Our tree is up. The lights and ornaments are on it.
Here’s the thing about our tree: I’m not sure it’s pretty to anyone but us, really. I’ve seen some of your trees, all decorated in a colorful theme or with ribbons or balls, and they are lovely, really. Our tree is a mish-mash of various types of homemade and store-bought, old and newer. Ornaments from the trees Jason and I grew up with, carefully saved by our mothers and offered to us when we bought our first house together. All of the angel ornaments given to me, one a year while I grew up, by my Godmother, Donna. Ornaments made at various ages by Jonas, who is now almost 19 years-old. Ornaments we bought from Matt’s Newsstand when it was still open in downtown Henderson and I was trying to begin small collections. Many given to me through the years here in Henderson as gifts from families connected to the church.
Every one is a memory, really, and as we decorate the tree, I remember where each came from, or the story told to me about it (would you believe Jason cross-stitched one of the ornaments on our tree?).
Remembering can be a lovely, humbling part of the holiday season. The season gives us many occasions to remember loved ones no longer with us, fun times from when our children were small and Christmas was a special kind of magical, the mishaps and victories that we associate with tree lights and tinsel. I’m grateful to have so many reminders of wonderful people and times and places.
I thank my God every time I remember you,constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:3-7
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
Yesterday I was feeling rather sick and didn’t take a single photo.
So I bring you this photo from this past summer. It was taken the night before Jenn and Brenden’s wedding in Cascade, Idaho.
This is such a great passage of scripture. If it sounds extra-familiar, it’s likely because you’ve heard it at many weddings you’ve attended. It’s the one that has the description “Love is patient, love is kind…”
We are known well by the people who love us best, and we are known perfectly by the one who created us.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (James 3:3-5)
Today I did something fun.
This afternoon, I met my friend Lawrence at The Creme, a coffee shop in Owensboro, and listened to him talk. To be transparent, as I was also transparent with him, the purpose of our meeting was for me to fulfill requirements of a scholarship application, to listen to him speak about subjects he and I do not agree about and truly listen to what he had to say about them without trying to influence his opinion or insert my own (and then write an essay about that). That may have been the purpose, but the benefits included I got to drink coffee and spend time with Lawrence and learn a little about who he is what he believes in an environment that was not facebook and with true intention of hearing what he had to say.
Here’s the thing: our tongues are killing our relationships. When we verbally distill each other down to the worst caricature possible, when we would rather talk about someone than to someone, when we are more interested in getting our own words out than hearing the words of others, we are not focusing on the opportunity we have to truly know each other and hear each other. When we seek to somehow advance our own images rather than seek to see the image of God in each person around us, we can do a lot of damage.
“Behold a small fire–such a great forest it kindles!” James 3:5 (my meager translation of the Greek.)
I took the picture posted here in the bathroom at The Creme. I thought the “Love one another” sign was a good reminder of why I had come there and that the “poop” sign was pretty unique.
Yesterday, I was certified ready to seek/receive a call by my home Presbytery (Presbytery of Western Kentucky). This means I can search for a job! So exciting and terrifying!
No, I haven’t graduated. Nope, I’m not ordained yet. This has nothing to do with my masters degree and no, that’s not even the last step of the whole process. But it’s one that involves a live and up-front oral examination by teaching and ruling elders at a Presbytery meeting, so it’s a bit of a big deal.
Basically, I’m working two tracks at the same time. I’ve listed my completed steps in GREEN and my still to be completed steps in RED.
Get a Masters of Divinity Degree (MDiv). This is a 75 hour degree and must include (because I’m Presbyterian) the languages of Hebrew and Greek, classes in Hebrew and Greek Exegesis, Reformed Worship, Presbyterian Polity, and a class in Presbyterian history and confessions, as well as the standard MDiv classes in Bible, history, theology, missions, ministry, and Christian Education.
