St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Subject: Christian Unity
Predicate: is rooted in the cross and our baptism that unites us with Jesus who died on it.
One of the great cities of ancient Greece was the city of Corinth.
If you look at a map of Greece you will see that the southernmost section of the country is practically an island. On the east there is the Aegean Sea. On west, the Corinthian Gulf juts in from the Adriatic Sea. The isthmus that connects the north and the south is only four miles wide.
All trade and travel heading north and south on land had to pass this way. And a huge portion of the trade and travel heading east and west by sea also passed this way.
So, because of the shape of the land, it was inevitable that Corinth would become a large and thriving center of commerce.
And, because of the shape of the land, it was also inevitable that traveling Christian missionaries and evangelists would one day visit Corinth to spread the gospel and to organize a Christian church there.
Now as you probably know, St. Paul was the first missionary to arrive on the scene.
And when he did, he certainly had his work cut out for him.
For the city of Corinth was home to both the best and the worst of everything.
Some of the richest people in the world lived there. But the city was also filled with homeless people living in abject poverty.
Many of the people were honest traders and merchants. But some were smugglers and criminals similar to the big time drug dealers of our day.
Most of the people were free. But many of them owned slaves who could only dream of freedom.
Many of the Corinthians were morally upright. But so many were addicted to the vices of life that the name Corinth became synonymous with drunkenness, debauchery, prostitution and filth.
Some of the Corinthians were God fearing people. A few residents were faithful Jews. But the major "religion" was the worship of the goddess of love, Aphrodite.
A temple in her honor stood on a hill over looking the city. Over 1,000 priestesses "served" their goddess from this temple. They were "sacred prostitutes." Every evening they descended from the temple to the streets of Corinth where they "worked" the city until dawn. A Greek proverb said that, "Not every man can afford a trip to Corinth."
Paul arrived in Corinth as he neared the end of his second missionary journey. As was his custom he began his evangelism work with the Jews who were living there. He preached in the synagogue and became close friends with several of the leading families.
His preaching was quite successful. A significant core of people, including Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in Jesus.
And he also had good results in his work with the general public. The promise of the gospel was attractive to many, especially those who were living in poverty and those who were salves.
But not everyone was thrilled with Paul. The Jews who refused to accept the gospel grew increasingly hostile toward Paul. Eventually they attempted to have Paul brought before the governor and tired for teaching subversive ideas.
The judge refused, but Paul realized he had done all that he could and he left for Ephesus.
The fledgling congregation was on its own.
Now on the one hand, the new congregation thrived.
The charter members were committed and active. New people were constantly becoming members. A succession of itinerant preachers visited and built upon Paul's foundational work and baptized more people into the faith.
But on the other hand, the new congregation quickly found itself in deep trouble.
Some of the members continued to live immoral lives by using the temple prostitutes. One man was having an affair with his father's wife. The Lord's supper degenerated into a wild party were some members stuffed themselves and guzzled wine to the point of drunkenness while other members got nothing. The people began to argue among themselves as to who was the most spirit filled Christian.
And, as we heard in today's New Testament reading, the church had divided into about four cliques according to which preacher they liked best, and/or according to which pastor baptized them.
Some of the people claimed to be followers of Paul. Their sin was to put loyalty to the founder of their congregation above all else.
It is a sin we still see in the church today.
There are many churches where the congregation is built around the personality of the founding or a long tenured pastor. Loyalty to the pastor even becomes a test of loyalty to the church.
The manifestations of this sin become most apparent when the old pastor moves on and new leadership takes over. In the worst cases today, people either try to subvert the new pastor's ministry, or they completely drop away from active life in the parish. A few years ago I heard of a situation where a person on their death bed refused to receive communion because she liked the former pastor better than the new one. (Illustration altered slightly to preserve anonymity.) //
The second clique said, "We follow Apollos." Their sin was to be seduced by style over substance.
We know that Apollos was a particularly gifted speaker. In Acts we read that, "He was an eloquent man, well versed in scriptures." He was "fervent in Spirit" and when he preached "he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus."
We are still vulnerable to this sin today. It is very tempting
to judge a preacher on the quality of his or her delivery or the
artistry of his or her writing. It is tempting to think that
preacher who uses no notes is better than the one who reads from
And it is tempting to think that a preacher with the diction of a Shakespearean actor is better than the one who sometimes get tongue tangled. //
The third clique followed Cephas, or to use his more well known name, Peter, the disciple of Jesus.
Their sin was to place a lot of legalistic requirements upon those who wanted to become Christian. And in particular, they thought that gentiles must first convert to the Jewish faith and be circumcised before they could be baptized. In the earliest years of the church, this was a position that Peter supported though eventually he would change his mind.
Though no one claims we must become Jewish first today, there are some branches of the church that insist a person does things "their way" or they are not a true Christian.
