A Journey to Light, A Journey to Darkness

A sermon for Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23

If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship;  and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and  his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.

The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.

At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?

There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:

Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]

At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.

The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:

A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’  I did and received my sight.

 Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”

After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:

 I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:

We know that God … listens to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.

Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.

Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.

The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.

They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]

The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.

The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:

The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]

In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.

And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind:  I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.

This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.


[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM 
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
   O’Day, ibid,
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv]  Robert Hoch,  John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41 
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[vii] ibdi
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
   Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation  JOHN, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR      TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor 

John Knox Press, ATLANTA

[x]Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41 
[xi] ibid 
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012),  http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November  2013.
                Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the                                    people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”

88 to 9

The psalm appointed for today’s Morning Prayer is 88. [i]  The psalmist starts off complaining about his life; how it’s full of trouble, close to Sheol, and there’s no one to help, in spite of prayers for help.  The psalm continues:

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
  Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
  or your faithfulness in Abaddon? [ii]
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
  or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

The implied answer is no; so the psalmist continues questioning God about the miseries of life.

However, the implied answer is incorrect. God does work wonders for the dead; the dead will/do praise God, God’s love is declared in the grave, in Abaddon, God’s wonders will be/is known in darkness, among those who have forgotten.  Were it not so, there would be no hope; however, by God’s incomprehensible love there is always mercy, therein there is always hope. The irony is the psalmist knows this, after all the psalm being addressing God of my salvation.

And now I find myself thinking of the man born blind in John 9. His accidental [iii] encounter with Jesus leads to him becoming a child of light.

I suppose 88+9 = 15 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [iv]



[i] http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Psalm+88
[ii] angel of the bottomless pit, parallel with Sheol and death, Holman Bible Dictionary.
[iii] accidental in that he does not ask Jesus for healing, the disciples see him, wonder about the source of his blindness, and the rest his biblical.
[iv] John 1:5

Just how far

Tuesday I read several commentaries about the story of the blind man. A couple talked about the progression of his sight.

    1. He is blind
    2. After washing in the pool of Silom he can see.
    3. “… a man called Jesus…”
    4. “He is a prophet.”
    5. “Lord, I believe.”  spoken the first time he actually sees. Jesus.

You will have noticed this includes the MBB (man born blind) improving physical sight and his deepening spiritual sight.   Interwoven with the MBB’s improving sight is his standing his ground when questioned by the Pharisees, including another verbal volley when MBB does not speak of Jesus.  The stronger stance the MBB takes about Jesus, the more his sight improves.

Last week the woman at the well left her water jar behind when she went to town. David Lose posits it her leaving behind all that had weighted her down. He goes on to to ask: What to we need to leave behind so we can live the life God is preparing for us, and to share our experiences?  [i] A similar question arises from this story:  What do we have to stand up to in order to see the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit in our loves? Just how far do we have to be pushed?


 [i] Workingpracher.org, Leaving It All Behind by David Lose – Working Preacher – Craft of Preaching, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3111 1/5, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher

Gail O’Day, New Interpreters’ Bile, Gospel of John

Life Happens

Yesterday, a Colleague blogged about a second long reading from John; and a second temptation for preachers to ramble all over the place in an attempt to catch the myriad themes inherent in the story.  He is choosing to limit himself to a single unifying theme, and I am also drawn to a single, though different, unifying theme.

For those who have heard me over the years you will not be surprised to know I am drawn to Jesus reply to the disciples’ question: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers: Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  I recall someone re-translating the sentence. No one. He was born blind. Let the works, (deed, doing, labor) of God be revealed. The point is to remove the question of causality and understand the man’s blindness as an incident of life by which, or though which the work of God may be revealed.

Jesus uses the encounter to reveal God’s work by restoring his sight. I don’t know about you, but that is a bit beyond my ability, so what am I, what are we to do when we encounter one of life’s tragedy’s be it blindness, or a mudslide, or a plane crash, or a bad medical report? Jesus’s answer is to let the work of God be revealed. And we can do that by how we interact with the individuals, families, and/ or communities involved; which may be assuring presence, as others attend to available technical approaches.

