“I Dreamed of a Church: Christ’s Representative”


This will be the “back page” for the 19 March 2017, 3rd Sunday of Lent (A), bulletin at Fishkill UMC.  The reading for this Sunday comes from Matthew 25.  I have told this story before but it speaks to the point of our participation in someone else’s baptism.

I have been fortunate to have been directly involved in the baptism of several individuals, both as a pastoral assistant and as a member of the family.  Perhaps the greatest joy was when I presented Casey, my granddaughter, and George, my grandson, to the congregation on the day of their baptisms.

But the story that strikes a chord with me is not my story but rather that of a current United Methodist pastor.  At the time of this story, this pastor-to-be was a bouncer in a local bar (which seems to be the career path of choice these days).  He was present at the baptism as the result of a direct command from his sister.  So, he came to church that Sunday morning after a rather long night at his regular job.  At the end of the service, one of the “saints” of the church saw that he was desperately searching for a cup of coffee and directed him to the church’s Fellowship Hall.

A few weeks later he found the bulletin for that Sunday in his coat pocket.  With the remembrance that someone had shown him some kindness, he returned to that church on his own accord.  Shortly afterwards, he made the decision to accept Christ as his Savior and he was baptized.

As it turns out, there was more to this than simply accepting the call to follow Christ.  It began a journey that has lead to becoming a minister in the United Methodist Church.

We all take part in the baptism of an individual.  In our participation, we welcome friends and strangers.  And while we never know how this will all turn out, we need to understand that one time someone offered a cup of coffee to a stranger and a life was changed.                                                – Tony Mitchell

How Long?


These are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Lent. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 17: 1 – 17, Romans 5: 1 – 11, and John 4: 5 – 42.

I am sure that there are some people on this planet who feel the recent earthquake in Japan, the resulting tsunami, and then the nuclear reactor disaster are the harbingers of the final days. Or perhaps they wondered just how much more humanity can take.

We know that people can survive for long periods of time without food, though the actual length depends on the individual’s physical situation and circumstance. But we can only go three or four days without water and even less time without oxygen.

From that standpoint, we need to look around at the world and what we have done to it. Our supplies of fresh water have always been limited and our cavalier attitude about the environment means that what fresh water and clean air that remains will soon be gone if we are not careful.

But how long can the spirit survive when it is assaulted? Look around at what is going on in the world and tell me if the human spirit may have reached such a point. Would the revolutions in the Middle East have occurred if the governments were not more attuned to the needs and cries of the people? Would the protest in Wisconsin have occurred if the governor were more attuned to the needs and wants of all the people instead of one or two rich individuals who want to keep all that they have?

I cannot explain the politics of this country, of people losing their rights and then watching whatever safety net might be in place taken away as well and cheering as it is done. I cannot explain how it is that so many people in this country are willing to cheer on the politicians who stand up and call for the removal of all social programs while allowing the military and defense budgets to keep growing, who stand up and call for less taxes for the rich but not for the rest of the country. I cannot explain how a politician can say that they are for jobs yet support measures and policies that take away jobs. I cannot explain how anyone can say that they are a Christian yet wrap themselves in the American flag and disdain helping the poor, the sick, the homeless, and the oppressed.

Look around and tell me that is not what is happening in this country and around the globe today. And tell me why there are not more protests?

I have friends who feel that this country is on the verge of a revolution because a small group of individuals who have virtually all the wealth are trying to take what’s left as well. There are already those who call this country a plutocracy where a few rich individuals own everything and have no desire at all to share with anyone. How long can the human spirit endure?

How long can a church survive in a world where its members do not want to hear that their responsibility is to the people in their community and that the church is a sanctuary against the evil in the world? How long can a church survive when it only gives lip service to the food closet that is open once a week but for which the lines grow longer every day?

As you perhaps know from previous posts, my wife has started a feeding ministry at our church. It is one of two such ministries that take place on the weekends at our church. When she started this ministry, my wife wanted to feed the neighborhood children because many of them did not get a breakfast on the weekends. That hasn’t developed as we thought it might and maybe we should have stopped the ministry when it became apparent that it wasn’t headed in the direction we thought it would go. But that isn’t always God’s plan, now is it?

