Don’t Give the Devil a Commercial

The season of Lent comes to our lives every springtime. Lent is the promise of new life in nature following the drabness of winter.   Life in the middle of the season of winter can be through of in terms of the season of Lent.  I think of it this way – it’s brutally cold outside and the earth is frozen stiff. Slowly the days are lengthening and with any luck, the air tempture will warm.  Creation speaks of the promise of new life in the midst of the stone cold winter days.  Yet, even in this cold season, there is beauty to be found.  Photos of winter can be strikingly beautiful.  The snow we had a few weeks ago that hung around in the trees created a majestic, albeit, messy portrait of the season of Lent. 

So, Lent has a church season goes way back in the life of the church.  I was reading on Wikipedia the other day that Lent as a church season begin in the 7thcentury as a period of 40 days to coincide with the time Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism by John in the river Jordan.

Pope Gregory said, “Lent is our spiritual tithing.” It is the in the church in which prepare for the joy of the promised new life in the season of Easter. In past centuries, Easter was the time for converts to be baptized. These new Christians were called upon to pray, fast and repent of their sins in the weeks before Easter.

“Baptism,” said Martin Luther, “… signifies that the old Adam in us is to be drowned by … repentance.” 

And so it seems most appropriate that we being this first Sunday in Lent with Mark’s gospel account of the baptism of Jesus. There are two events in the account that are significant.  The first is the Mark’s baptism account and the awesomeness of the heavens opening up and the Spirit descending upon Jesus.  But there is a second side to this story.  It’s the temptation account of Jesus and Mark doesn’t waste any time in transitioning us from the baptism straight into the wilderness.    The Bible says that it was the Spirit that drove Jesus out into the wilderness where he would face temptation.  Is that interesting?  The spirit driving Jesus to the wilderness where by implication of the word, things are wild.  

In the biblical thought, the wilderness is the place of demons and the things being a bit unsafe.  Scripture records that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Of course, 40 is a Biblical number recalling the long 40 days of Noah’s desolate and lonely experience in the ark, the long struggle of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years.  

The wilderness was a point of temptation and demons.  Jesus faces temptation by the devil and he was with the wild beasts.  Temptation is part of our human condition.  All the way back in the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible mentions temptation as part what it means to be human.  Stuggle with temptioant are part of our everyday life experience.  We all face temptation of some sort.  

So, when we think about temptation in the broad biblical sense, it’s not about sin, but the bible seems to make the point that temptation is rather about a test for those who have been called.  When God acts in our lives to call us by the gospel of Christ and enlighten us with God’s grace and gifts, be ready to be faced with some sort of temptation.  

As I think about temptation and how to define it – maybe its more about an exposure to new possibilities of good, of growth, and spiritual maturity, or temptation can be about an exposure to evil, of self-seeking, and failure.  

The Bible makes it clear that temptation is a tool of the devil.  And the devil will use all kinds of cleaver schemes to tempt us.  None of us are immune from the tempting power of evil and darkness.  This temptation story reminds us that the devil doesn’t have to destroy you. He only needs to distract you. Lent reminds us to keep our focus on the things of God and how easy it is to get distracted by the devil and all the forces in the world that defy God’s purpose and plan. Remember how easy it is to give the devil a commercial by the way others perceieve our actions. The devil is at well at work in the world. Don’t get caught up in the evil and don’t let the devil make a commercial out of your actions. 

Like Jesus being driven into the wilderness following his spiritual experience in baptism.  I want you to think of your own wilderness experiences as a tool that may indeed be from God, now the drive and desire that one has to sin is not from God but of our own, and it is Bible makes a point that when we give into sin and temptation it is fatal.  

So these spiritual wilderness that are universal to us all can become for us an opportunity to challenge ourselves and grow from the experience in which we find us utterly trusting on God’s grace in the face of crisis – or a long fall into darkness.  The stumbling block of the wilderness can either become for us an opportunity for a stepping stone or a stone that makes us stumble and fall deeper into a pit. 

Notice what happens immediately after Jesus immerges from the wilderness.  The first thing Mark tells us is that the one who baptized him, John the Baptist, was arrested and then the text moves on saying that Jesus continued his ministry of sharing the good news – “the kingdom of God has drawn near, repent and believe the good news!

The kingdom of God means just that – that the kingdom of this world is designed for the benefit and glory of God and that God shall reign forever.  Repent in this sense means that we should turn away from our defeat, our despair, and shame and face the Son who has replaced the “Nos” of our life with God’s “Yes, you can.”  

