“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, March 28, 2011

Woman at the Well

You know, It is amazing what happens when the timing and situation are right. A woman has gone to the well to gather water in the middle of the day. The middle of the day to avoid the crowd of other women. To avoid the chattiness and conversation that ensues around the well in the morning and evening. Most women to go the well in the morning and evening, not in the heat of the day, but this particular woman has chosen the heat and solitude over the looks and shameful conversation of women who were probably at one time her friends. At the well she hopes to see no one. She hopes that this will be a quick trip, there and back, no one to make eye contact with or exchange a greeting.

As she approaches the well she sees a man. Oh great she thinks, “Just what I need.” The man is tired, sweaty, and in desperate need for some water. So, he asks her for a drink. She looks at him confused. It is obvious that he is a Jewish man. She is a Samaritan woman. They should not talk. She expected him to ignore her. Let her go about her business. Alone. But rather, he asks her for a drink. So she responds. Confused she says, “Why do you want a drink from me. You know we should not share things in common. I am a Samaritan and you are a Jew. Are you sure you want something to drink from me?”

His response is surprising and perhaps even more confusing than his request. “If you knew who was talking to you then you would have asked for living water.” She is perplexed. “What do you mean?” she asked. “You not no bucket and that well is really deep. There is no way you can gather water from this well without a bucket or something. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than our ancestor Jacob who built this well for us? How do you plan on getting this living water?”

And so Christ, looks at this woman, tired from the journey in the noonday heat and he beings to explain. 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 first summer I worked at Blue Lake each day during our break a few of the counselors would quickly grab our bathing suites, eave camp and drive a few miles down a dirt road to a place called Blue Springs. Deep in the Conechah National Forrest is a natural spring of water… cold water, which felt so good during those hot summer days. At Blue Springs there was a large oak tree. Someone had nailed a few 2x4’s to the trunk to aid in climbing this great tree. Almost every afternoon I would climb the tree, shimmy my way out onto one of its largest branches, grab onto the rope tied to a branch from the top, then swing out on the rope letting go at the right time and falling into the cold water below. When my feet hit the water for the first time each day my breath was taken away by the unexpected cold water. Once in the spring I could feel the water moving, gushing up all around me.

Living water moves. It ebbs and flows. It creates waves and washes over rocks, people, sand, and other objects. It is not stagnate. It does not stand still.

I am not sure how man of you have ever been white water rafting. The first time I went I was in the 7th grade. My mother and I took a trip to North Carolina. My mother is all about adventures, and for her this qualified as an adventure. We loaded the buss from the Nantahala Outdoor center and drove it a few miles down the river. When we got out of the boat, I looked at the rushing water below. Although I was familiar with the gulf coast waves we see in places like Gulf Shores and Destin this was not familiar. The waves were not methodical. They did not come ever few seconds. You could not anticipate the next “big one.” Rather they were irregular, rough, and untimed. The waves came and went as they pleased, bumping over rocks, rushing over tree stumps, and knocking the breath out of you if you dared get in their way. The water was alive.

When Christ encounters this woman at the well he offers her something that she does not understand. Water that is living. Water from which she will never be thirsty again. Water that gives eternal life. The Messiah explains to her the situation of her life. The husbands that she has had. The shame that she encounters day in and day out because the man she is living with sees her unworthy or unfit to marry. It is a shameful existence. It is why she comes to the well in the middle of the hot hot day.

She does not understand our Lord. How can you offer me water that will permanently quench my thirst? Water that will give me eternal life? Water that will allow me to never come to this well again in the middle of the hot day…in the noon day heat. Water that cure my shame. My sorrow. My regret.” She does not understand, then it clicks.

I spent Friday and Saturday with our confirmation class at the 4H center in Shelby County. Watching our sixth graders participate in the low ropes course was quite entertaining. Their instructor was wonderful. A person trained in team building and low ropes guided our group through the entire course… directing them and giving them help as they needed it. There were a few that required simple team building then there was one challenge, in particular, that required thinking outside of the box.

This was the challenge. They were instructed to get on a log suspended from the trees by cables that swung back and forth. Once on the log, they had to sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” without their feet touching the ground. So they first sit facing forward. It does not work. Many of them fall off the log backward feet in the air, including one of their fearless leaders Wayne Lambert. Then they try to sit with legs on either side of the log. This does not work either. Then the instructor tells them to think about the words he has used to instruct them. He had never told them they had to actually “sit” on the log. They start to talk among themselves… then the light bulb goes off. They realize they have been going about this the wrong way. One of the girls demonstrates what the whole group is supposed to do by sitting on the ground and propping their legs up on the log. The only thing that had to be on the log was their feet. They easily sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

The same is true about the story we have read this morning. The woman questions Jesus over and over again. She does not understand that he is the Son of God. She does not get that he is the messiah. She does not understand the that water she is being offered is not water from Jacob’s well but rather the Spirit of God. Water that quenches her shame. Water that gives eternal life. Water that hope in a situation that seems hopeless. She finally understands what Jesus means by living water.

