Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 23, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Gift of God” (John 4:5-30, 39-42)
            A couple of years ago I panicked.  Here’s what happened.  I was out to dinner with a friend.  When it came time to pay, I reached to get my wallet, and my pocket was empty.  I looked under the seat and under the table.  Nothing.  I went outside and looked inside, beside, beneath my car.  Nothing.  I mentally retraced all my steps since I left the house.  But I hadn’t been anywhere else.  Figuring I must have dropped my wallet outside and some scoundrel nabbed it and was preparing to use all my credit cards on a criminal shopping spree, I called Julie and told her we need to cancel everything.  And we did.  And I got home, and my wallet was right where I left it, right where I always put it when I empty my pockets at home.  It was left in the most obvious place, and I didn’t even think to look there first.
            Has something like this ever happened to you?  You look all over the place for your eyeglasses, and someone points out to you that they are propped up on top of your head.  You search frantically for your car keys, and finally, there they are, right on the table which you walked by a dozen times.  You desperately hunt all over your house for something you misplaced, only to find that it was in plain sight, right in front of you the whole time.
            But hunting down wallets, eyeglasses, and keys are nothing in comparison to looking for peace, purpose, meaning, comfort, hope, a sense of satisfaction and well-being.  I would venture to say that all but the most pessimistic fatalists are looking to fill their lives with one or more of the things in that list.
            Put yourself in the shoes of the Samaritan woman in this morning’s Gospel text.  After her initial surprise that a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink, Jesus says to 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 gift of God was right in front of her, and she didn’t realize it.  The refreshing, life-giving power and peace of the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was right in front of her, and she didn’t realize it.  The fulfillment of all her spiritual needs could be met in this man right in front of her, and she had no clue.  
            This gift of God is like no other gift.  It’s free, of course.  There are no strings attached.  Jesus gives himself and his life and salvation to us without cost.  He already paid the price for our sin with his shed blood at the cross.  But there are some other unique things that we can learn about this gift from our text today.
            First, the gift of God is for outsiders.  The Samaritan woman was an outsider.  She was not a part of the covenant community of Israel.  Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, unclean descendants of the remnants of the ten tribes of Israel who intermarried with foreigners who were settled in Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the region some 700 years earlier.  Nevertheless, Jesus speaks to this woman (also contrary to custom, since a Jewish rabbi would not speak to a woman in public).  He treats her with respect.  He offers his gift of eternal life to her.
            You and I are all outsiders until God claims us as his own.  St. Paul writes in Colossians 1 that “you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22).  Paul also tells the Roman Christians that they are “called to belong to Jesus Christ … loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:6-7).  That describes you who are baptized, you who have been marked with the name of the Triune God.  His gift of eternal life is yours.  You are no longer an outsider.  You are a part of God’s kingdom, God’s family, saints, holy ones in Christ Jesus.
            Second, the gift of God is for individuals.  Jesus didn’t overlook this woman.  He took time to speak with her one-on-one.  This was one of Jesus’ many “divine appointments.”  Of course, Jesus spent time with large groups of people, although the size of those groups dwindled over the course of his ministry because people rejected him and his message.  Yet Jesus also focused his attention on individuals and spends time with them.  I love the way Jesus deals with this woman.  He’s straightforward: “Give me a drink” … and uses this as a springboard into a deeper conversation.  He piques her interest with his talk of living water that will satisfy one’s thirst forever and never run dry.  He is patient, even though the woman’s responses might be perceived as a bit sarcastic.  He lovingly reaches out to her, because he wanted to give this gift to her, and to many others through her. This encounter with one person brought many to faith when she returned to her village and told the people about Jesus.
            We talk a lot about being a member of the Body of Christ in the church, and rightly so.  We are brought into a community, a family of faith.  You are brought into a body, but you are still important as an individual.  Sadly, we sometimes fail to make individuals feel welcome in this community.  Maybe you have gotten overlooked, forgotten in the crowd.  This doesn’t just happen in large congregations.  It happens here, too.  If I or any of us here have failed you in this way, forgive us.  And if any of us know that we have failed to reach out to certain individuals in our congregation – and outside, too – for whatever reason, then we need to repent.  We should not put any obstacles in the way of anyone hearing the Gospel and growing with us into an ever deepening relationship with the Lord through his Word and with each other here in the Body of Christ.
            Third, the gift of God is for manifest sinners.  Jesus brings the woman’s living condition to the fore.  She was probably not the most honorable woman in the community.  She’s had five husbands.  We don’t know why.  We can only imagine.  Some may have died.  Maybe she wasn’t the easiest to live with and her husbands sent her packing.  Maybe some were abusive and she managed to get free of them, although that was next to impossible in those days.  Whatever the case may be, the sixth man she was with was not her husband.  This is clearly wrong.  But notice how Jesus treats her.  He doesn’t berate her.  He doHe continues to reach out to her in love.  He wants to bring her to repentant trust, to give her the gift of God, living water, the refreshment of the Holy Spirit, faith, the forgiveness of sins.
            If Jesus were to meet you at the well, what might come to the fore in your life? Is there anything specific you need to confess?  Don’t hesitate to do so.  And receive in faith the gift of God, the gift that gives refreshment.  We need that refreshment.  There are times of dryness that come into our lives, times of spiritual dryness.  Our souls feel parched.  There are many causes.  Unconfessed sin.  Sinful actions that we willfully continue.  Physical problems.  Emotional problems.  Addictions.  Removing ourselves from God’s means of grace.  Not making use of God’s Word and Sacrament as we ought.  We are so very weak.  But hear the word of the Lord from St. Paul today: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
            Jesus freely offers living water.  He offers your dried up soul refreshment, like taking a drink from an ice cold spring in the middle of a blazing desert.  In the wilderness, the children of Israel were refreshed with water from a rock.  And like that water, this living water Jesus gives is also miraculous.  Our hearts are like rock, lifeless and stony, until the message of Christ crucified for the sins of the world comes to us and gives us faith and eternal life.
            Jesus led the Samaritan woman to faith in himself.  He revealed himself to her as the true Messiah.  He explains that the place of worship is not important.  Worshiping the true God in spirit and in truth is what’s important.  It’s not on Mt. Gerizim, as the Samaritans believed.  It’s not even in Jerusalem, because the true temple, the true place of the presence of God, was sitting right in front of her on the edge of Jacob’s well.  And likewise for you today, the gift of God is right in front of you in places you might not expect.  It’s found in the person of Jesus.  It’s given in the humble means by which he fills you with his living water: words, water, bread and wine.
            Jesus shows his love for outsiders, individuals, sinners of all stripes, and gives refreshment.  He gives living water … the refreshment of the forgiveness of sins and the Spirit-worked faith that he causes to well up within us.  He is the source of that living water.  He is the well that never runs dry.  He is the rock from which that living water flows.  He is the rock of ages who was cleft for us at the cross.  He is the rock of ages who could not be kept in the grave by any lesser rocks standing at the entrance to his tomb.

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