Devotional Service
 

THE SUNDAY OF THE PASSION:
PALM SUNDAY*
April 15, 2020

It is the usual practice in many Episcopal Churches to forego a homily or sermon on Palm Sunday.  In this devotional, a shortened Liturgy of the Palms, prayers, verses hymns, and a shortened passion reading are offered.

 Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the lord.

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.

 Let us pray:  Assist us mercifully with your help, O lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have give us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 THE FIRST LESSON**

Matthew 21:1-11

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

"Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

HYMN

All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King!

to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son,

     who in the Lord’s Name comest, the king and Blessed One.

Theodulph of Orleans (d. 821

Let us pray.

 

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified;  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

THE PSALM

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Confitemini Domino

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

   his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let Israel now proclaim,

   "His mercy endures for ever."

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;

     I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 "This is the gate of the Lord;

     he who is righteous may enter."

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me

     and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected

      has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord's doing,

     and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted;

     we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, Hosannah!

     Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;

     we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us;

     form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 "You are my God, and I will thank you;

      you are my God, and I will exalt you."

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

     his mercy endures for ever.

 

THE COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

THE PASSON GOSPEL**

 

Matthew 27:11-54

Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

HYMN

O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken

  That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?

  Of what great crime has Thou to make confession,

  What dark transgression?

 

  O wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded,

  That brought Thee here, by foes and theirs surrounded!

  All worldly pleasures, heedless, I was trying

  While Thou wert dying.

 

   Whate’er of earthly good this life may grant me,

  I’ll risk for Thee; no shame, no cross, shall daunt me.

  I shall not fear what foes can do to harm me

  Nor death alarm me.

  Johann Herrmann 1585-1647 tr. by Catherine Winkworth 1827-78)         

 

A PRAYER

Offered by Deacon John Keyes

Lord, we come to you in prayer.  May all lands be whole again.  Lord, bless each and every person on earth. 

Lord, we pray that you release us from this pandemic.  Be with everyone who has lost their job or whose jobs are at risk. Be with all the doctors and nurses and everyone working hard to get things under control.  Be with the grocery store workers and truck drivers.  Grant health and healing to all.

We are nothing without you, O God.  In your mercy, eradicate this virus.  Leave this world in wonder at the mighty the works of your hand.  May the nations seek after you.  May all turn to you, O God. 

In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

 

Pray for those in our parish family; for Phyllis and Bernard Kubal, Toots Marchand, and Pat and Bev Ann Christensen.
Pray for all those affected by the COVID-19 virus and hose you hold in your hearts.Pray for those celebrating birthdays: Lillie Tacke, Emma Mondragon and Christine Lambertz (April 11).  Pray for those who have died. Praise and give thanks to God who in Christ Jesus raises us to new life.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 

Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. 

Amen.

MAY THE LORD BLESS US AND KEEP US.  

MAY THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US AND BE GRACIOUS UNTO US. 

MAY THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE UPON US AND GIVE US PEACE.  AMEN

       

*   The liturgy and Psalm is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer” The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York 1979

** From The Episcopal Lectionary & our parish bulletin insert which uses the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the      Division of Christian Education of the national Council of Church of Christ in the USA

 
 ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------
 
THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
March 29, 2020

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make hast to help us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be, world without end.  Amen

THE COLLECT OF THE DAY

 Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

THE PSALM APPOINTED FOR THE DAY

 Psalm 130

 De profundis

 1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;

   Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,

   O Lord, who could stand?

3 For there is forgiveness with you;

   therefore you shall be feared.

4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;

   in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,

   more than watchmen for the morning.

6 O Israel, wait for the Lord,

   for with the Lord there is mercy;

7 With him there is plenteous redemption,

   and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 

THE LESSON**

 John 11:1-45

 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

A HOMILETIC STUDY AND REFLECTION ON THE LESSON

By Norm Wright

+In the Name of our loving, life-giving God+

Study

 The Gospel of John, like much of scripture in the Holy Bible, presents us with stories that address multiple concerns of the time in which they were written.  Consequently, they contain layers of application and meaning. While the Holy Bible appears to give us a linear history; starting with the Book of Genesis and ending with the Book of Revelation, the actual history of when the various books of the Bible were being written tells us that it does not present a historical narrative as we understand such narratives today.

As mentioned in last week’s study, the Gospel of John is presented as an in-house Gospel written for Jewish Christians who were being thrown out of their synagogues, leaving them feeling deprived of their identity and heritage as God’s Chosen People. 

Given this situation, the writers of this Gospel literally rewrite the creation story in John 1; identifying the creative power of God as the Word by which the whole of creation came into being.  In John 1’s narrative, the proclamation is made  “to all who received (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  [John 1:12-13]   This proclamation literarily cuts the proverbial cord between Judaism and Christianity; serving as a declaration of independence, allowing Jewish Christians and everyone else to identify themselves solely as Christian and nothing else.

