Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February 23 Sermon

Every four years it seems that we pause as a country to watch the Olympics. I love keep up with the results and watching just about every sport. It is the only time that I watch hockey. There is something special about watching the joy as our fellow Canadians achieve their goals and sharing in the sorrow of when it does not go as planned. While I tune in every four years to watch these sports, the athletes spend countless hours working, training and living their sport. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of dedication it takes to become a top ranked athlete who has the skills to compete at the international level. It is a labour of love.

            In many ways it is like the work of faith. Faith is a gift but it also requires work, time and dedication. It means being open to challenge and change. It means having the courage to get up again when life’s hard knocks come our way. Our gospel reading today tells just that kind of story.    

            She was a woman with no name – she probably did but it is not recorded.  She was from the wrong country. So she was of no account – except for the fact that she was the first one Jesus told the truth about who he was. Except she was the first person in John’s gospel to invite others to come and see Jesus. Except that even without a name and being from the wrong country her story has been told by generations and generations of believers.

            It is midday – high noon. Jesus is travelling from Judea back to Galilee. On the way, they stopped in a Samaritan city. This was a challenging place to stop because although both Jews and Samaritans believed in the same God they lived out their faith in different ways. Which means that the two peoples hated each other. They wanted nothing to do with each other.

            Jesus is at Jacob’s well – the disciples had gone to the closest city to find food. Jesus is taking a breather. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well. What happens next breaks every rule. Jesus says, “Give me a drink.” (John 4: 7) Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it? But she is a Samaritan and he is Jew. They do not talk to one another. But even greater than that men and women unless they are related do not talk to one another. And they are at a well.

            Wells are significant places in the bible. They mean someone is getting married. It is like when you know who is going to fall in love in the movies based on how much the two hate each other or that special music or the slow motion meeting. Some pretty important people met at wells – think Jacob and Rebecca. A man and a woman at well in the bible means someone is getting married. Everyone in the story knows it.

            The woman can’t believe it and she says it, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9)  She asks good questions. This woman with no name could have just walked away, instead she wants to know more. As Jesus and the woman talk, it becomes clear that she’s had a hard time in life. She’s had five husbands – that means five funerals, five heartbreaks. A woman without a husband then was in a precarious place. She found herself in that hard place five times.  

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World writes, “The practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not. You lose your job. Your lover leaves. The baby dies. At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice, as your explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”


            The woman in our story must have refused to stay lost. Every time she picked herself up again and kept going. This is one of the hardest things to do. Now here she is standing at the well with Jesus talking about deep matters of faith. Hearing the promise that soon nothing will divide his people from her people. Hearing that the living water Jesus has is for her. Knowing that Jesus see her as someone of value.

            Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) The woman goes back into the village and tells her story to anyone who will listen. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4: 29) At her word the people form the village came to meet Jesus and hear him speak. Because of her invitation, many people came to believe in Jesus. Amazing.

            This woman with no name invites us to come and see Jesus. The one who knows everything about us. The one who loves us and invites us to come and drink the life giving water that sees us through life’s ups and downs. Now that is a promise. Joyce Cowley inspired by this passages wrote the poem “The Quiet Pool”

There is within each of us

a quiet clear pool of living water

fed by one deep Source

and inseparable from it’

but so often hidden

by a tangle of activity

that we may not know

of its existence.


We can spend the proverbial forty years

wandering in strange deserts,

sinking unrewarding wells,

and moving on, driven by our own thirst,

but when we stop still long enough

to look inside ourselves, really look

beyond our ideas about water

and what and where it should be,

we discover it was with us all the time,

that quiet clear pool which is ageless,

the meaning of our existence

and the answer to all our wanderings.


And as we drink,

we know what Jesus meant when he said

we’d never be thirsty again.

The invitation to a life of faith comes with the blessing of living water. It does not mean that it will be an easy road. It does mean that we won’t be alone. Like athletes preparing for sports, we prepare for a life of faith in prayer, in caring for others and by giving thanks that with Jesus we will never be thirst

February 9th Sermon

In John’s Gospel this story of the cleansing of the temple marks Jesus letting the world know that he is God’s son. We’ve had some clues about Jesus. There is the invitation he gives to his first disciples to come and see, there is the gift lavish gift of joy in the gifts of water turning into wine. But it seems like it is all leading to this particular moment and place.

