Audio link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110327John4.mp3
Sermon - "Unexpected Providences"
Our Lord, open our eyes to see what you are doing, how you have come to meet us, how you are working in and through us by your grace. Amen.
Our Scripture readings today are full of unexpected signs of God's providence. When we look to our Lord, we see he does not work in the ways we would think or plan. He takes care of this world and his people in his own way, working out his will according to the mysterious counsel of his own heart.
We see God giving water in the wilderness, providing for a huge group of people, sustaining their life. And he does it in response to their complaints, not their expression of trust in him. Again and again we see that the God of all love and compassion endures his people complaining against him, not trusting him, and he provides them with exactly what they need, not because of their faithfulness but because of his faithfulness.
In Romans we see that justification is by faith, not by works. If we were to devise a plan for salvation we'd probably want it to be more like a work agreement with merit pay increases and promotions because of outstanding job performance. We'd select people because of how good they are. God selects people because of how good God is. Justification is by faith, not by works.
Again in Romans we see the righteous Christ dying for unrighteous people. God, the perfect Lord, the one in whose presence sin cannot stand, receives us to himself when we are still sinners. God, the immortal Lord, does the impossible and dies. God, who can do no wrong, becomes sin for us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in doing so, he does what no human could do. He takes our evil away from us and replaces it with his good. This is unexpected indeed.
But to cap it all off in today's readings, we see Jesus, a Jewish man, dealing with a Samaritan woman. He shows God's providence to her, an outcast from her own society, a member of a society that Jews will have nothing to do with. How does Jesus do this with the Samaritan woman? How does he do it with us as well?
First, Jesus meets the woman at a time and place she would not expect. Let's look at this morning ritual, found throughout the Mediterranean world. First thing in the morning, right about daybreak, the woman of each household takes a water pot or two and goes to a community well or fountain. Everyone arrives at about the same time of day. They need to take water back to their households for washing, cooking, and drinking. It's going to be their day's water supply. So these women are meeting at the well before washing up. They haven't had their coffee or tea yet. This is first thing in the morning. And as people wait to draw water, or as they help one another, since water is heavy, they talk about this and that, their lives, what they are planning to do that day, how everyone in the family is. It's a community time which I don't think we can parallel nowadays, except maybe for the retirees who get the cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant in the morning.
There's the custom. But this woman doesn't follow that custom. It isn't that she is a nonconformist. You don't get the idea that she was ill. Rather, it looks very much like she is a bit of an outcast. For whatever reason, she doesn't go to draw water at the same time everyone else does. She wants to be alone. So she comes out late, as the day has become hot. She expects to meet nobody. All the respectable people are back home, working.
Jesus doesn't always meet us when and where we would expect him. Yes, we rightly anticipate his presence in Word and Sacraments, where he said he would be present for his people. But how many times have we been surprised to find signs of the Lord's presence elsewhere? How many times have we looked at a situation we've been in and realized that our Lord is caring for us there, in a setting other than one where we are consciously involved in worship and prayer? And how about Jesus' presence in ways that go contrary to our own wisdom? What of our Lord's promises associated with baptism and communion? Do we really think it seems reasonable that our Lord would wash away sins using water and his promise? Do we really think it seems reasonable that our Lord would be present in bodily form in bread and wine? This runs contrary to our wisdom. It runs contrary to all normal human understanding. Yet it is precisely what God has promised in Scripture. God meets us in Christ, at times and places we would have no natural reason to expect.
When Jesus meets with the woman, what does he offer her? He offers her water, living water, running water. The woman doesn't understand this. He has no bucket. He has no piece of rope. He doesn't look like a miracle worker. He looks like a thirsty Jewish guy. And if he were able to come up with running water, would he be thirsty? Would he ask her for a drink from the well? Jesus' offer to the woman doesn't make sense. Likewise, his offer to us, his promise of eternal life, his promise of a bodily resurrection, his promise that he will be present for us always, these offers don't seem to make much sense. They go contrary to our reason. If we think the claims of Christ are altogether reasonable, logical, and normal, maybe we need to give ourselves a reality check. No, nobody who says he will die so we can live forever is speaking the same language that we understand to apply to the rest of the world. Nobody who says he can implant a new nature in us is following normal patterns. Jesus makes offers that don't seem to make sense. But that doesn't stop him. It's all part of the way he shows himself to be divine. It's all part of his claim to deity. Jesus claims to do things that the rest of us could not do. Then he does them. He offers what we don't understand.
When the woman at the well wants a clarification of what Jesus is talking about, Jesus shows that he has seen her and knows her. He makes mention of her marital history and of her current living arrangement, which, by the way, is plenty to make her want to get water at a different time from the other women in the town. Jesus sees and knows his people. He understands our sin. He understands our history. He is not at all ignorant of who we are, what kind of criminals we are. He knows our thoughts, he knows our plans, he knows our imaginations.
Does Jesus leave the woman able to confirm herself in her sin? Not at all. He points out her sin to her. She knows that marriage is serious and that you're supposed to marry one person and remain married to that person. She knows the meaning of shame. Just look at the time she came out to the well. Does Jesus show us our sin as well? He sure does. We see that Jesus came to condemn sin, and then to bear the penalty for sin. He shows the sinfulness of sin. Then in his death he shows that sin is deadly. Do we want to see our sin? Let's look at the way Jesus uses God's Law to convince us of our sin and to crush us, so we are left with no excuse. Yes, Jesus points out sin. Where sin is not pointed out, we cannot see God's grace clearly.
And that's exactly what Jesus does. He calls the woman to true worship, real worship, the kind of worship that God seeks. God seeks people to worship him in spirit and in truth. That worship which is true is what happens according to God's Word. It is worship in accord with God's revelation. We don't worship in a particular way because it seems attractive to us. We don't worship in a particular way because our culture likes it. We worship in a particular way because God in his mercy has given it to us, through a long-standing pattern of practice, based in orthodox belief. Did you know that a pattern of worship as we find in our Lutheran divine services has been followed by believers since the late first century or early second century, and that it has its roots in the Jewish synagogue practices of Jesus' time? Did you know that this worship which centers around repentance, forgiveness, proclamation of God's glory, reading of Scripture, explanation of Scripture, further response and celebration of communion, in the very order we see in our liturgy to this day, was taken up in the apostolic period based on how they understood God to be blessing his people throughout history? God calls us to real worship, worship in spirit and in truth, not in either spirit or in truth, but both. We look for fervent belief. We also look for historic practice. And we can find it in our divine service.
Finally, Jesus reveals himself to the woman for who he is. Jesus introduces himself to this Samaritan woman as the true Messiah, the one who comes to save, the anointed one of God. He has shown himself to her in many ways. Now he tells her, "Yes, I am the one you think I am." God, in his providence, has shown himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the Son. How do we view him? Do we see him as the one who has come to be the savior of the world? Do we see him as the one in whom all things hold together? Do we see him as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end? Do we see him as the resurrection and the life? Do we see him as the soon-coming king?
May the Lord open our eyes to see him rightly, in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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