The overall purpose of the Gospel of John is to establish as a self-evident TRUTH that Jesus of Nazareth is The Word Made Flesh and The Resurrected Christ of God.  As such, it is not purpose of this Gospel to provide a historical account of Jesus’s life and ministry.  Along with the backstory of this Gospel, the author develops a new field of theology known as Christology - the study of Christ.  As a work of Christology, this Gospel can be viewed as an initiation manual for catechists; helping them to work their way through what is defined in our Eucharistic liturgy as “the Mystery of Faith.”

Apart from the book of Revelation, also attributed to same author, this Gospel presents us with coded messaging that utilizes numerology, astrology, and other arcane literary devices associated with the mystery religions of that era, much in the same way that people who send text messages today utilize emojis as coded language.  This particular lesson serves as a transition point in which the author of this Gospel presents Jesus revealing, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” which introduces one to a deeper study of its meaning as found in Jesus’ supper discourse that begins in John 13 and extends through John 17.

This transitional lesson employs familiar characters first identified in the Gospel of Luke; Mary, Martha (See Luke 10:38-42), and Lazarus whose name pops up in one of Jesus’ parables, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  (See Luke 16:19-31)  It may be that Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus, but it is in the realm of probability that the author of John melds Jesus’ parable of the poor man named Lazarus, who dies and whose spirit ascends to the bosom of Abraham, with the story of Mary and Martha found in Luke to create this resurrection story.

The surface story in this lesson presents conundrums. Some of these conundrums are explained away; such as, why Jesus waited two days to go to Lazarus when he knew Lazarus was sick and on his deathbed.  Another conundrum is that Lazarus, in being allowed to die, is brought back to life only to face dying again in a more tragic way as suggested in John 12:10.  This conundrum places Jesus in a somewhat cruel and capricious light.

As shocking as this suggestion may appear, caprice was used in mythic stories of that era to demonstrate the inscrutable nature and powers of the divine.  Caprice is used for the same purpose in Scripture to describe the inscrutable nature of God as notably depicted in the story of Job.  A theological conundrum that is presented in stories where someone is brought back to life is that they conflict with Hebrews 9:27 where it says, “It is appointed for man, once to die.” 

Events that pose conundrums in Scripture readily identifies those events as being parabolic; that is, using a surface story to address or describe something other than the surface story itself.  Today’s lesson, as a parabolic story about Jesus, allows one to explore its richness and various applications without having to make sense of it as a historical event and trying to wrap one’s mind around all the conundrums the surface story offers. 

Just as the blind man in last Sunday’s lesson served as an iconic representation of the Christian Jews’ plight at being denied access to the synagogue, Lazarus dying and being raised to life serves as an iconic representation of their sense of loss.  Lazarus’ dying is also a representation of the experience a new catechist will go through as he or she transitions to new life through baptism.

Jesus makes some conflicting claims in this story; such as, “This illness does not lead to death… so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” and then clearly stating a few sentences later, “Lazarus is dead.” It is difficult what to make of these two incongruent statements.  Given the back story to John, the first statement may be a message saying that what the people in these Jewish communities are feeling (their depression and sadness) is not going to lead to their demise as communities of faith.  It may also be a way of comforting recent converts to Christianity who had experienced the loss of family and friends in their accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior by implying their loss will lead to God in Christ Jesus being glorified.  The comment “Lazarus is dead,” indicates, in both interpretive applications, that their former way of life has passed. 

The disciples in this story warn Jesus it is too dangerous to return to Judea; that returning was putting himself and, by extension, was putting them at risk.  Jesus assures them that as long as he is with them there is daylight (a reference to Jesus being the Light of the Word.)  [Note: The fear of the disciples and the concern of Mary and Martha bring to mind what one of my professors pointed out during a course on Christology; that in the Gospel of John, Jesus (metaphorically speaking) is depicted walking at least a foot above ground as Jesus is portrayed throughout this Gospel (unlike the Synoptic Gospels) as knowing when something will happen, why it will happen, and how it will happen; thus the normal concerns of others is only a concern for Jesus because he is concerned with their being concerned.] As such, Jesus constantly reassures his follower that while he is with them there is nothing to fear because daylight exists wherever he he goes.

In an odd moment, Thomas (of doubting fame) says ,“Let us go that we may die with him.”  On the surface it is not exactly clear if Thomas is referring to Jesus (a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death) or Lazarus.  Regardless of who is being referenced, what this comment presents is an invitation to death; as in, death to one’s self.   In this sense Lazarus represents those who are “chosen” to die with Christ (become Christian) that they may be raised with Christ, just as Jesus chose to let Lazarus die in order to raise him to new life.

Mary and Martha serve as emblematic characters of faith in both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John.  The Gospel of John clearly is banking off of Luke’s depiction of them in the way they approach Jesus and in how Jesus responds to both.  Martha comes to Jesus and confronts him for having delayed his coming at their most desperate time of need.  Note that she does so reverently, acknowledging who Jesus is and accepting his decision in doing so after a small conversation about the resurrection in which Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life… .”