After all, as the Israelites wandered in the desert, they probably didn’t have a firm idea of where they were actually headed and each day’s journey was predicated on where the next water hole might be located.

So, we have kept this ministry going, giving between twenty and thirty individuals, some out of work, some homeless, some with substance abuse problems a good breakfast each Saturday and Sunday morning. It would appear that other ministries are going to come out of all of this, perhaps directed towards changing the direction of the lives of these individuals. But it hasn’t been easy. It is safe to say that there are individuals in the church who aren’t exactly thrilled that people off the street are coming into “their” church. And while many in the church worry about how the church will keep its doors open, they seem reluctant to let just anyone come through those open doors. I only say that because it seems to me that this is indicative of what is transpiring across the country. We have turned the sanctuary of the church into a safe haven for the members, protecting them from the evil outside the walls, instead of offering sanctuary to those whom evil will consume and whom society will toss on the garbage heap.

There are those who would tell us that we need to stop this ministry. After all, I haven’t had a full-time job for four years and it hasn’t been the easiest road to walk. There are times when we sound like the Israelites screaming at Moses about the lack of fresh water. The desert can be very cruel to people without water but just when the Israelites are screaming the loudest, God tells Moses what to do to get the water. That’s the way it has been with this ministry and I suspect that God will show us where to find the funds that will enable us to continue the journey. (And if you so desire to be a part of this effort, the address is “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen c/o Grace UMC, P. O. Box 2556, Newburgh, NY 12250.)

But Ann didn’t start this ministry for glorification or hope that God would repay us for our generosity. I don’t help where I can and write about it because I am expecting a pat on the back. It is because there are people out there whom society has cast aside and said that, because of one thing or another, they aren’t worthy of anything. But the church has said that each person is worthy and we are trying to put the words of the Gospel into action. And when the woman comes to the well in the middle of the day, Jesus offers her the respect that she is missing in her life.

Perhaps I am wrong about my assessment of the state of the world and the state of the church. But I also know that when society was in similar situations, it was the church that changed the course. When I first began my lay speaking ministry, I would say that England was saved from the violent revolution that overtook France in the years following our own revolution. I had read something about it but didn’t make note of where I had read it. But later on, I would find other documents that said the same thing – that because of the work that John Wesley and the other early Methodists did with regards to healthcare, schooling, prison and work reform, England did not undergo the violent revolution that would engulf France.

Look around and tell me if we are not in the same situation today. It isn’t just what is happening elsewhere; it is what is happening in our own backyards and neighborhoods. And Paul tells us that Christ has arrived at just the right time. When we open our doors to Christ, we find that the same doors have already been opened. And our fears that there is nothing that we can do are cast aside because of what Christ did for us so many years ago.

We are halfway through Lent. That means that there are only twenty days left in this journey. That means that there are twenty days left to make a decision, a decision to follow Christ, to put the Gospel message into action. How long will it take? How long before it is too late? How long, O Lord, how long?

“A Drink of Water”


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, 27 February 2005.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 5: 1 – 11, and John 4: 5 – 42.

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There are not too many occasions when I get to use either chemistry or science education in my sermons. Today is one of those occasions.

When I taught science education courses in Texas, I would always ask my students what were the two most important liquids in Texas. Generally, they always got the answer right, water and oil. For without the one, you cannot get the other.

In chemical terms I suppose I could speak of the structure of the water molecule and how it affects the structure of ice molecules and why ice floats in water. I could also speak of the boiling and freezing points of water and how these unique temperature points make water a liquid when other similar substances are gases. These properties of water make it a very unique substance in the universe and very probably the key to life.

The properties of water can be explained by a phenomenon known as hydrogen bonding. It is hydrogen bonding which is the key to the structure of the DNA double helix, the basis for life as we know it.

Yes, water is a very unique substance. But one thing that does not require science of any kind for an explanation and has been known since mankind first walked has explored this world is that we need water to survive. For without water, our chances of survival are limited. The Israelites knew that very well. That is the reason that they were screaming at Moses in today’s Old Testament reading.

There are two things that I find interesting about this incident in the desert. First, it is not the first time that the Israelites have yelled at Moses about their situation.

