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. (Psalm 139:7-12)
This is my buddy, J. Today, for about 30 minutes of our after school ministry time, he stayed as close to me as he could. He sat on my lap. He tried to climb onto my shoulders. He pulled at my hair and played with my earrings before he finally settled on trying to figure out my Fitbit.
If I had to go help another child, he walked me over and sat on my lap as soon as I sat down. He walked me around the room when I just needed to stand up for a moment (maybe hoping he’d find something else to do in the meantime).
He was a tangible reminder of God’s Spirit. After all, J, “where can I flee from your presence?”
Today was a tough day for many reasons. I was grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on scripture that tells me about a persistent God who stays by my side no matter how rocky the road gets.
Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:1-4)
Today begins Advent.
I’m a lover of words (a logophile, if you will), and I always have been. In middle school, I loved the lists of vocabulary words we had to memorize and learn to use and I get a little giddy when I’m the Grammarian at Toastmasters and get to inflict a challenging new word of the day on my club. As I write sermons or papers, sometimes I catch myself being a bit too loquacious and realize I better check myself before I wreck myself.
The word “advent” is a vocabulary word. It is used to speak of the arrival of someone or something notable. Particularly, we might use it to mark the dawning of an era, usually in retrospect. One might speak about the “advent of social media,” for example.
In the Church, the word has sacred meaning. It marks the first season of the church year, which starts today (Happy New Year!). It also speaks of the coming of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, to earth, either for the first time, which we celebrate at Christmas, or the second time, which the Church awaits in hope. It marks a rending of the heavens, and opening of the veil between the holy and the human.
Advent denotes deep human longing for God to come near and dwell with us.
The prophet writing the words we read in Isaiah 64 knew this longing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” The prophet writes from a time long before Christ’s first advent, before God dwelling so tangibly and perfectly and purposefully with humanity was revealed in Christ.
From our perspective well on the other side of that first arrival, we may know a similar longing, so that Isaiah’s words ring all around us. “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come, Lord Jesus, and bend all that is wrong and unjust in our world toward your holy justice.
If you are starting an Advent journey today, may it be blessed.
Note: During Advent this year, I am using the photo prompts from the United Methodist Church’s Rethink Church Initiative.
Additional note: I am aware that a lot of translations of this scripture say “O that you would rend the heavens and come down,” which is some fun vocabulary. Yet the word today is “open,” so I went with the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (which I usually yield to anyway).
I’ve found this to be a great discipline for Advent (and Lent) and you should absolutely join me. Reflect on the word each day and take a photo that represents it. Then use the tags #RethinkChurch and #UnwrapChristmas to post via your social media accounts. More detailed information and instructions are available here.
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
I recorded this video at our early service on 10/22/2017. At our early service, attended by a smaller number of people, we preach from the floor and not the pulpit. Our pastor, Rev. Eric Hoey, read the Gospel scripture before the sermon.
(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.)
The Anatomy of Sin: When Disciples Deny Christ
Luke 22:31-34; 54-62
31 “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat. 32 However, I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” 33 Peter responded, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster won’t crow today before you have denied three times that you know me.”
(vv. 35-53 contain the accounts of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while the disciples fall asleep. Then Judas completes his betrayal of Jesus into the hands of the chief priests and elders of the Temple.)
54 After they arrested Jesus, they led him away and brought him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed from a distance. 55 When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, “This man was with him too.” 57 But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”
58 A little while later, someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.” But Peter said, “Man, I’m not!”
59 An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.” 60 Peter responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.
When Jason and I were first married, we lived in the county, near Cairo on Old Madisonville Road. We lived in a small neighborhood on the highway, with several homes lined up on our side of Old Madisonville Road and a corn field right across the street. It was not uncommon for us to encounter a variety of creatures, great and small. Often, we saw deer in the field across the road. People would dump their unwanted cats and dogs in our area, so it was a frequent occurrence for us to have an extra one of those hanging around. Mice could be an issue, so one season, we welcomed one of those abandoned cats into our home–and she had four kittens shortly after, both tipping us off to why she had been dumped and gifting us with six weeks of cuteness while the kittens got old enough to rehome.
