The Adventurous Lectionary -The Third Sunday in Lent – March 19, 2017
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11;. John 4:1-42
Psalm 95 sets the stage for this week’s readings. Joy, gratitude, and trust characterize the Psalmist’s relationship with God. Singing praise for all that God is and what God has done is at the heart of a holistic faith. Divine providence is at work in the micro and the macro, in the human and non-human worlds. In the spirit of Psalm 150, we can affirm that God breathes through all things and that humans and non-humans praise God as they fulfill their appropriate vocations in their own particular context. God’s ubiquitous creativity and wisdom reminds us that despite the imperfections of life, we are always Home.
In the reading from Exodus, the Israelites temporarily forget God’s miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage. They long for security, and doubt God’s providence. Despite their infidelity, God provides. Moses strikes a rock from which the waters of life flow. Regardless of what we do, God is faithful and will provide a way where there is no way.
We also follow God’s way one moment at a time. We are also forgetful of the grace that guides our lives. We want to go it alone, as personal and in our communal and national life. We think being “first” protects us from life’s vicissitudes when, in fact, the self-made person or nation is the most fragile entity. In God’s realm, there is no “America first,” “white privilege,” or “wall that divides.” Such attitudes are antithetical to divine providence and grace and will eventually lead to personal and national collapse.
Romans 5 describes the priority and ubiquity of grace. We can live confidently – even in our suffering – because of God’s prevenient grace. God’s grace overcomes our sin, delivers us from fear, and provides a way forward in an ambiguous world. This grace applies to everyone – friend and foe, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Muslim, American and Syria. Like the children of Israel, we are encircled by grace. The challenge is our forgetfulness of all that God has done and is doing for us.
The apostle is aware of the reality of sin and alienation. The sin of Adam – the imperfection and waywardness of life – is ubiquitous. We can’t escape life’s ambiguities and imperfections, but we don’t need to be dominated by them. God’s power to save is all-encompassing and by comparison, sin’s impact is finite and temporary. Grace abounds. Before we can do anything to earn our salvation, God’s grace saves us. Christ dies for us, redeeming our brokenness and giving us the power and energy to begin again.
The encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well is best suited for a readers’ theatre, liturgical dance, or biblical storytelling. Its length makes it challenging for preacher and congregation alike. Still, the message is powerful. First, Jesus breaks down the barriers that imprison persons and communities – he breaks down the barriers of sex, ethnicity, ethics, and religion. Grace is insidious in its challenge of our prejudice and privilege. Moreover, grace overcomes our ethical and religious distinctions of clean and unclean, pure and impure, and in and out.
God’s Spirit cannot be localized. The Spirit goes where it will – it can’t be encompassed by religious orthodoxy, ritual, nationality, or ethical qualification. God’s Transforming Spirit heals and cleanses without regard to human convention. We can’t wall the Spirit in or out. It is not our possession or ours to control. God’s living waters are for all.
The woman at the well rightly wants living waters. She wants something that cannot be taken from her. She wants the refreshment that only Divine Providence can give. This is also what we desire. We want the constancy of divine refreshment to quench our own spiritual thirsts and restore us to wholeness.
Today’s scriptures center on what God has done and still can do for us. God delivers us from bondage, refreshes our spirits, quenches our thirst, forgives our sins, and enables us to face suffering. The theocentric nature of these passages challenge us to inclusive spirituality and ethics. The ubiquity of grace challenges us to be graceful; the priority of grace invites us to be hospitable; the undeserved nature of grace inspires us to forgiveness and boundary breaking for faith.
Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA, and a doctoral professor at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of over forty books, including “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh,” “Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians,” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.”