Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday in the first week of Lent

Psalm 55  Deuteronomy 11:18-28  Hebrews 5:1-10  John 4:1-26  

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never again be thirsty.” (John 4:13)

            In the gospel reading, Jesus asks for a drink from the Samaritan woman drawing water from the well. Although the passage culminates with the announcement that he is the Messiah, I particularly like Jesus’ description of a spring to suggest God’s ever-replenishing love within us.

            When I first moved to Charlottesville many years ago, I volunteered at Ivy Creek Natural Area, guiding elementary school children along the paths. I never lost a child although a few baby frogs suffered from little gripping hands. My favorite trail skirts the field, allowing the children to feel the warmth of the sunshine and imagine all the critters that live in the brush between the field and the woods. Entering the woods, we would make so much noise that no creature was to be seen unless we looked under a rock or closely at some decaying wood. A huge beech tree spired by the reservoir’s edge, its smooth, silvery bark beckoning the children. We would then move up the hill passing the Old Spring, used by the Carr family in the 1870s as a source of water and storage. Mossy stone walls enclose three sides of the spring—a cool, peaceful place.

            Fifteen years later on a cold, blustery day, I returned to the spring and the old beech tree. The tree had toppled, leaving its sprawling trunk lying in the reservoir and a jagged, decaying stump. As I walked up the hill to the spring; the mossy stone walls created a welcomed green amidst winter’s grays and browns. Leaves covered the ground including the spring. While no bubbling or moving water met my eyes, soaking rather than iced leaves lay within and below the spring’s walls, evidence of the living water flowing through the layers of ground and into the reservoir.

Perhaps on a warmer day, you may visit Ivy Creek, sit on the weather-beaten bench overlooking the spring, and contemplate. Jesus tells the woman at the well that for everyone, “[t]he water that I shall give will be a spring of water within him, welling up and bringing eternal life” (John 4:14).

— Kelli Olson

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday in the first week of Lent

Psalm 40  Deuteronomy 10:12-22  Hebrews 4:11-16  John 3:22-36          

While John baptizes on one side of the Jordan and Jesus on the other, John catches onto the ploy of others to incite jealousy, and yet he is clear that the important one is not himself, but Jesus. He models commitment and service, and even leadership, and then he is able to step aside when Jesus enters.

As John, we are encouraged to have courage and confidence to walk in the ways “of our living active God, to love him, to serve the Lord our god with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands.” Beginning from a narrow, human perspective, the perspective gradually widens and it becomes increasingly inclusive and expansive.

In walking in the ways of Christ, we are also reassured of the vastness and the steadfastness of the love of Christ, and the ever-present grace beginning with our ancestors shepherded through Egypt who have become “as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

Moving from this limited and human perspective that we experience with John at the river and on this earth, we are taken to the broader arena and breadth of Christ’s love, and we are able to both recognize and appreciate all that is given to us. Although thought of and expressed in quantifiable “earthly” terms, no number and no words can accurately describe what is there for us.

“Many, O Lord my God are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us no one can recount to you;
 were I to speak and tell of them they would be too many to declare.”

Convincingly, God is ever-present, seeing all, knowing all, understanding all, without number or impartiality, provided that we, like John are able to step aside when Jesus enters.

— Kelley Lewis

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday of the first week of Lent

Psalm 50      Deuteronomy 9:23–10:5      Hebrews 4:1-10      John 3:16-21

Deuteronomy tells about the persistent God who shows love for the people by refashioning the tablets of the law after the first set is destroyed. Psalm 50 encourages us to think about listening to God’s word and letting it shape our own utterances. God always has a word for us: “The mighty one, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth. . . . Our God comes and does not keep silent. . . . The heavens declare his righteousness. . . . Hear, O my people, and I will speak.”  