In Exodus 14: 11 – 12, the Israelites said, in response to the oncoming Egyptian army, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14: 11 – 12) Then, in Exodus 16: 2 – 3, the people “complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly by hunger.” (Exodus 16: 2 – 3)

The Lord’s response to the first complaint was the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army; the Lord’s response to the second complaint was to provide manna from heaven. The first time the people were afraid, for the Egyptian army was powerful and the Israelites were incapable, at that time, of defending themselves. But the manner in which they voiced their complaints showed a lack of faith, not fear. In the second instance, their complaints come after they have seen the power of God destroy the Egyptian army and how God provided fresh water for them. One might think that by the time they had come to this point in their journey, they would known and understood that it was a small thing for God to provide them with water.

Asking for water is not a sin; but what the Israelites are doing in this reading today is complaining. This is a challenge to God’s faithful mercy and evidence of unbelief in His provision. There is also something interesting about this passage. When the Israelites first came to Egypt, they were nomadic herdsman, used to traveling in the desert and seeking sources of water. Now, after all the years in Egypt, they had forgotten the skills that kept their families alive. They did not know how to find the water that would keep them alive and instead of seeking out a means of finding the water, they complained.

There are a many times when we are like the Israelites in the desert. We would rather complain about the situations that we face than seek an answer. And we often forget that the answer that we seek is available if we only look for it.

But Paul tells us that we need not struggle so; our efforts need not be futile. No longer are we trapped in the here and now, suffering and complaining but rather looking forward to the future and what it will bring. The tribulation of life no longer brings us down but rather gives us strength and endurance. Because of Christ, Paul writes, we have access to God. In those days, to gain access to the king was a special occasion and one not many were granted. But, through Christ, we now have access to God. We no longer face judgment for our life as it would if we were to stand before an earthly king. Our presence before the throne of God gives us reason to celebrate and rejoice.

It is the water of the well that ties this reading in the New Testament to the reading of the Old Testament today. Jesus is in Samaria because it is the direct route between Judea and Galilee. Most Jews, who wanted to avoid Samaria and contact with the Samarians, would travel a more circular route, going north along the River Jordan. But Jesus saw no need for that because he held no prejudice against either the Jews or the Samaritans.

To the Jews of the Bible, the Samaritans were a group of people to be excluded. Disagreements had arisen about what were the holy sites; for the Jews, it was Jerusalem, for the Samaritans, it was Mount Gerizim. This difference was one of many between the two groups both of whom descended from the Israelites who wandered in the desert. For the Jews, the Samaritans were beyond contempt and not worthy of any salvation from God. It was this contempt and hatred between the two that allowed Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan and for us to know about the woman at the well.

For the woman of this New Testament story is coming to the well to get her daily water supply. But she is coming at the worst possible day, noontime. It is the beginning of the hottest period of the day and the time when most people were in the cool of their homes. So why does she come then and why did she not come earlier, especially when the well was the social center of the village?

Is it perhaps because her life is the subject of gossip at the well? Is it because she is not welcome among the women of the village? Many of us are amazed, as was the woman, when Jesus speaks of the woman and the person with whom she is living but who is not her husband. But a woman does not come to the well at the worst time of the day unless she does not want to be a part of society.

And while the woman expects Jesus to spurn her as the citizens of the town have and as the Jews have done to Samaritans for countless years, He does not. He treats her with respect in requesting a drink of water and he treats her amazement kindly. More importantly, Jesus offers to her what He offers to all of us, the chance for salvation.

Jesus also gives a chance to see ourselves, for there are times when we are the people being excluded and there are times when we are the ones doing the excluding. The one thing people are doing today is struggling. When we look around the world today, we see people whose hearts are struggling, we see people whose minds are fighting and we see people whose souls doubt. It would be very difficult for us to be anything else but one of those individuals. And then we find that we are like the children of Israel in the desert, judging Moses for his failure to provide them with water. And we find that we are like the disciples, who would have sent the people sitting on the hill listening to the Sermon on the Mount home hungry rather than try and find a way to feed them with six loaves and two fishes.

But we can change the way we see the world, we can ease the doubts that torment our souls, and we can end the fighting in our minds. Like the Samaritan woman, we need to see Jesus, not as an excellent teacher or renowned rabbi, but as the Son of God, a revelation of God. She sees in Jesus the bearer of the Good News, she hears from Jesus that there is new life found in the Spirit, in the Living Water.

