Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Third Sunday in Lent

Living Water

Today we have the familiar story, found only in the Gospel of John, of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus is tired from his journey. He encounters the woman while he is sitting down by a well:

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.” 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.”   (John 4: 7-15)

So much can be said about this event. The first sermon I ever preached was about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Each time I read this portion of John I see something new. This time I see a woman who is tired from her daily grind. The water jar was heavy and the well was very deep. She had to continually come back to the well to draw water. And to top it all off, she is bothered by this Jewish man who was interrupting her by asking a favor. Why was he even talking to her. After all, Jews did not normally even deal with Samaritans.

At times we may feel exhausted. We have been pushed beyond our limits? This is how the children of Israel must have felt. They thought they were stuck in a desert with no future. They were going to die for lack of water:

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?” 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?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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. 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.    (Exodus 17:2-6)

What happened to belief in the promises of God? God has shown them signs and wonders. They had left Egypt without a sick person among them. But now they were lost and abandoned by God. Do any of us fit that category?

We need food and drink. Indeed, but life teaches us that we need more. Jesus was talking about a supernatural supply he called of living water? He is the living water. Just as Moses struck the rock at mountain of God. God, the Father, would strike him. He is our rock and our fortress. But he was wounded for our transgressions.

Jesus would soon face the cross. He was in Jerusalem, celebrating the Festival of Booths. Reading from John 6:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus would pour out his Spirit into our hearts. We would be given living water. Our hearts would become a reservoir of supernatural supply. But first he had to be glorified on the cross to atone for all our sins.

Have we been filled by Jesus or are we letting religion get in the way? When Jesus gently confronted the Samaritan w0man concerning her sin, this is how the conversation went:

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”   (John 4:16-24)

The woman first retreat to religion. Does she cling to it in defense? Without our traditions we are free to look at the deep truths of God. Fortunately she raised her heartfelt question:

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.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”   (John 4:25-26)

Where do we stand today? Have we runout of our own resources? If so we have an alternative. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:

“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.”   (John 4:10)

Do we know about the gift of the Holy Spirit? If so, have we asked Jesus? Perhaps we have, but let us keep asking him. Jesus is the giver of the gift. In this gift we find the rest we are looking for us. Indeed, it will be in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The psalmist wrote:

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

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

Forty years long I detested that generation and said,
“This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways.”

So I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”   (Psalm 95:8-11)

God wants us to enter into his rest today, and every day. Thanks be to God who gives us living water through Christ our Lord.

Leave a comment

Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A

Second Sunday in Lent

The Journey of Faith

Abram was set out on a journey. It was a journey that was quite unexpected:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.   (Genesis12:1-4)

Notice that Abram was 75 years old. We are never too old to begin a new journey that may change our entire lives.

Nicodemus was on a quest. He was not yet on a journey. He just wanted to know what Jesus was all about. From today’s Gospel:

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:1-6)

What was Jesus saying to Nicodemus? Was he not saying that Nicodemus needed to change directions? Nicodemus needed to follow the wind wherever it would take him. The wind of the Holy Spirit that would guide him and empower him. But he would need to let go of the past. He needed to reborn, so to speak. He needed to be born from above and not be bound by this world

Abram became Abraham, because he obeyed God, became the father of all who would put their trust in God.. The Apostle Paul writes:

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.   (Romans 4:1-5)

Abraham left his home, family, and support system. He set out on a journey whose destination was unknown to  him. But Abraham believed in what God was saying and trusted God to lead him. That was his response to the call of God. God then justified Abraham as only God can do. If Nicodemus wanted to be justified by God, he would need to have the same faith of Abraham. He would have to begin a new journey and stay the course.

Are we on God’s journey? It requires us to believe and trust in God. But what does that mean?

Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker, became the first person to walk a tightrope stretched across the Niagara Falls. A large crowd gathered and the buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. The crowd “Oohed and Aahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across – one dangerous step after another – pushing a wheelbarrow holding a sack of potatoes.

Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd enthusiastically yelled, “Yes! You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe!”

“Okay,” said Blondin, “Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow.”

Have we gotten in?

The journey will not always be easy. It was not for Abraham. It was surely not for Nicodemus.

But we are not alone. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord himself watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
it is he who shall keep you safe.

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.   (Psalm 121:5-8)

John concludes the matter in today’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-71)

Our job is to believe in Jesus enough to trust him and follow him. Jesus justifies the ungodly. He will change us from glory to glory if we let him. Are we on the journey with him?

Leave a comment

Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A

The Season of Lent

artprint77The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

4 Comments

Filed under Ash Wednesday, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Choose Life

How serious is it for us to faithfully keep the commandments of God? For the Children of Israel it was a matter of life and death. Before they entered the promised land, Moses gave them this warning:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)

This is the God of the Old Testament we might be thinking. Surely the God of the New Testament would not sound so severe? Let us examine some of the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount contained in today’s Gospel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.   (Matthew 5:27-30)

Does Jesus sound any less severe? Sin and death or righteousness and life. We have a choice. We can choose one or the other. Our choice is all important.

If we have to rely only on our human nature then we are lost. The Apostle Paul warned:

Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.   (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

Our human nature often does not want solid food. That was true for the Church in Corinth. They were caught up in jealousy and quarreling. Paul continues:

For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

The Church in Corinth had gotten off track. They were arguing over who was the true apostle. Do we not argue over which church is the true church? Let us concern ourselves over who can give the growth. God will do his part to help us, but we must do our part. We must seek him above all else. He has given his Son Jesus to wipe away our sins and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. A part from him we can do nothing good.

God warns the Israelites and all of us by his word given through Moses:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.   (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

We cannot choose life without seeking the God of life. We must seek his word daily. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask: “Give us this day our daily prayer.” Jesus said:

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:4)

The psalmist wrItes:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.   (Psalm 119:10-16

We must seek the aid of the Holy Spirit as well. The Apostle Paul writes;

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.   (Romans 8:2-6)

Worldly people do not struggle with sin, only the disciples of Jesus Christ. He is at our side to help us. Let us choose life!

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1-2)

Leave a comment

Filed under Epiphany, Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A