Archive for March, 2011

Sermon for 27 March

From time to time I find myself in what I call conversational monologues. They usually happen when one of the people in a conversation unconsciously miss the point of the other completely. It is not that you are aware that you don’t understand, you think that you do, but it is simply that you are on a different level of understanding. People use words and language differently sometimes and it takes often takes a while before the light dawns; that “Oh that’s what you mean” moment.

 

For a long time in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, that was what was going on. The woman could not see beyond what she could touch, see or hear, whilst everything that Jesus said was from a deeper spiritual sense.

 

It is surprising that Jesus was talking to the woman at all, firstly she was a Samaritan and there was a deep historical bitterness between Jews and Samaritans. Furthermore, the barriers of race and creed were complicated by gender divisions in Jesus’ time. The rabbis taught that a man should not talk to a woman in the street. Some even refused to acknowledge their wives in public. What is more, this woman has come to the well in the hottest part of the day, which can only be to avoid others, implying that she is immoral as well.

 

Yet despite all the issues of race, creed, class, sex, profession and status that divided people, (and still do,) Jesus asked the woman for a drink. Her sharp response showed her astonishment, she emphasises the gulf between them – “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus reached across the gulf between God and the world, but also the human barriers that we create.

 

At this stage, the woman thinks that Jesus is simply a Jewish man who ought to know better than to talk to her, or can only be doing so for some ulterior motive. Jesus’ response that if she knew who she was speaking with, he would have given her “living water”. Unsurprisingly this went straight over her head, but clearly she was intrigued by this strange man and gave him some respect in calling him “Sir”. However, surely he cannot be greater than Jacob, who does he think he is! How does he think that he is going to get to the source of this living water?

 

The theme of water in this story reflects the critical importance of water, going back to the Old Testament scriptures as in Psalm 42 where the psalmist’s soul is as thirsty for God as a deer for flowing streams. It also projects forward to Jesus’ promise of never thirsting in verse 14. Jesus turns water into abundant wine at the wedding at Cana. If people drink the water that he is offering, they will never be thirsty again; the still water of the well will be replaced by a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life”. The woman is still going along with Jesus, intrigued but still thinking in the literal sense.

 

I don’t find that in the least bit surprising. Although Jesus was teasing her with clues as to his identity, he didn’t even come close to what her idea of a Messiah must have been. This stranger didn’t seem to pose her a threat, he was certainly a bit odd but harmless enough to play along with this strange game of question and answer. How would we react if somebody that we had never seen or heard of started making claims about this dubious stuff “living water” down at the mill pond? You might think that he was a poet from his lyrical description of water, or you might wonder how safe you were; but you don’t expect the Messiah to turn up on his own with no army and simply ask for a drink. Moreover, if you don’t expect something to happen then you don’t see it when it does.

 

When Jesus suggested that the woman brought her husband to the well, she admitted that she did not have one. Jesus then surprised and shocked her by revealing that he knows about her dubious marital background. Jews were only permitted three marriages at the most but she had had five husbands in the past and was living with another man. Little wonder that she has been slinking about the well at the quietest, but hottest, time of the day.

 

At this point, the woman began to understand that this man was different, and addressed him in the words “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”. Jesus then talked more directly to her, explaining that the time was coming soon when God’s heavenly future was going to break into the earthly world. The woman apparently knew that the Messiah was coming, and said so to Jesus, at which point he revealed who he was in the words “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” I can only imagine the stunning impact of this to the woman.

 

The disciples returned from their shopping expedition, only to be amazed and shocked to find Jesus, on his own, talking with a Samarian woman, and a sinner to boot! Confronted by the confounded disciples and astonished by Jesus’ words to her, the woman went back to the city to tell other people about this man, daring to believe, but doubting all the same, that Jesus was actually the Messiah.

 

Once the disciples recovered their wits they urged Jesus to eat, but when Jesus said to them that “I have food to eat that you do not know about”, they simply responded to his words in a literal way. They understood no more than the woman at had done, indeed it could well be said that she actually had a better grasp of things than the disciples at that precise moment. What was more she had gone into the city to talk about Jesus with other people, and when they returned with her they asked Jesus to stay with them for two days.

 

As a result of his stay, many more people came to believe, not because they had been told by the woman, but because they heard for themselves.

 

The earthly barriers of sex, class, status, profession and creed were smashed aside when the people of the city listened to the woman, and then followed her.

 

Our faith is not a corporate faith that is imposed on us by a regime or other people. We have freedom to accept the gracious invitation from God, or not. We are not driven into faith. Our faith is a personal faith; we each find our own way, in our own time, with our own understanding; just as the woman at the well found her way. We choose to follow when and how it is right for us.

 

When we come to believe, like the woman, we reach out to others in joy, happiness and love, bridging the barriers that still exist in our society.

 

We are human, and perhaps it is in our nature to think literally, to trust only what we can touch, or see in our material world. Let us find the courage to set aside the literal sometimes, if not all the time, and open our hearts and minds to the infinite possibilities offered to us when we accept God’s invitation.

 

AMEN

Wateringbury Church Choir

The St John the Baptist Choir

The choir has gone from strength to strength in recent years and you don’t have to read music to be a member: just a competent voice and be open to enjoy singing from the traditional Ancient and Modern to Mission Praise and choruses.

Practices are at 7.30pm on Thursday evening and services at 10am Sunday.