And this new life summons her from the ageless racism and divisiveness that was her life and into a new eternal life. When the woman at the well looks again into the well, she sees not herself or others, but the image of Jesus. The same is true for us; for when we see Jesus, when we turn our eyes to Jesus (UMH #349), life changes. For the woman at the well, drinking from the well of the living water will give her life and invite her to love rather than judge others.

The people of Israel found the days of the Exodus a struggle. At every step of the way, they argued with Moses and with God. God chose to love them, in spite of themselves. Many times, we argue with God because we struggle as we journey through the wilderness. Like the woman at the well, we find that we are alone in our struggle, seeking comfort when the times are the most difficult.

During this Lenten season, we need to face ourselves and see where our heart is focused. When we are tempted to judge others or to promote ourselves, we can remind ourselves that we we do not walk this path of love and righteousness under our own power. (Adapted from “Spiritual snobs” by Scot McKnight in “Living the Word” from Christian Century, February 22, 2005) On those days when this walk gets hot and we get thirsty, we should pause and get a cup of water. But not water from the well of daily living, for that water does not quench the thirst we have, but rather water from the Living Water. It is that drink of water that we search for.

 


“Testing the Lord”


This is the message that I presented at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, 7 March 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 5: 1 – 11, and John 4: 5 – 42.

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Have you ever asked God for something? Maybe it was something small, like a particular gift or you wanted Him to solve a small problem. But it could have been something major like guidance in a change in jobs or an improvement in your job situation or some other life-related issue. Now, there is nothing wrong with doing this; after all, we routinely ask Him to take care of those that are sick and injured and we know that He answers our prayers.

But what happens when it seems like He doesn’t answer our prayers? Don’t we get upset when we don’t get the answer that we wanted? And if we prayed hard and long and the person for whom we prayed doesn’t get better, don’t we get mad? Don’t we feel as if God has abandoned us?

The problem you see is that we somehow have to reconcile the reality of mankind’s miseries with that of a good God. There is no completely satisfying explanation to the problem of a good God who is powerful and sovereign over an evil world. After God did not spare his own Son from the pain of death. And did not Jesus himself seek relieve from the anguish of his upcoming ordeal.

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14: 35)

It is as if we sought to test God, to put our problems before Him and say “Prove that you are God.” It is times like these when we are like the Israelites wondering through the wilderness, questioning God’s intentions, doubting in our own abilities. In the Old Testament reading for today, the Israelites are again grumbling because they do not have any water to drink.

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to lace as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

This was not the first time that the Israelites had grumbled about God’s plan. In previous chapters, they had grumbled because the Egyptian army was chasing after them and when they did not have any water. Yet, in all instances, God provided the means for them to escape and survive.

As long as it is not too great, as long as we are willing to listen to God, then everything goes well. We might not like the situation but we know that it will come out okay. We just can never understand it when it looks like God has abandoned us.

But we have to understand that God never intended for us to suffer. When Paul wrote in Romans, “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope”, he used the term “in” rather than “because of”. Life is a joyous and triumphant, not one of morbidity and despair. But it can only be joyous when we understand that Jesus died for our sins.

Paul pointed out that we are not God’s enemies, to be the object of his wrath when we have done wrong. Nor are we to be abandoned should things go bad for us. Our suffering produces the perseverance that ultimately brings us hope. Such hope is not real world optimism but the assurance of our future destiny, of our life in Christ. As Paul wrote, “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Note that Paul used the present tense because Christ is present for us now.

The Samaritan woman who came to the well knew first hand the feeling of abandonment. After all, society had not taken kindly to the life style she had chosen to follow. But God and Christ do not abandon someone because of their life style.

The woman was surprised that Jesus knew all about her but should we be surprised? After all, Jesus is always with us, though we might not know it.

God’s presence in our life is best explained by the battle the Israelites fought with the Amalekites. Just after the incident with the water, the Israelites engaged in a battle with the Amalekites.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

As it was noted in the Scripture, as long as Moses acknowledged the presence of the Lord by holding up his hands, the Israelites were winning. But when he grew tired and his hands dropped the tide of the battle changed. I think this is very much what we encounter when we are under stress.

Did God leave the battle when the Israelites started losing or was it that Moses and the Israelites had left Him? God was always there, waiting for His people to come to him. Yes, Jesus knew everything about the woman because He was a presence in her life, even if she did not understand that.