I’ve shorted it all to: Life happens, let God’s work (actually I use glory more often than not) be shown. in an attempt to formulate a guide for responding to all of life’s happenings: good, bad or indifferent. In many respects revealing the glory, the works of God is what the Gospel story is all about. As I think about it, it’s really what this long story is all about.



An Initial Discomfort

This morning’s Daily Office reading from Genesis continues the story of Joseph in Egypt. At this point Joseph is Pharaoh’s key advisor, and Jacob has sent his sons to Egypt for the second time to purchase food because of the famine. Big difference is this time his youngest son Benjamin had to make an appearance, Joseph’s requirement. After the purchase was made, Joseph framed his brothers, specifically Benjamin for stealing a cup. No surprise Joseph demands Benjamin stay behind as his slave.

Today’s reading begins with Judah stepping up, telling the whole story to Joseph, the closing by offering himself as slave in Benjamin’s place for their father’s Jacob’s sake.

Two observations:

  1. Judah and Benjamin are the two remaining tribes of Israel in Jesus day.
  2. Judah’s behavior appears to be a parallel to Jesus’ ministry; offering himself to pay the price for the infractions of another and the benefit of yet another.


I am cautious about drawing to many parallels with so little inquiry. It’s a realization I saw only this morning. Nonetheless it is an intriguing potential precedence. (Remember at this point the brothers do not know Joseph’s identity, which possibly changes all the dynamics.)  As to Lent; perhaps it is a characteristic of God to offer self in place of another for their indiscretions. What exemplar this establishes for us, I’m not sure about, though I’ll admit to an initial discomfort.


Despised, Outcast, Apostle

A sermon for Lent 3

Exodus 17:1-7, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42, Psalm 95

Living water, domestic abuse, culture and faith wars, evangelism, metaphoric literalism, Christology, discipleship, and salvation; all this is in a story where not a single line is straight forward. Some of the muddle is the characters in the story following Nicodemus’ example, of taking metaphorical, mystical language literally. Some of the muddle is us, following our predecessors’ misinterpretations at best or at worst misogyny – unaccountably detesting women. Some of it emerges from John’s literary manner of telling a very complex story in a mere 37 verses.

I’m really not sure how best to do this, so we are just going to walk through it, and learn what we learn when we get there.

At the beginning, we actually ~ well we have to go all the way to 2nd Kings,  and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. Their descendants become the Samaritans, and Alexander the Great allowed them to build a Temple in Gerizim. [i] That intensified Judah’s, the Southern Kingdom’s dislike for all things Samaritan, because the only proper home for God is the Temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus stops by a well, it is still controversial.

Jesus is headed from Judea to Galilee and to get there he has to go through Samaria; only not really. Many good Jews go around in order to avoid traversing the unclean lands. [ii] Not Jesus. So, he gets to Sychar, and stops at Jacob’s well for a drink. This puts him in line with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel’s patriarchs, founding fathers. He asks a woman there for help. No big deal, except

Point 1: Men, especially holy me, do not speak to unknown women.

Point 2: Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.

Point 3: Why is the woman at the well in the heat of the day? Traditionally water is drawn in the morning and evening; and all the women gather to help each other, to socialize and to chat. [iii] [iv] and

Point 4: is the history of men women and wells: the betrothals of Isaac, Jacob and Moses are at wells; and there is Elijah asking the widow Zarephath for water. [v]

The woman seems to know all this and so she asks Jesus why he is asking her for help. Jesus replies if she knew who he was she’d ask him for living water. Normally living water refers to flowing water, which is cleaner, and fresher than well or cistern water. [vi] She misinterprets Jesus reply, and asks for the water so she won’t have to get water from the well again. [vii] Like Theresa [viii]  in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, for all the wrong reasons, she asks Jesus for help, but unlike Nicodemus, she senses he can help. [ix]

