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Sunday sermon 23 August – Midday encounter: Jesus and the woman at the well

Reading: John 4:5-42

Sermon

We were at Rosedale Village on Wednesday for a communion service. Unfortunately they had expected us the week before. Undaunted, one of the ladies who usually comes along went off to round up the troops. And suddenly there was a bigger crowd than usual with a whole lot of new faces. You never know what can happen.

And we had a look at the first part of John 4. About this Samaritan woman.

We know the story of the Good Samaritan – I think. This is a double sided coin – not just a Samaritan talking to Jesus but a woman too, and one with an interesting reputation. I was saying to the Rosedale congregation that our modern Auckland is also very multi-cultured – and Jesus has an interest in the wide range and diversity of people who live here – wanting to draw them into a new family.

His disciples of course were a bit stuck in their prejudices. They had grown up as people of God – Jewish men mainly – who took for granted that God had included them in His plan. There were times that their prejudices were quite obvious – such as wanting to ask God to send fire from heaven on a Samaritan Village where they were not welcomed. (Luke 9:54  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”)

Jesus was happy to have them out of the way on this occasion. They has gone to town to buy food – good idea to keep some people busy so they don’t mess up the actual mission here.

The irony is enormous. You read this Gospel and you realise that in the previous chapter one of those chosen Jewish leaders – Nicodemus – is the man who comes to Jesus at night. If you missed last week’s discussion about him – read it on the bbpsermons.wordpress.com page – just look for 16 August three posts ago as the sequence is all muddled.

The contrast is huge. This is in the middle of the day – “encounter at high noon” so to speak. The 6th hour is midday. And it’s not the sensible time to walk to a well to get water. She does though – probably to avoid people – and Jesus starts this conversation. Try to read it as a conversation. We pick it up at verse 6:

Narrative:

Joh 4:6  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.  Joh 4:7  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” Joh 4:8  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) Joh 4:9  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Dialogue:

Jesus: Joh 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 Woman: Joh 4:11  “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Joh 4:12  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

(Jesus – thinking: Yes!)

 Jesus: Joh 4:13  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,

Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Woman: Joh 4:15  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus:    Joh 4:16  He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Woman: Joh 4:17  “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus: Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.

Joh 4:18  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Lady: Joh 4:19  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Joh 4:20  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus: (loudly and emphatically) Joh 4:21  Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Joh 4:22  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Joh 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Joh 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 

Probable dramatic pause… 

Woman: Joh 4:25  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Jesus: (loudly and emphatically) Joh 4:26  Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Our shoppers (disciples) return from the Samaritan shop and the narrative takes almost a comic tone:

Joh 4:27  Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”   (silent looks/staring?)

She is of course somewhere else – off she goes without her bucket: Joh 4:28  Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

 Here’s the thing. I was listening on Wednesday to the talk at the Alpha course – and wondering whether people who first hear this story about faith and prayer (for example – as they were the topics this week) – whether they actually have any idea what it’s all about.

Did you – when you first heard it all? (Remember how Timothy heard about the gospel from his grandmother – Paul needed a Damascus Road conversion).

I mean some of you sound so certain about everything – even I feel a bit guilty about my doubts.

It takes time for you to figure it out. It’s a journey! Keep working on it!

Nicodemus was smart and shut out the possibility of a new birth. The dialogue which involves Nicodemus is about 8 verses long. He’s got a name, a pedigree, a faith already – but his eyes seem wide shut.

This woman’s dialogue – she is not named, she is socially shamed, she is out of sync with society at high noon – she’s been through a string of failed relationships – but the conversation is about 24 verses of narrative.

And it doesn’t end with certainty – it ends with a question that has possibilities:

Joh 4:28  Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?

When Jesus is finished the dialogue with his shoppers about the food that really matters (they are really quite stupid a times aren’t they – eh? What’s he say? What’s he talking about? – verse 31 to 34 is another Fawlty Towers scene – look at verse 33 where they are saying side–stage: could someone have brought him food? Dominos Pizza delivered hey?)

Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

The real even happens at the end – she opens the door for two days of ministry to these heretics the Samaritans – half castes who had their own mountain and religious stuff that made the Jews as mad as hell/ mad as hatters!

Joh 4:39  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” Joh 4:40  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. Joh 4:41  And because of his words many more became believers. Joh 4:42  They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

I love it!

