Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tired, Frustrated and Thirsty

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves
to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and
inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all
adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil
thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

FYI: this is less recap and more like a lightly edited version of the preaching on Sunday.... so, it is bit more wordy and has a little more of the preacher's cadence and voice....

Texts (John 4 and Exodus 17:1-7)

Lead into Communion

In our texts before us this morning we meet people are who are tired, frustrated and thirsty. The Samaritan woman at the well has had a really difficult life; she is tired, frustrated and thirsty. She will guide us in a deeper understanding of grace during the homily. In our text from Exodus we meet a bit of a different sort of fatigue and frustration. God’s people have been freed from oppressive slavery in Egypt; freedom is at hand and more freedom is in front of them. But what about food and what about water? Earlier in this narrative they cried out in hunger and God gave them manna; now they cry out for water to quench their thirst but where is the water? There is no water in sight. There was water in Egypt and for that matter there was food in Egypt. There was plenty of food and plenty of water but at the cost of their freedom; here, in the wilderness, there is freedom, but water and food come only from God’s hand. Can he be trusted to keep providing? Will the one who provided yesterday provide today, or tomorrow? In Egypt there was water stored up in reserve. Make some more bricks; get some more food and water. Pharaoh’s grand empire would apparently never run out of food and water. Stay in your place and you will at least have food and water. Out in the wilderness it is a different story. Commenting on this passage, Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, says this: “Moses obeys; Yahweh delivers. Israel drinks. The crisis is averted. The narrative tells all of this in one brief sentence.... no commentary.... no explanation... no embarrassment.... We are given only a simple bare act for all to see, a lean story for all to hear. It is a situation in which Yahweh sustained life but in lean, precarious, anxiety producing ways that require deep trust.”

Interestingly, this narrative is part of a time of Israel’s life that is cited in the Psalms and the New Testament as a time of unfaithfulness.... a time characterized as grumbling, complaining and doubting God. However, we should note that God’s response is still one of provision. To be sure, the response comes in the form of a “terse command, a lean promise, and life-at-the-last minute (Brueggemann)”, but it is a response none-the-less. “Israel is left to trust in miracles that the empire had deemed impossible” This is the God who is good but not safe. This is God developing faith and trust in us by always binding himself to us in life-giving ways - on his terms to be sure - but binding himself to us none-the-less. One is reminded of the passage from 2 Timothy that some New Testament scholars think might have been part of an early creed or hymn: “When we are faithless he is faithful for he cannot deny himself”. This communion table is for those who are tired, frustrated and thirsty. Like Israel of old we come wanting to trust in freedom but often leaning towards slavery. God though, for his part, is determined to make us free as he builds faith and trust in us. “Life-at-the-last-minute” was not God’s way of being capricious but his way of deepening faith. Bring your worst fears to God this morning; bring your frustration with him and this world; throw it at him and in ways that will almost certainly surprise you, he will meet you with grace.

From the homily:

And now we meet more fatigue, more frustration and more thirst in Jesus’ visit with the Samaritan woman. It is well known that Jesus shatters social, moral and religious categories by talking to this woman. (1. He should not be talking to a woman in this manner according to the conventions and guidelines of Judaism and the culture in general. 2. He should certainly not be talking to a woman who had a bad reputation - the fact that she was at the well at an odd time most likely meant that other women did not want to have anything to do with her. 3. As someone who was a rabbi, he should certainly not be talking to a Samaritan, who were regarded by Jews as half-breeds - they had intermarried during the exile - they were despised by the religious leadership of Israel.

There is an aspect of this story, however, that is often shied away from in the pulpit but I want us to explore it a bit. Jesus puts himself in a situation where anyone looking on would almost certainly make assumptions - assumptions that were not true - but assumptions. The assumptions would have been around what his motives were in talking to a woman and talking to her alone. Since society and religion had left no room for such a conversation to occur for any good reason, the only thing that would have occurred to most onlookers would have been that this conversation was illicit in nature and designed to lead to sex. In the previous chapter of John, we have a religious leader who seeks Jesus under the cover of nightfall, afraid of being openly associated with him. But here Jesus seeks someone who society frowns upon in a setting and interaction that to onlookers would have at first appeared tawdry, in order to make her an example of who God welcomes as worshippers. The thought has crossed most of our minds before whether or not Jesus would be happy to sit down with us wherever he were, no matter how much of a mess we might be in that moment. This passage should give us a great assurance that if Jesus were here in our time in the flesh he would be happy to talk with us anywhere and at any time, even if the whole interaction might look shady to cynical onlookers. You are the ones he welcomes as worshippers.

The Samaritan woman, with her history of pain, brokenness, likely often taken advantage of by men, maybe sometimes a willing adulterer - the text leaves these questions open - she is a lot like us. Like us, her past and present is characterized by a lot of pain and misgivings, and a future full of questions. She is tired, hungry, and thirsty. Her confession: "I have no husband" is met with Jesus' acknowledgment of her brokenness and an invitation to see, in him, a future of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. There is not a hint of moralism or religious elitism in Jesus' words. Instead there is an invitation for her to grow in God’s love and grace. The implication is clear; the way to human flourishing for her, and for us, is found in a deeper relationship with God and his healing love. The goal of God's love is to bring us to see ourselves in light of God's purposes for us in this life. To be sure, love wounds us as it opens us to the future that God wants for us, for it is always hard to come to terms with the truth, at least initially. But it is in the confidence of God's love for us and his desire for us to flourish that we find the courage to face that truth and seek the healing that comes through a deeper experience of that same love, here symbolized as living water.

Questions for Discussion:
Questions 1 and 2 will likely spark the same sort of discussion - you may want to take them together.

1. Can you think of times when you have been like the wilderness generation, grumbling and doubting? Can you think of an aspect of your life where you lean towards slavery but yearn for freedom? How does God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness help you when you think about leaning towards slavery?

2. Obviously, a goal of the Christian is not to be faithless. What are we to think about the passage in 2 Timothy 2:13, “when we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot deny himself”? What is God wanting us to take away from such promises?

3. Does the gospel give you the courage to face yourself for who you really are? If God does not expect you to see the whole truth about yourself all at once what is your responsibility in seeking to deepen your understanding or yourself in light of the gospel? Do you ever send signals to others that you expect them to see the whole truth about themselves all at once?

4. How have you observed moralism and religious elitism to block people from encountering God? Have you ever been blocked by them?

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