Sermon for Sunday, March 19, 2017 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42
Recently, a few dozen parishioners of St. Mark’s blessed us all with their meditations on Bible passages found in the Lent issue of The Lion’s Tale magazine. Their work got me thinking about biblical interpretation in general and that fact that such an adventure is not reserved for clergy alone. Anyone can be an interpreter of the Bible, though I am aware that most people do not feel equipped to do so. So today, I’m going to give you a crash course on interpreting the Bible, as at least a place to start: Ten Handy Guidelines for Interpretation (or HGIs for short) that we will derive from the Gospel story I just read. There’s a bookmark in your program that lists the Handy Guidelines, and I invite you to stick it in your Bible when you get home. You ready? Here we go.Continue reading “The Gift of God (With 10 Handy Guidelines for Interpretation)”→
Sermon for Sunday, March 23, 2014 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42
Last week I talked about the fact that we crave certainty, but in this life we will never achieve it. Jesus knows this, and so he offers us something even better than certainty. He offers us the gift of himself. Today, I’d like to talk about that gift. I’d like to talk especially about what we think we need in order to accept such a gift. Specifically, I’d like to talk about four things we think we need and the one thing we actually need. We’ll use Jesus’ wonderful conversation with the Samaritan woman to explore these things we think we need to accept the gift of Jesus.
“If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus says to the woman, “and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” This gift is Jesus himself, the Son God gave to the world – and not just the world, but all of creation – because of God’s great love. In our story today, the gift of Jesus manifests in his offer of this mysterious living water, water that gushes up to eternal life. This same gift of Jesus manifests in our lives in myriad ways, some mysterious, some plain, all powerful and life-changing.
But too often we do not accept the gift because we don’t think the gift is for us. We don’t have the right social status. Or we lack the understanding. Or we don’t worship in the right ways. Or, most often, we just don’t feel worthy of the gift. In our story today, the Samaritan woman exhibits each of these four reasons not to accept the gift God freely gives us out of love. She exhibits each one, but another force trumps all. Simply put, she is willing to accept Jesus’ gift. “Give me this water,” she says. In effect: “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”
Let’s look at each of these four and see how they keep us from accepting the gifts Jesus showers upon us like springs of living water. First we have social status. “Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well,” John tells us. “It was about noon.” Noon, you say? With the hot sun beating down? Why not come to draw water in the cool of the morning or evening? That’s when most of the women would be out. But not ours. She comes to the well at noonday. Presumably, the other women have cast her out of their circle. She comes to the well alone during the heat of the day. And there she finds the Savior of the World.
How often have we let social status blind us to the gifts of God? Maybe we thought ourselves too lowly or we didn’t feel put together. We didn’t have the right clothes for church. Or we didn’t have anything to put in the offering plate. More often than not, however, it’s not our own social status, but our dismissal of the status of others that blinds us to God’s gifts. We look down our noses. We judge on first impression. We turn away. And we fail to notice the gift of God wrapped in that other person.
And yet Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman – a social outcast, not to mention a person from another culture – and he offers her the gift of himself. And she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”
The conversation continues. Jesus leads her down the path from the mundane into the metaphorical and past the metaphorical into the mystical. And yet her mind stays on the level of actual, physical, wet water. When Jesus offers her his living water, she expects never to have to come back to the well for honest-to-goodness H2O. She doesn’t understand the mysteries he’s sharing. But she knows she wants to share in those mysteries. She wants to share in his life, despite her lack of understanding.
How often have we let our need to understand blind us to the gifts of God? We thought we needed to have everything figured out. We confused understanding with belief, though the two are not the same thing. We didn’t take the plunge into the life of faith because God was just so unfathomable.
And yet Jesus ushers the Samaritan woman, who sure doesn’t get everything he’s talking about, and he offers her the gift of himself. And she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”
Next comes the hot button issue of Jesus’ day. Is the right place to worship on Mount Gerezim in Samaria or in Jerusalem? We might call this a question of “orthodoxy.” How often have we let our fervent desire to worship in the right ways blind us to the gifts of God? Don’t get me wrong: worshiping God is a wonderful thing, something that God calls forth from us. But when we get so caught up in the practice and rules of what right worshiping looks like, we can lose sight of the subject of that worship. In effect, we begin worshiping the act of worship.
The Samaritan woman brings up this topic, and Jesus gently pushes it aside. In its place he gives her the gift of himself when he tells her, “I am” the messiah. And when he offers this gift she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”
Finally, the elephant in the room: our own self-worth. Does the Samaritan woman shade the truth when Jesus asks about her husband because she’s embarrassed – or worse, ashamed – of her marital past? Does she think Jesus will run away from her if he knew the man she’s now living with is not her husband? What about coming to the well at noon? How much of a hit does her sense of worthiness take if she’s been made an outcast in her own town?
And what of our own self-worth? The biggest mistake we make when we refuse to accept God’s gifts is thinking we need to be worthy of them. Of course we aren’t worthy of them! They come from God, the creator of all that is, the Lord of heaven and earth. We will never be worthy of our gifts. But that’s not the point. The point is that God showers gifts upon us anyway.
Jesus offers the gift of himself to the Samaritan woman – his own living water, gushing up to eternal life. Her sense of worthiness. Her confusion about worship. Her lack of understanding. Her outcast social status. These are traps that could hold her back from accepting such a gift. But – thanks be to God – they do not hold her back. Despite everything arrayed against her, she is willing to accept the gift Jesus offers her, the gift of himself.
All she needs is willingness. All we need is willingness: the momentary, yet momentous, courage to say “yes” to God. I invite you now in this moment or this day or this week or this year or even sometime during this lifetime or the next to allow God to free you from everything that keeps you from saying, “Yes.” And when that moment comes, dip your hands into the bucket, feel the fresh moisture cool your fingertips, and say to Jesus: “Give me this water. Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”
Art: detail from “The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)