Sermon for Sunday 19 March 2017 – Third Sunday in Lent
The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’….
….[Jesus said to her] the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
John 4.19-20, 23-26
God give you peace my brothers and sisters.
Over the last few months, Sunday mornings in our congregation have, depending on events surrounding 30 men and an oval ball on the previous day, seen much comment about the choice of hymns. It has been a wonderful Six Nations Rugby Tournament and singing favourites like, ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’ (Wales) ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate (Ireland), and ‘Make Me a Channel of your Peace’ (Italy), have evoked much emotion. Questions as to whether someone has written hymns to the tunes of ‘Flower of Scotland’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ must be asked, and a demand that ‘Jerusalem’ (England) is sung in church today may sadly, be denied. Perhaps, our organist will use it for the voluntary at the end of the service? At least the England Women’s rugby team managed to win the Grand Slam.
This leads to our gospel and a woman caught in an awkward situation about her own personal circumstances. Feeling that the person she is talking to knows more about her than she is comfortable with the Woman at the Well tries to sidestep Jesus’ questions about her life with another question. Her words, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet’, are the perfect opportunity for her to change the topic to one about ancient history instead of her present reality. So she tries to ‘sell’ the Son of God a dummy-pass and fortunately for her, she fails.
Jesus sees through her strategy and, keeping His eye on the ball, offers her the gift of salvation his free gift to her if she would only stop and allow herself to be embraced by his great and generous love for her. She who has sought love so many times – the story does not tell us why her life was like it was – finally finds herself held in a loving embrace that will not let her go.
The things about which she is frightened, Jewish people, commitment, community, perhaps even men, seem to fade away in the face of the One who names himself Messiah. All of her arguments about the past vanish and she runs to tell others of this Messiah who told her everything she had ever done. In so doing, she herself becomes an apostle and they too, no longer sidestep salvation and come to believe for themselves. If only Jesus played rugby for England!
This leads me to think of how easy it is to avoid God’s call on our lives. Churches in general, and the Church of England in particular, are past masters at ignoring the demands of the Gospel. Like the Samaritan woman it seems we would rather spend time arguing as to where and how God should be worshipped rather than getting on with surrendering our lives to this love that will not let us go. Each time we do this, we think God has fallen for our ‘dummy pass’ and, perversely, try to sidestep salvation.
Let me list some of the ways in which we take our ‘eye off the ball’ and end up exhausted, disheartened, and diminishing in numbers, instead of overflowing with the joy that compels us to tell our neighbours of this One who knows and loves each of us perfectly.
We sidestep salvation by relying on the past. Not just in the oft-used mantra of ‘We’ve always done it that way’ but also presuming that because we have a past of some significance we are entitled to a future or our own choosing rather than one of obedience to the call of God. In our own parish we have for too long relied on the faithfulness of our forebears. In love for future worshipeers they left us a large legacy and so we have been able to pay our way out of our Reserves instead of giving of our own goods for the work of God. Perversely, I am personally thankful for that. Were it not for the use of Reserves there would now be no Vicar of Felixstowe and I would not be standing here answering a call to serve you today. Like the Rich Fool of the Gospel story, we have been in the business of tearing down our barns to build bigger edifices and are in danger of being empty-handed in front of God’s great generosity.
We sidestep salvation by looking at others instead of examining ourselves. In an attempt to avoid the guilt that calls us to repentance, we proclaim others to be worse than us; using their sinfulness as an excuse for not changing our own ways. Questioning how others respond to the call of God does not excuse us of the responsibility to “‘fess up” in front of the Lord God Almighty ourselves. Like Peter at the lakeside looking back at the apostle John, we need to learn to not be over-concerned about God’s call on the lives of others but hear Jesus say ‘But you, you must follow me!’ (John 21)
Finally, we sidestep salvation by playing for extra time. Many, many times I argued with myself and God before I finally gave in and gave everything. Do not you, like me, hear echoes of the Scriptures in your own arguments with God? ‘Lord, I will follow you wherever you go but first let me go and…..’ It is a hard continuing battle. You see, I do so like having things my own way and I enjoy pretending that I am in charge of my own tiny little life. This battle with myself, if I am ever to be at peace, is one that I must aim to lose. I have to give this Love that is ‘so amazing, so divine, my soul, my life, my all’ or else I am lost.
I am tired of the excuses I make. They do not help the parish prosper, the gospel grow, and to be honest, they wear me out, empty the cross of its power, and rob me of any prospect of joy! I choose to no longer sidestep salvation and aim afresh to yield myself to God’s loving embrace.
Come and join me….
© Andrew Dotchin 2017 – St John the Baptist Felixstowe.