- The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF
230312 Lent 3 Year A Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42
These last few weeks we have travelled the journey of Lent and we may well be in the wilderness quarrelling with God or testing our faith as the children of Israel were.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we listen again to the stories of the forty years of wandering in the desert in the light of what we know of the geography and topography of the land we wonder how could they wander for so long? Could the answer be in Meribah and Massah? Meribah means quarrelling. Massah means testing. The readings today cause us to ponder: what do we do when life goes pear-shape? Do we complain or pray? Some problems can be solved by careful thought or by rearranging our priorities. Some can be solved by discussion and good counsel. Some problems can be solved only by prayer. Complaining only raises our level of stress. Prayer quiets our thoughts and emotions and prepares us to listen.
The psalmist warns us about complaining and against hardening our hearts as the children of Israel did in the desert. They were so convinced that God couldn’t deliver them that they lost their faith in him. When someone’s heart becomes hardened that person is so stubbornly set in their ways that he or she cannot turn to God. This does not happen all at one, it is the result of a series of choices to disregard God’s will.
Ash Wednesday is now well behind us and although the imposition of ashes reminded us of the failures of our lives, it encouraged us to be conscious of our daily spirituality and God’s everlasting love. But it is possible that our repentance and resolves for Lent have been forgotten or worn thin.
As part of a Lenten retreat some years ago, the group I was with were wandering in a vineyard and before we wandered far, we were invited to pick up a small stone, take off a shoe, put the stone in our shoe and our shoe with the stone in it back on our foot. As we walked, the stone was a constant irritation. Has the business of examining our lives and our capacity to trust God in the bad times as well as the good, become like the niggly stone in our shoe, as we walk the Lenten journey? We might ask ourselves, “Where would our trust in God be, if all our family and all that we knew was swept away or destroyed in the aftermath of flood or an earthquake? Would we be hardening our hearts, and testing God because of stubborn doubts? Is God reliable we could ask? Can we trust God to provide for our needs in times when we have no resources for living? Quite often the deep questions of our faith and trust in God are urgently and powerfully connected to questions about material realities – the thigs we need for life – especially when basic necessities fail us for one reason or another. This is when we can remember the salvation stories of the history of the people of God, and listen for the answers. This is the point when we decide to quarrel and test, or listen and trust.
In Chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – you know it, it ends with “And these three and the greatest of these is love” Paul states clearly that faith, hope and love are at the heart of the Christian life. Our relationship with God begins with faith, which helps us realize that we are delivered from our past by Christ’s death and resurrection. Hope grows as we learn all that God has in mind for us. It gives us the promise of the future. God’s love fills our lives and gives us the ability to trust and not complain. God’s love gives us the ability to reach out to others. This ability to reach out to others provides us with the means of fulfilling Christ’s great commission “to go and make disciples”. In other words be along side another person with empathy and lovingly invite them to join Christ’s family.
Paul, in the part of his letter to the Romans read this morning is telling us in essence, that in the future we will become…by grace more than we are.. until then we must overcome. This means we will experience difficulties that help us to grow spiritually. We can rejoice in suffering, the niggly stone in our shoe, not because we like pain or deny its tragedy, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties to build our character. The problems that we run into will develop our perseverance- which in turn will strengthen our character, deepen our trust in God, and give us greater confidence about the future.
We can find our patience tested in some way, every day. When this happens, can we thank God for those opportunities to grow, and deal with them in his strength?
A stone in our shoe or remembering to spend more time in prayer or fasting during Lent, is a reminder that many spiritual functions parallel physical functions. As our bodies need relief, or hunger and thirst, so do our souls which need spiritual food and water.
What did Jesus mean by “living water” when he was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well? The conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well is an excellent illustration that only God, therefore, only Jesus, his Son, provides the stuff of life. The God who speaks to this woman of Samaria in the heat of the day, is the God who turned the wild, barren desert into living land for our dusty ancestors’ journey, with manna from heaven to eat and water from the rocks to drink. In saying he would bring living water that could forever quench a person’s thirst for God, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.
Only the Messiah could give this gift that satisfies the soul’s desire. Notice the subtle shift in the conversation about the God who is the source of all gifts, water, and life itself. In the conversation, water is not simply something to drink, it is a sign that the gift of God is the quality of life on earth, -- life with the Spirit of God within it. “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”.
The woman thought that her life could be easier if she physically did not have to carry water. But this was not what Jesus was about. Christ did not come to take away challenges, but to change us and empower us to deal with life’s issues from God’s perspective. Just as the Samaritan woman did not immediately understand what Jesus was talking about, or we do not become accustomed to a stone in our shoe, it takes time to accept something that changes the very foundations of our lives. Jesus allowed the woman time to ask questions and to put the pieces together for herself.
She later invited her whole village to come to Jesus. As we invite and share the gospel with others, we need to be patient, because there will not always be immediate results. Just as we struggle with our faith, others need to do the same, so we need to allow time for them to weigh up what God is saying so that they can grow in faith. In our gathering and sharing with others can we remember that Hope grows as we learn all that God has in mind for us? It gives us the promise of the future in eternal life. God’s love fills our lives and gives us the ability to trust, not to quarrel and test. We would all love to see the Cathedral filled with people. Enough of us that there would be waiting lists to be on a roster to read, serve, prepare the Cathedral for worship, or wash the sacred linen.
Do you want to be equipped to make disciples? This is all you need. God’s love and grace, will enable you, refreshed with the water of his Holy Spirit, to reach out with empathy and invite others. Amen.
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF