Monthly Archives: March 2011

Point to Christ

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

John 4:5-42 • March 27, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Our texts this Lent place us right in the middle of some amazing Biblical stories and encounters with Jesus. Last week we heard of the first encounter Jesus had with Nicodemus.

There is transformation and change going on in these early chapters of John. Jesus changes water into wine and proclaims change from the physical bricks and mortar temple that everyone knew about into the temple of his body in chapter 2. His encounter with Nicodemus transforms being born of the flesh into being born of the spirit in chapter 3. Which brings us to today’s story, the Samaritan woman at the well. In Chapter 4, Jesus is challenging society’s expectations on relationships and the ridged status quo, and revealing himself to an outsider.

There was an extensive study done by a well known organization recently about Christianity in our country. Atheists and agnostics scored better in this study than did Lutherans and Catholics in their knowledge of the biblical story. The study revealed that a lot of people who claim to be followers of the risen Christ think that Deuteronomy is a rock group and Joan of Arc was married to Noah. Now I know that these are just studies that we need to consider with great care, but what struck me most was not the demographic information or how people responded as this research was conducted, but how it revealed that today’s Christian seems to be losing their connection to the biblical story.

When we hear these incredible stories during Lent, do you believe that you are connected with them? That you have a faith story?

Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman as he rests in the shade of Jacob’s well while the disciples are off getting some takeout for lunch in the city. According to tradition and culture, Jesus and this woman should not speak to each other. Which actually is what takes place in some respects in this encounter – at least in the beginning. Except for Jesus’ initial request for a drink of water, he and the woman do not really “speak” to one another. Did you catch that?
You might be saying, “What do you mean they don’t speak to each other? It’s almost an entire chapter with them speaking to each other. What are they doing if they aren’t speaking to each other?”

What I discovered for the first time this week in this beautiful text from John’s gospel – one of my favorite in all of scripture and one that we only find in John’s gospel – is that Jesus and this woman are not speaking to each other, they are sharing their stories with each other. They both know their own story, but it is the other one who tells it.

The Samaritan woman begins by identifying Jesus as a Jewish man and wonders what in the world he is doing in Samaria and why he cares to be with her, a woman in the middle of the day. Jesus offers none of this information – the woman does.

Jesus then identifies the thirst that the woman has and how her thirst is not simply quenched by water from the well. He knows of her thirst for something more than water. He knows that her thirst includes past disappointments and struggles. He identifies the struggle she has had in marriage and other relationships, even the one she is in currently. I think Jesus also understands other parts of her life that are just as difficult. The woman provides none of this information – Jesus does.

The disciples interrupt their sharing and seem to be a little ticked at Jesus for spending time with this woman. They aren’t interested at all in the exchange taking place aside from the concern that they have that Jesus may look bad to others who will see them because he is speaking to a Samaritan woman.

During the encounter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, something changes. But not the change that we may expect. During their time together, they stop referring to each other as “a Jewish man” or “a Samaritan woman” – terms that separate them from one another.
The woman goes back to the city and says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” And verse 39 says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”

Jesus spends more time with this woman at the well than he does anyone else in all of the Gospels – longer than he talks with any of his disciples, longer than he talks to any of his accusers, longer than he talks to any of his own family. She is an outsider who sees Jesus.

The disciples seem to be more interested in Jesus eating his lunch before his food gets cold.

In this encounter, change happens as Jesus shows the woman who she is; and as a result he shows her who he is. And the woman’s response is to go to the city and tell others about this Jesus. She doesn’t keep this encounter with Jesus a secret. She sees Jesus as the Messiah, the savior of the world, and her response it to tell others about Jesus so that they too can share in the story and never thirst again.

Jesus helps the woman see that the story connected to her past life – six men, her well, her places of worship, her story of Jacob and ancestors – is just that. In the past. Jesus offers her a new path, a new and secure relationship, an unfailing supply of the water of life, a new center of devotion. A new story.

Theologian Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion on the wall of his office by Matthias (Mateas) Grunewald with an image of John the Baptist in it. The artist portrayed John the Baptist pointing his finger to the cross of Jesus in the center of the painting. It’s said that when Barth would talk with a visitor about his work, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger.” Barth wanted to point people to Christ.

As a result of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus, she wants to point people to Christ. Just a short time before meeting Jesus, she had been completely trapped in a story that pushed her aside as an outcast. There was no way backward or forward, all she could do was to scrape by as best she could by doing things like going to the well at the time of day when there would be nobody there to sneer or mock her. Rather than continuing to see Jesus only as a Jewish man, she now saw him as the savior. It caused her to share her story of Jesus and how he told her everything about her to everyone she met. She is one of the first evangelists we have, even before any of Jesus’ closest followers understand who he is.

So, do you have a faith story? Yes. You do.

Do you believe that your faith story is connected with the stories that we are experiencing on this year’s Lenten journey? I hope your answer is a bold and confident, yes.

