From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord; •
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving •
and be glad in him with psalms.
3 For the Lord is a great God •
and a great king above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth •
and the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, •
and his hands have moulded the dry land.
6 Come, let us worship and bow down •
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For he is our God; •
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
8 O that today you would listen to his voice: •
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
on that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 ‘When your forebears tested me, and put me to the proof, •
though they had seen my works.
10 ‘Forty years long I detested that generation and said, •
“This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways.”
11 ‘So I swore in my wrath, •
“They shall not enter into my rest.” ’
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that 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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Just 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?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
Sermon on Third Sunday of Lent
Paul makes a very strange statement in our reading. He talks of pride – he speaks of boasting. That is not what we expect, so why does he write to the Romans:
“we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”
But the object of christian bragging is not what we normally crow about, is it? Usually, we speak of our own possessions, or accomplishments. Do we flaunt our dearest hopes before the world? I don’t think we do. Normally I happily talk about all my own accomplishments, all the grass I have cut, the borders I have dug over, my new lawnmower, my new coat, one day it may even be my new car. What do you boast about?
In my better moments, I suppose I am a little like Paul. I witter on about the hope I have of an ultimate salvation. I abjure my possessions, and I can rise up to extol how I treat others well, just as I have been treated well – but I can just as easily descend into excoriating those who have hurt me in any way. All of this is a far cry from Paul’s “boasting in our hope of sharing the glory of God” – don’t we, in odd moments, keep in mind those words, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” So how can I boast of anything except in my own rather dubious self-indulgence?
But Paul’s joy in the hope of sharing the glory of God should guide us. Paul’s complete confidence in the saving act should inspire us to live in the same manner – to be bold in season and out of season, sharing our hope with any who would listen to us when we say anything out loud. That is the thing – sadly, too often we are silent witnesses.
Paul also tells us to boast about our sufferings, so rather than deriding those who have hurt us in any way, we should be talking about them and how we have risen above that suffering because we have endured such shame or even hurt and have become what we are in the love of God.
We, too often, do not transform our own experiences into something we have extracted ourselves from. This may be what really afflicts us in this moment of history, isn’t it? That we do not see that we have escaped something. No, we would rather pursue the torment of our lives, never learning that we have overcome the world in the manner Jesus did, by enduring and showing the world what true character is. This character is something which the world does not really understand, and, I think, we do not explain it carefully enough.
We would much rather be like the silent witnesses on the coroner’s table, demanding that someone else do all the hard work to explain our lives. Paul, I think, is saying that we have to speak for ourselves. Paul, I am sure, has confidence in the power of dialog to exhort us all to greater and greater hope. When we have opened up our hearts to others in earnest conversation, don’t we then act as evangelists of hope? Don’t we become harbingers of the spring which is Easter? Rather than living through a false Lenten discipline of self indulgent woefulness, don’t we have the duty of sharing hope?
We have all heard that we should do something extra rather than giving something up for Lent. But my plea is that we should be doing something better all the time. I want us to transform life around us into something positive, something which has not been tainted by the worldliness of the everyday. I want us to live life in an extraordinary manner.
Such a life rests in this hope. I am reading Paul in a very different manner than he is taken in the tradition. Whenever my wife thinks of Paul – if she ever does nowadays – like so many she associates him with the Puritan attitude of “Don’t enjoy yourselves!” and so the Church universal declines in numbers and enthusiasm. I have heard too many christians talk about essential human character as too corrupt to inspire. Is this what Paul is talking about here in the letter to the Romans? How can he compose this passage which concerns us here and now?
We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.
How can a man who has been interpreted as the exponent of original sin infecting all humanity say that our suffering of whatever slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ultimately produces hope? If he is really saying that human nature can overcome its nurture in order to transcend the strictures of ordinary experience, how can we all misunderstand him so badly? How can we follow the tradition and say that Paul condemns us all to crawl among the slime of corruption? This Lent I have been concentrating on Paul, as he appears in the lectionary. Perhaps we need to re-learn what Paul’s message was really about. Perhaps our priests should return to the letter to the Romans as previous generations have, in order to produce noble theological tomes for their own congregations. Perhaps our local congregations can produce their own, speaking volumes to make sense of the gospel in the world today.
Those new theological tomes need not be the six hundred pages of a Nygren or a Barth on the first half of today’s epistle, but they should start with earnest and heartfelt conversations about hope in a world of despair, a world which has fallen into a wretched legalism yet again. Today we live in a culture of political correctness, as they say. It is a culture of sticking to the rules and what is expected. It is a culture of never questioning the received wisdom, the tradition in which our parents lived and which we inherit. I think we need to struggle with tradition to make it our own. Like remembering Paul, we need to re-read in a radical way the letters to the young churches as though he were writing to us in our faithful innocence.
We need to take hold of the tradition as our own. Living out the rituals anew, encountering the symbols as if they were never seen before, but especially we need to read the words as poets experience language, ever fresh and calling up a lively interpretation of what life means here and now, as our Bishop is trying to do when she speaks of Life and her vision for all of us as her wider congregation.