For example, some reject the baptism of infants and say that
only when you make a personal decision to accept Jesus and then
are baptized as an adult, will you be saved.
Others say the method of baptism is more important than the promises of God. I once heard a pastor on a radio show claim that UNLESS you've been baptized by "total immersion," (that is, completely dunked under water) your baptism is not valid and you will go to hell unless you do it again the "right way!" //
The fourth clique at Corinth said, "We follow Christ!"
Now finally it sounds like someone has it right! But how come Paul didn't pat them on the back and tell every one else that they should follow Christ too?
The reason is that it is possible to follow Christ with a sinful attitude. It is possible to be pumped up with a self-righteous, holier than thou attitude that does nothing for the good of the church. It is possible to think that you are a better person than "those" people because you "really and truly" believe in Jesus.
Some of the Corinthians were blessed with the gift of speaking in tongues. Because of this, they thought that they had received a greater portion of the Holy Spirit. They thought they had a better faith and that God liked them better than their fellow members.
Today there are still people who think like this. There are people who volunteer for everything and look down their noses at those who choose not to get involved - sometimes for very good reasons. There are people who toss $50 or $100 a week in the offering plate and think they've got it made because they are on the top of the giving profile for the congregation.
Not to each of these 4 cliques at Corinth, and to us who hear this lesson today, St. Paul says, "Hogwash," and he launches into his best effort to set us straight.
He tells us that the personality of the pastor doesn't matter one whit. Pastors come and pastors go. Every pastor is different from the next one. And most importantly - NO ONE is saved by the pastor!
What matters is that the church is totally committed to the one and only person who CAN save us - Jesus Christ, God's only son, our Lord!
And St. Paul tells us that the eloquence and style of the preacher is always secondary to the simple and clear proclamation of the gospel.
You may have your preference, but whether the pastor buries his or her nose in a manuscript and stumbles every other sentence, or speaks with flawless grammar and diction from the top of their head, does not matter so long as the message that God loves us and Jesus died for us gets through to the listeners.
Paul continues, and reminds us that we are not saved by what we do. We are not saved by keeping the rules.
In fact, it is because we cannot live perfect lives that we need Jesus to save us. It is because we cannot do it ourselves that God does it for us. This is the grace of God. And Paul wants us all to be clear that we are saved by the grace of God alone.
And finally, Paul wants us to follow Christ, but he wants us to follow Christ the way Christ wants us to follow him.
We don't do this by feeling superior to others - but rather - by serving others. By Loving our neighbors as ourselves. By loving our enemies. And by drinking the same cup of suffering that Jesus drank of. By daily taking up our crosses, what ever they may be, and following in the footsteps of Christ.
Divisions such as those that afflicted the church in Corinth, and those that afflict the church today hinder our ministry, cloud the gospel message, and damage our faith.
By the power of the Holy Spirit may our eyes be opened and our sinful hearts turned away from division and discord toward the unity of church in faith and mission through Christ. AMEN
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
4th Sunday After Epiphany
Text: 1 Cor. 1:18-31
Subject: God works in the world
Predicate: through the weak, foolish, low and despised.
We live in a culture that worships upward-mobility.
Since the turn of the century, and especially through the 19 - 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's, the majority of the people in America have embraced the concept of working hard to move upward in class, status, education and wealth.
My own family offers a good example of what I mean.
Between 1910 and the outbreak of World War I, my grandfather was in Germany studying to become a mechanical engineer and looking forward to a career designing the kinds of products that have made "German Engineering" a mark of quality to this very day.
But World War I, together with the political chaos and chronic inflation that followed, brought his dream to a screeching halt.
So in 1922 my grandparents immigrated from Germany with not much more than the clothes on their back. They settled in a tiny western Iowa town called Palmer. My grandfather put what he learned in engineering school to use and began work as the town blacksmith.
Not long after arriving, the lure of better money in industry convinced him to move to Milwaukee where he became a precision machinist. He worked there until his retirement.
And, he instilled the desire to work hard, learn more and move up in his children and grandchildren.
My dad seized the opportunity to move out of the shop and into management when it was offered.
My brother and sister and I were raised with the expectation that we WOULD attend college, and beyond. Today, I hold a Masters of Divinity degree and serve as your pastor. My brother has become a doctor specializing in internal medicine. And my younger sister is well on her way to becoming a veterinarian.
Now I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with working hard to get ahead in the world. There is nothing wrong with instilling the drive to better one's self through advanced education. And there is nothing wrong with seeking honest work that pays more money.
God created us with the intention that we should work hard to realize our full potential. God has blessed each of us with unique skills and talents. God wants us to use them to earn a living and for our enjoyment of life. God wants all of God's people, that is ALL of us, to succeed in whatever worthwhile and honest things we may do.
But we do have to be wary of becoming sinfully obsessed with upward mobility and status and power and wealth.