But one morning, when dawn was just breaking, before anyone in the house had gotten out of bed, I became aware of something making a noise that seemed like it should be familiar, but it was not entirely familiar. I opened one eye and sat up a little bit. I tilted my head and tried to figure out where it was coming from. Relieved, I realized it was definitely outside the house. In fact, it sounded like it was right outside our window. I sat all the way up and peeked between the slats of the venetian blinds and found the culprit.
A little black rooster was perched on our porch railing, crowing happily into the morning. Now, understand, until that moment, I’m not sure I had ever seen a rooster up close and I am pretty sure I had never heard one crow at the break of day. I’m from a city and until my seven years in Henderson County, had never lived more than a block away from a busy city street.
I did not think of today’s gospel passage on that morning, but since that day whenever I read this passage, I picture the little black rooster clinging to our red deck porch and lifting his voice above the morning. And considering our passage, although I may have had little experience with such exotic farm life until that day, Simon Peter was from rural Galilee. He likely had heard roosters crowing all of his life, their wake up cries as familiar to him as that of the beeping of the alarm I set each night before I go to sleep. “Before the rooster crows” was perhaps even a common marker of time in ancient Galilee, and so when Jesus said that Peter would do something unfathomable and terrible, within the span of time between dinner and daybreak, Peter no doubt was hurt and outraged. But then, it came to pass and I’m going to guess that after the night narrated in our gospel reading this morning, Peter never heard that sound in quite the same way again. From that day on, even after he had made things right with the resurrected Jesus and knew the forgiveness of God…even after he had planted churches and discipled countless others…even after he had spent nights in jail because he refused to ever deny Jesus again, I’m going to guess that the crow of a rooster brought Peter back to this night and the memory of Jesus’ words to him after dinner and Peter’s act of denial.
I know that I am a lot like Peter, and I suspect you might see yourself in him as well. “Oh,” we might be tempted to say, “But I never denied knowing Jesus. And I certainly never was so intentional about it that I did it three times in the same night.” It’s easy to give Peter a hard time–I mean, here’s the disciple who proclaimed that he’d go with Jesus to his death. He’s the one who left everything behind to follow him, who victoriously walked on top of the water with Jesus, who boldly confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” What was he thinking?
But if we consider that perhaps another word for “denial” is “sin,” then this story becomes crucial and even precious to us as you and I may see ourselves after all in Peter’s words and actions. As we consider this important night in the life of this disciple, we might consider our own tendency to sin and deny Christ ourselves. I think there are four pieces to consider in telling the story of this sin committed by Peter, and I think every one of them relates to us as well.
The first thing we can be sure of is this: Jesus prays for us and knows we are frail. “I’ve prayed for you, that your faith won’t fail,” Jesus tells Peter on that night in the upper room. Our sin does not catch Jesus unaware, nor does he despair helplessly over it. Instead, Jesus prays for his disciples.
I would like to invite you to take great comfort in this. Jesus knows exactly what Peter is about to do, even when Peter still believes this possibility is ludicrous. Peter proclaims he’s planning to go with Jesus all the way to prison or death–I mean that’s commitment. And yet, Jesus knows the reality and he knows that Peter will not be so bold in just a matter of hours.
In John’s account of this night, we’re told that Jesus would wash Peter’s feet along with the other disciples. Peter is still invited to follow Jesus to the garden. Peter is still included among Christ’s disciples. And those of us who know the rest of the story know that this horrible night does not limit Peter’s role as a leader of Christ’s church.
“I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail,” Jesus says to us. “I know that you will be tempted to deny me and I know that you will.”
Jesus knows our frailty down to the intimate details. Jesus prays for us, calls us, and claims us anyway.
Despite our best intentions (or sometimes due to wrong intentions), we sin. When we sin, we give into fear and deny Christ through our words or actions.
For Peter, standing in the courtyard outside of the high priest’s house, this is a moment of sifting. He gathers with the servants and guards of the house around a firepit and warms himself on the cool desert night. The first person to question him couldn’t have been particularly intimidating. Scripture is clear in the description, it is a servant woman who first approaches him with the possibility. Likely, she wanted some information. She had no power and probably no interest in seeing Peter arrested, but she was likely curious about what was going on in the house on that night. Staring at him, the observation is simple, “this man was with him too.” Peter’s reply is swift and definite: “Woman, I don’t know him!”
