March 15, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, whoo lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 27)

Exodus 17:1-7

1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” 11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Romans 5:1-11

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

John 4:5-42

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Meggan Manlove – TLC – March 15, 2020

It’s no accident that we hear the story of Nicodemus one week and the very next Sunday we read about Jesus’ encounter with, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable characters in the entire gospel—the Samaritan woman at the well.  She has gumption, personality, conversation skills, and courage.  We never even learn her name.  And yet, Jesus’ conversation with her is longer than with any of his other conversations recorded in scripture.  This is an encounter worthy of our attention.

The Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.  To Nicodemus, Jesus pronounced, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son.”  Now Jesus is walking the talk—crossing every possible boundary.  He speaks to a Samaritan, who by rule did not associate with Jews.  This Samaritan is a woman, another boundary.  And finally, this woman is ostracized by her own community.  We know this before getting her personal background because she can’t even draw water at normal hours, when respectable townsfolk come to the well.

Someone drew a comparison between this scene and storyteller Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.  In Lake Wobegon, like any small town, you can be reasonably sure that everyone knows your history as well as the latest news about you.  Maybe they know the news even before you know it yourself.  The second thing about small town life is that knowing the history or the latest news about someone is not the same as truly knowing them.

What do we really know about this woman at the well?  Five times she has been either widowed or abandoned.  Likely she was infertile, or perhaps too uppity.  We will never know.  But neither does it say, even though many interpreters have delighted to assume, that she was a tramp.

Jesus shows his knowledge of the woman’s former husbands and the man now in her life.  Notice that he does not attempt to shame or judge her.  Such judgment has been projected onto the text, but I don’t hear it.  No, instead Jesus expresses intimate knowledge of her pain—rejection, loss, vulnerability, impermanence.  He sees her, all of her, and he knows her.

Being seen is a powerful thing.  I love that moment when you hold an infant who is looking at everything around the room, suddenly your eyes lock, you both smile, and she knows in her tiny little heart that she is loved.  But the need to be seen does not end there.

Several colleagues in the Nampa ministerial association have recently become passionate about human trafficking, an issue it easy to ignore.  My colleagues are trying to find ways for those women to be seen.

I have witnessed people become invisible in their grief.  Grieving a death, a loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the sale of a home, people disappear literally or hide in themselves.  The truth is that if you live long enough you will go through some time when you believe no one on the planet truly sees you, truly knows who you are.

To know that another human being has truly seen you, understood you, received you for who you really are: that is pure grace. It is being seen.  Most of us would do anything for it. Human beings long for communion, for deep connection. When we don’t have it, we literally waste away—from isolation, anger, depression, addiction. To use Jesus’ own image from today’s text, we find no quenching for our thirst and we dry up.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk with one another about water. Their conversation always reminds me of the hand-dug wells I stared down into as a child.  They were pieces of art—perfectly shaped and lined with granite taken right out of the hillsides.  There were two of them on the ranch I grew up on in the Black Hills of South Dakota. One was up the valley that fed the horse tank and the other was in the pump house, which fed water up a hill to a five-hundred-gallon cistern.  The water from the cistern then flowed into the old log homestead house.  Ten years ago, I asked my dad about the depths of the wells—35 feet deep—and the cistern—only five feet deep.  I couldn’t believe him at first.  I was certain that cistern was at least 20 feet down.  Then he reminded me that things seem much larger when we are younger.

I can still recall quite clearly the sun glittering as dad and I carefully leaned over the edges of the wells and cistern.  More than anything I remember my dad’s relief and thankfulness that both the guests staying in the ranch house as well as our string of horses would have water.  I could actually see his body relax with such assurance.  Water is truly life giving—that’s what makes it such a powerful image.

The need for fresh water unifies living things.  It is necessary for life. The same is true about being truly seen.  Is there anything else so necessary for the health of our souls?  That is just what Jesus does—he sees her.  And I think we can confidently finish what the woman says to her townsfolk, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did…and loved me anyway.”

It’s quite a contrast to the main character last week.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee—an insider, a leader of the Jews.  He is a man, he has a name, but he comes to Jesus by night.  The woman is a Samaritan—a religious, social, and political outsider.  She is a woman, she has no name, but she meets Jesus at noon, in full daylight.