For ultimately, our sense of who we are, and our sense of self-worth, should not, and must not, be exclusively linked with our career, or our status, or our possessions.
And we must be very careful to avoid falling into the sinful trap of thinking we are better people because of our career, or our status, or our wealth.
It will always be a challenge for us to avoid succumbing to this sin. For we are constantly bombarded with messages trying to convince us that worldly values are all that matter. Advertising and media fill our lives with images of beautiful, rich, people, trying to convince us that the more we have and the more we are like them, the happier we will be.
Even the church is tempted to buy into these worldly values.
You may not realize it, but pastors are particularly vulnerable to drawing their identity and self-esteem from the church that they serve.
And you may not realize it but there is an unwritten code that ranks churches from low to high in terms of status, and that ranks pastors from low to high in terms of status.
Every time a group of pastors get together there is the temptation to compare statistics about the congregations we serve, and to compare the programs that we have going.
A few years ago at the synod youth convention in Steven's Point, I ran into a colleague who served a congregation similar to mine. One of the first questions he asked me was, "How many kids do you have with you this year?"
Just like that we were playing the "statistic game." He was tempted to think that he was a better youth minister because he convinced more kids to attend the convention. And I was tempted to feel the need to rationalize my smaller group (and my competence) by explaining all about the scheduling conflicts that kept over half the Luther League home that year.
In a similar way, we are tempted to think that city churches
are better than rural churches.
And that bigger churches are better than smaller churches. And that solo pastors are better than assistant pastors, but that senior pastors at a big city church are the best ones of all!
Pastors are tempted to try to climb the ladder from small rural parishes to big city parishes. And we are tempted to think that only the "cream of the crop" makes it to the top!
Well, this twisted thinking is nothing new. It has infected the church from its earliest years.
In fact, even before there was a Christian church the disciples were concerned with their status and rank. James and John wanted to be seated at the right and left hand sides of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven. According to Matthew, their mother even approached Jesus on behalf of her sons!
Another good example of a church infected with worldly values, is the church that Paul founded at Corinth.
For the last two weeks we've heard about this church and some of the problems that were rampant among its members. And we'll be hearing more about it for the next two weeks.
As you recall, the Corinthian church was divided into cliques. Each clique we heard about last week was associated with the ministry of a different person. Some followed Paul, some followed Apollos, some followed Cephas, and some claimed to follow Christ.
But those four groups were not the only divisions within the church of Corinth.
The congregation was also split along charismatic lines. In other words, the people ranked each other's faith according to what kind of spiritual gifts they had been blessed with.
Out of all the gifts, they valued speaking in heavenly tongues the most. And they thought that the people who could speak in tongues were most blessed by God and therefore, the best Christians in the congregation.
And as if that was not bad enough, the church was also split along socio-economic lines.
Ironically, Paul's greatest success in evangelism at Corinth occurred at the opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum of the city.
Some of the richest, most successful people in town heard and believed that Jesus was the Messiah who died to save them. They banded together to organize the new congregation. And I think it is safe to assume that they funded the new congregation through their offerings and gifts.
And then, the gospel of Christ that Paul preached also touched the lives of people living in the lowest social classes of Corinth.
When slaves heard sayings of Jesus like, "I am the way and the truth and the life," and "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free," you can see why they would be attracted to Christ and want to join the church.
And when the poor heard about the time Jesus praised the widow who could only afford to give a penny to the church by saying "her sacrificial mite was worth more to God than the big checks written out from abundant accounts of the rich," you can see that finally there was a religion that respected and accepted the poor as the children of God that they really are. You can understand why they would want to become Christians too.
The challenge is for these diverse groups to come together in the church and to live and function according to God's ways instead of the world's ways.
The challenge is to hear and believe that God has not chosen us to be his children because we are strong or beautiful or rich or wise or powerful.
Instead, according to Paul, who correctly interpreted the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, God works through what the world considers weak and foolish.
The reason, is to make it clear to people that is not what we have or who we are that matters.
But is the grace of God and the grace of God ALONE that saves us.
And that is why Paul finished this passage by writing, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
It is un-Christian and sinful to boast about our own qualities. It is un-Christian and sinful to think that one person is better than another, or that senior pastors are better than associate pastors, or that big, rich, urban churches are better than the congregations struggling to make ends meet.
The source of our life and our being is rooted in God through Jesus Christ. When we are baptized we become one body under the head and lordship of Jesus.
Oh to be sure, we are different. We have different skills. We have different abilities. We have different resources.
But as Paul will write a few chapters later as he is still trying to help the Corinthians get their thinking straightened out; the different parts of the body are intended to function as one for the good of the whole body.
Just as they eye can't exist and see apart from the body, neither can we function alone and apart from the rest of the baptized who make up the body of Christ.
That is good news.
It tells us that we are important.
It tells us that our lives have purpose and meaning.