The feeling of abandonment is like a thirst that cannot go away. You may drink water but the thirst is still there. Christ offers, not only to the woman at the well, but to each of us today, the opportunity to remove that thirst, of that feeling. Life is not going to get easy just because we accept Christ. If anything, it might get harder.

But when we speak of the Gospel, we speak of the “Good News”. God’s will for us involves an ultimate celebration, not on-going suffering and sorrow. In writing to Romans, Paul spoke of celebrating, of the victory that Christ has over sin.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The woman at the well came to know Christ because she understood that she had not been abandoned. After it was all over, after everything that he had worked for was taken away, Job came away with twice as much as he had before because he did not lose faith.

The celebration of life goes on because we know that Christ died for us and yet he still lives. Is there a feeling in you that just won’t go away? The path we walk is never easy and there are times when we might think that life is unfair but as long as we continue to understand that God loves us, that He sent His Son for our benefit, the rewards of life are beyond description. The test for each one of us is to allow Christ into our hearts.

 


What Are The Basics?


The Scripture readings for today are Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 5: 1 – 11, and John 4: 5 – 42.

Last week I wrote about getting “Back to the Fundamentals”, of seeking and understanding the basic precepts of Christianity so that one could grow in spirit and stature. I pointed out that, in order to do this, we needed to have a basic understanding of what is in the Bible and what it means beyond a simple reading of the text.

As this week progressed, I kept hearing a commercial about a product that will remove all the toxins from your body and recharge it with ions embedded in the material. Everything in this commercial cries out “pseudoscience” or “fake!”

Yet, this is one of many commercials, or if you will, infomercials that populate the media today that promise you health and well-being but are nothing more than scams and fraud. Of course, the people who are pushing these materials are very careful in what they say so that they can avoid any sort of legal liability. But they must be having some success because how else would they be able to keep running the commercials?

If the public would only stop and think about what is being said, these types of commercials would quickly disappear. The same can be said about our political process. We as a society have become enamored with the “sound-bite”. We want to know about political candidates in short and quickly palatable pieces; we are not interested in long statements about what they will do and how they will get it accomplished. We quickly fall for the glitz and the glamour of a candidate without analyzing what they are saying. We allow campaigns to use attack ads without questioning the validity or the accuracy of the information in the ads.

I think that the major problem in today’s society is that we have forgotten how to think. Faced with our inability to think and thus analyze and evaluate, we are quite willing to let others do it for us. We will allow others to rewrite history to justify their views and, even though we all have taken history in high school, we accept the revisions because we aren’t thinking and analyzing. We are quite willing to let others tell us what the problems of the world are and how they will solve them. But their solutions often require that we give away our rights and we don’t recognize the changes.

Society’s inability to think transforms religion, whether it is Christianity or some other religion, into something entirely different. Speaking for Christianity, society tries to fit the message of the Gospel into something that will fit into the world around us. It was not meant to do so. It was meant to provide an alternative way of seeing things and an alternative way of living in this world.

The challenge for the individual today is to see the world in a different view. Christ’s message cannot be seen through the filter of today’s society; it was never meant to be seen that way. During this season of Lent, we are reminded that we are the ones who must repent, who must change the way we see the world and everyone around us. Only when we reject society’s claims about life can we truly understand Christ’s message.

There is no doubt that life in this world is grim. It is a life of bondage to the dominant culture. Our responses are dictated by this culture. It is a life of limited vision where society and culture dictate what we are to see and dictate what it is important to see. It is a life where our abilities, our identity, and our self-esteem are dictated by how well we compare and measure to others around us. If we do not conform to this view of the world, then we are considered to have problems.

For many in today’s society, God is a lawgiver and a judge. He is seen as the enforcer and the judge. God becomes the one we must satisfy. Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians today who hold onto this view and do so with a stridency that borders on obsession and fanaticism. It is a view that leads to the basic tenets of what has become known as fundamentalism. It is a view that divides the world into those who believe and those who do not believe. And, in turn, it leads many people to reject Christianity and to defiantly claim that there is no God.