God accepts us as we are and loves us and showers us with grace each day – no matter who we are or where our journey has taken us. Like the Samaritan woman at the well that we hear about today, Jesus sees us and knows our story. Jesus sees you and knows your story.

As you walk through this next week, point to Jesus and share the story.

Born Again…And Again…And Again…

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

John 3:1-17 • March 20, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Wow – it’s been a crazy busy few weeks. Pastor Tim was visiting with a friend of his last week who is also serving as an interim pastor and he shared with this friend that between the two of us we have preached, presided, or participated at over 18 worship services in the past 14 days. Pastor Tim said that the call became very silent after he mentioned this, but his friend finally did say, “So, what are you guys doing in your free time?”

I’m glad this vocation doesn’t always move at this pace, but am also thankful for the many ways this vocation unfolds as we seek to live together as a community of faith. I am overwhelmed each day by the activities and experiences that I’m invited to participate in that take us literally from the very beginning of life to the very end of life.

I haven’t said it lately and I don’t get to say it enough, so I offer it today – thank you for inviting me and my family to be part your life and your journey of faith.

Over the next few weeks we will hear three separate encounters with Jesus from the gospel of John. Today, we hear from Jesus’ first encounter with Nicodemus, a leader in the religious community, who visits Jesus by night. What I hope we hear and see in the next few weeks is how these encounters with Jesus change who these people are.

Nicodemus is an inquiring mind with some really good questions. He understands religion and the processes that it takes to be considered religious in a community. His questions, however, seem to be searching for a deeper meaning than simply knowing all the correct answers to the questions he has or behaviors he must possess in order to be religious.

A few years ago, I was in the midst of a similar busy time in ministry as the one lately. I had an interesting phone call that I’ll never forget just minutes before I was to preach and preside at a funeral. It was an individual who didn’t identify themselves, but got right to the point of their call.

“Let me ask you something,” the caller said, “Are you a born again Christian?”

I’m never exactly sure how someone would like me to answer a question like that – especially when it is directed in somewhat of a mean spirited way. I chose not to answer in the way I thought about answering, instead I simply said, “Yes. Yes, I am. What about you?”

The caller then went into a flurry of questions very quickly that seemed to require my immediate answer on things that I don’t think a person is able to answer with quick easy rapid fire answers – like whether or not I prophesy in tongues regularly during worship. I answered no to that question; although I did share that there may be occasions during my preaching when some in the congregation may think that I’m preaching in a foreign language.

Finally the caller paused, and told me that I had no business being a pastor in a congregation if I’m not a “born again Christian,” which from their point of view, my status was, at best, questionable. I was going to thank them for their concern, but they hung up before I could offer that the thank you. I never did find out who that caller was.

There is a wonderful story of an old jazz club in New Orleans with a piano that is old and falling apart and just flat out doesn’t play well anymore. Jazz artists who play at this club constantly complain about this piano and wish that they could bring their own piano rather than have to play it.

Finally, after years of listening to the jazz musicians complain about the piano, the owner of the club decided to do something about it. He had the piano painted. It didn’t change the ability of the piano to play any better, but it did change the way it looked.

One of my favorite devotional writers, Henri Nouwen wrote a reflection about this text from John. Nouwen wrote, “I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God. So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.” Even a great Christian leader like Henri Nouwen is sometimes content to paint the old piano.

I think there is an element of Nicodemus in all of us. It’s easier to cover things up with a fresh coat of paint and play it safe or think that every question we have about faith will have a quick and easy answer. It’s easier to keep Jesus at a distance, rather than growing deeper and deeper in relationship.

Nicodemus also appears in John 7 where he makes a somewhat half-hearted attempt at defending Jesus to his buddies, but at least he is trying, and again in John 19 where he helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial following the crucifixion. Nicodemus is different in John 19 than he is in John 3. I don’t think he ever stops asking questions or searching for who Jesus is. And by the time we get to John 19, Nicodemus seems to be less of a religious leader seeking to back Jesus into a corner and more of a broken human being, just like you and me, seeking to be a follower. Nicodemus may never have heard the last words in our reading today, although maybe he did based upon the placement of the quotation marks in the text. Whether that is the case, there is little doubt to me that he was changed during his encounters with Jesus and experienced these words first hand.

They are words that we need to hear again and again – “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. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

I know that every baptism I participate in or every time I’m invited into a family’s life as they experience and walk through the death of a loved one, I am changed. I know that every time I worship with a community who is gathered in the name of Jesus Christ or preside at the Lord’s Table during Holy Communion, I am changed. I know that every moment I spend with my daughters at figure skating Ice Shows like the one happening this weekend, or sit and visit with my wife after a long day, or give someone in my family or a close friend a call simply to talk, I am changed.

These daily encounters with Jesus change who we are as a children of God. They turn darkness into light. They change fear into hope, anger into peace, grief into joy. Am I born again? Yes – and again…and again…and again…

And I thank God for every question and conversation, for every event and activity, and for every healing touch or caring word that enables you and I to grow deeper in relationship with our Savior as we seek to walk by faith with each other as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Amen.