Note: This involves a generous amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Fulfill all the requirements for Ordination, which include:
Become an Inquirer (usually before or just after the start of seminary). This involves a lot of paperwork and interaction with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). I did this in May 2013.
Complete a psychological evaluation. I did this in July 2016. I “passed!”
Complete Clinical Pastoral Education/Student Chaplaincy at a hospital. I did this (ish) during Spring semester 2016.
Become a Candidate for Ministry (cannot happen until one has been an inquirer for a year and one must be a candidate for at least a year before ordination). This involves sharing a statement of faith and faith journey with the home Presbytery and requires their vote. I did this in August 2016.
Pass written Ordination exams in Bible Content, Theology, Polity, Worship and Sacraments, and Exegesis. I completed this step in July 2017.
Meet with home Presbytery’s CPM annually. Meet a final time to be examined before being certified to seek a call.
The group of Henderson Presbyterians who attended the Presbytery meeting and supported me at the examination yesterday.
Optional (but required in my Presbytery): Be examined on the floor of Presbytery to be certified ready to seek/receive a call. This is what I did yesterday.
Finish the PIF (Personal Information Form–like a really long resume with leadership competencies listed, essay questions, a statement of faith, work and education and service history, and lots of other fun pieces of information.
Find a call/job that is validated for ordination. (This of course involves skype and in person interviews and negotiations and about a million hours of prayer, probably.)
Meet with the receiving Presbytery’s Commission on Ministry for examination for ordination. And pass that examination.
Officially receive a call to a ministry that is validated for ordination.
Complete Track #1 (see above).
FINALLY GET ORDAINED (that has it’s own mini-process, you’ll be glad to know. Presbyterians love a decent, orderly process.). Either simultaneously or after ordination, get installed as the pastor at the calling church. (And from that point on, new calls will require an examination by the receiving presbytery and an installation service at the new church.)
Whew! Is that clear and simple or what?
So currently, I’m still completing requirements for my MDiv (I have to finish this 7 hour semester and complete 7 additional hours next semester). And I’m preparing to upload my PIF and start seeking a call, because I do plan to seek a call that is different than the non-ordained one I currently have. I won’t be ordained, however, until I earn my degree and receive a call and pass the ordination examination in the receiving presbytery.
Essentially I’m at least six months away from ordination, and probably longer than that. Which means that although yesterday was an accomplishment in its own rite and another box checked off the list, nothing is really completed or accomplished overall. I’m still working the tracks.
I’m so grateful for the support and love that comes in the form of encouraging words, questions about the process, and celebrations from near and far. Step by step, to God be the glory.
“Let us hold fast to the promise of hope without wavering, for God who promised is faithful.” Hebrew 10:23
(At Presbyterian Church of Henderson, we utilize fill-in-the-blank outlines in the bulletin to accompany each Sunday’s sermon. This has added a new dimension to preaching for me, but the hearers of the word seem to appreciate having an outline to follow. One thing I’ve learned is that it makes the sharing of a manuscript a bit clunky in this format. The following sermon has 3 “bullet points” and I have identified those by putting them in bold print and using blue text to indicate the words that fit in the blanks.)
500 years ago this month, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Eiselben, Germany, nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church, an action that became the tipping point to a revolution that was already beginning to gain some traction. When Martin was 21 years-old, the story goes, he was a law student and brilliant debater. During that year of his life, he found himself caught in a thunderstorm, nearly struck by a bolt of lightning. He called out to St. Anne, mother of the blessed Virgin Mary, promising that he would become a monk should she save him. Upon surviving, Martin fulfilled his promise and entered into the monastic life.
As Martin sought to walk faithfully with God, God began to reform him in some surprising ways. He was a good monk by all the standards of the day, yet Martin found no consolation in this. He read the scriptures and was tortured internally by the idea of righteousness, which he felt that he, himself, could not possess.
In his course of study, however, he read and studied the letter to the Romans, and he began to understand the righteousness of God as a gift that comes by faith, not something he had to produce within himself.
