Lent III + A The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
23, March 2014 St Thomas Isle of Hope, GA
A Roman Catholic deacon tells a story about a cake decorator was asked by a bride to inscribe the words from I John 4:18 on a wedding cake: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." Instead of putting the words from the epistle of I John 4:18 on the cake, the decorator wrote the words from the Gospel of John 4:18, which read: "You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband." The bride and groom did not see the cake until their reception, as they were getting ready to cut it!
Today, the gospel confronts us with some things we know about and experience every day. It challenges convention. Because we live in the 21st Century, we may have forgotten our even recent history in this nation. This story would be much more scandalous. We fought a war that resulted in the freeing of slaves from bondage. In the early 20th century American women won the right to vote. So Jesus crossing the lines of Jewish cultural and religious law may not be as distant as it seems. Why is that? Because education, enlightenment, modernity and what is grandly called "human progress," has not changed the hearts of the human creature. Why is that? Because despite this culture that seeks to eliminate people being offended, the human heart is still a sinful one. We see human tragedy in the news constantly, we see pain and suffering, we say to ourselves: "how could someone do that?" The Bible's answer is: human sin.
Brennan Manning, whom some of you have heard and read before used a sentence that has stayed with me for these last 30 years by saying what redemption actually affect in the human heart. He said when the Lord enters our hearts, he forgives us for all of our "sin, selfishness and every form of degraded love." . "Sin, selfishness and every form of degraded love."
Grace is a shocking proposition. Jesus breaks every proper religious Jewish social and holiness code taboo today when he sits down at a well, with a woman of Samaria.
The Samaritans were despised by the Jews. They were half-breeds, Jewish and pagan intermarried when Nebuchadnezzar took the majority of the people to Babylon Jesus could be declared "ritually" unclean and unable to enter the temple. He would even have to use the same ladle she used! Another defilement,
You can well imagine that a woman who had been married five times would not have been held in high esteem by the other women in her small village. She comes at noon, not in the morning with the rest of the women of the village and alone which is also improper. What also makes this conversation all the more amazing is just that: the fact that Jesus speaks to a Samaritan who was also a woman!.
The fact that a Jewish rabbi would never talk to any woman was a challenge to the status quo. Jesus seemed to have a habit doing that. When she asks him about Jerusalem being the only place to worship or the rival one built by a Samaritan governor in the past Jesus replies, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."
The word "woman" is significant here. John uses a Greek word which is a term of great endearment. To this woman who had the proverbial three strikes against her: she was a Samaritan, a woman, and not just any woman, but a woman with a bad past. He used the same word for this woman that he used for his mother at the wedding in Cana and on the cross. Amazingly, a woman, a Samaritan, a sinner, and yet Jesus calls her a "special lady" and offers her the water of life. When the disciples returned they were not doubt shocked! You just couldn't=t leave Jesus alone for a moment! The text says: AJust then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?" Jesus was not the person that they expected him, no doubt wanted him to be and he didn't=t take the side of the Jews or the Samaritans, he took God=s side and embraced someone despised and rejected.
Now for a moment, let's get introspective. We really don=t think of ourselves as Asinners@ do we? I mean I say the confession in the Prayerbook but "I'm not as bad a some people!!" If all of our thoughts, words and actions that we have had since we were here last Sunday were projected up on a screen for all to see, would we want to be here? Here is an example we probably don=t even think of. It is interesting to me the triangulation that we participate in. I say "we" because I'm preaching to myself.
We would never talk to a person who offends us! No, that might take too much risk. We=ll go and talk to the people who have nothing to do with our offense and try to persuade them to affirm our right to be offended. We ignore what Jesus said: in Matt. 5: 23. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. We often want to play God: judge and executioner. Jesus never said, Await for your brother who has hurt you to come to you@ he said if someone has a problem with you, go to them to be reconciled!
Did you pray along with me at the collect? It certainly puts the human dilemma out there for all to see. Look at it for a moment and see if that describes you? It certainly describes me and God:
"Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul''
Jesus challenged the people who would be part of the New Covenant to a new standard, new behavior. Not nicer people with better morals but brand new creations. Do you want peace? Then go to the person that you have offended and ask forgiveness for the offense. It doesn't=t mean that you have to agree with their opinion of your action. Your only responsibility is to make every effort to love that person. Remember, Jesus died for his enemies the Bible says...US. He now calls us his friends, his family. If the other person will not receive your apology, your obligation in Christ has been satisfied.
Christianity is not a religion for the weak-hearted. In our day we have been sold a watered-down version of the faith: a gospel that demands little of us; a Christianity that only intends to make nicer people with better morals and even that seems tentative. We believe that Alove your neighbor as yourself@ means Awe should just try to be a little more charitable!@ The Bible is a brutally honest book that shows all the warts and blemishes of its heroes That should encourage us when we fail
It is also a love letter from God to you and me. Other religions begin with mans search for God. Christianity begins with God's search for man. Contrary to many who believe that God wants us to "shape up" before we come for grace, Jesus says "come to me as you are, not as you should be" and we'll work on it together.That is something to consider when we all equally kneel before our loving God for the "common union".
In I Cor. 1:16 we read: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" Likewise, we all drink from the same cup as Jesus did with that woman at the well. I'll bet we don't do that in any other context.
Jesus broke the old mold. All through the Bible those who touch the "unclean" become defiled themselves but with Jesus the "defiled" becomes clean at His touch. You see Jesus did not come to preach the gospel but to BE the gospel he preached. Gospel: good news! He did not show the way but to show himself to BE the way. Jesus didn't=t die for us to just be coldly cordial, say "hi "to our neighbor or brother and sister in Christ once in a while. .
Christians wonder why the joy and peace of Jesus Christ does not fill their lives! . It is because we look at God commandments as Asuggestions we might consider if we want to!@ The gospel is not good advice but good news! It still is: here in this Church this morning.
So what is the core of the apple we should take home with us? Perhaps what St. Paul lays out for us our condition in our second reading: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5) Did we think God did not see our hearts when He sought us out? He knows our hearts better than we do and he loved us anyway. What we could not and would not do, Christ did for us!
John's letter says this: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (I John 4:10) He fills the "God shaped void" in the human heart. In and through the Holy Spirit God makes us come alive! No matter how messed up our lives may seem, God is there. Let him be a part of life every day. Don't let him be your "co-pilot" let him fly the plane! Then we will begin to realize that phrase that so often begins our closing blessing. Then "the peace of God that passes all understanding (WILL) keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." AMEN