The thing is – it’s the living water that is the key to all of this. Tom Wright in his commentary tells this story:

A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he’d become a Christian. Alarmed, she thought he’d joined some kind of cult. ‘They’ve brainwashed you!’ she said. He was ready with the right answer. ‘If you’d seen what was in my brain,’ he replied, ‘you’d realize it needed washing!’ Of course, he hadn’t been brainwashed. In fact, again and again– and this was certainly the case with my friend– when people bring their lives, their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to come clear. If anything, it’s our surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that the present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it seems so much easier to go with the flow.

That’s what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time. Often, when this begins to happen, the reaction is just like it was with the woman of Samaria. Intrigued by Jesus’ offer of ‘living water’, she asks to have some– not realizing that if you want to take Jesus up on his offer of running, pure water, bubbling up inside you, you will have to get rid of the stale, mouldy, stagnant water you’ve been living off all this time. In her case it was her married life– or rather, her unmarried life.

Jesus saw straight to the heart of what was going on. (Remember how he did the same to Nathanael (1.47– 49), with a similar result?) The woman has had a life composed of one emotional upheaval after another, with enough husbands coming and going to keep all the gossips in the village chattering for weeks. We assume that her various marriages ended in divorce, whether legal or informal, and not with the death of the men in question. We don’t know whether she was equally sinned against as sinning. We don’t know what emotional traumas in her background may have made it harder for her to form lasting emotional bonds, though it seems as though the traumas she was at least partly responsible for will have made it harder and harder for her each time.

It’s a great observation. And of course when Jesus hones in on our moral issues, like the woman, we start theological debates of some sort. I’ve had this at many funerals for example – at the “tea” (usually with something stronger) when people have come to tell me about when they used to go to church – and for some reason they stopped. Wright gives some classical examples about peoples’ avoidance as he continues to talk about this woman at the well:

But she knew her life was in a mess, and she knew that Jesus knew. Her reaction to this is a classic example of what every pastor and evangelist knows only too well. Put your finger on the sore spot, and people will at once start talking about something else. And the best subject for distracting attention from morality is, of course, religion. I can hear the voices, again and again. ‘Well, we used to go to the church in town, but then my aunt said we should go with her, and then I didn’t like the minister’s wife, and now we’ve stopped going altogether.’ ‘Of course, my mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant, so I grew up not really knowing who I was.’ ‘Well, I was brought up a Methodist, but then my sister and I used to go to the Baptist youth club, and then when we moved away I never really knew anyone.’

And here, two thousand years ago, the same tone of voice. ‘I was brought up to think that this mountain, here in Samaria, was God’s holy mountain. But you Jews think yours is the right one.’ Implication: we can’t both be right, maybe nobody knows, maybe nothing is that certain, and maybe (the hidden punchline of the argument) the morality we were taught is equally uncertain.

This is a powerful passage. It’s a powerful Gospel account. Remember the quote from Tom Wright last week about John’s Gospel:

 Countless people down the centuries have found that, through reading this gospel, the figure of Jesus becomes real for them, full of warmth and light and promise. It is, in fact, one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning, but to those who come to it with humility and hope. (So here it is: John for everyone!) Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) . SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amen!

15 March 2015 – Morning service at Rosedale Village – failure and success

Rosedale Village – Easter Message

The story is told of a learner policeman down in Wellington at the police college who was writing his final exam before graduation.

The last question in the paper described a horrific incident after a major fire caused by a road accident. A tanker had crashed into a house, and the whole thing had exploded. A crowd had gathered, and injured people were lying all over the place. While that was happening, some looters were smashing windows and burning couches in the street. There were bleeding people all over the place.

The question read – “you are the only policeman on duty at the time. What do you do?”

The man’s answer went like this: “you take off your uniform and mingle with the crowd”.

The story of Easter involves people who failed. They had been Jesus’ friends – and when he was captured, they ran away.

  • One – the leader of the group called Peter – told people three times that he didn’t know Jesus at all. He swore and cursed.
  • One – the man in the group who looked after their money called Judas – handed Jesus over to some soldiers – he got him arrested.
  • One – a young man called John Mark – ran away when the soldiers tried to arrest him – and left his clothes behind. Interesting way to become famous – running off naked.
  • Most of them – Jesus’ friends – disappeared. They “took off their uniforms” and mingled in the crowd. The men disappeared. Only the woman hung around. With the exception of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We spent a lot of time through life learning, studying, training, competing, and achieving things – especially at school. I am sure you’ve seen your children do this over the years. Or your grandchildren now. You may remember your school years too. Certificates, trophies, awards and reports abound, and a lot of effort is put into doing really well. In New Zealand much money and energy is spent on winning games – rugby, cricket and sailing for example.