Then it is Mary’s turn to approach Jesus. She also questions Jesus’ delay, but we see in their meeting the affinity between Mary and Jesus that was established in Luke.  When Mary approaches Jesus, she kneels at his feet (the posture of prayer) and is weeping along with “the Jews” (a reference that wouldn’t have been lost on the early Christian Jews) who are also weeping over their sense of loss.

Martha presents a pragmatic faith.  She is the faithful doer; a hands-on follower of Jesus.  Give this faithful doer a cause and she will not stop until it is accomplished with grit and determination.  Mary, on the other hand, presents an intuitive faith that readily absorbs what Jesus teaches that led Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, to proclaim Mary as having “the better part.”  Notice how Jesus does not have to explain anything to her.  Mary exemplifies a heart-felt faith that accepts the will of God in all things, as expressed by her tears.  In turn, Jesus demonstrates a sympathetic response by weeping with her and all who weep.

It at this point that Jesus approaches the tomb (answers their questioning prayers) and demands that the stone is removed from its entrance of Lazarus’ tomb.  It is at this point the ever-pragmatic Martha points out that there will be a smell because Lazarus has been dead for four days.  The author of John is leaving no room for doubt that Lazarus is completely dead. 

Jesus offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God in which Jesus states that he personally didn’t need to pray (because in giving God glory, he is also glorifying himself) but rather that his praying is a display of showmanship done for the benefit of those around him. [Note: One of the oddest characteristics in the Gospel of John is that when people are asking a question, Jesus frequently responds by answering the question they should have asked, instead of the question being asked.]  Here Jesus is demonstrating a prayer of thanksgiving that those who are witnessing this event should be offering and suggesting they soon will be offering.  This presentation of Jesus glorifying himself was likely used to instruct a catechist to give glory and thanks to God in all things, just as Jesus did.

Lazarus, emerging from the tomb wrapped in strips of cloth, signifies that being called by Jesus does not immediately result in completion to new life; that there is a process of stripping off one’s old self.  Just as receiving physical sight by the blind man in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson did not give him the ability to immediately recognize Jesus as the one who healed him and needed to be informed, Lazarus must be released by those who follow the commandments of Jesus.  This is a reference for the leaders of the local church to assist a catechist by releasing the catechist from her or his old self into new life with Christ.  Some early baptismal practices literally involved stripping the old clothing a catechist wore (to the point of the catechist’s birthday suit) immediately before baptism and putting on new clothing (a white robe) once the newly baptized emerged.  As a lesson for those catechists being brought into the church, this story represents a dying to their past so that they can be resurrected and experience rebirth in Christ “by water and the Spirit” through baptism. [See John 3]

REFLECTION 

This lesson provides one of the most richly crafted and cryptic stories in the New Testament.  The message that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life within the context of today’s lesson and in the context of our present world tells us that there is no amount of time, no amount of distance, and not even death itself serves as a barrier denying access to and from God in Christ Jesus.  [See Romans 8:37-39]

In this time of dealing with a pandemic we, like those early Judaic and Christian communities, are experiencing the loss of the geographical centers of our spiritual life and worship, as the doors to our houses of worship need to be locked for a time.   

Like Mary and Martha we may ask, “Where was Jesus when this virus started making people deathly ill?  Like those early Judeo-Christian communities, who witnessed the destruction of their way of life we may ask, “Why is God allowing something like this to happen?”

This pandemic is quickly proving to be a way-of-life changer for all of us. In times of crisis, life is revealed as paradoxical, in which all things and their opposites are shown to exist and come into play simultaneously.  The answer to the ontological question, why things such as this pandemic happen is the paradoxical response given to why anything exists, “That’s life.”

This is not to say that God in Christ does not get involved in this paradoxical world of ours.  In truth, paradox is a sign of Christ’s presence.  The cross and the tomb are symbols of paradox; showing us that just as in life there is death, so life comes from death.  Things are bound to change and in every change there is an element of death that may result in feelings of loss or feelings of release but this element of death permits us to see new life brought about by change.

When God created the earth we live on and formed human life from its clay, God said it was very good.  In times such as these, it is beneficial to keep in mind that God has never given up on our fundamental goodness and neither should we. It is also important that we, who have faith and trust in God’s goodness, exhibit this faith by caring for one another and for all in need.

It is also beneficial to keep in mind that this pandemic is not God’s way of punishing wrongdoing, as some who call themselves Christian are likely to do, and placing blame on their perception of who is Godless and, by extension, blaming God who is the creator of all that is. 

Please, for the sake of Christ, don’t go there and don’t let others take your there. 

God in Christ Jesus made it perfectly clear that is not how God operates, as Jesus said in Matthew 5, “For (our heavenly Father) makes the sun to shine on the evil and good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” 

As this imposed social fast continues, it is important to share our frustrations and feelings with Jesus; not to blame God but to seek God, and like Martha and Mary to accept the answers that we are given, even when they don’t appear to satisfy the questions being asked. 

