And so, he writes also in Romans, appointing for this coming Sunday:
Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
Exodus 17:1-7 – Moses brings water out of a rock at Massah and Meribah.
Psalm 95 – The Venite: O Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the God of our salvation.
Romans 5:1-11 – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ… We boast in our sufferings, for suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character… While we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly.
John 4:5-42 – The Woman at the Well. "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."
Woman at the Well of Grace
There are simply too many outstanding preaching opportunities this week.
You worship on that mountain; we worship on this one. What could we possibly have in common? There are roots of interfaith dialog here.
"The day is coming when people will not worhsip on this mountain or that mountain…" Rather we will worship God in Spirit and truth. God is Spirit. At one of our consultations on sexuality, I was asked, no less than three times, if God was male. I was caught completely off guard by the question. Male and female are human categories. They are categories of some mortal creatures. What happens when we make God in our own image?
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman, a Samaritan?" (John 4:9)
"Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’" (John 4:27)
It’ll come as no surprise that I feel strongly about pointing out what we, in our liberated society miss: Jesus is talking to a woman in public. And she’s a Samaritan. And she’s a divorcee living with her boyfriend. She is unclean. He’s hobnobbing with an immoral female syncretistic heretic. Even the disciples are "astonished." Thaumadzo. It’s the same word that Paul used in a letter he wrote 60 years earlier: Galatians. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called through grace…" Paul is astonished that the Galatians would abandon a religion of the Spirit and of grace for a low-ceilinged religion of law.
"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 still were sinners Christ died for us… we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
God in Christ is about reconciliation. God in Christ is about redemption of the ungodly. Christ died for people like this woman. This is enough for a week of preaching."
And then there’s this passage…
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
What a deep, soulful passage. Paul’s formula is borne of his experience of murdering Christians, his mystical encounter with Christ, his out of body experience, his conversion, his own subsequent persecution:
It is a very Christian formula. Law and Gospel. Suffering and Hope. This is a perspective easily lost by the American church. We live in such abundance, the concept of going without, denying ourselves, making sacrifices for others, except, ironically, in the miliatry, where people put their lives on the line for the safety of others. The fact that there are people willing to risk their lives, so that a dictator doesn’t annihilate his own people is outwardly focused. They do so for very little money. And even when a country’s national foreign policy is misguided, the willingness of the individual to make sacrifices is not diminished.
Jesus’ willingness to suffer for his beliefs, for his misguided Jerusalem, is at the heart of the foolish message of the cross. The disciples’ willingness to give their lives for their faith fueled the powerful Chrisian movement of slaves and women. Martyria of the second and third generation Christians show a 100% whole-life commitment to a new kind of society. What would they think about a church two millennia later, that is wealthy and comfortable? Have we become too comfortable to risk speaking up for those who are outcast? Are we too comfortable to become dispised and persecuted for standing up for the poor, the stranger, the diseased? Are we too comfortable to preach a sermon that asks such questions?
Jesus offers living waters, so that we will never thirst again. Like the Nicodemus story, in which Jesus moves from physical rebirth to spiritual rebirth, in this story Jesus moves from physical thirsst to spiritual thirst. Next week Jesus will move from the physical blindeness of the man born blind to the spiritual blindeness of the Pharisees in the blink of an eye. This movement from the physical to the spiritual, in wine, water, bread, is a modus operandi for John’s Jesus.
The preacher could spend an entire sermon on signs of spiritual thirst that only the Spirit can quench. We are desperate for love, joy, peace, justice, generosity, kindness and other spiritual fruits. This thirst is the gentlest way to preach law, judgment. We can talk about how our desperate and feeble attempts to quench our spiritual hunger in all the wrong ways leads to the world we live in. We try to fill the spiritual void with money, sex, entertainment, success, and a pantheon of gods, Luther would say. A great sermon title based on an old song: "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places."
John says that God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Sprit. The only source of lasting love that quenches the deep spiritual thirst in our lives is the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And with that we’re back to grace. It is grace that redeems, renews, justifies, absolves. For Lutherans, anything that is not that, is suspect.
Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
12941 I-45 North Freeway, Suite #210
Houston, Texas 77060-1243