The truth is that in the real world – not everyone wins. In fact, a lot of people do badly and fail.

It’s not winning or losing a game that matters. Or not getting good marks in a test. Those things are opportunities to try again and to solve problems or improve strategies. All real learning involves risks and making mistakes – correcting them and winning the battle!

The serious failures are failures in relationships. Where people let their friends and colleagues down, or family members. Where we are hurtful to others, or abuse them through anger or disrespect. Where we are destructive, wasteful, and uncaring. Where we abuse our positions of power and crush others or simple ignore their ideas or feelings. Or when leaders become despots, dictators or tyrants.

The hero in the Easter story is Jesus – who is killed by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends. He offers no violence, does not make apologies, or even try to clear his name.

The bad guys are his friends who take off their uniforms and mingle with the crowd. They lie, run away, and save their own skins.

In short – it’s a bit of a mess.

THE MAN ON THE BEACH

There is a lovely moment in the story where Peter – the leader of the group who denied Jesus three times – is trying to avoid everything by going back to his old job. Perhaps like us he was wishing for the good old days! There he is fishing – his whole life is a mess – and even the fish don’t bite. Jesus – alive again after being dead for three days – is standing on the beach. He tells them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. The fish bite like crazy.

They haul them in – and there is Jesus with a barbecue going, cooking fish and toasting bread. These failed depressed men – he feeds them. Fish oil is really good for depression I am told! Maybe it was as simple as that. Giving someone a cup of tea or coffee or something helpful to eat is a good thing in a crisis. He builds them up – strengthens them – models forgiveness – and they become even greater people again.

Over nearly thirty of working with people in crisis – I never lose hope. I’ve seen the worst of them – and lived through some of the worst of it.

Easter reminds me that the worst failures can be turned around. A dead friend is alive again and the world is changed. Men who took off their uniforms and mingled with the crowd – become heroes who go out and give their own lives for what they believe.

There is no darkness that is too dark. No failure too messy. The light will shine again on Easter Sunday and His light can chase your darkness away too.

We all can start again. Thanks be to God for His Word. And for the truth of the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Amen.

 Here is the reading from John 21 for your reflection:

Joh 21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

Joh 21:2  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Joh 21:3  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Joh 21:4  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Joh 21:5  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

Joh 21:6  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Joh 21:7  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Joh 21:8  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Joh 21:10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Joh 21:11  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Joh 21:12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Sunday sermon 24 march – Unlike any other king

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

PALM SUNDAY

What an interesting name – Palm Sunday! Some have suggested PARADE SUNDAY! For good reason – Palms are not even mentioned in the account in Luke. Cloaks are – people lay them on the ground. It’s festive. Crowds shout out!

sermon outline 24 March 1

Today people are not that sure about what it means – hence the  Palm Sundae picture above!

So what’s the most important thing today?

sermon outline 24 March 2

Kids love animals – so donkeys have featured on Palm Sunday services. There are some serious logistical problems about that when you have donkeys in church!

Palms are good – they are mentioned in three accounts! Not in our Luke reading though! Cloaks are also laid down.

Praise is good! Psalm 118 is quoted – a processional Psalm welcoming  the one who comes “in the name of the Lord”.

Stones are referred to. People write whole sermons on the stones

Either way they work up to Easter!

So many options!

So for the sake of the Donkey watch this creative take on Palm Sunday:

Great questions –

  • Why is this day so UNLIKE every other day!
  • Why is Jesus so UNLIKE every other bloke!

Good questions! I loved the donkey’s ability to resist stopping at the burger king!

THE BEST NAME FOR THE EVENT IS THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

The name “Triumphal” entry is deceptive – it underscores the challenge of who wins in this story – of who has the real power.

Crowds cheer – in Luke disciples are praising Jesus.  “Deeds of power” or miracles are the reason given for this celebration! His miracles and healings have impressed people. One has to ask – are people still looking for the wrong things (like the food he provided when he fed the 5000?).

The words “Blessed is he who comes” in Psalm 118 – which welcomed pilgrims – become in Luke’s account here: “Blessed is the King who comes…”. Jesus is more than a pilgrim here. He is a humble King fulfilling the prophecies of one riding in like this, on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). On the other hand Pilate – when he came in to town – would have been on a horse – with soldiers – showing his power as a warning to the masses! Jesus is on a humble donkey’s foal.