Out of the blue Jesus tells her to go get her husband. She tells the truth, which Jesus expands upon revealing her five previous husbands. It may be coincidence, but there are five false gods the Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim;  but there don’t seem to be any coincidences in this Gospel tale. However;  there are lots of misunderstanding on our parts. Traditionally the woman is considered a harlot, I mean five husbands, and her town rejects her. However, Jesus never condemns her harlotry, and he is not shy of doing so. [x] There are many reasons for her circumstances: she could be widowed, or caught in a unfulfilled Levirate marriage, passed on to a dead husband’s brother, as Tamar [xi] was. She could be divorced, after all- all a man has to do is take his wife into the street and say I divorce you three times and that’s it. [xii] There is a similar story in Saturday’s New York Times. A Jewish man and wife are divorced in civil court; he refuses her divorce in Jewish court, keeping her from getting married again, meanwhile he remarries in civil court. [xiii] The woman by the well could easily be in a cycle of domestic violence.

David Lose thinks all that misses the point.  He doesn’t even think Jesus forgives her, the language isn’t there. Lose thinks Jesus is calling her to life giving faith. [xiv] Lose continues:

…  Jesus has “seen” her. He has seen her plight of dependence, not immorality. He has recognized her, spoken with her, offered her something of incomparable worth. He has seen her — she exists for him, has worth, value, [and] significance … [this is the] part of the story that witnesses to her transformation. [xv]

There is a little book I read as a junior in college that posits we cannot see ourselves directly; we see ourselves as we see others see us. [xvi] Jesus sees the woman differently and now the woman begins to see herself differently, as worthy.

The woman’s emerging sense of self, her observation of Jesus’ knowledge, a prophetic trait, allows her to ask Jesus the big cultural, religious question of the day: Who’s right, those of us who worship on Mount Gerizim, or the Jews who worship in Jerusalem? Jesus’ answer is complex. He says salvation comes from the Jews, indicating the Samaritans cannot write-off Jewish salvation tradition, remember Jesus is a Jew. But then he says it doesn’t matter because God is spirit, and true worshipers will worship God in spirit. The woman recognizes the eschatological the end of things shift in Jesus’ answer, and tells him  I know the Messiah is coming. Jesus says: I am, evoking God’s name given to Moses. True worship is no longer shaped by proper location, or proper lineage, but by the character of God. [xvii]

At this point we have two interruptions. The disciples return from grocery shopping. And the woman leaves them and returns to town. The disciples first. They offer him food. He says he has food. They make the error of the times, and misunderstand, and start wondering where he got it from. Jesus’ reference to food is about how his ministry, to do God’s will, sustains him. John’s inference is, you cannot speak about Jesus identity without speaking about his ministry. [xviii]

While all this is going on, the woman is in town sharing her experience with folks who heretofore don’t speak to her. She dares to ask if he could be the messiah. She is not sure, but doesn’t have to be, she, as Jesus invited Andrew earlier, simply invites them to come and see. At this point the scene is reminiscent of Matthew’s version of the hemorrhaging woman, who by healing is restored to relationship in her community.[xix]   We know the well woman’s relationship with the town’s folk is restored, because they do what she asks, they come to see Jesus.

It is not in John’s story, but I envision Jesus being in the middle of his remarks about the harvest, when the crowd from town shows up. So his remark: Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. is a reference to the approaching crowd. This cast the disciples as the reapers, meaning the sower is the woman, that the disciples a moment ago at a minimum queried him about, if they didn’t dismiss her altogether. At the end of tale, the town’s people invite Jesus to stay with them. The implication is they want to be in relationship with Jesus. The results are: they come to deeper belief, which you’ll recall means have faith in, as the woman’s witness is replaced by their own experience of Jesus. [xx]

A couple of closing observations: The woman is conceivably the first apostle, the first person “sent” to proclaim Jesus as the messiah. Jesus reveals that God’s salvation is offered on God’s terms, not ours, and is available to anyone who accepts it. Just like the Jews and the Samaritans in the story, we are preoccupied with protecting boundaries between the choose, and the unclean. And it is a boundary we and the whole church are called to cross every day. [xxi] It may look like racial distinction, or a class, educational or wealth distinction but they are boundaries of our own making and we are obligated to cross them, to obliterate them every day. 

