Unexpected Guides, Surprising Directions

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

The Jewish-Samaritan rivalry dates all the way back to the 7th century under Assyrian occupation. Temple was built at Gerazim and became the center of worship in the 4th century under Persian occupation. The Samaritans worship at this Temple, but the Jews believed that worship must be in the Temple in Jerusalem. Although Gerazim was destroyed in 128 BCE, the schism continued at least to Jesus’ day. (Ellingsen, O’Day, Sakenfeld). It is part of the reason that the Jews avoided Samaria. When Jesus leaves Judea and heads back to Galilee, the typical route would be to go around Samaria. Jesus goes through Samaria. It has long been held it was simply a short cut. But if we listen closely we hear that John writes “[Jesus] had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). In truth, it becomes Jesus’ first venture into the rest of the world (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

I hope you have heard the contrast between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus as you listened to the John’s Gospel story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well. They are many, and they are interesting.

We have been so well (pardon the pun) taught all about the social dynamics between the woman, men, and Jews we overlook the scandal of the well. In the Old Testament, a well is an archetype for marriage  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Moses meets his wife Zipporah at a well in Midian (Exodus 2:21). And Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at this very well (Genesis 29:1) (O’Day). We all know Jesus does not marry. However, the marital implication hints at the depth of intimacy in the story to come.

The encounter begins with Jesus’ polite request for water. The woman asks him Why are you asking me for water? Jesus answers If you knew me, you would ask me and I would give you living water. The term ‘living water’ has two meanings; it can be flowing water like a stream, or it can mean life-giving water. The woman misunderstands what Jesus is saying; sound familiar.

After their convoluted conversation and she asks for the water, that Jesus is really offering, Jesus, asks her about her husband. She says she doesn’t have one, and Jesus goes on to tell her all about her history with men. But note; there is not a single word of judgment; there is not a single word of forgiveness; because there is no need for one. The woman is likely barren, and her husbands have simply divorced and abandoned her. Jesus reveals that he knows all about the tragic story of her life, which she confesses is true. Jesus also knows she has been abandoned, again, and again and again and again. He knows she is lonely. And perhaps in the greatest gift of all, Jesus sees her; a beloved child of God made from the dust of the earth. Jesus values her (Lewis, O’Day, Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Thus, far their story has progressed from protest to misunderstanding to confession to divine recognition and love (Harrelson).

Now knowing that Jesus is a prophet, the woman risks asking him if the proper place to worship is Gerazim or the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus replies “Gods is seeking those who worship him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) Revealing more of her theological knowledge and understanding, the woman goes on to say I know the Messiah is coming. Jesus replies I am he. (John 4:26).

“I am” is an intentional referral to the revelation of God’s name to Moses (Exod. 3:14) (O’Day).This is Jesus’ first “I am” statement, the first full revelation of who he is, is to a rejected, abandoned woman, in a foreign land (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And in doing so, Jesus encourages her role as a witnessing disciple ~ before she even begins to act. As for the rest of the world, in doing so, Jesus crosses boundaries of gender, and race, and religious traditions (Vena).

This morning’s Gospel story opened with a lonely rejected woman coming to the village well to get water at high noon, hoping to meet no one; and she runs into a Jewish rabbi. She leaves the well having abandoned her water jar, her source of life, to go share her story (Hoezee). In her absence, the disciples arrive.

Jesus’ discussion with the disciples is quite cryptic. The language is all agricultural; you plant, and you wait for the harvest. The Messianic implications are that you wait for the Messiah. Jesus message to the disciples is that the waiting is over. Jesus is prompting his disciples to open their eyes and to see who the harvest is, that is already being gathered; in part, this is a reference to the woman who is in the village sharing her story at that very moment. Here we learn from John, the mission to the rest of the world is not after Jesus’ death or any other marker, the mission for the rest of the world beings right now (O’Day).

