The Adventurous Lectionary -The Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2025
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11;. John 4:1-42
Today’s readings might be described as “grace in spite of ourselves.” While we were yet sinners, God sets into motion the healing process. When we doubt God, God gives us living waters. Our questions, and challenges, awaken new possibilities. God doesn’t demand perfection and even faith to reach out to us. God takes the initiative – and like a first responder’s response to a fire – provides a healing path, without asking questions or requiring a specific achievement on our part.
In the reading from Exodus, the Israelites temporarily forget God’s miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage. God has liberated them from captivity, but at the first sign of uncertainty they want to turn back to Egypt, preferring slavery and certainty to the uncertainty of God’s adventure. They long for security, and doubt God’s providence. Providence does not ensure that the path will be or a particular outcome, and that frightens them. 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. Providence, like the moral arc of history, will outlast our doubts and provide a way when we see no pathway ahead.
This passage is appropriate to this season of the Coronavirus. We are tempted to close our doors, circle the wagons, and live in accordance with fear. There is no absolute assurance of a particular outcome, and we must live with uncertainty as we follow God’s way one moment at a time. We can easily be forgetful of the grace that guides our lives. We may want to go it alone, as personal and in our communal and national life. We think being “first” – whether personally or nationally – protects us from life’s vicissitudes when, in fact, the self-made person or nation is the most fragile entity. Our sense of nation-first may, in fact, exacerbated this and other situations by preventing us to see common cause with other nations. 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.
Psalm 95 provide a vision of affirmative faith. 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 unique context. God’s ubiquitous creativity and wisdom reminds us that despite the imperfections of life, we are always Home.
Romans 5 describes the priority and ubiquity of grace. All is grace. All is love. All good things come from God’s loving hand. We can live confidently – even in our suffering and in fearful times – 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 usThe apostle Paul is aware of the reality of sin and alienation. The sin of Adam – the imperfection and waywardness of life – is also 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. Like us, she wants something that cannot be taken from her. She wants the refreshment that only Divine Providence can give. Her status in her community – perhaps, as an outsider, the victim of misfortune – cannot nullify God’s grace. 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 challenges 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. God’s providential grace does not nullify our agency. In fact, it enhances it. In the midst of a pandemic, we should pray for God’s protection and care, and for wisdom in ordering our personal and common life. We should also act, taking into our own hands the freedom God has given us to be healers and caregivers in a difficult time.
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 fifty books, including “Piglet’s Proces: Process Theology for All God’s Children,” “Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians,” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.”