Faith in God’s goodness through good times and in bad; through times of plenty and in times of want has proven throughout the history of the church and in the lives of people everywhere to be a source of strength and resilience that allows us to endure the changes we face and the ability to work through the conundrums life presents.   

With God’s help, we can step back and see the bigger picture in which all things, by God’s grace, work for the good of all.

Christ Jesus, The Resurrection and the Life, is with us now and always!

So let us draw near to the Lord of Life.

Let us look to the cross of the One who showed us that from death comes life.

Let us look to the One who came and who comes that we may have life and have it abundantly.

Let us draw near to the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  

Amen.

Hymn

                What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!

      What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

      Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needles pain we bear,

      All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer

 

      Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

      We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.

      Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?

      Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

      Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care/

      Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.

      Do thy friends despise, forsaken thee?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.

      In his arms He’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.

 

Joseph Scriven (1819-1866)

 

 

A PRAYER IN LOCKDOWN

 

By the Very Rev’d Andrew Nunn,

Dean of Southwark Cathedral, London, United Kingdom

 

Ever present God,

be with us in our isolation,

be close to us in our distancing,

be healing in our sickness,

be joy in our sadness,

be light in our darkness,

be wisdom in our confusion,

be all that is familiar when all is

unfamiliar, that when the doors reopen

we may with the zeal of Pentecost inhabit our communities

and speak of your goodness

to an emerging world.

For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

 Pray for those in our parish family; for Phyllis and Bernard Kubal, Toots Marchand,  and Pat and Bev Ann Christensen and those you hold in your hearts.

Pray for those affected by Covid-19; for healthcare workers around the world; for those who provide essential services; for the leaders of all nations, for all governmental officials every where, and for all those making decisions in this time of crisis.

Pray for those who have died.

Pray for those celebrating birthdays: Karen Kleinschmit (April 1) and Hannah Lambertz (April 4)

Praise and give thanks to God who in Christ Jesus raises us to new life.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

MAY THE LORD BLESS US AND KEEP US.  

MAY THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US AND BE GRACIOUS UNTO US. 

MAY THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE UPON US AND GIVE US PEACE.  AMEN

9   The liturgy and Psalm is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer” The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York 1979

** From The Episcopal Lectionary & our parish bulletin insert which uses the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the national Council of Church of Christ in the USA

 
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THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT
March 22, 2020

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make hast to help us.

THE COLLECT OF THE DAY

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

THE APPOINTED PSALM FOR THIS SUNDAY

 Psalm 23

 Dominus regit me

 1 The Lord is my shepherd; *

   I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *

   and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *

   and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *

   for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *

   you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *

   and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 

THE LESSON **

 John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.   But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

 A HOMILETIC STUDY AND REFLECTION ON TODAY’S LESSON

By Norm Wright

+In the Name of loving God who is ever present and comes to us in our time of need+ 

Amen

 STUDY

 Building on last Sunday’s study regarding the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well and the historical context in which the Gospel of John was written, we are presented in today’s lesson a story that underscores the deep division that existed between Jews who were struggling to maintain Judaism and Jewish Christians who were struggling with their religious identity after being excluded from the synagogues at the end of the first century AD.  This particular story vividly portrays that division in a visceral way, which maintains its pathos to this very day.  

Before unpacking this story, I want to make some general observations about the Gospel of John.  This is the most influential Gospel in the New Testament canon and has had the most profound impact on Christian thought, practice, and theology to the extent that it colors how we understand everything else found in the New Testament.  It is what I would call an in-house Gospel written for those of us who are Christian in order to affirm that we are the beloved chosen of God in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel of John is a complex theological work written from a sacramental perspective. Water, bread, wine and light are significant elements in its narrative.  It employees literary devices; such as, self-identification, in the sense that Jesus is at times both the narrator and the subject of his narration; often referring to himself in the third person. [See John 3] The author of John inserts editorial comments to provide meanings not apparent in a story’s narrative to prevent the hearer or reader from getting lost in one’s own interpretation of events.

The Gospel of John is probably the most quoted, the most loved, the most referenced, and the most misunderstood piece of Christian literature in the Holy Bible. 

For example, in today’s lesson we run into language and sentiments that are blatantly anti-Judaic[1].  The use of the term “the Jews” is found only in this Gospel and is language that has led Christians, both past and present, to harbor and validate anti-Semitic views.  Let me be clear, the Gospel of John does not advocate anti-semitism.[2]  The Gospel of John was written with Christian Jews in mind.  The term “the Jews” is being employed to identify those practicing Judaism as opposed to those Jews who were practicing Christians.

Let’s review today’s lesson: 

There is much in this story that requires definition and explanation; some of which will be found in this homily’s footnotes. Something one might not pay attention to in this story is that the blind man never asks to be healed and Jesus never asks the blind man if he wants to be healed.  Jesus just heals him. 