It wouldn’t be long before the way that God was reforming Martin Luther would soon begin to reform the church in Europe. Even still, the movement he formalized on All Saints Eve of 1517 in Wittenberg would eventually lead to his trial as a heretic. His bold declaration of “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen” came just before the guilty verdict and his escape to hide away and avoid arrest. He, a former monk, married a runaway nun. In his younger days, he penned words that he would later need to revise and in his older days, he wrote words that he probably should have taken back–harsh, graceless words about Catholics and Jews and even his fellow Reformers.
Martin Luther is an example of how God can take a disciple, one who is passionate and outspoken, willing and imperfect, and do something remarkable with his or her life. Simon Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus, is another. This month, when we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are going to spend the whole month with Simon Peter. For five Sundays, we will visit the highest points and the lowest low of his walk with Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Much like Martin Luther, Jesus called Simon Peter into following and he boldly and willingly followed on a new path, called to start a new thing.
Much like Martin Luther and Simon Peter, Jesus calls you and I to follow with boldness and willingness. Maybe you too have struggled with your lack of righteousness. Maybe you too have struggled to be faithful and stand strong in a threatening situation. Maybe you too have been re-called and re-formed by Jesus, or maybe you are seeking to recommit yourself to the journey of discipleship. This month of Reformation is a good one to reflect on all of that and consider what it means to allow Jesus to be Lord of your life and be continually changed and reformed to be more like him.
As we continue to listen for God’s word to us this morning, hear now the word of God from Luke 5:1-11.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
All of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus–the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–have a story of how Jesus called his first disciples. The account here in Luke 5 is the most elaborate and the previous chapter provides clues that when we come to the scene in Luke 5, Peter has already known Jesus and witnessed some of his miracles of healing. Jesus healed his mother-in-law, as recorded in Luke 4:39, for example. So perhaps Peter was perfectly poised and prepared to accept the call to follow Jesus, as we see him do in Luke 5. This is a great passage to read as we consider our own calling to follow, and what that means for us, as we read about what it meant for Peter.
As we explore what it means to follow Jesus, the first thing we see in the text is that following Jesus requires obedience. Early in this passage, Peter demonstrates obedience twice. First, Jesus gets in his boat and asks Peter to sail out a little ways from the shore. Peter complies. Next, after he’s done teaching, Jesus instructs him to sail out farther and let out the nets one more time, a request that might have seemed a bit bizarre. They fished all night and didn’t catch anything. The early morning, we might assume, has passed them by while Jesus has been teaching from the boat. There aren’t any fish to be caught at this hour, Jesus. And yet, Peter basically says, “this makes no sense, but if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”
As disciples of Christ, sometimes our instructions make good sense. And sometimes, they simply do not. Sometimes the things we are called to do seem so counter-cultural in this day and age.
For me it would have been tempting for me to stick with “that makes no sense, teacher,” had I been in the boat when Jesus commanded the nets to be let down one more time. “Jesus, you’re a carpenter, not a fisherman, so we’re going to give you pass here, but really, letting the nets down again won’t do any good at this point.”
How many times have I read in Scripture or prayed for God’s direction only to think, “well, that will never work?” A lot. For example, a little more than seventeen years ago, I ran across a job listing for a church on a corner in downtown Henderson Kentucky and I. Just. Knew. I was supposed to send my resume. “But God,” I said, “maybe we should look at a map, because Henderson is nowhere near Lexington, and I’m trying to go to Lexington.”
Or maybe we read words like “in humility, regard others better than yourselves” or “have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” who “emptied himself” and was “obedient even to the point of death” like we read in Philippians 2, and we’re tempted to say, “Oh, not anymore, Apostle Paul. We don’t do it like that in America.” When we follow Jesus, we are called to be obedient.