I heard a preacher say one time that all sin is born out of fear, and that’s something I’ve evaluated on a regular basis in my own life. It certainly does seem that Peter must be driven by fear in his denial.
Perhaps Peter was afraid of what would physically happen to him if it were revealed that he is a follower of the man just arrested and facing a death sentence. He seems to be worried about the servants and others in the courtyard figuring it out for certain. It could be that he was afraid for his own physical well-being and so, in hasty self-preservation, and a lack of trust in the promises of God, he denies rather than claims his relationship to Jesus.
I act unfaithfully out of this sort of fear, too. I know what the right thing to do is, but something of myself is at stake if I follow through with that. I opt for more safe options rather than take risks that could result in me having to give up my time or my space or my privilege, or might result in ridicule because I’ve chosen to follow Jesus. For example, how many times have I remained silent or turned away when I could have shared about my faith in Christ with someone? Very few of the decisions I have made in my journey with Jesus have put my very life at risk, I think I should mention that. There are still places in the world where being a Christian and claiming faith in Jesus is punishable by death or imprisonment. Peter was likely afraid for his very life in those moments in the courtyard and perhaps he lied about his relationship with Jesus in order to save his own life.
But it could be that he’s afraid of something else. Could Peter be afraid that Jesus isn’t who he claimed to be? Remember that Jesus wasn’t exactly the sort of Messiah his followers, or any Jewish people, were expecting. A victorious King, a conquering hero, a strong military presence–they were waiting for something more like that. The meek and mild, the first shall be last and vice versa Messiah caught them all off guard, to say the very least. Certainly, his arrest does not seem to fit with knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. What if Peter is really saying, “I don’t know him. I never knew him. I thought he was the One, but now I see he’s not.” This fear that Jesus isn’t really who he claims to be results in the denial.
I deny Jesus all the time because I doubt his truth or goodness. When I sin because I think I know what’s better for me, when I decide to make my own path rather than follow in his way, when I puff up my chest and seek my own glory, I demonstrate my fear that Jesus isn’t who he promised and deny his leadership and goodness in my life. One way or another, fear figures prominently in Peter’s sin and in our sin, too.
As promised, at the completion of his trinity of denials, the rooster is crowing. And then something surprising happens. Verse 61 says “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” What does this mean exactly? No one is really sure. Perhaps Jesus was being moved from place to place and saw Peter, maybe through the window. Or perhaps the meaning is a bit more mystical. But either way, the author of the gospel includes this detail. The Lord looked at Peter. I think that our Lord and Savior looks at us, too. Our Lord sees us even in the moment of denial.
When you picture this happening as recorded here in Luke 22, what do you see in Jesus’ face in that moment?
Do you see condemnation? Do you see disgust or anger or annoyance?
Do you see pain or confusion?
Do you see love and compassion on his face?
I am grateful for this detail in the passage. I am grateful that Jesus looked at Peter in the midst of his sin. Because this happened, I can confidently claim that Jesus sees me in the midst of my own sin. I don’t think Jesus’ face was contorted in condemnation or anger. I think Jesus saw Peter in that moment, claimed Peter in that moment, and loved him even still. And I believe that’s what happens when we sin.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean sin is ok with Jesus. That doesn’t mean sin doesn’t grieve God. I believe that it does. And Peter was keenly aware of that in this moment. The scripture says he “wept bitterly” or “cried uncontrollably.” No doubt angry at himself and aware of how he had denied the one who had given him so much life and purpose in the past few years, he cries out of sorrow and regret.
As ones who follow Jesus, too, we know this pain and sorrow. Once we realize what we have done and how it has grieved God, we remember Christ and are convicted of our sins.
When we know, we know. When our sin becomes obvious to us, we are grieved. Scripture is full of this happening over and over again. The moment when King David understands the point of the prophet Nathan’s story about the rich man and the poor man and the little Ewe lamb, he cries out–”I have sinned against the Lord!” When King Josiah is presented with the words of the Law, and realizes how far off his nation has wandered, he tears at his clothes and despairs outright. In the parable Jesus tells of a father and two sons, the prodigal son returns home with the words “I have sinned against heaven and I’ve sinned against you and I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.”