It tells us that we don't need to struggle to achieve some worldly standard of success or status.
And it frees us to share the good news with others - so they can abandon the worldly rat race that leads no where, and enjoy the peace and freedom that comes with the knowledge that God loves you, and gives you eternal life as a free gift of love. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan
Mid-Week Lenten Sermon
Subject: Enemies of the Cross
Predicate: have their minds set on earthly things and as such are on the road to destruction in contrast to those who trust in the cross and are actually citizens of "heaven."
The cross is very important to all Christians.
If you have been to worship even once since Lent began, this simple statement should come as NO surprise to you.
The five preachers participating in this year's Lenten rotation believe the cross is so important that we selected "Cross Examinations" as our theme. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, continuing the following Sunday, and now at our mid-week worship services, we have stressed the message that the cross is important, over and over again to the people we've preached to.
We've pointed out the centrality of the cross in our sanctuaries, and in our songs, and in the scriptures.
We've explained how the cross was necessary for God to succeed in blessing us with salvation through the ministry of his son Jesus Christ.
And we've said that to really be a Christian in the fullest sense, we must do more than merely proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ the teacher and healer. Along with St. Paul we too must know nothing else but "Christ Crucified" //
In light of all this, it may come as a shock that there are some people who do not share our conviction that the cross is important.
There are some people who would prefer that the cross and what it represents be de-emphasized.
There are other people who would like to see the cross eliminated and removed where ever it is displayed, even in places of worship.
And there are even times when people like us, who are members of a Christian congregation, are tempted to deny the cross in an effort to seek an easier way to the kingdom of heaven.
When people ignore the cross, or when people don't take the cross seriously, or when people seek to eliminate the cross from sight and mind, they live as "enemies of the cross."
This evening, I'd like to talk about some of the people who are or have been enemies of the cross. And most importantly, I'd like to talk about how we too live with the potential to become enemies of the cross.
It is important to talk about because if the message of cross is lost or forgotten, then the message of salvation will have been cast aside in the process. And my friends, the message of our salvation is too precious to loose! //
It wasn't long after the church began that the first enemies of the cross were on the prowl. They came in three forms, and St. Paul was constantly trying to thwart their work and keep his congregations focused on the cross and Christ crucified.
The first enemies of the cross were the Jewish people who did not believe that anything good could come from the cross.
According to the religious laws of the Jews, laws that were passed down from generation to generation from the days of Moses, death by hanging from a "tree" was a cursed way to die. In the 21st chapter of Dueteronomy we read that, "Anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse."
For the Jews who followed the letter of the law this meant
that it was impossible for Jesus to have accomplished salvation
on the cross. For you see, salvation is a blessing.
And it was not possible for a blessing and curse to come from the same source.
So many Jews rejected Jesus. They did not believe that he was the son of God. They did not believe that anything other than the death of fanatic occurred on the cross. And St. Paul noted that because of their strict adherence to the Old Testament laws, the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews. //
However, there were some Jews who did accept that Jesus was the son of God and that He did die for the benefit of all people. But some of these Jews became enemies of the cross in that they believed that the cross alone was not sufficient to save anyone.
These people were known as the Judiazers or "circumcision party." They believed that a person had to convert to the Jewish faith right at the same time they converted to Christianity. To them this meant that gentile men and boys who became Christians were supposed to be circumsized as well as baptized.
These people were fanatical about this idea and they followed St. Paul every where he went, even going so far as to visit Paul's congregations to tell the members that they wouldn't be saved until after they had been circumsized.
Paul was constantly working to undo the damage caused by these enemies of the cross. "Beware of those who mutilate the flesh," he wrote to the Philippians. "Instead of trusting in the flesh, place your trust in Christ, for the only way to salvation is the cross. It is a gift of God. There is nothing you can do to earn it. Circumcision, or any other ritual or law is powerless to save you. Salvation comes by the grace of God alone!" //
The third group of enemies that Paul faced were the "Greeks" who simply could not understand the logic of the cross.
How could God do anything for anyone by letting Jesus die on the cross? Can it be explained? Can it be understood?
Many have tried. Paul did his best to help people understand it. But ultimately, the fact that Jesus had to suffer and die in order to save us is beyond what we can comprehend.
Because we cannot fully understand the cross, it seems foolish to many people. Since it seems foolish, many people look elsewhere for their hope and salvation. And those who look elsewhere frequently denigrate those who place their hope in the cross.
But according to St. Paul, "The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. None of the rulers of this age understand this. If they did, they would not have crucified Jesus, and there would be no enemies of the cross." //
Even though Paul worked tirelessly to overcome the enemies of the cross, the power of the Devil and his temptations are such that new enemies are always coming onto the scene.
Let's jump ahead now, 1500 years, to the time of Martin Luther and consider how even within the church, people can become enemies of the cross.