Another word about obedience: in order to be obedient, we have to know what God is asking us to do. Which means one or two things must be true: We must be reading scripture regularly, and allowing God’s Word to reform us and call us to obedience and we must be prayerful about the steps we take in our lives and listen for God to give us direction. Maybe you’re not doing either of those things regularly. If that’s the case and you want to follow Jesus obediently, start with reading scripture and you might be surprised at how clearly you’re able to hear God’s voice in other ways too.
Obedience means that when you know what God is asking of you, you change your actions, thoughts, or words to line up with what God has said.
“We’ve already done what we think is the right way,” Peter essentially insists in Luke 5, “BUT IF YOU SAY SO, we’ll do what you’ve asked us to.”
Luke 5 says the next thing that happens is that the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions and the result was that they caught so many fish their nets began to break and when they worked together to pull the fish into the boats, the boats began to sink. When Peter saw this, the scripture tells us, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ for he and all who were with him were amazed” at what had just happened. This reminds us that Following Jesus inspires worship. For Peter, it was a natural, unavoidable response to the goodness he had just witnessed. He fell to his knees and honored the holiness that he recognized in Jesus, the Christ.
The Apostle Paul knew well that following Jesus inspired worship. Just in our epistle reading today, from his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…who became obedient to death on a cross…and was exalted by God and given the name above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When God does something and we recognize it as an act of God or we know the presence of holiness, there is no other response than to honor and glorify God.
The problem is, we’re prone to idolatry. And as such, we often misplace that honor and glory and direct it elsewhere. Like towards ourselves. Or towards our things. Or towards anyone or anything else other than the source of every good and perfect gift we have.
Peter, skilled fisherman that he was, could have had a different response. Rather than recognize Jesus as the giver of the nets full of fish, he could have assumed it was due to the skill of himself and his team that when they put the nets down when Jesus commanded, they caught so many fish. Or, maybe even more likely, his skill met with just the right amount of coincidence. He doesn’t have either of those reactions, though. He recognizes the giver of the gift and he responds in worship.
Worship happens in a lot of ways. Yes, we worship as a body here on Sunday mornings and sometimes other times, too. We gather for worship because we each recognize that this is not just about us. It is about the Body of Christ in every time and place and a story that God is writing across the ages that includes all of us.
But as Peter demonstrates, worship is also spontaneous and often very personal. Worship can happen daily, hourly, minute by minute if we seek to live lives that glorify and honor God. Followers of Jesus Christ worship him because we recognize his goodness and holiness and we know that he is worthy of glory and honor. And when we are truly following Christ, we cannot help it. We are called to worship and we must respond.
After Peter worships, and it is noted that it is not just Peter who is amazed and sees Jesus for what he has done, Jesus says familiar words to Simon. “Do not be afraid; from now on, you will be catching people.” And with those words, we are told Peter and company park their boats on the shore and leave everything to follow him. And so, we see that it is the case that Following Jesus calls for whole-hearted devotion.
Peter who has just had this moment of revelation, who has heard Jesus’ invitation to follow, doesn’t just leave his nets and all the fish that the boats just brought ashore–he leaves his whole livelihood and identity behind. He will from that moment on, be known as one of Jesus’ disciples. We who have read the whole book know that Jesus will change his name and Simon will be called Peter. We know that Peter will see Jesus heal the sick and injured and bring people back from death. We know that Jesus will include Peter in some of the most amazing moments and will demand some of the hardest things from Peter. But Simon the fisherman knows none of this. Simon Peter knows that he was obedient to Jesus and Jesus did something miraculous and glorious, and so he worshiped Jesus and then left everything to follow him.
The same thing happens in our lives. Maybe you decided to follow Jesus, and you had no idea how that was going to turn out or where you were going to end up. But you followed as wholeheartedly as you could. And in every moment, every decision to be obedient, every scripture passage you read that caused you to grow a little more, every act and sight of wonder that called you to worship, every struggle that you prayed your way through, God was shaping you more and more in his image so that your identity wasn’t nearly as important as the identity given to you as a follower of Jesus.