As this conversation is going on the woman has gone to town and is telling the villagers everything. She invites them to come and see, which is my favorite evangelical invitation. I suspect to everyone’s surprise they believe her, at least enough to follow her back to the well of life. When they get there, the villagers’ experience with Jesus expands their faith and believe because of their own experience (Vena). They invite him to stay, and that invitation has implications that they are seeking a relationship with Jesus (O’Day). What more could a witness ask for?

The story of Jesus meeting a woman at the well is the story of the making of a disciple. It begins with both the witness’ and the audience’s mutual vulnerability. Jesus risks talking to the woman. The woman risks accepting Jesus’ invitation. It grows as the audience lets go of their or our most precious traditions as we realize they do not nurture our relationship with God (Lewis). Discipleship grows as we as we are released from our fear of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us (Vena). We see traits of being an effective witness. The woman offers her experiences as they are. When she is, tentative or isn’t certain of the answer, she shares them as that; for example, she asks “Jesus really the Messiah?”; she shares that as it is. Curiously enough, it adds to her credibility. The woman brings the villagers to Jesus, and her job is now done, and her witness decreases, as did John the Baptist’s, as the villagers’ have their own personal experience with Jesus. If we can have our personal experience with Jesus, which we share with others, certainly these villagers can. A witness cannot replace an immediate experience with Jesus; a witness leads others to it. An effective witness knows salvation is offered on God’s terms and often is not in the terms a witness may have preconceived (O’Day).

It is a reasonable Lenten discipline to examine our witness of Jesus. It does not matter what our life’s experience is, whether we have been planted in the best soil or on the rocky path, either way, Jesus will nurture us. It does not matter the depth or certainty of our theological knowledge, and if you are here you have some theological knowledge; even if you don’t know what you know, Jesus will lead you into bearing fruit, which is continuing to do the work of God given to Jesus. It does not matter how long it takes, different fruit and crops mature at different rates. It does not matter how magnificent our story is; it only matters that we know our story, in Jesus’ story, well enough to share it.

Last week I invited us to consider Nicodemus, a leader with rank, education, and influence, to be our Lenten guide. Today I invite us to invite a woman, of unknown birth, without rank and without status, to join our team (Gaventa and Petersen). It seems our Lenten journey seems to be led by unexpected guides, showing us surprising directions to living waters.


Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 19 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 19 3 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 4:5-42. 19 3 2017.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 19 3 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Trust in God’s Love, Lent 3(A).” 19 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Holy Conversations. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 3 A: Living Water, Living Faith. 15 3 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 4:542. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.



Called – Needed

A sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8


Harley was orphaned as a young child. He was fortunate to be placed with foster parents who were there for him. They were not alone. In Jr. High a football coach notices him and asks him to play football. Harley answers “I don’t know how.” The coach replies “That’s okay; I will be your coach.” In Sr. High, Harley is asked to move positions from guard to tight end. He answers “I don’t know how to catch.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.” Harley’s college playing time was limited but good. In his Junior year, the head coach tells him “We are shorthanded, I need you join the kickoff special team.” Harley answers “I don’t know how to tackle.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.” To most peoples’ surprise, Harley is invited to the NFL combines. There are some four or five hundred college players there, all of them very good. One team expresses an interest. Harley says “I don’t know how to be a pro.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.”

So yes you can tell I’ve been creative. But the story is not simply made up. It is crafted from multiple stories I’ve read over time and recently. And yea, I may have woven in a theme from today’s scripture reading.

It is hard to read this story of Moses meeting God in the burning bush on Mount Horeb, without thinking of, Ben Kingsley in 1995, or Burt Lancaster in 1974, or Charlton Heston (1956). But when you think about the story, Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house. He learns about his heritage as an adult and only then re-joins his people. He soon kills an abusive overseer and flees into the desert. Wandering around in Midian, Moses comes across a fine lady and joins her father’s tribe.

As today’s story opens Moses is keeping Jethro’s, his father in law, and a priest of Midian, flock. He has led the flock beyond the wilderness, on to Horeb. Moses is tending the sheep. He knows little if anything of God. How could he, for most of his life, he was Egyptian. And he had little time with the Israelites. For Moses Mount Horeb is just another high place. Nonetheless, in the form of a burning bush, God calls him. In scripture fire is a prominent characteristic of God appearing to humans. Moses not recognizing God in the fire shows that he does not know the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Harrelson). Apparently God knows Moses.