Part of being a disciple involves acknowledging and confessing our sin. It’s having the humility to acknowledge our own frailty and our frequent denial of Jesus through the decisions we make every day to act or speak unfaithfully. It’s knowing when we have turned away from the one who is always enough and always has a plan and purpose for us.
When it comes to Peter, perhaps you know the rest of this story. You’ve read the book, you’ve heard it preached before, you’re anticipating a morning on a beach after Jesus is raised from the dead. We’ll leave that for our Pastor, Eric, to proclaim next week, the last week of our series and Reformation Sunday.
On this night in the high priest’s courtyard, Peter doesn’t know there is any more to the story. He weeps bitterly and no doubt spent the next few days in agony as Jesus was sentenced to die, crucified, and buried. And so, it seems that we might sit with him and consider our own reflections in his story. We ponder our own sin and ways we turn away from Christ. We feel the gaze of Jesus on us as we listen to the rooster crowing. We weep with Peter as we realize what we’ve done.
There is good news. It is the good news that you hear proclaimed each Lord’s Day from this pulpit, that you proclaim to one another as you pass the peace, that you can carry out of this building and share with your friends and neighbors who are feeling far from God, and good news that we would share with Peter if we could. This good news is this: We may weep at the expanse of our sin, but we no longer weep without hope. When we come up against our own sin, as we often do, we have access to the throne of God, mediated through the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. We know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ and we know a good God who is loving and forgiving and gracious to us. We confess our sins together in worship each week because we believe that these words are heard by a God who cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We can trust in God’s good promises about this.
What happens next, after the rooster crows and we are convicted of our sins? Let’s read Jesus’ first words to Peter in this passage again.“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This odd almost fragment of a sentence: “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” is there among the prediction of Peter’s denial. It’s there among our denial, too. You will sin. It will grieve God and it will grieve you, faithful disciple of Jesus. But you are welcomed to turn back, called to turn back. And when you have turned back, you will tell of the goodness of God’s grace, and you will stand with and lend strength to your brothers and sisters in Christ. May it be so. Amen.
(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 sermon on September 10, 2017.)
Let’s talk for a moment about light and darkness. On earth, we have a natural cycle of light and darkness which can be tracked and figured way ahead of time for each day in each location on the planet. Our human bodies adapt with a circadian rhythm, which compels us to sleep during the nighttime hours, when for most of human history it was too dark to accomplish anything well, and spending the daytime hours awake, with plenty of light to work, study, and play. If you’ve ever had to work the graveyard shift, which required your body to do the opposite, you may know the feeling of struggling to adjust to a different rhythm. We are in the annual season where the days are becoming shorter and the nights are becoming longer. Some of us long for more light and the long days of summer, while others of us are excited and settling in for cooler weather, shorter days, and pumpkin flavored food and drinks.
In the passage from Romans, Paul notes the difference between light and darkness and continues a theme in scripture that takes the concepts of light and darkness into the spiritual realm. The first words spoken by God, after all, in scripture are “Let there be light!” To his followers gathered on a hillside, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
For the apostle Paul, light symbolizes the new life all Christians are called to live. We are called to be people of light, who live uprightly and in a way that glorifies God, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our neighbors, too. As we think about light and darkness, we have to acknowledge that darkness is available to us. Nothing good happens after 1 am, I’ve heard parents and grandparents instruct their kids–and depending on how strict your own moms or grandpas might have been, that time is a bit arbitrary. But there’s a sense that the darker the night, the more trouble there is to be had. We live in a time where darkness doesn’t require nighttime anymore, however. We live in a time where the anonymity of the internet provides its own cover of darkness for those who want to anonymously seek what Paul would probably call out as debauchery and licentiousness, or for those who would want to gather to wish or perpetrate hate or harm, enmity or strife on their neighbors. It’s a place where racists or sex traffikers or pedophiles or pornographers can connect to each other–actually there’s a whole internet only accessible to those who know how to get there that allows for this complete anonymity and the most vile of words and actions–and it’s actually called the Dark Web.
We live in a world where the darkest darkness is only a click or two away, and so Paul’s words to his church at Rome, which was plunged into a first century darkness, are needed among us as we seek to heed our calling to be people of the light.