During the 1500's, the selling of indulgences became a lucrative business for the church. As you probably remember from confirmation studies and Reformation Day sermons, an indulgence was a proclamation of forgivness that was sold by the church. If you bought an indulgence, you did so with the beliefe that all your sins were forgiven the moment YOU paid the price of the indulgence.
The problem with indulgences is that they eliminate the need for Jesus Christ and his suffering and death on the cross. Indulgences were the perverting of the gospel into a business transaction. Indulgences were the leadership of the church saying, "We don't need Jesus -- we can do it ourselves. You pay the price, you get a certificate that says the pope proclaims you forgiven, and that's that!"
Like St. Paul, Martin Luther understood the need for the cross and Jesus suffering and death.
Luther knew that left to ourselves the good that we want to do we can't do, and the evil that we don't want to do we end up doing anyway. Luther knew that left to ourselves the only option is complete and total damnation. Luther knew that even the church and it's leadership (including himself) are stained with the blackness of sin.
Luther knew that the only way for anyone to be saved was the way of the cross. So he attacked the church's unscriptural practice of selling salvation. He fought the enemies of the cross. And he reformed the church so that the cross stood at the center of it's teaching and preaching.
A popular drawing in the 1500's depicted Luthers committment to the cross. It showed Luther in the pulpit, the congregation in the pews, and cross with Jesus hanging on it standing right there (point) inbetween. //
Now it is certainly good to reflect back over the history of the chruch because it helps us to understand who was an enemy of the cross, and what they were like, and what they believed and how they lived.
But we live in the present. So we have to confront today's enemies of the cross.
And who are the enemies of the cross today?
Well there are the obvious ones. Athiests who deny the existance of God and who seek to eliminate the presence of the church from all aspects our culture come to mind. As Christians we are opposed to what they believe. But I have to tell you, they are not the most dangerous enemies of the cross.
A far bigger threat are the enemies of the cross lurking within the church. And an even bigger threat is the enemy of the cross that lurks within each and every one of us.
Within the church you will find people and hear preachers who revert back to the old false teachings that date all the way back to the days of Paul. Number one among these false teachings is the belief that we must contribute to our own salvation.
This idea comes in many forms.
Some say you have to keep the commandments and live a good life to get to heaven. Some say you have to particpate in a specific ritual such as baptism by immersion. Some say you have to make the conscious, personal choice of declaring Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior.
But the truth is that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We can't even believe by our own power or effort. Martin Luther wrote in his small catechism that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can believe in Christ.
And it is only because of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross that we can be blessed with the power of the Spirit.
Anyone who teaches or believes that we must somehow assist God in our slavation is an enemy of the cross. They are no different than the "Circumcision Party" Paul fought 2000 years ago.
And that is good news. It is good news because it means we do not have to attempt the impossible.
It is good news because it means that though God's ways are beyond what we can understand, God's ways are for our benefit and for our salvation. God's ways are for us because God loves us.
Oh, there is no explaining why God loves us so much. We've sinned and fallen short of what we should be. Yet God's love is so persistent that doesn't turn his back on us, no matter how we behave.
Depsite our sin, he sent Jesus to the cross for our sake. He took care of everything that we can't do for ourselves, for us, by his power and through his love.
It may be tempting to think that we can give God a hand. But we must resist this temptation. For we become enemies of the corss if we think we can help God save us.
So my friends, instead of being enemies of the cross, we should listen to what the Bible tells us God has done. We should know nothing other than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is God's grace at work within us. It is an amazing grace that enables us to say YES to the cross, and accept what Christ has accomplished upon it. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The 2nd Sunday in Lent
Text: John 4:5-42
Subject: Living Water
Predicate: is the living word of Christ that gives us eternal life.
For the last four or five years I've been playing racquet ball as regularly as I can. Schedules permitting, Pastor Clark-Bridges from Little Suamico, Pastor Raddatz from Gillett, Pastor Kamrath from Denmark and myself, meet at the Green Bay YMCA for an hour or two of this fast paced and strenuous game. It's good exercise that we need now that we are all 40-something!
When we are finished playing, I follow a regular ritual.
First, we all march down to the water fountain and take a long drink or clear, cold water.
Then, after showering up, on my way home I stop at Jim's E-Z-GO and fill the car with gas if I need it, But I ALWAYS buy a LARGE, ice cold beverage to drink as I drive back to church or home.
For you see, after a hard workout, the body needs its fluids replenished. The body signals it's need for liquid through a sensation we call THIRST. Our mouth gets dry, and our lips a bit parched, and we crave liquid.
Thirst is a life long, daily experience.
Perhaps you remember learning in your high school science or health class, that the human body is something like 95% water. And you no doubt learned this water is constantly being cycled through our system.
Every time you breath you loose a fraction of your body's water. When it gets hot, your body's water literally drips from your skin. And every day we need several pints of water to flush our system clean of waste products that our billions of cells produce.