Having gotten his attention God lays out the situation. Israel is in trouble. God shares with Moses the divine plan to save them. The specifics hint at more than a mere rescue, there is the insinuation of a new creation (Fretheim). Then God tells Moses “I’m going to send you.” Now, Moses does not know God, but he does not lack in understanding. He realizes that he will be taking all the risks of God’s plan (Brueggmann). Moses also knows he is not prepared (Fretheim). Who could be prepared to take on the Egyptian dynasty and free the labor, that is the underpinning of their social fabric (Pankey). Moses is a nobody; he lacks any kind of authority. His question “Who am I? “is legitimate. (Brueggmann). God doesn’t really answer Moses; however, God does provide divine assurance “I will be with you.” And there are more affirmations in God’s sharing the divine name ‘I am’ that reveals God’s power, fidelity, and presence (Brueggmann).

A couple of observations about this story.

  • Saving Israel requires a human agent. It involves a specific and dangerous human responsibility (Gaventa & Petersen) (Fretheim).
  • We should understand that Moses’ work is socio-political, it is not church related or priestly (Fretheim).
  • In the Bible, a divine commission is always task oriented (Harrelson).
  • God’s name “I am,” which is more likely “I will be who I will be,” is unusual because it is a verb. The tense is imperfect, meaning it is ongoing (Harrelson, Pankey). It puts the focus on divine action not on being (Harrelson, 2003).
  • Although God’s reassurance “I will be there,” tells us Moses’ task is a shared risk it does not include a guarantee of success (Harrelson).

The leap from Moses to the tragedies and an unfruitful tree, in the reading from Luke’s Gospel account, isn’t intuitive; but stick with me.

Jesus shares two tales of tragedy. Pilate killed Galilean Jews offering their prescribed sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem and allows their blood to mingle with the blood of the sacrifices (Ellingsen, 2016). It is as much sacrilege, as it is murderous. The other is the accident when the Tower at Shalom fell killing 18. As we do today, the people in the crowd think that people get what they deserve. It is generally believed there is some connection between peoples’ moral standing and the quality of their life, the good and bad things that happen to them. Jesus is saying that’s not how it works. John echoes Luke’s unique stories in his story of the man born blind when the disciples want to know who sinned, and Jesus says no one (Richter).

In short, we learn that life is capricious. We learn that we should not equate good luck or misfortune or another’s good luck or misfortune with either special blessing or sin (Skinner). One of my least favorite sayings is “There, but for the grace of God, go I. “Why do we assume the said person doesn’t have God’s grace? Why are we elevating our own spiritual status based on someone else’s worldly misfortune? Jesus is telling the crowd, and us, to be careful (Hoezee). Just as Moses has no guarantees, there no guarantees in life no matter our faith or our faith tradition (Epperly). Augustine wrote,

Christians differ from Pagans, not in the ills which befall them, but in what they do with the ills that befall them.”

“Our Christian faith does not give us a way around tragedy. Faith gives us a way through tragedy” (Richter).

Now about that tree. We tend to read it as an allegory, with God as the land owner and Jesus as the gardener. But, it may just be a warning against false assurance. Just because you have not been cut down, do not presume that you don’t need to repent. It may be assurances, to those struggling to repent, that everything possible is being done to nurture you (Skinner). It may help to know that ‘leave it alone’ comes from the Greek word aphis which is the root for ‘forgiveness’ (Hoezee). The story of the tree does have its moral implications. Repentance is a theme. You know ‘repentance’ is grounded in the ideal of changing your ways. It can be expanded to include finding a new way of seeing the world. Yet the story of the tree does imply that it is more about being found than it is about finding (Skinner). And here we discover the link to Moses on the Mountain.