The first instruction Paul has for us who want to live in the light is that We Love our neighbors like it is the Law….because it is!
Paul writes that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Now the Law he’s talking about is the Law. The 10 commandments. The Torah. The 613 expectations provided in the first five books of Scripture. 613 rules for the faithful people of God to remember.
I am going to guess that many of you have been the YMCA in Henderson. I’ve become a frequent visitor to our local Y in the past few years, and we have a great Y facility. The creative folks there, probably both employees and board members, have made a lot of great updates and upgrades to the facility, and there are so many activities to choose from at the Y. But here’s what I always think when I’m walking in and around our YMCA: They certainly don’t need to buy any decorations for the walls here. Why not? Because they cover just about every available square inch of our YMCA with signs informing readers of all kinds of rules, like they should not wear perfume in the fitness center, that they have to sign their kids out at the front desk, that they should clean machines this way and wash hands because of flu season, and that they should use that weird scrubby brush thing outside the door to get dirt of their shoes–has anyone ever done that?
There are so many reminders of the rules, guidelines, and expectations of the Y on the walls, it can be a bit dizzying. You know the guy who wrote the book about how he followed all of the commandments in the Bible for a year? His name is AJ Jacobs and I kind of want to invite him down to Henderson to see if he can spend a week following all the rules at our YMCA.
Rules matter to us. We have rules we follow in our offices, in our homes, as citizens of our city or state or nation. Our After School ministry has a list of rules. Every year, we write an after school covenant that the kids and adults who participate in our twice a week program sign. Here is this year’s covenant. (Read a little of it)
Here’s the thing: What I really want to write each year on this covenant is “Love God. Love Others. Don’t Bleed.” To me, that should sum it up.
I think that’s probably how God might have preferred to present the Law all along. Well, probably just the first two things–Love God, Love Others. It’s not like God didn’t think of it. Deuteronomy 6:4 contains the words of the Shema–Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” and Leviticus 19:18 reminds “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” In the gospels, you’re likely most familiar of Jesus’ words about loving neighbor in connection to the story of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ reminder that our definition of “neighbor” cannot be limited to geography or religion or skin color or socioeconomic status.
The Law was never about a list of do’s and don’ts. Why do we need 10 commandments? Or why does the Torah have 613 separate rules or laws? Because humanity is fallen. We forget how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Things that should be common sense or common courtesy aren’t always commonly understood. It has to be broken down and spelled out line by line for us sometimes…but the problem is that the list of rules makes us feel like we’re just if we simply do not break any of the rules. And yet, throughout history, priests, kings, prophets, and finally God incarnate remind us that the point of the Law isn’t following the rules…it’s love.
Last week, in preaching the passage before this one in Romans 12, Eric gave us a list of what real love looks like. Real love is sincere, pure, devoted, passionate, enduring, generous, merciful, compassionate, humble, peaceable, and missional. This is the love Paul wants his church in Rome, and us by extension, to understand and demonstrate.
When we love our neighbors, Paul says, we won’t harm them or steal from them or be unfaithful or covetous toward them. Love, by definition, means we want the very best lives possible for our neighbors, and we do not purposely cause them or wish them harm for any reason.
When we love our neighbors, we fulfill the Law. That’s the first way we live in God’s light.
This passage also reminds us is that we live in the light when we wake up and stay awake.
There’s an urgency, Paul reminds his church in Rome. There’s a timeline with a definite ending. It’s interesting to me how we understand this concept in our modern society. I had a group of kids at Camp Loucon last fall for our Presbytery’s Fall Retreat. We climbed up, up, up through the woods to the top of the zipline, like we do every year, and as kids one by one put on harnesses and attached to the line and jumped off the cliff to ride to the bottom, just about every other one of them would yell YOLO! As they jumped. Y-O-L-O stands for “you only live once!” It’s intended to convey the idea of urgency–that there’s a timeline here and the timeline has a definite end. But it’s interesting because the idea behind YOLO is that you only live once, so you may as well live however you want and do whatever will make you the happiest. This mindset is honored in our society, right? Find your passion, live life to the fullest, obey your thirst, just do it…YOLO. YOLO is very self-seeking and self-gratifying.
