Sunday Stretch: Vol. 25
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Oh, my goodness. I’ve been reading and meditating and praying over this week’s texts, and I’m reminded of past seasons of preaching during Lent. This can be an admittedly overwhelming season in the Church, with extra services and preparations to be made, and it can be challenging to engage with the purpose of Lent itself, which is to slow down, connect with the Holy Spirit, and open time in your life for spiritual growth.
Then, the Lectionary does this to us. And maybe it’s because they imagine that more people are (likely) attending church during this season than other times of the year, but each week of the Lectionary, especially in this Year A (it runs on a 3-year cycle) - they hit us with these lengthy and incredibly important texts week after week, one after another.
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Quick reminder: the Lectionary is the collection of texts for Sunday worship, with a first reading usually taken from the Hebrew Bible, a psalm, a second reading usually taken from the New Testament letters, and a Gospel reading. The Lectionary is used in many mainline congregations and Catholic Churches around the world. It runs in 3-year cycles and church seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time, with church holidays like Pentecost, Christmas, Transfiguration, Holy Trinity, Reformation Sunday, etc., mixed in. I’ve chosen to use the discipline of lectionary readings in this newsletter to help provide a framework of readings, and also to help further unpack readings that may be familiar to folks with a long history of church attendance, or not!
It always kind of feels like too much at once, like you’re drinking from a Bible fire hose, and you can’t take it all in. I certainly felt that way as I read this week’s readings. It’s too much! Why not break this story of the Woman at the Well in John’s Gospel into multiple weeks, even a series? It’s just way too important for one Sunday.
But, I’ll do my best here - and I’ll remind you - and myself, that one of the best ways to grow spiritually is just to read the Bible and then be silent and dwell in it a moment. It’s in that quiet that God speaks to us, interceding with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).
Ex. 17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
I keep returning to the phrase at the beginning of this text: “The Wilderness of Sin.” Have you been there? I feel that I have. And even though sin is often conceived as personal failure and requisite shame, the Bible defines sin much more broadly. It’s conceived as a reality that exists outside ourselves, rampant in structural realities and systems. Think here of how racism and sexism proliferate in systems (such as redlining or corporate discrimination) despite the good intentions of individuals who do not consider themselves racist or sexist. This is the Wilderness of Sin. We all live within it. In this story, the Wilderness of Sin is a place where the people assume that God has abandoned them. But when Moses cries out to God, God does the very opposite. God provides what the people need. It was the Wilderness of Sin that had lied to them about who God is.
Questions to Ponder
Why were the people so quick to turn on Moses, do you think?
How do you think Moses felt when he prepared to strike the rock?
Have you ever thought about sin as encompassing this sense of isolation and abandonment from God? How might this sin be resolved, outside of a traditional model of confession or penance?
Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 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. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
Rom. 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
I’m going to do something different with this passage today, because it’s one of my favorites in all of Scripture, and I think it has a meaning that is best heard and digested, rather than exegeted or analyzed. I’m going to ask you to go back and read this passage aloud 3x. Then, sit in silence for at least a few minutes. What do you hear God saying to you in this text?
Hope does not disappoint us. If you hear nothing else this morning, hear the promise of those words. What is your hope today? Rest assured that God treasures you and your hope, and you will not be disappointed.
John 4:5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
John 4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 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.) 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 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.”
John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
John 4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
John 4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
John 4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Again! Do you see what I’m saying? I could preach honestly 100s of sermons on these three texts, and still there would not be enough worship time in the world to cover what God is saying in these passages. I guess that’s a good thing, because people have been preaching for thousands of years, and in some sense then, every sermon relies on the other. Still though - please don’t use those awful prewritten sermons available online! They’re so bad.
I digress. I will hopefully write at-length about this story soon, because it is so important. What I will say for now is that I want you to invite yourself to see the Samaritan woman in this story as inspiring. Earlier theologians get caught up in her potential sex life or marital indiscretions (hmm, wonder why this focus among predominately male western theologians?) But that’s so not what Jesus wants us to know about the woman in this story. Read the ending! She is a prophet. She’s a disciple. Many believed because of her testimony. She opened the door to Jesus in Samaria, and he came and stayed there two days. This is a remarkable story about the resiliency and diversity of the preaching of the Gospel. Carried by a woman. Attention Complementarians, let all who have ears hear!
Jesus met Nicodemus, the Pharisee and respected religious teacher, in the middle of the cover of night. He meets the Samaritan woman at noon, in the middle of the day. What do you make of this?
The Samaritan woman challenges Jesus with her questions. Why do you think she was bold enough to ask these questions of Jesus?
Many theologians have suggested that the Samaritan woman was a shameful person who represented sexual sin. But it seems that her fellow community members listened to her and followed what she said. What do you think this says about her position in her community?
I feel tired and also inspired after reading the bold words of this week’s texts. The Wilderness of Sin in my life can feel overwhelming at times. But you offer living water, and reassurance that I do not hope in vain. Help me to hear your promise of love, freedom, hope, and light in the darkness anew this Sunday of Lent.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
This was a special preview edition of the Sunday Stretch for free subscribers. These Bible passages are so critical, that I wanted to open it up for a wider audience. If you enjoyed this devotional, upgrade to a paid subscription to support receiving the Sunday Stretch each Sunday at 6 a.m. CT.
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A Community that prays for one another is transformed by the power of the Spirit. We’ve been praying for and with each other now for about five months! For the new year, and about once a quarter, I will re-start this space for prayer requests and praises. Please email with your own requests and I will share here with your permission!
We continue to pray for a cessation of violence and war in Ukraine, and for refugees and migrants around the world who are without a safe place to call home.
We pray for all people experiencing extreme weather, and those without safe shelter or a warm/cool place to sleep at night. For all those in need of food. For all those looking for work.
We pray for the people of Holy Land, for Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims - that all will be treated with justice and be given equal rights before the government, to live, work, and practice their faith. We pray for an end to violence and protection of the vulnerable, especially children and the elderly.
We pray for the people of Syria and Turkey, where a devastating earthquake took the lives of tens of thousands last month.
We pray for all churches, church leaders, and volunteers as they lead congregations in the season of Lent. Help many to receive the gift of repentance and forgiveness that’s made evident in these 40 days, and open our lives to this season of spiritual practice, contemplation, and renewal.
As we await the sunshine of spring, help us to keep the faith and await your grace,
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