Finally, David Lose observes that in leaving her water jug behind the woman leaves behind all that burdens of her life enabling her to share what God is doing for her. He wonders: What is holding us back? What burdens do we need to allow God to take away from us? [xxii] At the end of her reflections Gail O’Day writes:

Jesus does not come to the well looking for a woman to be his bride, but for a witness who will recognize the Messiah and bring the despised people to him. [xxiii]

At the end of it all we don’t have a story of sin and forgiveness; we have a story of freedom, discipleship and evangelism, sharing God’s story in our story. In so much as our Lenten discipline is to reorient our lives to God, perhaps a despised woman, of an outcast people, offers a model of being stewards of Jesus’ ministry to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, and inviting others to come and see.



[i][i] Gerald Sloyan, INTERPRETATION A Bible Commentary  for Teaching & Preaching , JOHN  A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING   James Luther Mays, Editor  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor   Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor , John Knox Press  ATLANTA 1988
[ii] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 4:5-42,  Observations, and Questions to Consider, 3/23/2014
[iv] Rev. Charles Hoffacker, Sermons that Work, episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/03/06/3-lent-a-2014/ 3 Lent (A) – 2014  March 23, 2014 Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
[v] O”day, ibid
[vi] Hoffacker, ibid
[vii] Robert Hoch, Working Preacher, WP  John 3/17/2014 John 4:5-42 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1984 1/3 RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index   Commentary on John 4:5-42  
[viii] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076327/
[ix] O’Day, ibid,
[x] Hoch, ibid, O’ Day, ibid
[xi] Genesis 38
[xii] O’Day, ibid; Hoezee , ibid; Hoch, ibid
[xiii] Jennifer Medina http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/us/a-wedding-amid-cries-of-unfinished-business-from-a-marriage.html?_r=0
[xiv] David Lose, Working Preacher, Leaving It All Behind – Working Preacher – Craft of Preaching http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3111 1/5  Craft of Preaching Dear Working Preacher   Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts.    Leaving It All Behind Monday, March 17, 2014 9:59 AM
[xv] Lose
[xvi] I believe it is Eric From’s, “Looking Glass Self”, but can not confirm the source
[xvii] O’Day, ibid.
xviii] O’Day
[xix] Matthew 9:22
[xx] O’day, ibid
[xxi] O’day
[xxii] Lose, ibid
[xxiii] Oday, ibid

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

There are other readings this week than the Gospel according to John. As compelling as it is these readings also deserve contemplation. As I reviewed my first reading notes, I was drawn to one by verse 9 of psalm 95; actually verses 8 & 9.

8 Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
   at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.

9 They put me to the test, *
    though they had seen my works.

My note reads: what works have you/we seen / heard? I am sure it comes from a challenge David Lose of Working Preacher issued a couple of weeks ago to invite our congregations to share where they have seen God in the past week.  I passed on the direct method, though I have inserted the question in an intervening sermon or two, and have used it in bible studies prior to committee meetings and so on.  The question is, without a doubt, an underlying dimension in the reading Exodus, which tells the tale the psalm  refers to. After all, the Hebrews have experienced, first-hand, God’s liberating power, an expression of God’s abundant love. And yet only a little time later, the memory of God’s love fades; the memory of God’s power diminishes to the point of non-consideration. Why?

Today, psychologist, nuero-scientist, and others who explore human behavior might well point to how our brain is wired, and how overpowering fear is, in part because of where in the brain, the more primitive parts, fear is processed. But that’s the point isn’t it. To recognize our fear, stop ourselves, our family, friends and neighbors, from reacting out of primitive animalistic perceptions, and make use of the higher functioning parts of our brain (pun intended) to see or heard God’s active presence, and then prayerfully discern what to do. My wife is fond of saying that life happens to everyone; the question is: are you going to allow life’s events to define you, or are you going to turn to God’s presence for the wherewithal to determine how to respond.

Part of being a faith community is to coach each other turn to God. Perhaps part of the psalm’s purpose is to serve as a prayerful or liturgical reminder to turn to God. Part of Lent’s intent is to rehearse turning to God, so as to change the very nature of our bodies’ natural reaction; much like athletes retrain their bodies’ reaction to the challenges of their sport.

