Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

My friends, we are to the mid-point of our Lenten journey to Easter, a good time to assess how we are doing with using these days to grow closer to our brother, Jesus, in how we live our lives.  In my surface look-over of today’s Scriptures, which I always do each week to get a sense of their key points; the following thoughts rose to the forefront.

  • Is our God in our midst or not?
  • Our hope will not leave us disappointed.
  • If you only recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink….
  • If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

So, let’s look deeper.  Moses’ flock, now in the desert, is clearly having a crisis of faith! Do they actually believe that the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt would abandon them to die of thirst in the desert?  Even Moses’ faith seems shaken by his unbelieving flock.

We can look from our sanitized, removed view of the Israelites’ lack of faith and become indignant, asking, “How can you be so faithless?”  Now, this is only fair if we shine that same light of introspection upon our own faith.  How are we ultimately in times of suffering and frustration—sickness, as with the Covid 19 pandemic, job loss, times when we are misunderstood, perhaps ridiculed?—this is always a good counter-balance to any judgment of others—how, in fact, we do ourselves!

Paul challenges us to always hold onto hope and if we do; we will not be disappointed.  This hope, he says, is dependent upon Jesus’ Spirit who is always with us.   Lent is a good time to ask if we believe that—do we, in fact, believe that Jesus’ Spirit lives and breathes and moves through us?—an important question if we say we are a follower of Jesus!

He makes an astounding comment to the woman at the well and I read it almost as if Jesus is imploring…”If you only understood—recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink…!”  Now for this Samaritan woman, the gift, as Jesus goes on to prove to her, is himself, the Messiah—the long-awaited One!  But for us, what is the gift that we are supposed to find?

We know from so many other places in the New Testament that Jesus expects us to go deeper, to see him in those we encounter each and every day.  Our lives as his followers, are truly not about reading stories each week about, “a good and holy man,” with no carry-over into our own lives—“If you only recognized who it is who is asking you for a drink, for some food, for a bed, for respect, and so on…”  Friends, it only matters that Jesus gave himself as gift so many, many years ago, if we can then see him today in the imploring of the needy in our midst.  “Open your eyes and see, [he says], the fields are ready for the harvest!”

This reminds me of several different folks we met in the early morning of Friday last as Robert and I did the 2-7 A.M. shift at the Warming Center here in Winona.  Because I was in the midst of work on this homily, two thoughts came to me as I engaged different people that I met there.  First, I thought, “There but for the grace of God, I am that person,” and second, “This is Jesus!”

Earlier I suggested that the fact that the Israelites lost faith in the desert was understandable if we look to our own lives and our, at times, lack of faith.  A friend recently shared of a time in her life—a period of years really, when she lost one significant person after another in close proximity.  Sometimes we don’t always know what these times mean until we have moved through them.  My friend shared that she found herself only able to basically exist during this period of loss—that she didn’t reach out to God during that time.  As I listened to my friend; I found myself thinking, and later shared with her, “But God was always with you during that time!—perhaps giving you the strength, to exist!”   Sister Joan Chittister once said, “God is always present to what God has created!”

This of course speaks to the graciousness of our God toward us rather than the old theology of, “God needing vindication for the sinfulness of humanity,”—a thought, I feel, is still too much on the hearts and souls of people as they journey through Lent.

This kind of theology sets us up in a very uneven relationship with our brother, Jesus—one devoid of any, “give and take,” as all good relationships should have.  For if, Jesus did it all—“saving us in one act, his death,” that leaves us, effectively, “off the hook!”

But if Jesus came, “not to die for us,” but, “to live for us”—to show us the best ways to do that, think of what a richer relationship we can then have with him!  If God loved creation so much as to want to become part of our existence, wouldn’t that knowledge entice you to love God more than if,  a mean, old God needed vindication so much that this same God thought it necessary to send Jesus to make up for our sinfulness with his death? For me, the decision is quite simple and I hope the same is true for you!

Much more intelligible, and worthy of such a gracious God as we have, is to imagine that Jesus lived under the assumption that everyone in God’s earthly kin-dom should be treated equally and that he in fact demanded that those who could do something about it, in his time, do it!  For this, they killed him! As someone once said, “that is how we do things down here!” Just so that we are clear here—Jesus died not because God willed it, but as a direct result of how Jesus lived his life—demanding justice for all!

As Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant says, and I paraphrase; if we focus on God’s graciousness, rather than on God’s vindictiveness, that puts us where we want to be on a continuum where we strive toward being our best selves.  This God of ours, she continues, is always, “calling us back,” wanting us to stay in a close relationship.

Finally, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well gives a map for right living, not only in Jesus’ time, but now.  We see Jesus addressing several taboos in his culture through his actions of reaching out—he talks to someone from a group of people, traditionally shunned by his own people.  Secondly, he talks to a woman in public, a taboo in his culture, and thirdly, to a woman considered of low character—and of course, her “low character” came about on her own—right?  In speaking to her, Jesus says in no uncertain terms—no one is ever unwelcome or unworthy.  Again, I think of the folks who frequent the Warming Center and of how, one of them, preparing to leave on Friday morning last, said to me, “Thanks for the hospitality!”

So thinking of the taboos in Jesus’ time, let’s fast-forward to our own time.  No matter your political background, or choice of candidate for office, it would behoove us all to look at a larger issue beyond who wins or loses in this election year and address the ever-present-yet issue of “sexism” plaguing our political process and other processes in State and Church.

This issue was spoken of rather eloquently by Elizabeth Warren as she commented to reporters after ending her presidential bid.  She was asked if “sexism” played a role in this contest and she basically said that a woman would be put down regardless of her take on this issue.

If she stated that women were and are held to a higher standard than are men as they strive for these positions, (sexism), she would be called a, “whiner.” If she went the other way and denied that, “sexism” was afoot, then all her female supporters would say, “What planet are you living on?!”

Friends, sexism is alive and well when candidates are considered, less on their abilities to lead and more on their presumed, “fragileness” of character. Sexism is alive and well in churches when women’s gifts for ministerial roles are discounted and they are denied access because of how they happen to have been born.

Interesting isn’t it that the same types of “taboos” that Jesus dealt with in his time, still run amok today? This is the kind of thing that Jesus calls us, in our lives, as his followers, to address.  When something in your heart and soul says, “This is wrong, we must speak out!

The psalmist challenges us to harden not our hearts—and so, it would seem that we should allow our hearts to become, “hearts of flesh,” that our “denying,” this Lent, reaches beyond ourselves to a wider world, so needful of this renewal! Amen? Amen!