This lack of approach on the part of the person being healed and Jesus just healing someone without being asked to do so is a literary trait in the Gospel of John that differentiates it from the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where the ill and those in need are depicted as approaching Jesus.  For the most part, Jesus does the approaching in the Gospel of John in order to reveal who he is.

Why is this? 

The answer is simply that the Jewish Christians who were being thrown out of the Synagogues felt that they were being deprived of their status as God’s Chosen People because of their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah when this Gospel was being written.  The Gospel of John has Jesus assuring these Christian Jews that they are the “true” Chosen People, chosen by God Incarnate, Jesus Christ himself.

Depicting the man as being born blind so that Jesus could heal him is an editorial comment to allow Jesus to make the theological point, “I am the light of the world.”  We need to be careful to avoid seeing this description as confirming that God caused this man to be blind or causes bad things to happen to people just so Jesus can do things to prove who he is.[3]  God works with and through what we present and offer, including our infirmities, weaknesses, and strengths.

This story continues with Jesus, in essence, recreating this man by making a clay poultice of his own salvia and dirt (a reference to God’s method of shaping the human form from the earth) and then asking him to wash in a pool (a reference to baptism.)   The man does what Jesus instructs him to do, but Jesus is not present when his physical sight is returned.  The absence of Jesus at that moment is used to help differentiate the man gaining his physical sight from the spiritual sight he will receive later in the story.

Unique to this healing story is that when the blind man receives his sight, the people who knew him as a blind beggar do not recognize him as one who sees; implying they have become blind to who he is and what he has become (one seeking Jesus).

The healed blind man is brought to the Pharisees (the Judaic community) to be examined.  He explains his being cured of blindness, but instead of being happy for this man, the Pharisees accuse him of receiving his sight by Jesus who they said does not “observe the Sabbath”[4] and question whether he was ever blind.  At that point, his parents are brought in.  When they confirm that he is their son and are questioned how he can see, they defer the question to their son because they were afraid of being thrown out of the synagogue[5]. 

Then personally questioned a second time, the man professes his joy at being given sight and questions why they need to ask him again. He them accuses them of not listening to his message (referencing Judaism’s refusal to allow the Gospel being preached in their synagogues). When he asks his interrogators if they too want to be Jesus’s disciples, he is thrown out of the synagogue.[6]

Apart from the man being healed and accepted by Jesus as his disciple, there is nothing happy taking place in this story. The man’s community no longer recognizes him and his parents fear that they will be kicked out of the synagogue because he was healed by Jesus.

Notice how after the man is thrown out of the synagogue, Jesus approaches him and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man.[7]   The healed man does not recognize Jesus by normal sight (normal understanding).  The return of man’s physical sense of sight allows him to seek Jesus (a reference, perhaps, to catechists of the early church who, as new converts, were not fully oriented in their faith or fully received into the church). When Jesus comes to the man and reveals himself through “speaking”[8] to him, the man understands Jesus to be God Incarnate and worships Jesus as such.

This story has an odd ending in which Jesus explains this parable-like story about himself by saying that he “came into the world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”  In other words, those who are given sight to know Jesus as the Christ, the Incarnate Word are the chosen to be his followers as opposed to those who claim to have sight via the law and the prophets and remain “in their blindness” for their failure to hear  the message of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This differentiation between those called to be in the church and those who are not seems harsh, but as an in-house Gospel it was written to give hope and support to an early church struggling to survive and in need of “direct”validation coming from Jesus himself through its message.

REFLECTION

Today’s lesson presents a very sad story intended to draw one towards the intimate care demonstrated by Jesus approaching this individual twice; the first time to give him sight as a means to seek Jesus and the second time to personally reveal himself as God Incarnate. The early Christian Jews for whom this Gospel was being written would have immediately recognized themselves in this story, and this man serves as an iconic figure of the struggles they faced at the time of its writing. 

For today’s Christian, it is important see and embrace the pathos this story presents in order to fully appreciate the grace of God demonstrated through it. It is important to understand the cost involved in becoming a Christian in many parts of the world today and particularly in a world that was hostile to both Jews and Christians in the early days of the church.

We are living in a time far different than those early Christian lived in.  We are living in a time when Christianity is a part of the status quo woven into the cultural fabric of most Western nations.  To a large extent we have become immunized from what the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “The Cost of Discipleship”  in his book by that title.[9]

 

The question for us today is whether Christianity, when part of the status quo, results in Christians tending to act more like the Pharisees depicted in this story rather than embracing those living on the fringe of religion and on the edge of society; those ripe for being recreated by the love of God in Christ. 

Is what we see different from what God, through the eyes of Jesus, sees? 

Are we truthfully seeing things as they are or are we seeing what we want to see and remain blind to what we need to see? 

In this lesson, Jesus is presented as coming to judge the world to prevent us from judging others[10] like the disciples in this story did when they assumed that the cause of the man’s blindness had to be the result of some sin he or his parents committed.[11] Jesus debunks that understanding of illness throughout all the Gospels

 Jesus as the one comes to judge the world in the end times is found throughout all the Gospels. Unfortunately this portrayal of Jesus has often been distorted and used by some as permission to condemn others in the name of God.  It is important to understand when Jesus is presented as the Judge in the New Testament, that we are not being called to take on the role of being the jurors.  The Court of God is not the court of man. God does not need a jury to discern what is true about humanity.