Well, today, thirst and the need for water provide the context for Jesus to meet a woman and talk about a special kind of water, a life giving water, a water that will quell our thirst for ever.
Now we know that humans need water on a regular basis. But depending on the climate, how often and how urgently we need water can vary.
In the desert, the need for frequent drinks is great.
I sure found this out when I was in Palm Desert, CA in July a couple of years ago.
When we got off the plane it was 121 degrees outside. Almost immediately, everyone in our family had the urge to stop at the drinking fountain. During the next couple of weeks, it seemed like we almost always had a cup of water near-by. I never stopped to figure it out exactly, but my hunch is that we drank nearly a half gallon of water a day (in addition to other beverages like milk, and coffee and pop).
Now that's what we needed, and all we were doing was sitting around and when we had to travel we drove in air-conditioned cars.
Imagine that the only way to travel in the desert was by foot, down dusty paths, with no shade trees, and the hot burning sun beating down on you as you walk along.
That is what Jesus and his disciples experienced as they were walking from Judea to Galilee, a trip of at least 50 to 60 miles.
According to our Gospel for today, it was about the sixth hour (about noontime) when Jesus and his followers entered a Samaritan town called Sychar. The Bible says that Jesus was "tired from the journey."
He was also hot and thirsty. So he sat down near a well that Jacob dug nearly 2000 years earlier. Jesus need to rest. And, he also needed a drink because he was thirsty. He needed refreshment. He needed the life that cool water brings to a dehydrating body.
And so, when a Samaritan woman came to draw water a few minutes later, Jesus asked her for drink.
Now to us this doesn't sound very radical or unusual. Instead it sounds logical. Jesus was thirsty. Someone with a bucket for dipping water out the well comes along. And Jesus says, "Give me a drink." He probably even said, "Please!"
But the fact that Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink was unexpected and stunning to the people who first heard this story.
For one thing, the Jews didn't want anything to do with the Samaritans. Though they worshipped the same God, the Jews considered the Samaritans to be unholy and "unclean." To have contact with them, especially contact concerning food and drink, was to break the religious laws of the Jewish faith.
And then for another thing, in those days it was considered improper for a rabbi (or teacher) to talk to a woman in public. That was because Jewish rabbi's considered women to be second class people, incapable of understanding the deeper meaning of things, especially things of a religious nature. We have historical records that tell us of a prayer often prayed by Jewish rabbi's that began, "I thank you Lord that you have not made me a woman." !!!
But Jesus was not one to pay any attention to these human prejudices and barriers.
As the Son of God, Jesus knew that people are people. No matter what their nationality, race, sex or religion, ALL people are created and loved by God. All people have the need to hear this good news.
One of the main ways that Jesus communicated this good news was through simple, everyday interactions with those who the rest of his society considered to be unimportant or outcasts.
He healed lepers. He allowed a woman suffering from a flow of blood to be healed after she touched his garments. He visited in the homes of sinners and tax collectors. He gathered the children to him and told the adults that if they could they should believe like little children. He fed thousands of people (including women and children) who came to hear him preach and teach.
The simple fact that Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water is a story of Gospel News in and of itself.
But, it is merely a prelude to the dialog that follows.
For it turns out that the woman is a very religious and spiritual woman., even though she is of a somewhat dubious character, having had 5 husbands and then, after the last one moving in with her boyfriend.
After Jesus asked her for water, she politely tried to refuse his request. Not because she didn't want to help him, but because she knew what proper protocol was. She knew that Jews and Samaritans were supposed to keep at arm's length from each other. She simply didn't want to get Jesus in trouble.
But as we know, as the Son of God Jesus did not let himself be bound to human rules and traditions. And instead, Jesus initiated a religious discussion between himself and the woman.
Jesus said, "If you knew who was really asking you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
In saying this, Jesus was alluding to another kind of thirst that humans experience. A spiritual thirst. A thirst to know God. A thirst for forgiveness. A thirst for salvation. A thirst for eternal life.
But at first the woman didn't realize what Jesus was talking about.
It wasn't that she was dumb or ignorant, but because the term living water had a specific meaning in their language.
Water in a well, or cistern, or jug was not living water. But running water, in a stream, or river, or bubbling up from a spring was living water.
All the woman had to do was look around. There they were in the middle of the desert. There wasn't a stream or river within miles. And not only that, Jesus didn't have a bucket to draw water up from the well (which was over 100 feet deep).
"So," the woman replied, "where are YOU going to get this 'living water' from? Are you greater than Jacob who dug this well?"
And Jesus said to her, "Anyone who drinks from this water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water I will give will never thirst again. The water I will give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Then the woman replied, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."
She still didn't quite get it.
She recognized her need for the water that cleanses and quenches and prepares us for eternal life. But she also had hope of not having to make daily trips to the well for drawing the daily supply for her household.