Paul’s version of YOLO has to do with waking up fully and being aware of God’s calling and God’s timing. Instead of living like we think we have all the time in the world to straighten up and honor God, we live each day like it might truly be the last day. Because we are reminded all the time, that it very well might be.
But here’s the thing: we aren’t called to keep awake simply because we might meet our maker sooner rather than later, and we want to be ready ourselves…as Christians, we know an urgency beyond that. The task of living in the light is big! It is nothing less than partnering with the Creator of the universe to bring about the transformation of the world! The world is full of darkness and we know the One who overcomes that darkness, and so we stay awake for the sake of our neighbors, the ones we are loving to fulfill the Law.
We stay awake and we continue to hold out the hope we have–hope in a Kingdom coming where all that is broken will be made new, where all that is wrong will be made right, where all pain and sickness and death will pass away. Wake up and keep awake, beloved church, and use the one life you’ve been given to shine light in dark places.
Finally, living in the light requires that we clothe ourselves with Jesus at all times. Paul writes “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Clothe ourselves with Jesus? What does that look like? How can we tell?
Well, Paul says, go to your closet and make a choice.
We’re familiar with choosing what to wear. Most of us have to do it on a pretty regular basis. It is a chore for some, a joy for others, simple for some of us and whole lot more complicated for others. Some of us have uniforms we wear regularly, whether they are actual uniforms we are required to wear in our workplace, or a limited selection, color, or style we’ve decided is our look. Some of us have to make a choice every single day and try on multiple articles of clothing before settling on the thing that will be just perfect for the day ahead.
If we Christians want to live in the light, we have choose to wear the right things, says Paul. And the things we need to choose are the things of Christ, not the things of the world around us.
Paul gives us a list that is not exhaustive, but it gets the heart of what his instructions are. I looked up the Greek for the words Paul uses, because even if his list doesn’t intend to cover everything that could possibly be of the flesh or of darkness, I thought it was certainly a good place to start. Verse 13 says, “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in κώμοις (feasting) and μέθαις (drunkenness), not in κοίταις (that’s actually the word for bed, which is rather to the point, but to clarify, Paul is talking about immoral sexual behavior) and ἀσελγείαις (indecent conduct), not in ἔριδι (which means contention or strife) and ζήλῳ (which is the word for zeal, but it seems when Paul uses this word, he is usually using it to talk about zeal for self and a rivalry with others–so jealousy is overwhelmingly the preferred translation.)
Basically Paul gives three types of sin–gluttonous eating and drinking, immoral sexual behavior, and strife in relationships. Three categories of sins that show lack of regard for our neighbors and their well-being, and sins that demonstrate the darkness of Paul’s day…and ours.
In v. 12, Paul instructs laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light. Paul telling us to put on armor…does that sound familiar at all? Before starting Romans, we finished a series on Ephesians, also credited to Paul, which ended with a sermon about the Armor of God.
The belt of truth,
the breastplate of righteousness,
The shoes of the gospel of peace,
The shield of faith,
The helmet of salvation,
The sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God…
The armor of God. The armor of light.
But here’s a crucial thing. Paul is saying that the armor of God is none other than Jesus Christ.
Put on Christ’s truth.
Put on Christ’s righteousness.
Put on Christ’s faith.
Put on Christ’s salvation.
Put on Christ’s spirit–the very Word of God.
We are not the source of the light. We wear the light that John 1 says has already come into the world. We wear the light that has already conquered the darkness.
None of this is easy. It requires loving people who do not love us back, or loving people who aren’t very loveable. It requires setting aside our own desires and requires putting the well-being of others ahead of our own. It requires choosing to live so much like Christ that we are wearing him and allowing his light to shine through us. None of this happens by accident–we have to lay down our own clothes and our own selves and put those things on.
May we live as those who love our neighbors, stay awake, and love and reflect the light of God. Glory be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 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.
I know, I kind of fell off the track for the last few words of the Advent Photo Challenge. Today’s word is #birth, which I’m sure will make for some very nice photos from other folks, but I’m going to skip that word. I also skipped #worry and #warmth and at least one other this week.
Today is when we’ll do most of our Christmas celebrating. In about 20 minutes, Simon and I will start waking the other two residents of this house.
Merry Christmas from our home to yours. May God bless you and keep you as one year ends and another one begins.