God finds Moses on Mount Horeb. God needs Moses for the divine plan to set his people free. Imagine for the moment that we are the gardener; imagine that God needs us for the divine plan for the tree to bear fruit. You know it is God’s desire to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP, p. 855). Imagine God needs you for that plan to work. You may wonder “Who am I? “so did Moses. You may know you are not prepared; so did Moses. You may ask for help, so did Moses. God’s “I am,” will be with you, like it was with Moses. And just how does God do? Which, by the way, is a fair question.


When Moses argues with Pharaoh – God is there.

When Israel is backed up against the Red Sea – God is there.

When they are wandering around in the wilderness -God is there.

As they approach the impenetrable wall at Jericho – God is there.

When Israel is in exile – God is there.

When they live under Roman occupation – God is there

As Jesus hangs on the cross -God is there (Pankey).

As were Moses’ people, as was Israel in the first century, today people, all around the world, are in trouble. There is a plan for a new creation. We may not know its details; nonetheless, we know, like everyone else, that we are called, that we are needed, and at this very moment in this very place, ‘I am’ is right here right now. Our challenge is to trust and follow our divine coach.


Brueggeman, W. (n.d.). New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus (Vol. 1).

Ellingsen, M. (2016, 2 28). Lent 3, Cycle C | Lectionary Scripture Notes. Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/

Epperly, B. (2016, 2 28). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Fretheim, T. E. (1991). INTERPRETATION Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press.

Gaventa, B. R., & Petersen, D. (n.d.). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2016, 2 28). Advent 3C | Luke. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

Lewis, K. (2016, 2 28). Longing for More. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Lose, D. (2016, 2 28). Lent 3 C: Suffering, the Cross, and the Promise. Retrieved from In the Meantime.

Pankey, S. (2016, 2 25). The Power of “I Am”. Retrieved from WordPress: Draughting Theology.

Richter, A. (2016, 2 28). What Did They Do to Deserve That?, Lent 3 (C) – 2016. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Skinner, M. (2016, 2 28). Commentary on Luke 13:19. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

The Episcopal Church. (1979). Book of Common Prayer.

Live Sabbath, bring shalom, and know shekinah

A sermon for Lent 3: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

Knowing the philosophical and/ or religious beliefs of those you are negotiating with is central to the negotiating process. Beforehand no one thought world leaders would let zealot nationalists drag Europe into a world war. Not to many years later, no one really believed Hitler would actually start another European inferno that would once again put the world at war. The United States was surprised when Iraq did not run to democratic capitalism after we vanquished Hussein; we never thought Sunnis and Shiites would ever let their sectarian feud turn into a cataclysmic conflagration. Our negotiations with Iran challenge our understanding of Iran’s social and religious context, which will determine not only the negotiation’s outcome, but its fruits. (Brooks, 2015) The context of the other has always been central to negotiating, to getting your story understood. It’s true in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Most folks focus on Jesus’ rampage through the Temple, or his prediction of his resurrection. We hear them as unique events. But there is so much more. The Hebrew term ‘she-ki-nah’ refers to the present of God. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)  (Orr, 2004) In the Old testament shekinah is always on the move; from walking in the garden in Eden, to in a whispering voice calling Noah and Abraham into covenant, in Exodus as fire and cloud on a mountain top, and in covenant in the Ten commandments, then in a tent, then to Shiloh, then to Jerusalem and the Temple, to Babylon and back – twice, and in the New Testament shekinah move back towards earlier an Old Testament loci of individuals in community. Jesus’ tirade in the Temple is all about shekinah, all about the presence of God. He is one in a long tradition of challenging the Temple as the only place to be in God’s presence. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)

Jesus is challenging not only where God is, but the entire notion of the Jewish establishment’s relationship with God. Regardless of their outward appearance, Jesus is challenging whether or not the Jewish establishment, centered at the Temple, keeps Sabbath. This is more critical than our religious – legal perspective leads us to believe. We think, they are breaking the law. But, the Ten Commandments are not a foundation for case law; they are the description of living a free life in covenant community. A key way of knowing you are in covenant community is keeping Sabbath. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) And one way of knowing this is if you are at shalom (Hoezee, 2015) if you bring shalom, to all your life touches.

