Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

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Increasing as I age, I become more aware of my sinful nature. It’s not as if I’m a terrible person, but I realize the powerful effect sin has on my life and the world God loves. Perhaps it is the realization I have that I have the power to destroy and great potential to create distress and havoc. Not that I would ever wish to access my ability to create harm and hurt others, but I am aware of my power and limitations.

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St. Ignatius described sin as putting our hope in the wrong things. From this perspective, I can see how far off my inner drive and thoughts are from the will of God. I think for some it would be just easier to give into sin and live a life without any internal examination to discover the beauty of one’s self. In other words, it is so tempting to live life in these times of transition with the motto, “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone.” After all, it is the beginning of the age of authenticity. The point in time where our own experience directs our life and if we don’t like doing something we might as well quit the practice because the cost of missing out on something else is too significant.

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The world is getting smaller every day and more focus on the self. Losing sight of the inner relatedness of life is easy.

As Dr. King taught, “all people see in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

In other words, what affects one person impacts us all. We might not consciously be aware of, but we are all, as Dr. King suggests, woven together into one fabric of life.

Moving away from our self-centered way of living to a concern for the Commonwealth of all people was Dr. King’s vision of what he called the “Beloved community” in which he meant the Body of Christ dwelling together under the Reign of God. The sin manifests itself when we divide the world into the “good” and the “bad.” Of course, we are always the good ones; the others are bad. The ones who have a problem are still outside of us, and therefore we tell ourselves we must struggle against those outside our group.

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But a real community is different because of the realization that the evil is inside of us – not just inside the community or group, but inside of me. Jesus talks about this as thinking about the need to remove the speck of dust from my neighbor’s eye but overlooking the log that dwells within my eye. Sin dwells within me. Warfare is within me, within my community. We confess that we aren’t living the life God desires for us and that we place our hope in things that do not create an experience for all.

Jesus calls us into living a different vision for life. A life where, through our baptism into Christ’s death, we too are called to live a different narrative. A narrative where we are called to be agents of peace amidst the violent nature of the world while recognizing the warfare that is going on inside of me.

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Jesus calls us to seek the wholeness, in that our souls are restless until they abide with God. Nothing else will satisfy this longing. Many will attempt to fill their spiritual needs with things that are not spiritual, and as a result, they can never find that inner peace as they continuously battle their own self.

Jesus gives us words of great hope this Ash Wednesday. He tells us that he is God’s “Way, Truth, and Life.” There is a need in all of our souls that we cannot meet. It’s impossible for a human to be completely satisfied on our own. We seek for meaning and life outside ourselves.

This is the day we remember how we have placed our hope in those things that are not God. That we have all wondered from the Truth, Way, and Life that God desires for us. This is the day we remember that we are not at peace. We wrestle with far more matters of life than we care to admit. This is the day where we remember that we have neglected God’s call to live peacefully in community with the world God loves. And because of all this, one day our life on earth will eventually come to an end.

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This is a heavy day. But there is hope. Hope is found in the alternative vision Jesus offers in which there are many places to dwell in God’s house. In Jesus, there are many kinds of people who stay and live out what Dr. King called a “beloved community.”

This Lent, we will dig deeper what it means that Jesus is the “Way.” Not “one way” or “a way” but “The Way.” Jesus words in the Gospel speak to us in ways that our culture cannot and will not talk. So, remember to listen to his words as if you were hearing them for the first time. Think about what you are seeing in your life and what God wants to show you. For God is there, ready to receive us and forgive us even in spite of ourselves.

Hear his invitation to repentance and the possibility of growth in your faith again. Trust that where Jesus is, there we may also be. Amen.

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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.