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The Power of a Vulnerable God (March 19, 2017)

John 4:5-42

So [Jesus] 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.”

Here’s my current strategy with the gospel of John. I take a small piece—usually one I can’t understand—preach myself into a corner, and see if Jesus will get me out. For now, at least, it seems to work.  The small piece that caught me is Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink.

If you were here last week, I pointed out that Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night—in the dark. This is a metaphor in John for “not getting it,” for “being in the dark.” He is a male, a Jew, a leader in Jerusalem, well-versed and well-respected.

This woman is, obviously, female, is a Samaritan (enemies of the Jews). She’s had a difficult life and pretty much everything she knows about God and/or religion is, from the perspective of a Jewish rabbi, wrong.

But, she meets Jesus at noon—the brightest part of the day. She, unlike Nicodemus last week, is “in the light.” Right away, doesn’t that make you curious? What does she get that a religious leader and teacher of God’s law doesn’t? What is happening in this story?

“Give me a drink,” Jesus asks her. It is a request. He’s simply asking her for some water. It’s her well, after all. And she has the only bucket around.

And, there it is. He asks her for water.

This is Jesus, right? Son of the Almighty God. Second person of the Holy Trinity. Performer of miracles. Doer of signs and wonders. Why doesn’t he create a bucket of his own and draw his own water? Why doesn’t he just make the water come up out of the well by itself and hover right in front of him? Why doesn’t he just miraculously dig his own well with sparkling water? I mean, it’s Jesus, after all. I’m sure he’s share it with her. Or just miraculously hydrate himself.

He’s got all the power, right? Putting aside the Divine thing, from a human perspective he has the advantage too. He is Jewish, he’s male, and he’s respected as a rabbi, a teacher. He’s got every advantage. Why not just make this simple and use his advantage to quench his thirst?

But that’s not what he does. He is tired and he is thirsty. He’s not in his home territory. And so he gives up power, privilege, and advantage and gives it over to her. He becomes vulnerable to her. He submits himself to her and asks her if she would use her bucket and her well to help him. As tired and as thirsty as he is, he allows her to exercise her power over him.

And he has to cross some cultural boundaries to do so. He’s male, she’s female; he’s Jewish, she’s Samaritan. In both cases, he’s not supposed to even talk with her, much less establish a relationship and give her an advantage over him.

Why does he do this? For the same reason Jesus does everything—vulnerability and inclusivity reveal the character of God.

How different is Jesus’ understanding of God than mine! I want an almighty God of strength who uses that strength to help me out. I want a God who is will intervene when I am in need. A God who, because I believe, will give me an advantage over others—the unbelievers and the unrighteous.

The bottom line is that, if God isn’t powerful and giving the advantage to those of us on the inside, what good is that?

This is not exactly the way Jesus goes about it, though. Jesus reveals a God who gives up power. A God who’s more interested in relationship than advantage. A God who is vulnerable. A God who is thirsty and asks for a drink. What good is a God like that?

I had an experience this week that showed me. I was visiting someone in the hospital this week and the spouse of the sick person was there. The one who was sick couldn’t feed themselves or even talk. Completely vulnerable with no advantage whatsoever at that point. But the spouse lovingly fed their sick loved-one a mouthful at a time, talking and smiling and encouraging all the while in genuine love and openness.

I realized, at that moment, how powerfully God was present. This was a #HolyMoment. God was there in the connection between these two. A connection that can only happen when they are open and vulnerable to the other.

God doesn’t come in the power and the morality and the strength and the righteousness. No, God is present in the space created by vulnerability and openness to the other. God is present when we give up our advantage for the sake of an open connection to another person. God is present in that vulnerable space.

Like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.

There are four newly resettled refugee families in our church neighborhood. Without knowing it, certainly without choosing it, they are offering us an opportunity to experience the presence of God. They are, right now, quite vulnerable and powerless in a new country. We have every advantage.

Today, let’s give up our advantage. Let’s welcome them as people of dignity and worth. This is Jesus at the well. We have an amazing opportunity to include people with openness and grace. One way is spending time making welcome cards for each family. More than that, cards of gratitude.