 At a time when our world is dealing with a pandemic, it is essential that we do not engage in judgmental theories as to its cause and point to those deemed our ideological enemies or those living on the edge of society; those most vulnerable as the reason for its existence.

To be polite, STUFF HAPPENS. 

It was never a question where this pandemic would start.  It has always been a matter of when it would occur.  Scientist (the prophets of our day) have been warning of a looming outbreak for some time.  It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Now is that time.

Viruses don’t recognize borders, race, creed, political party, or social status but, much to our discredit and shame, some of us continue to do so. 

This pandemic underscores the fundamental truth that we are interconnected; that we are all in this together, living on the same small planet to which we are bound. This pandemic demonstrates that a threat to one is a threat to all and hopefully will prove that the accomplishments of one will be an accomplishment for all. 

It is important to recognize that God is at work through the work we do and the care we give to one another.  Such work has taken on a new meaning at a time when many of us are keeping ourselves physically distanced from others.  Nevertheless, we can still give care and socialize through phone calls or the use of social media.  As it turns out, there is a blessing in our ability to socialize through technology.

This Gospel lesson and other stories in the Gospels demonstrates that God in Christ is ever present and approaches in times of need.

Today’s lesson takes on a prophetic hue at this time when it says, “We must work the works of him who sent (Jesus) while it is day for the night comes when no one can work.” Things are looking dark at this time, but with the light of Christ there is always daylight and it is at such times as this that we should let the light of Christ shine in our lives.

This Season of Lent provides all of us a time to pause and examine the thoughts and desires of our hearts and how they impact our behavior.  This is a time to be vigilant in our thinking, in our speaking, and in our doing.

This is a time to consider:  

Are we being receptive to the grace God offers us in Christ Jesus at this present moment; to do what we are being directed to do for our benefit, as the blind man in today’s lesson did? 

Are we able to see the presence of Christ Jesus in our lives? 

Are we seeing it in the lives of those around us? 

Are we continuing to thank and praise God for the blessing of life?

May God’s faith in us strengthen our faith in God and in one another.  

May God’s hope in us strengthen us to hope in a time of fear. 

May God’s love for us, strengthen us in our love of God and strengthen us to love and treat our neighbors are ourselves.

AMEN

Hymn

Savior, like a shepherd lead us; much we need thy tender care
in thy pleasant pastures feed us; for our use thy folds prepare
Blessed Jesus!  Blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.
Early let us seek thy favor, early let us learn thy will;

do thou, Lord, our only Savior, with thy love our bosoms fill.

Blessed Jesus!  Blessed Jesus!

Thou hast bought us:  Love us still.

(
from Hymns for the Young c. 1830)

 Prayer for a world facing a Coronavirus outbreak

Adapted from a prayer by Kerry Weber

 Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” Bring us your healing love.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Heal us from our pride, which makes us believe that we are invulnerable to a disease that knows no borders.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Jesus Christ, comfort us in our uncertainty and sorrow. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. 

  Lord hear our prayer.

 We commend to your loving care those who have died. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Comfort the families of those who are sick or have died. Defend them from illness and despair and give them peace.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Give the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal wisdom and insight and defend them as they put their own lives and health at risk.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 Guide the leaders of all nations to put politics aside and work solely for the well-being of those they are meant to serve.

  Jesus Christ heal us and make us whole.

 PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Pray for those in our parish family; for Phyllis and Bernard Kubal, Toots Marchand, and Pat and Bev Ann Christensen and those you hold in your hearts.

Pray for those celebrating birthdays: Cassie Plautz (March 28). 

Thank God for the blessing of life and love.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. 

Amen

MAY THE LORD BLESS US AND KEEP US.  

MAY THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US AND BE GRACIOUS UNTO US. 

MAY THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE UPON US AND GIVE US PEACE.  AMEN

 

* The liturgy and Psalm is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer” The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York 1979

** From The Episcopal Lectionary & our parish bulletin insert which uses the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the national Council of Church of Christ in the USA



[1] Anti-Judaic is not synonymous with anti-semitism and its use here refers to Judaism’s denial that Jesus is the Messiah.

[2] Anti-semitism was a term first coined in 1879 and is a product of scientific racism that promoted the view that Jews were an inferior race (a view promoted by Nazi Germany  and others that resulted in death of 6,000,000 Jews).

[3] It is quite easy to base an argument for theodicy from this conversation between Jesus and his disciples.Theodicy is expressed differently in various philosophies, but in general, theodicy refers to the idea the God allows evil to serve God’s good purpose. Perhaps. But reason premised on theodicy can make one incentive to the suffering of others or sound like it. The purpose of the Gospel of John is primarily to affirm Jesus as the Christ of God to a community struggling to define itself and who Jesus is; not to make an argument for Theodicy.