That was when Jesus dropped the bombshell. He asked the woman to go and bring her husband. She said she wasn't married. And then the penetrating gaze of Jesus cut to her soul when he said, "That's right, you've been married 5 times and the man you're living with now IS NOT your husband."
The woman suddenly realized that she was talking with a prophet. And she began to realize that all this talk about living water and eternal life had a deeper meaning than the mere satisfaction of physical thirst.
Eventually, as the conversation began to wind down, the woman said that she knows that the "messiah is coming." And Jesus responded, "I, who speak to you, am he!" //
The woman believed.
And in believing she not only tasted, but drank deeply from the "living water" that quenches our thirst to know God, and be forgiven, and live forever.
The woman wasn't the only one to believe. Because of her testimony many other Samaritans believed. And because they believed and convinced Jesus to stay in their village for two more days, even more people drank the living water of faith that Jesus offered. \\
Today, 2000 years later, people are still thirsty for God.
That's why millions of people go to church each week. They are visiting the well. Looking for a drink. Longing to have their thirst relieved.
And that is why we are here today. We too stand in need of eternal refreshment.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the Word which we have just heard read and preached, may you receive this refreshing drink.
By faith and God's grace, our sins have been forgiven. We are saved. Eternal life shall be ours.
And, with God's help, let us go forth and share the living water of the Word of God and Gospel of Christ with those who still thirst. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
3rd Sunday in Lent
Text: John 9:1-41
Subject: Seeing/believing in Christ
Predicate: happens when we are not blinded by cultural/religious/personal laws and biases.
Occassionally, the gospel lessons assigned for a particular Sunday are so long that shorter options are provided.
Such is the case today. The whole ninth chapter of the book of John, all 41 verses, is the primary text for the third Sunday during Lent. But since that is way too much material to print on the bulletin, certain key verses have been excerpted by the International Consultation on Common Texts as an alternative to using the whole chapter.
That's fine for the publishers that have space limitations. And I suppose it's OK for making sure that worship is finished in an hour (or less).
But the worst part is we don't get to hear a really good story, that is jam packed with interesting happenings and important good news.
So this morning, as I preach this sermon, I intend to fill in the blanks, covering the rest of the story, and in the process, sharing some points of good news that are still very important for us to hear today.
Now the story starts with Jesus walking along a road with his disciples one day. As they traveled they passed by a man who was blind from birth.
The disciples asked Jesus a question about the blind man.
"Jesus," they asked, "Who sinned? This man? Or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Such a question was quite logical. Back in those days all the religious leaders taught that bad things happened to those who were bad and good things happened to those who were good.
So the people of the land, and the disciples thought that someone had sinned and was being punished by this man's blindness. Such an assumption was automatic. It was what they were taught from childhood on. Please note that the disciples didn't ask, "IF someone sinned?" They asked, "WHO sinned?"
I am certain that the disciples thought they knew what Jesus' answer would be. Since the man was blind from birth how could it have been "his sin?" How can a baby in the womb be guilty of a sin worthy of such a sever punishment? So the disciples expected Jesus to say that, "The man's parents sinned."
But of course there are problems with that too. If one or both of the parents sinned, why was their baby punished? Why didn't one or both of the parents go blind instead? I'm sure the dsisciples were struggling with the logic of this and they really needed to hear what Jesus had to say.
Jesus' answer was an important gospel pronouncement that we need to hear and understand today, juast as the disciple did back then.
Jesus said, "NIETHER this man, NOR his parents were guilty of a sin that was connected to the man's blindness.
When Jesus said this, he totally dismantled one of the key teachings of the Jewish faith 2000 years ago.
According to Jesus, even though the judgment day is coming when we WILL be held accoutable for all the sins and wrongs that we have done, during this life on earth we are not being zapped by God with specific punishments for specific sins.
Several times during Jesus ministry he made this point. Once he was asked if the 18 construction workers who were killed when a tower in Siloam fell down were worse sinners than the ones not injured. Jesus answered with a flat out, "NO!" And when he was asked if the several people from Gallilee who were slaughtered by Pilate were worse sinners than all the rest of the people living in Gallilee, Jesus also said, "NO."
That is news that we still need to hear today. Every hour of every day there is someone in our community who is killed or injured or who comes down with a terrible disease that ends in suffering and death. And the most frequent laments of these people and/or their families are, "What did we do to deserve this?" and "Why is God punishing me?"
Humans have a deep need to figure out reasons for the things that happen. So to some people, the proclamation that their suffering IS NOT sent by God as a punishment leaves them perplexed and angry and grasping for an explanation.
But for most people it is good news to hear that they ARE NOT being singled out for a special punsihment. Believing this they can still see God as a God of love and forgiveness and salvation. And they can feel that God is with them in the midst of their suffering, helping them to face a situation that grieves God as much as it does us.
