Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 29, 2020 - Lent 5A

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Jesus is the Resurrection. He says so in his own words in this morning’s passage from John. This passage about the raising of Lazarus is situated here, on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, because it is the final of the seven signs performed by Jesus in John, and the grandest. Next Sunday, we turn to Holy Week, so this event foreshadows Jesus’ own Resurrection. This incredible event, the raising of a dead man, also becomes the turning point for those who oppose Jesus, as this event is what leads them to commit to the plan to put him to death. But, by God’s grace, this Scripture passage also speaks to us in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

March 22, 2020 - Lent 4A

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And do we ever need some light right now. One piece of advice for preachers is to not open a sermon by digging a hole so deep that you can’t get out of it by the end of the sermon. Well, I didn’t dig the hole that we’re in, but it’s certainly a deep one. And to be clear, I’m not going to pretend that I can fix this, but I am hoping to point to the Light of the world that has come to us in Jesus.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

March 15, 2020 - Lent 3A

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Water is one of the few things that is absolutely necessary to life. When scientists search for other planets that might be hospitable to life, they look for signs of water. Our bodies are over half water. The earth is over 70% water, which allows agriculture, industry, and travel to flourish. And even though water contains no nutrients or calories, it is absolutely vital, as dehydration can cause many health issues. And these days we all know the importance of thorough handwashing with water to cleanse our hands. Water is absolutely essential for life.
            This is why seeing Jesus as Living Water or the Water of Life is such a good image for him. Just like water, Jesus is what sustains us, gives us vitality, connects us to one another, and puts us in the flow of love, grace, and peace.
            Water is a constant and important character in Scripture. When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the dome of the sky and the land of the earth were separated from the waters of chaos. These waters though returned and Noah and his family were saved in the ark which sailed the flooded earth. It was through the water of the Red Sea that God led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt into freedom. As the people wandered the dry and barren wilderness, they became thirsty and complained. But God heard their cries and provided water for them out of a rock. When St. Paul reflects upon this event in 1 Corinthians, he says “the rock was Christ.” The Living Water is always with us, even in places that seem to be devoid of water.
            Isaiah, speaking about the salvation of God, writes “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” and in today’s Psalm we heard that the waters belong to God for he made them. In Ezekiel, a vision shows us that the temple of God is surrounded by rivers, which is also seen in Revelation when we are told that the waters of life flow from the throne of the Lamb. And our need for water is found in Psalm 42 which says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
            How often do we stop and ponder the wonder of water? Perhaps on a warm summer day when we have a cold glass of water? Maybe when we jump into a pool? But most of the time we encounter water without thinking much about it – brushing teeth, cooking, washing dishes. We are surrounded by water, but we don’t always stop to consider just how saving water is. But if you are living in places with lead-contaminated water or with water shortages, you very much know how important water is. When Tyler and I were in Israel last month, we went out to the desert and saw the Dead Sea. And in addition to seeing it, we were clearly able to see where it used to be. But it’s drying up and that could have devastating effects in the region. Water gives life.
            Throughout the New Testament, water also says something about the salvation of God. In the passage we heard today, Jesus speaks of himself as the living water that will quench all thirsts. A few chapters later, Jesus will say “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” It is with water that Jesus shows us how to love one another in washing feet. When Jesus’ side is pierced, blood and water flow out. And, of course, the way in which we enter the Body of Christ is by the waters of Baptism which hold all of these meanings in the font of God’s abundant grace.
            When we read about this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we need to have all of those images of water in our head to understand what is going on. Jesus approaches her and asks for a drink of water because he is thirsty. In this act, Jesus is a rebel. Jews and Samaritans had a 500 year-long feud between them, hence the woman’s question as to why Jesus, a Jew, was asking her, a Samaritan, for a drink. There’s also the issue that, in their culture, a man would never approach a woman like this, especially when she is alone. Jesus is crossing some deeply engrained social boundaries. Especially so because this woman would have been looked down upon for her situation. John makes it clear that this encounter comes at noon – the hot part of the day. In that culture, or really any culture, when you have outside work to do, you do it early in the morning before the heat of the day. The fact that she’s coming at noon to the well isn’t because she had been busy all morning with other errands, it’s because she’s an outcast who has to come when others aren’t around. Jesus says that she’s had five husbands and is living with a man who isn’t her husband.
She’s a woman, she’s got a bad reputation, and she’s Samaritan, but Jesus still initiates this encounter with her. Jesus meets us where we are, regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, and what we haven’t done. As we heard in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We heard a similar sentiment in today’s Collect, that “we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.” To the outcast, to the rejected, to the lost, to the helpless, to the enemy, Jesus comes with the Water of Life.
            The water that Jesus gives us is Living Water. Which can mean two things, which is where some of the confusion in this conversation comes from. At a literal level, “living water” means water that is flowing, as in a river or stream as opposed to a pool or a well, where the water is stagnant and not moving. Jesus, though, is thinking more in terms of the water which gives eternal life and quenches the thirst of our souls. This double meaning helps us to understand that Jesus is always moving. He’s always at work in the world, never stagnant or found in just one place. This is why he said that true worshipers won’t have to worry about going to a specific geographic location to worship, but rather can worship in spirit and truth.
                It's amazing how the lectionary that the church uses seems to always know what we will need to hear. On this Sunday when we are practicing our social distancing and are not gathered in person, we still gather in spirit and truth to praise God. Though it pains me that you all are not here with me, I know that you are in spirit and truth and I take great comfort in that our Lord tells us this.
              Jesus quenches our thirst for love, meaning, and purpose and he’s always on the move with us. Through the waters of Baptism, the Water of Life will become a spring within that gushes up to eternal life. Just as there is no wind if the air is not moving, the love of God in Jesus is always flowing through us as living water and taking us to new places in his currents of grace.
            This story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan is so rich, there are many more things that I could say about it, but I want to focus your attention in on one detail. Towards the end of the story, after the disciples have come back from their run into town to find food, the woman leaves her water jar there by the well and goes into the town and tells people to “Come and see.” She’s encountered the Living Water, and so she doesn’t need her water jar any longer. This doesn’t mean that she has become permanently hydrated and never needs to drink again, but it means that she knows that she’s been forgiven, that she’s loved, that she is accepted. Her soul is no longer thirsty. She can be a part of the community again and doesn’t need to come alone to get water.
            The jug that she leaves behind is symbolic for all the things that we can leave behind once we’ve encountered Jesus and have that gushing spring of grace in our lives. We can leave behind our insecurities about what other people think of us, we can forget about our doubts about whether or not we’ve accomplished enough, we can stop worrying about whether or not we are forgiven and loved (because we are), we can give up all of our chasing after our own glory and rest in that we are already justified in Christ.
            Jesus is the river of love that flows from the heart of God to us. We can rest in that love as the gracious gift of abundant life that we have been given through Jesus. This is always important, but especially so with all that’s going on in this world. The spreading of the coronavirus is a very serious matter. In speaking with a colleague in ministry this past week, I compared our situation to 9/11, and I think it’s a fair comparison. We are on edge, we are uncertain of how this will impact our lives, we aren’t sure where the threats might come from. The difference is that instead of an explosion of anxiety, this is a very slow burn, which means that the stress, confusion, and frustration is going to compound and test the social fabric of our entire world.
            We’re already seeing it happen – fearinduced hoarding of hand sanitizer and bottled water, selfish behaviors such as trying to make money off of a very serious disease, mistrust of anyone who coughs. When Jesus encountered outcasts such as this Samaritan woman, or a group of lepers, or those deemed “unclean,” he met them with compassion.
This virus will give us chances to tell people to “come and see” the faith that will sustain us. It is the faith that sustained the Church during the outbreaks of the Black Death, Yellow Fever, and Spanish Flu. It is the faith that will allow us to reach out in loving service to those who are ill. It is the faith that will allow us to be generous in helping non-profits and small businesses stay afloat in this difficult economic time. It is the faith that will keep us together even though we’ll have to make lifestyle changes and practice more “social distancing.” It is the faith that will give us the compassion to help those who end up quarantined in making sure that they get the meals they need or assisting with childcare if schools end up being temporarily closed. It is the faith that will help us not to panic but to go to the well of Living Water and trust that all shall be well, that all shall be well, and that all manner of things shall be well. Those of you who are regulars at St. Luke's know that I often cite that line from Julian of Norwich. When she was six, the Black Plague swept through her village of Norwich, England. So when she said "all shall be well," she said it out of a great well of faith. I pray that her words might be a comfort to us dealing with the coronavirus. This Living Water is what we all need to come and see. We’re going to get through this because we have each other. We’re going to get through this because Jesus is our Living Water.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