It all begins with realizing that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves (collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent). It continues by looking for and listening for God’s presence and actions. It goes on by helping others to do likewise. And while we can change our response, at least some of the time, we can not all the time, so it all ends in gracious judgment of our savior Jesus Christ.

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

More than gray hair

The other day I had both my passport, issued nearly ten years ago, and my driver’s license, issued a few months ago, out side by side. I was caught off guard by how different my pictures were. I saw far less hair, far grayer hair.  Perhaps that is why verse 18 of  psalm 71 appointed for today’s daily office:

And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come.

resonated with me so much.  Actually I like the NKJ version better

18  Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.

because it sounds more challenging, i.e. to share the story of God not just with my generation, but the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and the ones to come after that. As a boomer that includes: two previous generations: the GI’s and the Silent, and three that follow: Gen X, Millennials (or Y), the New Silent (or Generation Z), and we should be on the cusp of the next one to come. (I hadn’t realized there were so many.)

My last two blogs have been grounded in language and misunderstanding.  Currently evangelism spans six, maybe seven generations. That is six or seven different language and experience sets, and more when you include cultural differences of the many heritage backgrounds of everyone that is to come.  It’s quite a challenge to be flexible in our story telling.  On the other hand this is not a new challenge; scripture has migrated from spoken to written; from Hebrew to Greek, to Latin, to the vulgar languages (the language of the people).  It occurs to me if we should look for gleanings from translators as we seek proclaim the story of God’s active presence in history to an ever increasing mixture of peoples.

Of course there is the reality that no matter good our story telling is; it much more likely to be the way we live, the way we treat each other, the way we treat others, especially those on the margins, that will get people’s attention. And there we have work to do.

Abuse at the well

The more I read about this passage from John, the more I see the subtle presence of domestic abuse in the history and behavior of the woman at the well.  She has been in a series of marriages that did not end well.  In the day, choosing to end a marriage is a male prerogative. It is very likely as each bad marriage ends, and her self-respect further declines, her decisions get poorer and poorer as she desperately seeks security.  Her presence at the well at noon alone (she is not expecting Jesus) is an indication of her rejection by the community, a form of blaming the victim. The abuse continues for centuries the misreading of her behavior to be a prostitute is emblematic of domestic abuse (we continue to blame the victim).

Jesus sees her for who she is, a beloved child of God. He offers her new life, which at first she misunderstands, and he inspires her to share with the community who has rejected her, the promise Jesus offers. They listen to her (a miracle?); they positively respond and go see Jesus. The woman, whose name we never know, is restored to relationship to her community. There is powerful similarity to Jesus restoring the hemorrhaging woman take heart daughter; your faith has made you well. [i] In calling her daughter Jesus restores her to her community.

Part of breaking the cycle of domestic violence is restoring the victim’s self-worth and restoring them to a loving community.  Part of breaking the cycle of sin is restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. [ii]


[i] Matthew 9:22

[ii] Book of Common Prayer, 855

Confusion abounds

Last February was the Creationism Vs. Evolution Debate featuring Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Not long after that I hear our bishop say the most notable thing of the debate was each proponent inarticulately trying to use the other’s language to prove his point. Last week we read as Nicodemus misinterprets Jesus because he hears mystical language literally. This week we read the same confusion only more so. The woman at the well misunderstands Jesus’ ‘living water’ twice. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ reference to food they “do not know about.” Last night I watched Bill Maher’s brutal review of Noah which is actually a brutish critique of Christian belief. (You can watch it on U-Tube, be forewarned).

The gleaning I am drawing from his rant is that when mystical language of faith is taken as literal language huge confusion occurs. As people of faith we must know our language, including its faith and mystical elements. If we do not, and if we attempt to defend Christian faith against such critiques, we will come off like Ham and Nye, inarticulate.

The reading from John also reveals a faithful approach to such criticism. The woman at the well returns to town, and shares with everyone her experience with Jesus at the well, and wonders, out loud, if he is the messiah. In short she simply invites them to come and see. They did, and they came to believe. Rather than argue, perhaps we should simply invite those who do not see to come and see, and leave the rest to the transforming power of the Spirit.