Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The 3rd Sunday in Lent: Suffering, endurance, character, hope?


Cara is there early to help out and calls me to give me a heads up that Joe and La Toya are lingering again. I hustle in to take the lead on this but still realize I will need to take some action to move them on and I am allowing the bureaucratic exigencies of doing that to keep me procrastinating.

After getting them moving…sloooowly….time to finish setting up. And Dion is there to get the chairs out and Roselyn my Columbia journalism friend here again too. I’m hoping she’s there just because but she still has until tomorrow to finish her paper. And Dan is back for spring break.

We’re dealing with water today. And thirst. Beginning with Exodus 17: 1-7, the story of the Hebrews in the desert feeling thirsty, getting impatient with God and being ready to stone Moses. As he says,  What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me. Not an uncommon feeling for pastors.

Then the whole confusing business of God standing on the rock and saying Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink. So when Moses strikes the rock with his trusty magic staff, does he strike God? Well, we don’t now but water flows. The key question, the most important question, the question we are always asking is Is the LORD among us or not?

I tell the story of our week in  court. I’m being  asked to do theological reflection on what happens to us. The fact is, every time our life is on the line, something happens and we make it through. Unless you think it’s all random luck, it appears God wants us here. BUT, likewise, every time our solution seems right around the corner, it disappears on us.  How do we understand that?

After the exodus passage, I play the guitar and sing Rock of ages…, the old standard. (Here’s Johnny Cash…)

We read the psalm responsively, covering much the same territory, then head into Paul’s theological explorations.(Romans 5: 1-11) He was writing letters to congregations, not systematic theology. Probably never thought that 2000 plus years later people would be reading them and taking them as gospel. The key passage is this:

3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

And I wonder if  any of us really believe that? Cara always says that pressure produces diamonds. And several of us have grown stronger through what we have experienced. Dion asks is there not a scripture that says God will never bring us more than we can bear? And I say, we need to be careful. As someone once said, So if I wee a weaker person, my husband would still be alive? We have to be careful. The actual context in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is temptation:

He will not let you be tempted more than you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also give you a way to escape that temptation.

The other thing we hear is what doesn’t kill us makes us strong…or can mess us up pretty bad…both are true…it’s that issue of hope again…a spiritual quality beyond optimism.

Finally, we get to the gospel, John 4: 5-42, a long story. Nirka reads it in Spanish and then I do in English. It’s the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. (I could give you Peter, Paul and Mary, the first version I ever heard, but Dave van Ronk is sooo much better…)

A lot to be said here:
1.    Samaritans were descendants of the twelve tribes who wee left behind when the upper classes were dragged off into exile in Babylon. Who the intermarried with the Assyrians and others who wee brought in to colonize, like my Scottish ancestors were put into northern Ireland to control the Irish by the British conquerors, that’s where Scots-Irish come from. In addition to that, they worshipped God on their own mountain, not Jerusalem. To that Jesus will say, Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 
2.     Wells are places of courtship. Not a good place for unmarried men and women  to meet, especially a Jew and a Samaritan. No wonder the disciples wee scandalized.
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
3.     Again, a key character, like Nicodemus, can only think literally and not get it. The woman thinks he’s got magic water that will keep her from having to make all these trips to the well.
T This is the only time in the gospels, other than the crucifixion, where Jesus says that he is thirsty. (Also John 19:28)
4.     Then there’s the whole discussion of husbands. And Jesus sees clearly who she is.
5.     She calls him a prophet. Biblically, prophets are not those who predict the future but those who can reveal clearly what is right now.
6.     Finally the Samaritans see and believe for themselves, not because of her testimony.

There’s a lot here to think about . But in Lent , it has to being able to see ourselves as we are. Like naked Adam. To face God as we are. Because only once have we faced that, once we have stopped hiding,  then we can experience acceptance, of ourselves by ourselves, to drink the water of reconciliation and begin to feel whole again. That’s what we do in Lent.

We finish by singing Glorious things of Thee are spoken. And make our closing circle. Then clean up. Until we  come back again.

The Session meets to review the story of the court case.

Dan and I are ready to meet Nate for his birthday lunch .

                                                    * * * *

Last Thursday, at the Palestine Film Festival, we received bad news. On February 20th, we had sponsored the first New York screening of Occupied Palestine, a film by David R. Koff. ( Finished in 1981, this film has been virtually banned in the US, at first scheduled then can celled then not scheduled at all. Blackballed. Thirty years late, finally screened in New York. Mr. Koff himself came for the screening and q & a. Having lived for all these years labeled a self-hating Jew. Having lived a life as an activist filmmaker, he lived with a perpetual broken heart. On March 6th, he took his own life.

David R. Koff, presente

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