A passage that is both humorous and lyrical even tells us what God does not say:  “If I were hungry, I would not tell you . . . ,” for “every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” 

Instead, God calls for expressions of gratitude (“a sacrifice of thanksgiving”), prayerful trust (“call on me in the day of trouble”), and heartfelt praise (“you shall glorify me”). The last seven verses of the psalm are a critique of human speech, first for our unfitness to speak for God (“. . . to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant upon your lips?”) and then for the harm we do to ourselves and each other through deceitful and slanderous speech. “You give your mouth free rein for evil. . . . I have been silent; you thought I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.” 

Even as we fall short, God reaches out with a fruitful word. The message is echoed in the reading from Hebrews, which quotes Psalm 95 (a familiar part of our Anglican liturgy of Morning Prayer):   “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 

— Vickie Gottlob

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday of the first week in Lent

Psalm 119:49-72  Deuteronomy 9:13-21 • Hebrews 3:12-19  John 2:23–3:15

Today’s readings include one of the most influential passages contained in the Bible, discussed at length and in depth by biblical scholars and the basis for many sermons in a variety of Christian churches—including St. Paul's.

That passage is John 3:5 which is “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.’’ This particular passage is considered relevant to baptism, a sacrament of Christian churches. As we heard recently at St. Paul’s, the priest finalizes the rite by saying “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

If only it were that easy: Water, Spirit; Done. Extending my reading on the scholarly interpretation of this passage was a true eye-opener about the conflict and controversy within and between the Christian churches about the meaning of the phrase “born of water” in both physical and metaphorical contexts. Does it refer to the mother’s amniotic fluid, so anyone who is born is “born of water,” or does it refer to baptism as we practice it?  And how does this relate to being “born again”?  I know what my faith community’s understanding is, yet there is less than unanimity, to say the least. How will we ever move toward communion with other followers of Jesus, i.e., “the holy catholic (universal) Church,” when there is disagreement on something so intrinsic?  

You know what? I don’t really care. Let the people above my pay grade argue about and discuss the meaning of the phrase “born of water.” I just know that I am “born of water” thanks to my Mother, and I have been “born of water” by being baptized with water poured over my head. Rather, I am more focused on being “born of Spirit,” which is why the words of Psalm 119: 64-68 have much more importance for me.

O Lord, you have dealt graciously with your servant, according to your word. / Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments. / Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word. / You are good, and you bring forth good; / Instruct me in your statutes.

And let others debate.

  Diane Wakat

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday of the first week in Lent

Psalm 45  Deuteronomy 9:4-12  Hebrews 3:1-11  John 2:13-22

We are the sinners. We are the moneychangers. We are the thieves. We are unworthy of God’s temple. You got that, right?

But wait.

What just happened? It seems like only a moment ago we were singing carols of sweet joy. “What child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?” And it was so comforting, at Christmas, to know that the angry and jealous God of Israel was locked safely in the Old Testament where He couldn’t hurt anyone anymore. And what a joy it was—“Joy to the World!”—to have this much nicer, warmer and fuzzier—this much cuter God, the God of the Christians, born a babe in a manger.

How frightening now to discover they’re the same God. The baby has grown up to be a man, and the wrath in His eyes—as He quotes the prophet Jeremiah and hunts the moneychangers from His temple—is the wrath of that dread tribal God who swallowed up the enemies of Moses, who buried the rebellious Korah alive in a great pit, and slew the flower of Egypt’s youth in an evening, and covered their still-grieving brothers in the Red Sea.

The carol’s question is a chilling one, today: Just what child is this?

Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks—because the only thing worse than being judged guilty is not having a judge. How often have the people of God cried out to God, “Judge us!” How often has Israel lamented—feeling its sin—that no real justice would come.

Today, it has come. The gospel—the good news—is that we don’t have to be cynical. Israel has what Israel has long desired—a just judge. A jealous God, whose name is Love.

Related chapters: Jeremiah 7 (den of thieves), Numbers 16 (Korah), Exodus 12 (Passover), Exodus 14 (Red Sea), 1 Samuel 8 (judgment)

— Ash Faulkner