[4]  This is likely a reference to Christians who observed the first day of the week, Sunday, as the day of coming together to worship.

[5] The parents fear gives one a sense that they knew the answer and, in a subtle way, John seems to be addressing those in the Jewish community who out of fear refuse to confess Jesus as the Messiah.

[6]This is a clue as to when this Gospel was written as this lesson point outs that those who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”  Jesus is presented as frequently teaching in the synagogues in the Synoptic Gospels.  According to this lesson, Jesus wouldnt even be allowed to enter a synagogue, revealing that this editorial comment is referring to the conditions at the time this Gospel was written.

[7] “The Son of Man”. Is a term that appears 81 times in the Gospels.  There is some debate as to what it means and it would appear that in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”  in the sense the prophet Ezekiel used it to simply mean a human.  In the Gospel of John, given the context that Jesus refers to his purpose for “coming down to earth” to judge reflects how this term  is used in Daniel 7:13-14  where the Son of Man appears in the clouds and will have dominion over all nations - an apocalyptic view that is also expressed in the Book Revelation.  Unfortunately, it is this obscure understanding the term that is applied to Jesus referring to himself as such in the other Gospels.

[8] The Gospel of John and other Gospel indicate that people who knew Jesus before his resurrection did not recognize him until he “speaks” to them; implying that it is through hearing the Word Incarnate speak that one’s spiritual eyes are opened.

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer is beatified as a martyr by many Protestant churches because he was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945 for being associated with a plot to kill Adolph Hitler.  His “Letters from Prison” written while he awaited trial and complied after his death is considered a Christian classic.

[10]  In Matthew 7:1 in which Jesus tells us “Judge not so that you are not judged.”

[11] In the ancient middle east, a congenital defect was viewed as a punishment from God for some sin the person ’s parent committed. This mindset continues to emerge in the minds of some Christians who see natural disasters as God’s response to sin in our world today.

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 THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
March 15, 2020

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

THE COLLECT OF THE DAY    

Let us pray:    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; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

THE FIRST LESSON

A reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

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.

 

THE SECOND LESSON

A reading from the Gospel according to John:  

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered 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 woman said to him, Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 

 

A HOMILETIC STUDY AND REFLECTION ON TODAY’S READING FROM THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN

By Norm Wright

+In the Name of our loving, life-giving God+ 

The Gospel of John is a very different Gospel from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel of John is a Gospel that explains who Jesus is in Jesus’s own voice. 

It is important to keep this in mind when reading the Gospel of John because every story told in John; every minute detail and facet found in a story and every conversation Jesus has with others throughout this Gospel presents  us with a sort of biblical code that serves the purpose of economizing the use of language in revealing Jesus as the Christ.  It also important to keep in mind that from the very first verse of the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as the very Word of God Incarnate through whom all things came to be and it is this cosmological presentation of Jesus who is talking throughout John. 

So when we come to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, it is important to take note of what’s involved, because details are significant.  The well in this story is a fount of nourishment created by the common ancestor of both Jews and Samaritans. Water is always a symbol of baptism in John, and a woman coming to bear water reflects an ancient (astronomical/aquarian) portrayal of truth as a woman (the symbol of wisdom - sophia in Greek) caring a jug of water that she pours out.

There are more things to explore in this story than a short homiletic study can convey.  For the purpose of this homily we will focus on the setting of this story and its purpose in being told at the time the Gospel of John was written. 

The Jewish landscape of Roman Palestine was divided into two parts, Judea in the South and Galilee in the North. Sandwiched in between these two areas was Samaria.  Jews from the North; from Galilee, had to travel through Samaria, a sort of lawless and dangerous no-man’s land, in order to get to Jerusalem.

There was a long history of animosity, if not hatred, between Jews and Samaritans even though they shared a common lineage. Samaritans traced their ancestors back to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh that went back to Jacob from which the tribe of Judah descended from also. Orthodox Jews considered Samaritans a defiled ethnic group practicing an impure religion. 

Biblical scholars place the date of the writing of the Gospel of John at the end of first century or the beginning of the second century AD.  This was a time when Christianity was coming into its own as a religion; separate from its Judaic roots. 

This division was largely sparked by the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans.   In its aftermath, Jews practicing Judaism (mostly associated with the Pharisaical Judaism of Jesus’s time) were struggling to keep their religion alive and pure.  

As a result, Jewish Christians found themselves being excluded from synagogues and were faced with an identity crisis.  If they were no longer accepted by their Jewish brethren as practicing Jews who were they?   More importantly, questions started arise about Jesus, if he was truly the Messiah? Why didn’t he save Jerusalem and the Temple?   This is a theme that is addressed in the Synoptic Gospels as well, most of which were written after the destruction of the Temple.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is depicted as passing through Samaria, traversing a divided landscape on his way back to Galilee after having been in Judea.  It is here that he and his disciple are taking a break to find food and water.  Jesus approaches a woman at a public well. 