It is a view that places limits on what you can and cannot do. One cannot, it appears, be both a scientist and a believer. I posted a comment about the recent Florida Board of Education’s decision concerning how evolution would be taught on a liberal politically oriented website (see “The Processes of Science” for my thoughts, not the actual comment). My thoughts in the comment were dismissed by one person as mere ramblings; others questioned the validity of what I said were the processes of science. It was almost as if the moment I professed my belief in Christ, my ability as a scientist was diminished.

By the same token, the words “Christian” and “liberal” have become opposites in meaning. Christians are automatically considered conservative and fundamentalist in nature and liberals are automatically considered secular in nature. It never occurs to most people that one can be a liberal and a Christian. Or that the original message of Christ was a liberal message. Somewhere in the course of history and the changes in society, that meaning got lost.

The true meaning of Christianity cannot be taught. You can teach the history of Christianity and you can teach the history of the church. In fact, you have to do so. But, you have to be careful that when you teach, you do so in a manner that allows questions. Without the ability to ask questions, you have no basis on which to experience Christ.

The woman at the well in Samaria is shocked when Jesus asked her for a drink of water. She was amazed that He, a Jew, would even speak to her, a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans, despite a common history, simply did not speak to each other and most Jews found ways to go around Samaria when they had to travel.

One of the ways in which Jews and Samaritans disagreed was where the proper place to worship God was. The Jews felt that you had to be at the Temple in Jerusalem; the Samaritans felt that you should be at the mountain. Of course, Jesus points out that neither of these will matter in the end. Both the Jews and the Samaritans had been taught about worship but they confused where to worship with why you worship.

It is this type of thinking that was, I believe, why the people had lost contact with God. They had gotten caught up with the procedures and lost sight of the reason. If they had thought about what they were saying and doing, they may have changed their ways earlier. The signs were there but they missed them.

Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water and in return offered her the gift of the living water. The woman’s initial response was in terms of the present, not in terms what Christ is about.

We do the same. We think, too often in terms of the present and what we need now, not in terms of what our lives are to be. Some see God as the Ultimate Provider and when He does not provide what we want when we want it, we reject Him.

When the people of Israel were in the wilderness, God provided for them. Manna was given every day and each person received what was needed and nothing more. Those who took more than needed found that the extra manna quickly rotted and was useless. And on the day before the Sabbath, when they were not to gather food, those who were lazy and only gathered the manna for the one day found that there was nothing to eat on the Sabbath. In today’s Old Testament reading, the people are grumbling about the lack of water.

They have quickly forgotten about how the manna was there when it was needed and are demanding of God that He give them the water when they want it, not when they need it. God cannot be and is not the instantaneous provider who responds to our demands; He will respond to our prayers and our concerns. In today’s Old Testament reading, God leads the people to the source of water but it is named in such a way to remind the people of their questioning and the way in which they tested the Lord.

And this is complicated by those who preach a kingdom of the present, where wealth and good health are there for the asking and the message of hope has been replaced with a message of self-help and self-centeredness.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on what John wrote in last week’s Gospel. God sent His Son to save us, not condemn us. Christ’s death on the cross was so that we could have a future, so that we could have hope. Paul pointed out that we are sinners yet God loved and loves us.

We are a seeking people. We seek to find answers in this world. To find the answers, we have to start with the basics. So what are they?

First, and foremost, God loves us. The message of this love has been lost because we have tried to make it part of this world, instead of making this world a part of the message. There will be those who dismiss the message as babble or something worse; they seek in this world what they cannot find. But they cannot find it because they do not know how to look for it.

Like the people in the desert demanding food and water from God, they demand signs from God that are not there. And when the signs do not appear, they reject God and say that He does not exist. When the time comes for support and comfort in times of need and stress, they have no place to turn.

Others expect God to appear as a judge and a lawmaker who will punish those who disobey and fail to meet the requirements of the law. Bound by their own interpretations of the law, these people cannot turn.

But others will be like the Samaritan woman. They will have heard the words and they will believe. Their lives will change and the people around them will wonder why and then they will seek.

The challenge for the church today is to be there for those who seek and for those whose questions cannot be answered by the world around them. The church must also repent, must also return to what it was and what it is supposed to be.

What are the basics? As God loved us, so must we love others, even if that is not what we want to do. During this season of Lent, we are challenged to remember this and change our lives so that others will come to know this as well