            The place is important – it is the temple mount in Jerusalem.  Today it is home of the Wailing Wall where people from all over the world come and tuck their prayer requests into the wall. It is home of Al Aqsa mosque where the Prophet Mohamed was transported in a dream from Meca. It is a place considered holy by Christians as they retrace Jesus’ footsteps, to Jewish people who pray at the wall, and to Muslims who make pilgrimages to the mosque.  

            In legend it is connected to one of the rivers flowing through the Garden of Eden. It is home of Mount Moriah where Abraham bound Isaac. It is where David brought the ark of the Lord – God’s presence and where Salomon built the temple. It was the centre of faith until the Babylonians destroyed the temple and is later rebuilt. It is the place where earth and heaven meet.

            Just before Passover, the celebration of God leading the people to freedom in the Promised Land, Jesus and his disciples go to Jerusalem. People from near and far were gathered for the Passover celebrations.  When they arrive at the temple, the first thing that Jesus sees is the normal business of the temple. He’s probably seen it most years as comes for holy days at the temple. The money changers, the people selling animals for sacrifice. Something happens with Jesus. It is not clear what. He makes a whip, he drives them all out of the temple, turning over the tables and dumping the money of the ground as he cries out, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market place!” (John 2:17)

            Then there is a strange reaction from the people watching. They don’t run and hide wondering what this person is doing. They don’t try to stop him. They ask him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (John 2:18) Really? That is their reaction? And then to make it worse the answer Jesus gives is a strange statement that is nearly impossible to understand unless you know about Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Jesus says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Is it any wonder the crowds starts muttering and saying things like, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, you will raise it up in three days?” (John 20) And they walk away shaking their heads in disbelief. What just happened here?

            It is a hard story to make sense of – especially if you don’t know how the story ends. It is only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that the disciples remember that it is written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17) and that the narrator can say “But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead the disciples remembered that he had aid this; and they belied the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:21 – 22)

            In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the cleansing of the temple happens at the end of the Gospel as though this is the culmination of Jesus’ frustration with the authorities. Not so in John. It is at the beginning only a few short verses after Jesus turns the water into wine. But in John it happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is an introduction of who Jesus is – God’s son. It is a reminder that with Jesus everything is changed.

            As the tables are turned and the animals used for temple worship are sent packing, Jesus is making a point about who he is and his ministry. It is like he is saying “something new is happening starting today and our relationship with God will never be the same.”  In the place where earth and heaven meet, the place where God dwells, Jesus is makes it clear that God’s presence is with him. It is a complete shift in how people meet God. Once it was only in the temple. Now we meet God in Jesus and we are all invited to come and see what this means.            The author Phyllis Tickle who wrote the book The Great Emergence argues that the church today is in a period of major transition. Not as major as the day Jesus clears the temple of vendors. She argues that this happens every 500 hundred or so years. Think of the Reformation as Martin Luther as he nailed his statements on the wall. She says it is like the church is having a giant rummage sale and is trying to pick what parts of our tradition to take with into the next period, what do needs to let go of, and what do needs to be reclaimed.

            In some ways, that is what happened in the temple. It was a complete shift in how people are invited to meet God. We are in a shifting and changing time in our world today too. Our culture, our way of living, our faith are all in transition. We hear it on the news in movements like the Occupy movement and the Arab spring. We know it in our churches. So many people are spiritual but not religious or fall under the category of none when it comes to religion. We feel it on Sunday mornings with fewer people in the pews. As individual churches and a denomination we are having to make hard choices about how we will live our faith into the next generations.

            It is a challenging time to be in the church. It is filled with so many uncertainties and challenges. But it is not a time without hope. No matter the challenges and changes we face we remember these words from Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) This time of challenge and change is an invitation from Jesus to go deeper into our faith. It is time to share our story and to boldly proclaim that as followers of Jesus we are given a gift that is truly priceless – grace. Grace is not earned. It is freely given. Every time we gather at Jesus table for gifts of bread and wine we are reminded of that grace. For in them we are given new life, a love that will not let us down and strength for the coming day. Amen.