To drive the message John is trying to convey home, the writer has Jesus talking to a Samaritan, and not just any Samaritan but to a Samaritan woman who we are led to believe in a full reading of this story was leading a less than a stellar life.  Middle Eastern men rarely took time to talk to women in public; much less, a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman in a public place like a community well. 

Jesus is depicted demanding this woman to give”him a drink, but the woman diminishes the demand to a request, “How is that you, a Jew asks a drink of me, a woman of Samaria.”  The tone of the story suddenly changes and Jesus responds by saying if she knew “the gift”(the grace) that the Incarnate Word of God was standing in front of her, she would be the one asking for water, and he would give her a drink of living water.

Notice the woman’s response to Jesus softens, as she reminds Jesus that the well they are conversing as was dug by “our” (common) ancestor,” Jacob - a reference to Jewish Christians and Judaic Jews also share the same heritage.  Her description of the well is that its waters run deep and accessible only if one has the right tools, which can be understood as a metaphor for right religious practices in her understanding; a point of contention between Jews and Samaritans and a point of contention between Jews practicing Judaism and Jews who are Christian. 

Jesus doesn’t deny the claim to common ancestry nor does he take issue with her religious practice.  Instead, he makes the point that the living water he gives is a spring that gushes up inside of the person and will ensure the person eternal life. The apostle Paul (and early Christians) would describe this well-spring as faith.

The woman responds that she wants this living water so that she is not tied down by having to come back to the same old well; in other words, no longer feeling obligated to practice the same old religious habits in order to sustain her spiritual vitality, a point the early Christian community’s would have pick up on as well.

What an early Jewish-Christian community would have likely heard in this story is that, like the Samaritan woman, they found themselves on the outer fringe of a common religion.  They felt relegated to a religious no man’s land, like her, by the very community they were considered themselves part of.  They longed to drink from the well of their Jewish identity; their synagogues.  So Jesus comes to them, as presented in this story, to inform them that they have what they need to stay spiritually hydrated and vital; the faith that was instilled in them at their baptism. 

They possess the living water that Jesus offers.

 

A Reflection

 

Thirst is a such a powerful feeling, a feeling that drives us to seek life-giving water in whatever form it comes in.  Physically, we know that we cannot live without water for very long.

But what about spiritual thirst?

Spiritual thirst often flies under the radar of most people because when things are going well in the world, we might not feel the thirst or the hunger that brings us to the well of God’s grace in Christ. Yet, without the life-giving water found in faith, we face spiritual starvation, which can be just as deadly as physical starvation.  As Christians, spiritual thirst brings us to the well of faith that is symbolized by the baptismal fount.

The Gospel of John’s telling of this story serves as a parable about Jesus.  It is a story that depicts Jesus’s righteous ambivalence with regard to who his followers are; where they come from or what their personal history is.  This is signified in this story by Jesus bringing his thirst for redemption of the world to a Samaritan woman, who will become a bearer of his truth and will pour it out on her part of the world.

At this time of social separation imposed on us by the Coronavirus, we have a heightened awareness of our extreme vulnerability demonstrated by a microscopic virus which has the power to bring our world to a halt. In some paradoxical way, however, this need to socially isolate is bringing us together in common cause and purpose.

That this critical situation is taking place during this season of Lent; making it a necessity to put on hold gathering for worship services can serve as a spiritual fast in order to reflect on our spiritual needs and experience a deeper spiritual thirst for the living water found in Christ Jesus, just as this Samaritan woman did.

May God grant us such a spiritual thirst that we may be ever aware of that spring of living water within each of us.  AMEN

Hymn # 686

Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace!

Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! Oh, fix me on it, mount of God’s unchanging love.

Robert Robinson (1735-1790).

 

Prayer for a world facing a Coronavirus outbreak

Adapted from a prayer by Kerry Weber

 

Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” Bring us your healing love.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Heal us from our pride, which makes us believe that we are invulnerable to a disease that knows no borders.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Jesus Christ, comfort us in our uncertainty and sorrow. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. 

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

We commend to your loving care those who have died. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Comfort the families of those who are sick or have died. Defend them from illness and despair and give them peace.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Give the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal wisdom and insight and defend them as they put their own lives and health at risk.

  Lord hear our prayer.

 

Guide the leaders of all nations to put politics aside and work solely for the well-being of those they are meant to serve.

  Jesus Christ heal us and make us whole.

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

 

Pray for those in our parish family who are sick and infirm; for Phyllis and Bernard Kubal, Toots Marchand, and Pat and Bev Ann Christensen and those you hold in your hearts.

Pray for those celebrating birthdays:  Max Hawk and Ernest Haberman (March 19). 

 

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 

Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

 

Give us today our daily bread.

 

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. 

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. 

Amen

MAY THE LORD BLESS US AND KEEP US.  

MAY THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US AND BE GRACIOUS UNTO US. 

MAY THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE UPON US AND GIVE US PEACE.

AMEN