And then she does something remarkable. She shares what she has learned. She leaves her jar at the well. She forgets about why she has come to that place, and she goes and shares that she has, in fact, met the Messiah. She becomes so overwhelmed with the message, the hope, and the forgiveness. She shares that she an encountered the living God who has offered her living water. The message is clear. She is transformed. She is no longer ashamed but rather she run back to the village telling those who’s words and stares once hurt the message she has encountered. She says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

Yes, he can. Those that she tells leave the village and go quickly to Jacob’s well. They, too, want to meet this man. This Messiah. The Savior. They go to the well because she was bold enough to share the message of hope with others. Even those who knew her shame. Who knew her life. Even those who whispered behind her back and who’s stares hurt to her face. She tells others about the Messiah.

This past week at our Lenten Lunches, we were challenged by Russ Dunman of the River Region United Way to share our faith. We were challenged to share the gospel…especially during this Lenten season. He challenged us to not necessarily give up something during this season, but rather to take on something. Something that we are often to hesitant to do. We were challenged to be like the woman at the well. To share our encounter with the Messiah with joy, excitement, and without hesitation.

It is often difficult to be like to the woman at the well. To understand that God gives us Living water. Flowing through our hearts and minds. To understand that in a life where the only thing certain is death that we are given eternal life. Often the message of Jesus is as foreign to us as it was to the woman at the well, but once God penetrates our hearts, once the living water of baptism and the spirit flows within us we cannot help but share what we have experienced with others. Once we are reminded of the grace we received at our baptism. One we come to the fount and touch the waters of baptism we receive the living water. The grace of God flows through us, over us, and within us. The grace of God covers us.

It is my hope that as we journey to the cross through this season of Lent, we will be reminded of the conversation that takes place at Jacob’s well. We will be reminded of the love, the grace, and the flowing water that Jesus offers all of us. It is my hope that we will be reminded of the woman at the well. And that we will share that living water with others. Following the service, I invite you to come to the font. To touch the water and to be reminded of the living water that Christ offers all of us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Up On the Mountain

Matthew 4:1-11

Last Wednesday we came into this place, to this beautiful sanctuary, gathered here as a community of faith, joined with one another and worshipped as we entered into the season of repentance—the season the Lent. Together with our brothers and sisters we began a journey—a journey to the cross—to Golgotha. Many of us have vowed to give up things during this time that often separate us from the faith. For many of this us this may be chocolates, meat, technology, cokes, or television. Over the next forty days we will be tempted to take part in some of those things in which we enjoy the rest of the year. But when we are tempted we can remember that we are not alone.

As we journey to the cross with Christ, we know that Christ has also encountered temptation. And like Christ overcame death, Christ also overcame Satan during that time in the wilderness. Journey with me, if you will, to that place, to the wilderness, to the isolation of the desert where Christ was for forty days. Forty days of solitude and loneness. Forty days without his family, his disciples, his friends. For forty days, he left his ministry. For forty days he left those who needed healing, loving, and redeeming—those who needed to hear the Gospel. For forty days he prayed, he communed with God, he communed with our Creator. For forty days, he worshipped, not even letting food or water interrupt his time with our Lord. For forty days he remembered why he had been sent to this earth. At the end of these forty days weak and tired, Christ encounters the Devil. With barely enough strength to talk, the Devil tempts our Lord three times.

Temptation is not something specific to Christ. We have all experienced temptation, but this one was different. Face to face he comes into contact with the Devil. Face to face he encounters the evil one. Face to face he is temped.

In the first temptation, he is offered food. And after forty days without food and water, many of us would jump at the chance for nourishment. Yet, unlike us, Christ holds fast and is strong. He does not yield to the temptation. In the second temptation, Christ is offered the easy way out. It seems that through out his ministry he is telling people that he is the Son of God, but few seem to believe. Yet by jumping off this pinnacle, it would indeed show that he is the son of man. Christ, though, does not take the easy road, but instead chooses to continue to heal, to love, to preach, and to pray that others would come to know him as the Lord. In the third temptation, the Devil offers power, all the kingdoms of the world. It may seem funny to hear Christ, who is the Son of God, being offered earthly kingdoms. We all too often know what it is like to be tempted by the desire of power and authority. And so perhaps Christ resists this temptation just for us, to show us the possibility to not bow down, that power and authority are not just givens in the world.

We have all been tempted, and through our temptation we have all fallen short. This is not new news to us as human beings who often give into our human nature. And we also know that our temptations have consequences. It seems that gambling has taken center stage in our local news. WSFA, the Adversities, the Mobile-Press Register, and the Birmingham News, have all reported on the horrors of the greed in our state. This issue has harmed and divided our state. The United Methodist church is very clear about where we stand on this issue and we have seen the result of greed in our own communities. It is the need for power, for wealth, and for social standing that has placed our state in the national news. It is the temptation that drives us toward power and wealth. While some of our state’s leaders await trial, temptation continues to loom in all of our lives. It is something that, regardless of where we go or what we do, we cannot escape. It is always in our lives. Temptation surrounds us.