When you follow Jesus, it’s impossible to do it halfway. When we try to hang onto ourselves, we aren’t really following. Jesus would tell his disciples later, “ ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
October 1, 2017 seems as good a day as any to consider your own calling to follow Jesus and how that looks in your life. Are you following obediently, allowing the words of scripture to test and try your thoughts and actions, seeking to prayerfully discern what God is asking you to do?
Are you worshipping honestly and frequently, giving God the glory and the credit for the good things in your life, remembering to turn toward God as often as you are tempted to turn towards yourself?
Are you devoted whole-heartedly, accepting the identity Jesus gives you and laying aside your own will for his?
Maybe you’re like me and when you think about it like that, you see that you’ve missed the mark somewhere along the way this week or in the past month or year or years, and you know it’s time to get back on the path that follows the footsteps of Jesus and leads to life. I think that probably Martin Luther and the other reformers we celebrate this month recognized that feeling as they continued to surrender their lives and ministries to God and find the way that is right and true. Peter knew that place well, as we’ll see in the coming weeks as he seeks to follow Jesus through some tough situations and deal with his own missteps.
The good news is that that we have a Lord who calls us as many times as it takes, out of a love and grace that knows no bounds. Yes, today is a good day to start again at following Jesus.
Let’s pray together, for ourselves and for each other, as we seek to be renewed in following Jesus.
Jesus, you stand at the lakeshore and you invite us to drop our nets and leave our boats and our names and our vain pursuits to be your disciples and to be known by your name. Help us to be obedient to your leading, and call us to be faithful students of your Word. Renew in us a sense of wonder and joy and call us to worship. Make us wholly devoted to you alone, gladly giving our lives for the sake of your Kingdom coming. Amen.
(At Presbyterian Church of Henderson, we have started using fill-in-the-blank outlines in the bulletin to accompany each Sunday’s sermon. This has added a new dimension to preaching for me, but the hearers of the word seem to appreciate having an outline to follow. One thing I’ve learned is that it makes the sharing of a manuscript a bit clunky in this format. The following sermon has 3 “bullet points” and I have identified those by putting them in bold print and using blue text to indicate the words that fit in the blanks.
And my usual disclaimer: sermons are meant to be heard, not read, but this is the manuscript I used to preach this morning. This one began with a dramatic reading of the scripture by three members of the congregation.)
We come this morning to a story that I have always loved. No doubt, I’ve read this passage of scripture more than just about any other. I’ve written papers about it. It’s regularly taught in youth group or Sunday School classes around here. I’ve preached about it from this pulpit at least one other time, but I think maybe twice.
This passage contains the longest recorded conversation in any of the gospels and it happens between Jesus and a woman of Samaria. I love the rhythm of the conversation, the flow of topics from actual thirst and actual water to spiritual thirst and spiritual water. I love the way God changed this woman’s life in the course of an afternoon.
And I love the way that we once again bump into The Kingdom of God. Even when Jesus wasn’t explicitly talking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus was always talking about the Kingdom of God. And once again, we are reminded that when the Kingdom of God is set against the kingdom of this world, they could not be more different.
And right away we see that in the Kingdom of God,
outsiders become insiders.
Jesus and his disciples, walking the distance between Jerusalem in the south and Galilee in the north, make a stop mid-way between in Sychar, which is well within Samaria. It is noon and Jesus is tired, so while the disciples go to try to buy lunch, Jesus sits down by a well.
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water” is how the interaction begins. Two descriptions about her that make her an outsider to Jesus and his disciples. First, she’s a woman. The societal norms were clear on this one–a man, and especially a man who is a Rabbi, should not speak to a woman that is not his wife or family member. Further, she’s a Samaritan woman, which also makes her a religious and political outsider, since the Jews considered the Samaritans to be unclean.