Shalom is often translated peace. And that is a good beginning; however, beyond the absence of external or internal disturbance shalom is a completeness of health and soundness in your relationship with God and your neighbors. (Orr, 2004)

Keeping Sabbath that brings shalom is in the details of the longest of the commandments. Note who is to keep Sabbath: you, your sons and daughters, male and female slaves, which includes servants, your domestic animals, and any guest, foreigner, or alien in your home. In short everyone, all flesh, of every status, is to keep Sabbath, everyone, all flesh, of every status, is to live in shalom. So now we know who and what, but why? How do we get to this understanding?

It turns out there are two sets of why; one comes from today’s version of the Ten Commandments, and the other from Deuteronomy’s version. (Deut. 5:6- 21) Exodus calls us to observe Sabbath, as a day of service to God given to worshipping the Lord. It is grounded in the creation story; God created in six days and rested the seventh, making it Holy, therefore we keep it holy, in keeping Sabbath. However, Deuteronomy, which represents a different theological perspective rather than a point in time, is based in Israel’s salvation from slavery; Israel rest, we rest, to remember salvation. (Orr, 2004) We, everyone, also rest to ensure those in any form of indenture, just as the Hebrews were in Egypt, get a break. Six days of work, is not a command to work six days, it’s a restriction, and no one should work any more than six days. (Sakenfeld, 2009)

Let’s review; Jesus throws a fit in the Temple to draw attention to the fact that the Temple does not bring shalom to the people, therefore is not keeping Sabbath, and therefore cannot be shekinah, a place where God dwells. But it looks like they do keep Sabbath, what is going on?

Let’s go back to the beginning: I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me. A little vocabulary; I expect you hear ‘the Lord’ as a title, and the word big g ‘God’ as God’s name. It’s the other way ‘round. (Strong’s) The use of the word ‘God’ not as a name affirms The Lord is not saying that there are no other gods; just that Israel, and now we, are not to be in a godly relationship with any other except The Lord. (Petersen & Beverly, 2010) And so yes, this is all about idolatry. And “other gods” may be any person, place, thing, or ideal believed to be more or as important as The Lord; it could be money, property, fame, power, or whatever may be the primary shaper of the Jewish establishment’s daily life. (Fretheim, 2015) And it’s revealed in their relationships, how they treat, their neighbors, even to the least of them. Jesus throws a fit, because something other than The Lord is shaping the day in day out life of the Jewish establishment. He is challenging them: “Where is shekinah?” He chastising them for keeping others away from shekinah. The gleaning I take away this morning is that the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment in particular, is in fact a biblical foundation for economic policy and practice.

Sabbath, the time of work and the time of rest is to bring shalom to all so all know shekinah, the presence of God. Work and rest that bring peace and wholeness to all flesh bringing all to shekinah is the Lord’s economic polity.

Today is Sunday, a Christian Sabbath. We gather here to worship The Lord our God, to know shalom, to be shekinah. But it is not our destination, so much as it is “a place we’re sent from in order to meet, and partner with, God in everyday life.”  (Lose, 2015) It happens to be Lent, a time to repent, to begin changing our relationships with God and our neighbors, all of them. It’s time to see when was the last time you thought about how your beliefs, priorities, and actions kept Sabbath, brought shalom, and lived in shekinah? It’s an all-consuming change, that it involves all aspects of our lives especially economic, and political. It challenges us to give up fixations, like our political obsession with sex, and seek the far more complex ideal of biblically based policy and practice of economic justice. And it’s not just our personal lives, we seek to transform, we seek to reform the day in and day out lives of our society, of our nation.

Jesus knew well the philosophical and religious beliefs of the Jewish establishment. His negotiating style, pitching a fit in the Temple, worked for him. As for us, what the Lord requires:  (Deut. 10:12, Micah 6:8) is to live Sabbath, bring shalom, and know shekinah.


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Petersen, D., & Beverly, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

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