In addition to providing material needs for these families that come out of our abundance (i.e., advantage), today let’s make ourselves vulnerable for their sake. Let’s pour out ourselves in love and gratitude. Let’s humble ourselves in their presence. Then, let’s see the presence of God in that space of openness.

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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Sermon

 

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When Faith Fails (Mark 13:1-8)

With the attacks in Paris, as well as Baghdad, The West Bank, Beirut, Cameroon Chad, Egypt (just in November), I have to admit my faith is challenged. I am not sure what God is doing in the midst of such violence and evil. And I imagine I’m not alone in that. For each of us, there are times when we discover that our faith just isn’t big enough to wrap around what’s happening in our lives and explain where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes, in the face of new life experiences or new difficulties, we are forced into the realization that our faith isn’t working.

What do you do then?

Sometimes we try to force our complex life into a small faith container. Even though our life matures, our faith remains childish. We ignore life and cling to an immature and unreal faith.

Sometimes we see our faith can’t hold the realities of our life and so we throw out the whole concept of God and of church. We ignore faith and cling to the realities of life.

Sometimes we tweak our faith just enough to allow parts of our life to fit into it. Then both our faith and our lives are unsatisfactory.

But I think here in the church, we need to be honest—sometimes our faith just isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like our faith isn’t trustworthy. And sometimes we’re right.

Our faith in God is really like the stones of the temple in this gospel reading. The bricks and mortar of the temple reveal God’s presence. The temple is trustworthy. We can see it and feel it. As long as it’s there, we trust God is near. Isn’t that how our faith works? As long as we have faith, we can trust God is near. So we depend of the physical temple. We depend on our faith. We put faith in our faith.

But what happens when the temple is destroyed? What happens if our faith no longer works? How do we know God is near? How do we trust what God may be doing?

Like the temple, our faith isn’t the most important thing. It’s not our ability to trust in God that counts—it’s actually God that counts. We can get so caught up trusting our faith is that we don’t realize God is trustworthy, whether our faith is working for us or not.

Our faith isn’t sacred. Our faith doesn’t save us, it doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t love us. God does those things. Faith is merely a recognition of that.

As your life has changed, has your faith changed? Have the difficulties of your life challenged your faith? What was the situation that made your realize your faith wasn’t working?

  • Death/illness?
  • Loss of job or income or financial security?
  • End of a relationship?
  • A church that wouldn’t answer your questions or judged you for asking them?

Wherever it is that our faith in God fails us, the reality of God steps in. If our faith can’t sustain us, God can. Our faith doesn’t conquer death, God does. Our faith isn’t divine, God is. Our faith doesn’t hold us and comfort us and love us, God does.

So if your faith is not enough for you, if it’s failing you, if it cannot provide what you need in your life, good. Quit relying on it. God is there. And regardless of your faith, God is sustaining you and holding you and loving you and walking with you. Especially if you doubt it. Especially if you can’t see it or understand it. Especially if you don’t believe it. Especially if you have no faith in it.

In this gospel text, Jesus goes on to warn the disciples not to get all caught up in signs of the destruction of the temple. Don’t get all excited about wars and earthquakes. Don’t be distracted by people claiming to have truth. How easy it is to focus on that stuff! Because the temptation is to see those things, hear those things and then trust in those things. But they cannot sustain us any more than our faith can. At their absolute best, the most they can do is remind us that God is actually near and is still at work in our lives.

Even if you pay attention to signs and wonders, exciting philosophies and thoughts, new discoveries and ancient wisdoms, that doesn’t change who Christ is or how he walks with you. Even if your faith evolves and changes, is renewed and refreshed, is torn down and built up anew, that doesn’t affect how much God loves you.

If you can’t believe that today, don’t worry about it; that’s OK. There are others here who can continue to remind you of God’s grace and love. They can love you with God’s love, walk alongside you with God’s presence, they can trust God’s mercy for you.

Maybe your life has outpaced your faith right now. But it hasn’t outpaced God. You may not be able to trust your faith, but you can trust that you are loved, you are forgiven, you are not alone. Because Christ is really here for you. Christ is here for Paris, Baghdad, Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, Chad, and Egypt. Christ is with you. We are here with you too.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Sermon

 

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