One way or other JESUS PLANNED HIS OWN PARADE! He tells them where to go to get the foal. He has no problem with them putting him on it. And the parade begins! The disciples cry “Peace in heaven!” which is fascinating as at his birth the angels sang “peace on earth”! Why is the glory here in the highest heaven? There’s an old song we sing sometimes: “You are the king of glory” which includes the line “glory in the highest heaven – for Jesus the Messiah reigns”.

The focus is on heaven probably because this is not an earthly king or an earthly Kingdom! At an earthly level, from a human political point of view, they kill him! The real power is the power of the Kingdom – seen in the mighty deeds – which were healings and exorcisms mainly, restoring people’s bodies and minds! The real power will be seen on Easter Sunday – when he is raised from death.

So following our English donkey in the Donkey Cam video – he is unlike any other bloke!!  He is unlike any other King!

What kind of king is this? Triumphant? – not really on the day. Certainly not on Good Friday. Definitely victorious on the third day when he is raised.The route he takes to his victory is profoundly challenging. Read Isaiah 53 to get a sense of what he went through as the suffering servant.

He is prince of peace – but his parade is not on a horse and has no soldiers. In fact Luke seems to de-politicise it by not referring to Palms  and not even using the word “Hosanna” – they both had political connotations.

What kind of King do you want? (I’m referring to you today as you read this).  Someone powerful who will vindicate your cause and change your circumstances, like those who wanted him to overthrow the oppressive regime of the Romans?

In the Easter events the efforts of Judas (to force Jesus’ hand?) and the violence of Peter when Jesus is arrested (drawing his sword and attacking someone) speak of the human ways of achieving power.

We get Jesus of Nazareth – someone so different – “Unlike every other bloke” – and we are to become like Him! Strength in weakness and humility are his way of dealing with his enemies.

A King unlike any other!

sermon outline 24 March 7

This King – Jesus of Nazareth – laments over the city.  Read beyond the verses set for today and you will see this.

He does not weep for Himself, even though he knows he faces a certain death. He laments the fact that they miss out again on the opportunity that God gives them to find true peace.

He cleanses the temple! The real issue is not the political power, but the hearts of the people of God who had taken a wrong turn! He stops first at the religious establishment and tries to get them to refocus. Perhaps today he would do the same.

What is God’s word for us today in the light of these events?

There is something about Palm Sunday that warns us about offering Hosannas without counting the cost of the Jesus’ way! It’s easy to deride those same crowds who within a few days would be shouting “crucify”! But would we have been any different? Are we any different?

On that day the Pharisees tried to silence the praise. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is profound:  We read in Luke 19:38-39 ‘…  saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  (v40).

What was happening had consequences for the whole of creation.

Jesus was content to be declared King on that day. We as Christians should still be declaring him King today.

He rides into Jerusalem courageously. We have to be courageous too as we own him as King in our lives.

That is God’s challenge for us today!

sermon outline 24 March 11

The issue is Jesus is King! We have to say it! Declare it! The early Christians did (rather than Caesar is King) and died for their faith!

Say Jesus is King today and they will try to shut you down! To silence you like the Pharisees on that Palm Sunday.  It’s the most challenging generation in which to really follow Jesus, put him first, and SAY blessed is the King!

Here is something to consider today: Where are the most difficult place for US to declare Jesus as King (and live it out?). Here are some of them I have thought of. You can add your own:

  1. Home
  2. Work
  3. University
  4. School
  5. Bridge club? Sports club?

Who will shut us down there? Who will say “you need to really top talking about this Jesus bloke. It’s not PC you know!” or words to that effect.

So as we end, we go back to our first outline.

sermon outline 24 March 13

What is the main thing today? Donkeys? Palms? Praises? Stones? Working up to Easter? People regard this Sunday as the “official” start of Holy week – which it is! We are however actually still in Lent – the last Sunday of self – reflection or introspection… the period of those “How am I doing” questions.

How am I doing when it comes to declaring Jesus as King in my life? Am I happy to shout “Hosanna” on Sunday and then be silent on Monday and the rest of the week?

Or am I a secret Christian? Self-appointed underground for God – just too deep underground?

Are we brave and courageous like Jesus on that Palm Sunday?  Are we courageous enough to declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus in our lives each day? Or have we worked it all out so that we can remain silent?

May you find grace and strength to make Him Lord of every day. May this Holy week be a time when you discover that you have a story to tell about this Jesus who was “unlike every other bloke”and whose kingship changes our lives today.

Amen.