All our members find their singing a time of enjoyment and inspiration whether at practice or services. We are always on the lookout for new recruits especially to boost our men’s section.

If you’d like to join us contact either Barry Fisher (01622 813206) or Rosemary Skinner (01622 812278).

Sermon for 13th March

Happy Lent!
 
No such thing. Of course not. Lent is a solemn season, full of serious stuff. We run special educational courses during Lent. Practicing Christians are supposed to be more intentionally focused on one’s prayer life during Lent. We “give up” things for Lent – chocolates, meat, sweets, smoking, bad TV shows.
 
Forty days is long enough to learn something new, miss something old, and change some habits. Yet Lent should not be colored as an Ash Wednesday grey grind. What if instead of thinking about “getting through” Lent we look at these next forty days as a journey towards a miraculous destination – Easter Sunday. Doesn’t everybody “like” to go on a road trip now and then?  What do you “like” about your annual journey to Jerusalem? What makes the Lenten trip to that empty tomb so awesome?

Of course, none of this is easy and we have to cope to begin with by thinking about the things that tempt us.

The local Police Inspector was looking to employ some Special Constables, and one of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest academically, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the Inspector, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The Inspector thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the Inspector asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter?’T’?” “Today & tomorrow.” Replied the applicant. The Inspector was again?surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.?”Now, listen carefully, who killed President Kennedy?” asked the Inspector. The job seeker seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The Inspector was relieved and replied, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his pals who were waiting to hear the results of the interview. He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

In our Gospel reading this morning in Matthew it is Jesus’ first day on the job. Immediately he is confronted with major temptations. So how do the Temptations of Jesus actually help us in our spiritual journey. What is it about Lent that becomes an important part of our spirituality?

If we own a car it needs regular servicing. Our computer has to be watched so that it continues to work properly. Even a pacemaker designed to keep our heart going has to be checked. These things are important for transport, work and health. But what about our spiritual health? Just as a car can break down, a computer can go on the blink, or a pace maker lose effectiveness so too our Christian life can find itself in the wilderness, not knowing which way to turn, having lost sight of God and of the vision that once was ours. Many people experience loneliness, despair and a loss of faith. The temptation comes to make life easy, to reject our calling, to use our abilities in the wrong way. That is like being in the wilderness – when we need our MOT, our servicing, our check-up. Every year Lent arrives to give us this opportunity.

When we were confirmed, ordained, admitted to communion, converted or baptised as an adult, we knew that God was close. We may have experienced a definite sense of being called. It may have happened a long time ago and perhaps we have lost some of the vision that was evident then. Our prayers may have become less of a conversation with God. Receiving Holy Communion may have become a ritual rather than an inspirational and wonderful experience. Our reading of the Bible may have lapsed. Our standards of honesty, purity, generosity and kindness may have diminished. Baptism has not inoculated us against these things – it didn’t remove temptation for Jesus either.

Jesus’ temptations were different – his ministry would be made much easier if he used his power in the wrong way. By looking to his own comfort, or putting on a series of tricks to attract attention. Or by compelling people to follow him. The answer to these temptations were to be found in scripture.

This season of Lent gives us a time when we try and make some extra effort in our Christian life. I was so pleased to see so many of you at this years Ash Wednesday services. Without something like As Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent we might find ourselves casually walking in to this special season and not really capturing it’s importance to us and our faith. We may do rather ordinary things like deciding to give up smoking or alcohol. To eat no sweets or have no sugar in our tea. These may make us more healthy, but don’t do a lot for our spiritual growth. Perhaps it is more important to give rather than give up. In other words to give up giving up. It’s how you feel called, where you are in your life. Perhaps it is more important to do what John the Baptist suggests. To examine our lifestyles today and determine to improve it. To look at Jesus’ response to his temptations and know our Bibles better. I am going to give some time to spend with God, as Pam suggested in her Ash Wednesday Homily. Just once a week I am going somewhere to sit in the peace of God’s presence.

Jesus was prepared to endure the worst possible situations in order to show us how to cope in those which strike us. Hunger, loneliness, desperation, loss, frustration, stress were all there in that place. Jesus did not need to be “purified” in the wilderness before his mission, but rather to experience a “crash course” in the horrors which can blight human existence. Coming to be one with us meant learning at first hand the very worst that life can throw up at unsuspecting, and sometimes innocent, people. Then, just like us, he faced the temptations to be other than godly in his confrontation with the evil forces which attack even the best of people.

Who or what do you blame for the presence of temptation in your life? Do you blame the presence of evil in the world for drawing you into continual sin – or have you learnt that on the cross Jesus overcame the power of that evil? Or do you tell yourself that no one’s perfect and we’re all simply sinners anyway – as if Christ’s death was meaningless and nothing can or should change? Or do you recognise that many of our temptations are chosen, by us or for us, and that we can work with the help of the Spirit to follow the example of Jesus and resist temptation?
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Temptations will always exist in our human concern for our physical survival, our mental and emotional well-being and our self awareness, though whether they lead to sin is largely dependent on choice, our own or that of those around us. We are all made in God’s image and equal in God’s eyes, all living as Christ’s hands and feet in this world, and all of us reflecting God’s glory by the Spirit. We know who we are, to whom we belong and what our purpose is in our life together. Let’s pray “lead us not into temptation”, and mean it!

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