Jesus obviously knows all of this. He knows she is a woman, he knows she’s a samaritan, he knows the expectations and he willingly reaches out to her with a simple request for a drink of water. Time and again, we see Jesus do this with folks he encountered, whether it’s touching a leper to heal him from disease to engaging a sychophonencian woman in a theological debate.
But there’s something else. It is noon and this woman is coming to the well. In the middle eastern desert during the hottest part of the day. Other women would have already been to the well, choosing instead to go in the cooler part of the day when the sun was just rising. A village well was, and still is in communities that have a common well for water, a gathering place. A place where women gather in the cool of the day before the chores at home need attention. For some reason, this woman goes when she knows she would be there alone. I imagine it’s more than the possibility that she was an introvert who wanted some time to herself.
If we jump ahead for just a second, we realize that this woman has been married multiple times and she’s currently residing with a man who is not her husband. Jesus will tell her this and she will confirm its truth.
Often we read scripture through modern eyes. In this instance, we might assume this woman is somehow to blame for this, that she was rightfully ashamed of how she had been living and that’s why she came to the well in the middle of the day and that’s what Jesus is going to talk to her about. But we have to read this passage in the ancient context. In the ancient Middle Eastern world, this woman had little or no agency. We don’t know the circumstances of her five previous marriages, whether her husbands had died or abandoned her, how she even came to enter into those unions or even if she had wanted to be married. In the ancient world, no one really cared if a woman was willing to say “I do,” and marriage was more of a transaction, usually arranged by the father of the would-be-bride. Further, it was not advisable or even possible for a woman in the ancient world to live without a man. Women couldn’t provide for themselves. It’s possible that just about everything that was true about her situation were things she could not have changed.
But the actual circumstances do not always matter when it comes to shame, do they? Often, people with little ability to change their circumstances are blamed for the circumstances and are shamed by their communities, whether it’s deserved or not. I think about groups of people in our society in this day and age who are often blamed or shamed, maybe those who are dealing with disabilities or living in poverty. Or people who contract lung cancer–because lung cancer is the cancer that people assume must be the sufferer’s fault. Or I think about circumstances that cause individuals to feel private shame for things they could not have ever controlled, perhaps couples struggling with infertility or who have experienced reproductive loss and struggle in very personal ways, often quietly and alone. People can experience this isolation and separation from their neighbors for lots of reasons, many beyond their control, and I think this is where the woman here now at the well has been living.
This woman is an outsider to Jesus’ Jewish disciples, and she is also an outsider in her city or village, possibly all for reasons beyond her control. It is here where Jesus meets her and invites her into a different, wonderful story. And I think it is a beautiful thing that Jesus met this woman right where she was, and that it was Jesus who crossed those boundaries to reach out to her. She had no idea when she walked to the well, her head bowed, her eyes to the ground, that she was going to meet the one who created her and that he was about to change her life forever.
In the Kingdom of God, outsiders become insiders because in the Kingdom of God, there are no more outsiders. The King of the Kingdom welcomes all to himself. This is good news not just for the woman standing with Jesus at the well, but for all of us who have found ourselves on the outside, separated from God or from each other.
And so now we come to the rest of the story. Our second point on the outline is that in the Kingdom of God,
dry wells are abandoned and living water flows.
Jesus has crossed lines to engage this woman in conversation and then he does something interesting. Out of the blue, he instructs the woman to go and get her husband and come back. And then, of course, she tells the truth, but in an ambiguous way–like we all do sometimes. “I have no husband.” And then Jesus speaks truth to her about her situation.
Considering the context and all of the things about shame and her outsider status, I do not actually think Jesus is talking about a sin problem, here. This is an assumption that is often held about this text. But I don’t think Jesus is addressing unfaithfulness in marriage…I think what may be happening here is that Jesus is acknowledging a deep emptiness and longing that has not yet been satisfied for her. The love she had experienced had not lasted, for whatever reason. Each relationship had led to a brokenness of some sort. She kept hoping for security or love with each dip of her bucket into the metaphorical relationship well, and that thirst was never permanently quenched.