Now getting back to the story, after Jesus made it clear that neither this man nor his parents were being punished for a sin, he said that the reall reason why this man was blind was so that "the works of God might be shown through him."
And Jesus spat on the ground, made a little wad of mud from the dirt and saliva, and put in on the man's eyes. He told the man to go and wash the clay off in the pool of Siloam. The man did what Jesus said, and a miracle occurred. For the first time in his life, he could see!
When his neighbors saw him coming home from the pool, they couldn't believe he was actually the same man who just hours ago was a blind beggar. Some said it was him, others said it was just someone who resembled him.
Then the man born blind answered for himself saying, "Yes, I am he, I am the one who was a blind beggar. But a man named Jesus made some clay, annointed my eyes, told me to wash at Siloam, and here I am. For the first time in my life, I can see!
Not long after that, they took the newly healed man to the Pharisees to be examined. It was customary for religious leaders to verify that a healing took place. (Remember how Jesus sent the 10 lepers to be exmined by the priests?) And in cases of miraculous healings the religious leaders were also expected to make an evaluation of what happened and determine if it was truly a miracle.
As soon as the Pharisee heard what Jesus did, some of the Pharisees refused to believe that Jesus was a man of God.
For according to the religious laws of the Jewish faith, Jesus SINNED when he healed the man. It was the Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and annointed the man's eyes, and ALL kinds of work, including healing, was ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN on this day of rest.
Only if a life was in danger was any kind of medical treatment allowed on the Sabbath. Non-life threatening illnesses or injuries were left until the next day. For example, if a person broke a limb, you could not set it until the Sabbath was over, no matter how miserable the injured person was.
Even in life threatening cases, only interim help was permitted. If a person was dying you could try to prevent the death, and you could try to keep the situation from getting worse. But you could not do anything to make the person better until the Sabbath was ended.
So right off the bat, most of the Pharisees rejected Jesus as being a man of God (let alone the son of God) because he worked on the Sabbath.
But a few skeptics challanged the majority. "If Jesus was a sinner," they said, "then how could he do such a miraculous sign?"
The house was divided so they decided to ask the blind man what he thought. He said, "Jesus is a prophet!"
But many of the Pharisees simply refused to believe that a true man of God would have healed on the Sabbath. So some tried another approach to discredit Jesus. They said that it was all just a big trick and that the man was never really blind.
So they called in the man's parents. "Is this your son who was born blind," the Pharisee's asked.
"Yes." They replied.
"How then can he see?"
And the parents responded, "He's our son. Yes he has been healed and now can see, but we do not know who did it, or how it happened. Go ask him, he's old enough."
So for the second time the Pharisees called the man before them and said, "Give God the praise, for we KNOW that Jesus is a sinner.
The man born blind responded by saying, "Whether he is a sinnor or not, I do not know, but one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see!"
The Pharisees just wouldn't let up. "What did he do to you? How did he do it?"
"I've already told you the whole story," the man responded, "are you asking because you want to become his disciples too?"
This infuriated the Pharisees. "We are the disciples of Moses," they said. "We know that God spoke to Moses but we have no idea where this man comes from."
The the healed man gave a very stern and wise lecture to the Pharisees.
"What a marvel! You don't know where this man Jesus comes from and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God and does God's will then god will listen to him. Never since the beginning of the world ahs anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. So, if Jesus were not from God then he could do nothing!"
The man's statement makes perfect sense. It harmonizes with everything that the Jews beleived.
But the Pharisees were so locked into their traditional way of thinking that all they could see was a man who was an obvious sinner standing before them, talking down to them. And they cast him out.
Jesus heard what happened and found the man to console him after his harrowing experience with the religious tribunal.
And as Jesus consoled him, the man born blind realized that Jesus was more than a mere prophet, and more than a man of God. The man realized that he was in the presense of God himself in the person of Jesus, the son of God.
And he believed. And he worshipped him.
But as for the pharisees, they stood under the judgment of God and Jesus.
Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
In this statement of Jesus the story reaches its climax.
And it is a good news, bad news ending, depending on who you are.
To those who are blind, to those who are in need, and know it, Jesus is there to open our eyes of faith to beleive that he is the son of God, and that he does love us, and that he will forgive us and bless us with eternal life.
But to those who think they know it all. . .
to those who refuse to believe that God would stoop so low as to be born in a stable and to die on the cursed cross. . .
to those who cling to old traditions when there are people in need and there is ministry to do. . .
to those who are convinced that their personal righteousness makes them better than "those hypocrites" over there. . .
Jesus says, you are the ones who are really blind.
Today, we pray that the same miracle that Jesus preformed 2000 years ago happens in all of us.
For the temptation of sin is to think that we've got it made. And that we don't need Jesus. At one time or another we all succumb these arrogant and sinful thoughts.
When we do, may the Lord open or eyes to see, and to be saved. AMEN!