Lent 3A, Reflectionary

Look and see (Lent 3)

I’ve been trying for years now to be conscientious about listening to theological, political, and social voices belonging to people who are not exactly like me. Or at least I thought that was what I was doing. During this presidential primary season, however, as I have looked through my social media feeds, particularly the last few weeks, I came to realize that virtually everyone I follow who doesn’t fall into the category of “famous“, and some who do, have been supporting the same candidate.

Who am I really listening to? Have I unfollowed or unfriended everyone I found disagreeable? 

Who am I meeting at the well when I go to draw water for mind and spirit? 

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!
He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

John 4:28-29

When Jesus and his disciples were making their way through Samaria, the disciples left him sitting at the well while they went into town to buy some food. They might have made excuses for him, the way candidates handlers decide which news interview shows are worth their time, or the way people like me decide whose theories, opinions, or preferences are worth my attention. Jesus, though, has another idea in mind.  

“O that today you would listen to his voice!”

Psalm 95:7b

Jesus is ready to talk. And he really seems to enjoy the conversation, at least as it’s handed down to us by the author of John. It isn’t the only gospel in which he has a back-and-forth with a woman who would be deemed outside the category of someone he should speak to, by tribe if not for any other reason. I’m not particularly interested in unpacking the women’s history. It’s enough to say she’s going out to the well by herself in the heat of the day because no one else wants to be there with her. Rather than cast theories about first century culture, the relatable truth we can tell is that in every culture and every time and among every group of people, there are some who are not considered acceptable by the rest of the neighborhood. 

Think about Jesus, the Messiah, sitting by the well, ready to see this woman and to show himself to her, to show her the truth about who God is. 

“Come and see,” says the woman to her neighbors, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” I wish we had a word of description, something to tell us what they saw or heard in her that made them go right away, to look and see. 

Will we? Will we look and see who is pointing to the good news, to the gospel, to the Word made flesh? It is a woman on the outside of her community, a woman who went to the well alone, a woman. Sent by Jesus, she poses a question that points to the truth of who Christ is. 

If I were preaching, I might wonder with the congregation:

  • Who are we listening to? 
  • Whose testimony moves us? 
  • Whose questions are pointing us to Christ?

Look, and see. 

We believe in living water, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the need for clean drinking water. I just made a donation to Little Miss Flint’s GoFundMe. Look, and see the good work Mari Copeny is doing for people in Flint and beyond.

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Lent 3A, Liturgy

Quench our thirst (a centering prayer)

O God, we have come to meet you this day.
We carry the weight of our lives, our troubles, and our responsibilities.
Help us to know that you see us and all we carry.
Help us to put it all down long enough to listen.
Help us to set it all aside long enough to hear.
Speak to us in living words.
Quench our thirst with living water.
Hold us all with living love.

Everyone needs clean drinking water. Want to help? Check out Little Miss Flint’s GoFundMe.
You are welcome to use both the prayer and the image, inspired by the gospel lesson for Lent 3A, in worship.

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If I Were Preaching, Lent 2A, Reflectionary

Look Up (Lent 2)

“Look up,” my wife says to our 15-year-old when he can’t get his nose out of YouTube videos, but some days we need to say it to ourselves and each other as well. Look up from your phone and see the natural world, the people around you, or the chores that need to be done right now. 

This past Sunday I turned off my Twitter notifications and gave myself a break. It might seem strange to consider this a form of looking up, since I’ve been conscientious for half a dozen years about curating a feed that brings me varied viewpoints about the news and the world. But I needed to mute collective anxiety for a minute and pay attention to something else. Instead of falling down the rabbit hole of Twitter replies, I needed to look up.  

Looking up was key in the heroic life of Harriet Tubman. Her father taught her to look for the North star, a great skill for developing a sense of direction that would be life-saving for her and for the enslaved people she would liberate as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.* Looking up and finding the star gave her literal direction, a way to find a route by night, but it also represented her faith that God would make a way out of what seemed like no way to escape.

Nicodemus made his way to Jesus in the night because he feared showing his curiosity in public. Maybe he had too much to lose, or wanted to protect those who depended on him. It’s clear from their conversation in John 3 that he has only a partial understanding of what Jesus is doing and who Jesus is. My friend Mary Beth uses the email signature “John 3:17 – Look it up!” as a counter against exclusionary interpretations of John 3:16, and I have unpacked the contrast in past sermons. But if I were preaching this week, I would be paying attention to the rest of the passage, particularly this.

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” 

John 3:11-12

Look up! 

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?” (Psalm 121:1) We know better than to literalize this poetic expression, and yet there have been so many things that I needed to look up to see!

Look up from your phone, your work, and your singular point of view. Look up from your fears, your  preferences, and your prejudices. Look up – for a wider view, a broader perspective, a more dimensional prospect of what God wants you, wants us, to do and be. 

I’ve been reading about Harriet Tubman this week in two different books, both wonderfully accessible: Daneen Akers’ Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman

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