Sisters and brothers – The gospel of the kingdom will prevail with our without us.  Lent calls us to follow our Lord on the wilderness road to the foot of the cross. As we pray together, sing together, laugh and cry together, let us do so united by love. The gospel of Christ calls us to believe again and turn away from the temptation that suggest, “God’s not real, nor can God be found in the wilderness of life.”  For now we know that if God is for us in the wilderness, then who can be against us? The wilderness too has been redeemed and God’s tamed the wild-ness we face.  Thanks be to God that the wicked foe will have no power over us.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

A New Identity – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

Jacob’s well stood at the crossroads outside of town in Sychar in Samaria as the scripture reading tells us.  Though it still head good, clean drinking water in reservoir, by the time Jesus was around it was more of shrine than a well.  According to the Old Testament tradition, Jacob in the ancient Israelite past bought this land, dug the well and left it to Joseph, his favorite son.  Joseph, when he died, was carried back from Egypt and buried there. 

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But this history meant nothing to the woman who was at the well in our gospel text.  She was there in the noon day heat to get a drink of water.  The well was only a drinking fountain to her.  Being outside of town, the well was remote, not many people went around the well, especially in the noon day heat.  She had it all to herself, at least she thought.  No women in her right mind would come to draw water in the noon day heat.  That’s the way the woman wanted it, far away from all the town’s gossip and watchful eye.

She had managed to make a mess of her life.  As far back as she could remember, there had always been a restless urge in her, an unsatisfied longing, and a thirst that could not be quenched.  She went through life as one possessed, looking for love in all the wrong places.  She had married the wrong men, eating and drinking and being merry.  She made promises and quickly had to break them.  She was used and because of her abuse she lost her self-esteem.  She lost herself.

So when she arrived at the well that hot mid-day afternoon, it never occurred to her that the man she saw there would reach out in her direction.  He was a man, a Jew, maybe even a rabbi.  She was a woman, a Samaritan, living in sin.  The wall of separation between them was high.  Women and men didn’t speak in public; especially a Samaritan woman and a man of the Jewish faith.

images“Give me a drink,” this man said to her.  And in the discussion that followed, this woman at the well in Samaria found both her true self and God. Jesus speaks to the woman at the well longer than he does to anyone else in John’s gospel.  Longer than he talks to any of the disciples, longer than he talks to his accusers, longer than he talks to his own family.  In fact, this Samaritan woman is the first person Jesus revels his true identity to in the Gospel of John.  She is the first outsider to guess who Jesus is and to tell others about him.  She is the first evangelist, John’s Gospel tell us, and her testimony about Jesus brings others to faith in Christ.

line-in-sandIn Jesus’ presence she found herself and the reality of her own sin. 

Jesus must have had a way with cutting through the small talk and getting to the heart of the issue.  He looked into her eye, and she could not put off the guilt.  And so in a moment of complete disclosure, this woman, who was considered untouchable by the divine and the Son of God stand face to face with no pretense about their identity.  Both stand fully lit at high noon for a bright moment in time, everything that separates this woman and Jesus fall forgotten to the ground.

When Jesus came, the woman of Sychar found in him peace for her troubled spirit, answers to her questions, and the living water of God’s forgiveness and grace for her soul.  Jesus spoke words of hope to her:  “Those who drink of the water 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.”  But even more than these words was his presence—the calm strength of Jesus, the sound of authority in his voice, the assurance of his love.  She must have been assured that Jesus was God.  And somehow, she stood face-to-face with him.

I’m sure that the gospel writer, John intended this story to follow the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.  We heard that story last week.  After encountering Jesus in the middle of the night, Nicodemus (a leader of the Jews), falls silent when he learns who Jesus truly is, and then in the very next chapter of John’s gospel, we see an irreligious fallen woman at the water well when she takes an unexpected step:  she is the one who acknowledges Jesus as the messiah, not Nicodemus.  She is the one who remains in the light of the day and spreads the good news of Jesus.  She runs out after meeting him and tells others about the man she just met, bringing them to the good news of Christ, and as a result of her testimony, the Bible says that many came to believe in Jesus.

It’s as if John intended to place these two stories back to back for the reader to see the difference between the two.  You might recall that Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the dark for fear that others would discover he met with this itinerate preacher.  But, here is this fallen woman meeting with Jesus in the light of the day at noon.

And notice what Jesus does.  He deals with this woman’s thirst, and not her sin.  He reached out to her, not to cast shame and send her further away from God’s presence, but Jesus empowered her, he literally transformed her life.

Few of the people around Jesus have as much to tell about him and his effect upon them as the woman at the well in Samaria. 

The truth is, we are all like the woman at the well, and we all thirst for the Living Water that God provides.  We thirst for a savior who will meet us where we are on our level, not in some far away distant space, but a God who is like us.  The beauty of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well is that God reaches out to all and welcomes everyone to taste the living water.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done or haven’t done, you are all invited.  So come, accept your invitation and come.  Receive a drink way down in the well of Living Water of God’s grace. For in Christ, we are forgiven, redeemed, and refreshed by this living water.

In Jesus name.  Amen.