No one introduced to these two individuals would assume that the woman at the well would be open to what Jesus has to say, for her to identify Jesus and then to converse with him.  And yet it is she who testifies to Jesus, she is the one who gives her testimony.  It is so easy to make assumptions about who is and who is not ready for Jesus’ living water, so easy to think we know who or who is not thirsting to know the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What conscious or subconscious assumptions do we make about people we would talk with about our faith, invite to worship or social events?  Do we seek out only those who look like us?  Are our eyes and ears open to other possibilities, people who can almost seem invisible?  From whose brokenness do we turn away even though he might be the one person who most needs to be seen?  What oddball has been on the outside for so long that he does not even notice his need to be seen and loved?

The truth is that each of us here is in some way broken, odd, has felt invisible in some way.  By the grace of God, we were told or shown that God sees us and loves us.  Maybe it happened long ago on a grandparent’s lap or in a Sunday School classroom or around a campfire.  Perhaps it took place recently in a conversation with a friend, in the solitude of a long walk, or when you came to the Table for the first time or for the first time in a long time.  Maybe it happened through something we simply cannot explain.

And now, in the time of the Coronavirus, we are going to experience being seen, or not seen in new ways. My heart ached when I sent out the email announcing that we were cancelling worship. I know it was the right decision, but congregational life is such an important space and time for people to be seen and loved for who they are.

But God is faithful and full of compassion and that faithfulness and compassion with carry us in the weeks ahead. We may make more phone calls and send more cards to one another than we have in a long time. And we might see one another in brand new ways. Relationships may be formed and strengthened in ways we cannot even imagine.

Furthermore, our neighbors will continue to need us. People who do get sick will need to be seen and cared for by us and by medical professionals. Our food pantry will need be accessed in the days and weeks ahead. Our relatives, friends, and neighbors may need help. We may become conduits of God’s mercy and compassion for individuals and families we do not yet know. Furthermore, people we do not even know may need to self-quarantine. They may feel isolated and may find us online and suddenly feel connected.

So, how do we respond to such a claim on us—of being seen by a loving God?  Our cast of characters this Lent gives us two contrasting possibilities. Nicodemus, at least initially, is unable to move beyond the confines of his religious system. Nicodemus cannot hear that Jesus is sent by God. Nicodemus’ last questioning words to Jesus expose his disbelief, “How can these things be?”

The Samaritan woman moves outside of her religious expectations to engage Jesus in a theological debate. The woman at the well hears the actual name of God, “I am.”   The last words of the woman at the well are “He cannot be the Christ, can he?” lead her to witness to her whole town.

When I speak with friends about preaching in this space, I acknowledge the wonder and challenge I experience.  I’m sure it’s true of most congregations but we come, each one of us, with such diverse stories.  Yes, there are of course some threads of similarity but our backgrounds, trials, celebrations, daily lives are quite varied.

What that means on a day like today is that some of you need to hear that Jesus sees you and loves you, just as he saw that Samaritan woman with her broken family.  Jesus loved her enough to journey to the cross and die. And then God defeated even death in the resurrection.  Others of you know this truth so well, it floods you, quenches your thirst.  You need to be reminded to share that gift.  “Come and See!”  Those are the words with which you can begin your testimony, your story of faith.  Most of you need to hear both of these things.  You are seen and you are loved just the way you are.  Now go tell someone else that the same is true for him.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays & Seasons, 2020)

Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of living water, send your church beyond boundaries to proclaim your grace. May its witness be a source of refreshment for thirsty souls. Strengthen our voices, that all people can know and believe that Jesus is truly the savior of the world. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, protect from pollution or misuse all rivers, lakes, oceans, and streams (local water sources may be named). Bless the work of those who dig wells and those who advocate for access to clean water, that all people and animals have enough to drink. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, open the hearts of leaders and authorities, that they hear the cries of the suffering and act with compassion toward them. Bring peace to disputed lands and bring reconciliation to people divided by race, culture, or nationality. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, mend the hearts of those who grieve broken relationships, whether by conflict, abuse, divorce, or death. Draw near to all who are ill (especially). Assure those questioning your presence in the midst of doubt or suffering. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, renew us in the promises of baptism. Join us together in worship, fellowship, and sharing your good news. Embolden us to serve others and to work for justice and peace. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, we thank you for those who endured suffering and who now boast in the glory of God (especially). Pour your Holy Spirit into our hearts and give us peace as we live in the hope of our salvation. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

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