And even though he was young enough to be her son there was something about him she respected.

“Sir,” she said, using the Greek word kyrie – as in kyrie eleison, meaning Lord – “Kyrie, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. How…where… are you going to get this living water?” And she couldn’t resist the temptation to poke at him a little bit, reminding him of exactly which mountain he was currently sitting on. “Are you greater than our father Jacob whose well this is?”

He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give will never thirst again. The water I give will become on the inside of them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

What is he going on about? She wondered. But suddenly she felt very thirsty… thirsty for hope, thirsty for something to believe in. So she decided to go for it, and ask what he had invited her to ask. “Kyrie, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty or come here to draw again.”

He said, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The words cut like a knife. WHY?? Why did he have to ask that? The conversation had been going so well… she actually had begun to feel he respected her a little… why?… why was it, every time something important needed to be talked about, a man would push a woman aside and insist on talking to other men? Why? She could barely contain her rage as she spat out the words, “I’m not married.”

Three words. No kyrie.

“Well said,” Jesus replied. “Well said. You’ve had five husbands, and now the man you have is not your husband. What you’ve said is true.”

She could feel the rocks shifting like sand beneath her feet. Who is this man? How does he know? Wait… he knows this and he’s not going anywhere? He’s still talking to me?

Kyrie, I can see that you’re a prophet,” she said. “Our fathers worshiped here on this mountain, but you Jews say we have to worship in Jerusalem. What’s up with that?”

Some say her question was a dodge, but I disagree. For starters, the husband situation was old news as far as she was concerned. If Jesus could live with it so could she. Second, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you had the chance to ask one question of a famous man of God – Billy Graham perhaps, or CS Lewis – do you ask him how to improve your married life? Or do you ask the one burning question nobody else has been able to answer? And third, she was giving Jesus the chance to show what He was really made of. Would He put her people down? Or would He speak words of peace? So she asked the number one question on her mind: What is it God really requires of us?

Good question.

And apparently Jesus thought so too. So he explained how, even though salvation is from the Jews, the time was coming – and indeed had come – when neither mountain would be the place to worship, because people would worship God (who is spirit) in spirit and in truth.

In the deepest part of her soul the woman knew – this was right. It was the answer she’d been looking for, even if she didn’t quite understand it. So she said, “I know Messiah is coming and when he comes he will explain it all.”

And he said, “I am he.”

And their eyes met… and she looked into the human face of God.

She forgot all about the water-jug. (Jesus never got his drink.) But the woman became the first person Jesus ever told straight out that He was the Messiah. You might say she was the world’s first Christian evangelist. Her message was welcomed with joy by the people of her city – she was no longer an outcast.

And the Samaritans – who would never have offered a Jew a glass of water – hosted Jesus and the disciples in their homes for two days. And Jesus and the disciples did what good Jewish boys would never have done: they accepted the invitation.

And she never stopped talking about the day she met Jesus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The epilogue to our story can be found in the other two scripture readings for today.

In the Old Testament reading, the people of Israel quarrel with God over the need for water. Like Jacob and like the woman they too wrestle with God. All these people have one thing in common: none of them lets go of God until they receive the blessing.

For us also Lent may be a time of wrestling with God. If so, hang on and don’t let go until the blessing comes! Because it will come.

That’s what Paul promises in the reading from Romans: we have peace with God, not of our own doing but through him. Through him we are justified. Through him we have peace. Through him we have grace. Through him we are reconciled to God. Through him.

We DO hear the words “I am he” one more time – on yet another mountain – the Mount of Olives. Jesus says them to Judas and the mob that comes to arrest him, and at these words they fall to the ground. (John 18:6)

“I am he.” This is the ancient name of God – I AM. And there is indeed power in the name.

The testimony is ours.

~
Preached at Incarnation Church, Strip District, Pittsburgh, Sunday March 23 2014

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