Jesus offers her living water–a love that will never abandon her, a God who will always meet her needs. This is truly an opportunity for this woman to experience a permanent change in her life.
So I started thinking…what would Jesus have said to me if we had met at that well? He wouldn’t have asked about my husband, I don’t think. I thought and I thought and then it hit me.
Jesus would have looked at me from across the well and said, “Go get your perfect seminary transcript and bring it back here.” And I would have said, “Sir, I don’t have a copy printed.” And he would have said, “You’re right, because you don’t have a perfect seminary transcript because in Dr. Colyer’s doctrine class last semester you ended the term with a B.”
Because for me? That metaphorical well I keep revisiting hoping for permanent satisfaction is the well of approval. I want you, any of you, all of you, all of the people out there, all of my professors to approve of me and like me. It’s in my nature to go to whatever ridiculous length necessary to gain approval. But guess what? That’s a well that dries up fast. Because sometimes I make mistakes. Or I have to say something people don’t want to hear. Or someone just doesn’t like me. And even when I am well-liked, or my professors think I’m smart, that relief only lasts for a little bit…and then I need more praise and agreement and affirmation. But I was created and called to seek living water–the approval of ONE, the approval of God. That’s the water that will last.
What else might there be? What are the other wells that people go back to over and over again hoping for permanent satisfaction only to end up empty again?
On Sunday nights in the Fellowship Hall, a group of about 12 have been meeting to discuss Jen Hatmaker’s book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” As we read the book, we are thinking about the things that we have in our lives that we have a hard time using in moderation, and how sometimes those things become replacements for God. We’ve talked about food. We’ve talked about clothing. Tonight, Jesus be with me, we are talking about media.
One of the things we are really talking about, though, is that fact that in general, us humans have an emptiness inside of us, and that emptiness can be relentless. And sometimes, we try to fill that emptiness with…well, stuff. We buy bigger houses and seek promotions and we earn more money and we buy more stuff…and then we’re still empty, because those are not things that are eternal, and what we are really longing for, us humans, is something eternal.
So we go back to the same wells. For this woman, it was hope that the next relationship would last and bring security. For me, it’s approval and assurance that I’m good enough.
For someone else, Jesus might have talked about love of money or worldly success. Or the purchasing of new things–retail therapy. Or maybe about an addiction to drugs or alcohol or pornography or facebook. All wells that might fill someone up for a little bit, might quench a particular thirst for an amount of time…but not forever.
But Jesus offers another way, and a water that will truly quench those longings inside of us. If we would come to his well and drink deeply of the living water that comes to us through scripture, through prayer, through worship in spirit and truth, through trusting in God’s grace and listening for God’s call to us, seeking the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of this world…we will never be thirsty again and our lives will be changed forever. And through our changed lives, God will change the lives of others. Because point number 3 is…
changed lives change lives.
In this one afternoon, this one woman’s life is changed forever. Jesus offers her living water and in it she finds a new identity as a child of God, loved and accepted, and a call to worship in spirit and truth.
And then God uses her newly changed life to change the lives of others in her community. This unnamed woman is often regarded as the first evangelist. She’s the first one who calls others to faith in Christ as the Messiah. Look–(read the come and see part of the passage).
All of a sudden the woman who went to the well at noon to avoid her neighbors is calling for them to come. In that interaction, Jesus changed her life, her identity, her understanding about who she was so dramatically that now she is inviting others to come and see.
And they did come, they left the city and came to the well and they heard this woman’s testimony and they believed in Jesus as the messiah. And they invited him to stay and even more Samaritans came to follow Jesus because of this one interaction at the well between Jesus and this woman whose name we never even learn.
She was living her ordinary life and Jesus broke in, reaching across many barriers, called her to him and offered her the thing she had been truly longing for, changing her life in such a way that God used her life and story to change the lives of so many of her neighbors.