March 8, 2020 - Lent 2A

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Have you ever had to start over? Maybe it was after being laid off from a job and having to start from scratch. Maybe it was after getting divorced and realizing that life isn’t playing out the way you thought it would. Maybe it was after not getting into the school that you hoped to attend and you had to go back to the drawing board. Maybe an idea you had just didn’t go as planned and was a total flop. Starting over is scary, full of uncertainty, and even if it leads to a good, or better, end result, the process of disorientation is not often a pleasant one.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

March 1, 2020 - Lent 1A

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            In February, our own Dr. Trevor Eppehimer led a fantastic Sunday school class on The Powers That Be. The premise of the book that inspired the class is that there are real forces in this world that, though invisible, very much impact societies and individuals. Think of getting swept up in something that you’re not very interested in. I know this might make some of you think less of me, but I’m just really not a soccer fan. But when the US team was playing well in the last World Cup, I kind of got swept up in the fever. I watched them play and cheered on the goals. Or think about the Olympics, how many of us ordinarily care about curling? Well, that same thing is true for things like selfishness, or retaliation, or fear. These forces are real and by ignoring their reality we only make ourselves into unwitting slaves to them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

February 26, 2020 - Ash Wednesday

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Ash Wednesday is a unique day in the Christian year. On every other day of the year, our focus is outward – we focus on caring for those in need, or the environment, or the Church and we focus on glorifying and praising God. Certainly, we praise God in all things, Ash Wednesday included. But today is unique because our focus is not outward, but rather inward. On Ash Wednesday we come face to face with our sinfulness, our mortality, and our neediness. It’s important that we spend one day a year doing this sort of introspection because, for one, it’s honest, but also because such reflection prepares us to receive more fully the grace of God.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

February 23, 2020 - Quinquagesima

O Father, with the eternal Son, and Holy Spirit, ever one, vouchsafe to bring us by thy grace to see thy glory face to face. Amen.
            A disclaimer before I begin this sermon. Today is Foundation Sunday, and I’ll say more about what the means later. This year, the Foundation has asked me to speak about the work of the Foundation instead of having an outside speaker do so. That means this sermon will be a bit longer as it is both the sermon and the Foundation address.