The political figures and those in the business world are not the only ones subject to temptation. All of us have been tempted. All of us have fallen short. All of us need to know that we have been saved by God through grace alone. It is the power of the Messiah that allowed Christ to reject the temptation offered to him in the wilderness and it the power of God in our own lives that gives us the courage, the faith, and the assurance to stand up to temptation in whatever form it presents itself… be it in lives held in jeopardy by gambling or by the tempting pleasures of eating a bite of meat, giving into the piece of chocolate, or parousing facebook for just a few minuets. Like Christ, all of us face temptation.

Following years of Apartied in South Africa, a man who had been imprisoned for 27 years was elected President of the new democratic South Africa. Nelson Mandela was the first political authority of African descent to rule over the country. For years the National Party which was composed of white men and women known and Afrikaners controlled the country’s political and economical environment, oppressing all who disagreed with their views. Arrested, charged, and convicted for national sabotage, Nelson expected to spend the rest of his life imprisoned by the National Party. In prison Mandela preformed hard labor in lime quarries and was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Life seemed grim, but the world was changing and in 1990 he was released from prison. Following years of hatred, violence, racial persecution, animosity, and economic inequality it would have been easy for Mandela to further divide the country, by simply reversing the roles, by seeking revenge on those who harmed him, his family, and his nation. The temptation was great for Mandela to give those who harmed him a taste of their own medicine. To show them what it is like to be persecuted, harmed, and unjustly treated. Payback would have been easy. But Nelson Mandela did not do that. Instead, Mandela looked that temptation in the face, and like Christ so often teaches us, offered love. He offered peace. He offered equality to those that had not offered it to him. He united the country by making sure those in his cabinet, in the police force, and people in his army were of both African and European descent. Life was different and it was certainly not easy but for the first time in South African history, power was not something you achieved by the color of your skin but rather through your accomplishments and hard work.

Following years of violence and hatred, it would have been easy for Mandela to offer the same to those who persecuted him. Yet, as history tells us, this is not what he did. He looked temptation straight in the face and with the smile that the whole world saw time and time again through the news media turned temptation down. He choose justice rather than retribution. He did not fall to temptation. He did not give others a taste of their own medicine, but under his leadership, South Africa became a well-respected country with economic stability. And because Mandela did not do what was typically expected, he became a world leader and inspiration and was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

It is often difficult to look temptation in the face and turn the other face. Yet, when we do this the rewards are great. When Jesus found himself alone in the wilderness. Satan offered him food, glory, and power at his weakest moment. And Jesus, our messiah, the savior of the world looked the devil and temptation straight in the face, knowing that he had been sent to this earth for a purpose—to love, to heal, to teach, and to save.

During the next forty days, we will journey with Christ to the cross, to Golgotha; we will hear him teach his disciples about love, grace, and forgiveness. We will hear him to proclaim that he is the Son of God. We will see some believe and other lack faith to comprehend that he is infact the Messiah. I invite you to open your minds and hearts to this message. To see the healing, to understand the grace, and to experience the love. To see the courage of standing up to the Evil One and the compassion of carrying his cross to the hill of Calvary. To know that although Christ was tempted, Christ looked the devil in the face, and turned around. Saying “no” I will not give into the need for food, glory, or power.

Throughout life we encounter many temptations, some more obvious than others. Yet, when we follow the teaching of our Messiah, the outcome is always for our benefit. Although this is often difficult in the world in which we live, in a world that values power, seeks revenge, we can look to the cross knowing that through our temptations there is one who walks beside us in this life. There is one who gives us the courage to say “no,” and there is one who offers love and forgiveness, even when we stumble. It is from our Savior that we find our strength, even when it seems most difficult.

So I invite you to journey with me for the next fourty days. Keep your eyes focused on the cross. Hear the words of our Lord that contain our Salvation. And know that through this journey during next forty days and through all phases of life, there is one who walks with us. One who has overcome temptation and the world, who has overcome sin and death, who has overcome hatred and injustice. And that one, our Messiah has called us to be people who seek after the cross, and who offer love and grace to others as it has been offered to us.

God of mercy, Your word was the sure defense of Jesus in his time of testing. Minister to us in the wilderness of our temptation, that we who have been set free from sin by Christ may serve you well into life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Ok, you probably do not want to get me started on books that talk about only men needing adventure. There are plenty out there, but in my humble opinion, adventure is something that we all crave. It is something that we need. It is the reason we go to the lake for the weekend and try our hand at fishing or travel to Europe. We need the bustle of city streets or the challenge of swimming across Blue Lake. We need adventure in its various forms, fashions, challenges, failures, and rewards. Adventure is the reason people start their own business, renovate their homes, or move to new places. Recently I have been craving this adventure. I am not sure if I need to take off for a camping trip for the weekend or go to the city. You would think my recent trips to Boston and NYC would suffice, but no. It is the process. It is the craving we have in our inner being to transform and explore. So, all people need adventure. Not just men. Not just women. All of us. I would like to think it is a way we have been created.