Maybe you’ve been someone like this woman. Maybe God has changed your life in such a way that you’ve been able to offer this witness to others and maybe God has used your changed life to change the lives of your neighbors near and far. Maybe you’ve been unable to contain the gratitude you feel for a God who would call you in from the outside and claim you as God’s own, and you’ve shouted it from the roads and rooftops.
Or maybe you’ve known someone like this woman, and someone else’s story of how God has been visible and at work in his or her life has been the vehicle for change in your own life.
Did you know that this is God’s plan for evangelism? Did you know that God uses people–often ordinary, broken, flawed people at that–to bring the gospel to light for others? That the plan for the movement of the gospel involves one neighbor at a time, experiencing the love and grace of God and then sharing that same love and grace with others.
Where does Jesus find you this morning? Are you feeling like you’re on the outside, looking in? Is Jesus calling you to stop going to the same dried up well for joy or relief, and instead drink deeply of the living water that will bring joy and relief eternal? Are there people around you who are thirsty and in need of the hope that comes from the good news of a God who cares and loves and changes lives?
May we know Jesus’ calling, allow God to continue to change and challenge us, and be willing to bear witness to the goodness of God for the sake of our neighbors. Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, I wrote the devotional for a health and wellness challenge group I’m participating in on Facebook. Here is what I shared:
13 For it was you (God) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. Psalm 139:13-16
Let’s take a moment and consider a truth that is among the easiest to forget: You, child of God, are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Designer who knows every part of your body and every breath you will take. God created you with intention, on purpose, and God did not produce anything defective or unuseful.
Your body, the one you are maybe hoping to improve or restore to health, was fearfully and wonderfully made by your Creator. You have one body and you should absolutely seek to be as healthy as possible to honor God. But your body, even just as it is, is God-made.
Your inner self, which probably frustrates you a good bit as you struggle to control your thoughts or actions, as you carry around burdens of sin and despair, is seen by God. You should absolutely seek to repent of your sins and bring your burdens to God, but the God who always sees what is inside of you loves you with an unshakable love even still.
The book of your life, which you might sometimes believe seems boring or mundane to everyone else, was written by God. You should definitely seek to live the best story possible, but know that God is the one with the pen in hand, and your story matters in God’s Kingdom.
There is a whole industry built around making you feel like there is something wrong with your body and your life and that you (without their products) are not enough. As you seek to be healthy–body, mind, spirit, and strength–give thanks to the God who made you in a fearfully wonderful way.
This artwork hangs in our hallway. It hung in our hallway at our first house, too, and before that, it hung in my apartment. The print was a college graduation gift from my friend Katie.
Many days, I walk right past it and forget to see it. Other days, I stop and trace each sketched line with my eyes and think about how comforted and safe that lamb is in the arms of its shepherd, Jesus.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. —Psalm 139:1-18
On Thursday, I finished my fall semester at UDTS. Yesterday, I cleaned, ran errands, got a haircut, celebrated my mother in-law’s birthday, and made a late night run to Michael’s with Jason.
Today, I slept all the way until 7am, something I haven’t done for weeks. And then when I got up, I poured the coffee and started making my pretzel, chocolate, M&M buttons to give away to neighbors, delivery people, co-workers, and some of Jason’s clients. And–here’s the confession–I turned on the cheesiest, happiest, most implausible Christmas movies I could find. And I’m currently on my third Christmas movie. And I expect to watch at least three more today as I finish writing cards, crocheting gifts, and wrapping things.
Tomorrow is church-a-palooza with all things 4th Sunday of Advent. And Monday, my J-Term professor gives us our pre-load for the class that starts January 2. So today? I’m doing whatever I want.
Simon and Jonas…sometimes a hastily taken photo turns out all right.
Somehow, I ended up in Habakkuk tonight. Habakkuk is the book of the Bible I am least able to spell, and the book I am least likely to read, I’d figure.
But tonight, there’s this:
I will stand at my watch-post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:1-3