Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 24, 2015; Pentecost Sunday

Scripture for Sunday (24 May 2015) are: Ezekiel 37:1-6; Acts 2:1-21

You can read these Scripture here: NIV and ESV

Hymns for Sunday

UMH 368 – My Hope Is Built

UMH 367 – He Touched Me

UMH 539 – O Spirit of the Living God

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; May 17, 2015

Scripture for Sunday: Acts 10:25-48

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 699 – Come and Let Us Sweetly Join

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (vs 1 & 2) – WUMC only

UMH 133 – What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine

This is a fifth (5th) sermon in the series:

{Sermon # 1}

{Sermon # 2}

{Sermon # 3}

{Sermon # 4}

We discussed the Samaritan Woman at the Well few weeks ago. Here is a link to that sermon: {Click Me}

image

A couple of weeks ago Debbie and I were privileged to meet Maria and Adrian. They work on the cruise ship Majesty of the Seas, and they are Christians. Maria shared with us that her husband (who is also working on the ship) recently committed his life to Jesus. Adrian added with a smile, “Now he tells everybody about Jesus!”

image

The story that Adrian and Maria shared with us reminded me of John 4: 28‑30.

NIV2010 John 4: 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well was so excited about what she learned from Jesus that she dropped everything to share the Good News with her neighbors. Similarly, Maria’s husband is so excited about what God is doing in his life, that he cannot contain it within himself and has to tell everyone.

image

Today we will continue our conversation about church, community and culture. One of the ways that church interacts with its neighbors is by demonstrating the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit by our actions (“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” [James 2:17]).

Today’s Scriptures from Acts 10 give us another glimpse on how church, community and culture interact.

image

Cornelius was a Centurion in the Italian Regiment in Caesarea. (A Centurion was a commanding officer of a “century,” which included 80 to 100 men). More than likely his spirituality included a pantheon of gods. I suspect that when he came to Judea and learned about the God of the Jews, he probably wanted to add that God to his pantheon. In Acts 10:2 we hear, “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

{ILLUSTRATION: Explain why a centurion would not worship the God of the Jews only: he had to swear allegiance to and worship the Emperor}.

image

God meets people where they are. Acts 10:3-6 tells us about a message from God that was revealed to Cornelius.

NIV2010 Acts 10: 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

image

For Cornelius that had to be a humbling request. He was told to invite someone who was not a Roman, and someone who was not in a position of authority among the Jews, into his house and treat him as an equal. It was not how things were done among the Romans; by doing this, Cornelius risked being ridiculed by other officers and commanders.

image

Meanwhile, Acts 10:9-23 tells us of a vision that Peter had in which he received instructions to forgo Jewish dietary laws. This request to give up Jewish dietary laws was so difficult for Peter to accept that he even argued with God. In verse Acts 10:14 we hear Peter say, ‘“Surely not, Lord!…I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”’ In response ‘The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).’ That exchange between God and Peter happened three times (Acts 10:16).

I think that Peter’s vision was an answer to the process of discernment that all of the Disciples were going through at the time. I think that all of the Disciples, including Peter, were struggling to understand what the teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus meant, and how each of them was going to live out their faith and devotion to God for the rest of their lives. If God is the Creator of the whole Universe and every living thing in it, how should followers of Jesus interact with non-believers and non-Jews? If God created pigs, crabs and reptiles why do we consider them unsuitable for food, especially as we watch gentiles eat them with no problems? Does circumcision define us as followers of God, or it is just a [meaningful] ritual and tradition? Can someone be a follower of Jesus without being circumcised?

image

I think that Peter’s vision was God’s response to these questions of faith and it had to be a challenging request. Most of us have certain likes and dislikes; Peter was told to eat foods and do something that he had been taught was forbidden since the day he was born. And to add insult to injury, there were a few Roman soldiers at Peter’s door inviting him to Cornelius’ house. That had to be scary; it is kinda like a Gestapo officer inviting me for tea and crumpets.

Nevertheless, we know the rest of the story. We know that Peter stepped out on faith and went to Cornelius’ house, where they had a chance to compare notes and discover that they had much more in common than both of them previously thought. We know that Cornelius made sure that Peter’s efforts were not wasted; he invited many people to hear Peter and to learn from Peter. And we know that Peter had been a part of something like that before when Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for two days teaching them (John 4:40). Now we see Peter doing something similar in Caesarea (Acts 10:48).

image

When Jesus taught Samaritans, many of them believed first because of the Woman’s testimony and then because of Jesus’ teaching (John 4:39-42). Because of Cornelius’ humility and Peter’s bravery and willingness to step out on faith, many in Caesarea experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit and were baptized (Acts 10:44-48).

The Samaritan Woman at the Well (a.k.a. Svetlana), Cornelius, and Peter give us a glimpse of how church, community and culture can interact.

The Samaritans in Svetlana’s village did not receive God’s blessing until they saw that Jesus and the Disciples were just as human as they were. Cornelius and Peter were both blessed when they recognized that they wanted to serve the same God. The joy, fellowship, spiritual growth, new understanding, “making disciples for Jesus” for the transformation of the world came when everyone was willing to work together in one accord, in spite of their hubris, fears, and anxieties; when they were willing to celebrate what united them instead of what differentiated them.

Today all of our churches are facing challenges of stagnant growth and loss of membership. There are many lessons that we can learn from Svetlana, Cornelius and Peter. Here are some of them:

image

1. It is up to us to summon courage and reach out. Jesus went where the Samaritans were; Peter went to Caesarea.

image

2. The process will be less than comfortable. Svetlana tried to pick two fights with Jesus[1]. Peter had to be scared to go to Caesarea. Cornelius had to humble himself to invite Peter into his house.

image

3. When we concentrate on minutia, we will have plenty of reasons to argue. Instead we need to look for and celebrate what brings us together. Jesus did not argue with Svetlana, instead he offered her love, grace and understanding. Peter and Cornelius discovered that they had a lot in common in spite of having very different backgrounds.

image

4. When we find things that unite us we experience the Holy Spirit: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers worship together in unity” (Psalm 99) and also “when two or three gather together….” When we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we become like radio antennas broadcasting the Good News with our actions. Svetlana went back to town; her neighbors came to Jesus. Cornelius’ household was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Maria’s husband tells everyone about Jesus.



[1] “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. Why are you even talking to me?” (John 4:9) /// “We worship on mount Gerizim and you worship on mount Moriah. You worship wrong” (John 9:20)

From the Desk of Pastor Asher; Thinking Towards Sunday

Cornelius, “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2 ESV), was known for his faith and devotion to God. The way the story goes, Cornelius received a message from God to invite Peter into his house (Acts 10:3-8).

Meanwhile, Peter also had a revelation (Acts 10:9-19). As he was praying he saw a vision of “animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12 ESV) that were not used for food by the Jews (“unclean” in Bible-speak). In this vision, it was revealed to Peter that nothing is considered unclean any longer, that he was allowed to eat anything that his heart desired.

I think that Peter was struggling to understand what the teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus meant to how he (Peter) was going to live out his faith and devotion to God for the rest of his life. If God created porcines, crustaceans and reptiles, why do we consider them unsuitable for food? If God is the Creator of the whole Universe and every living thing in it, how should followers of Jesus interact with non-believers and non-Jews? Does circumcision define us as followers of God, or it is just a [meaningful] ritual and tradition?

The story of Peter going to Cornelius’ home (Acts 10) provides two illustrations, namely Peter and Cornelius, of how our faith and faithfulness influences those around us. This story (Acts 10:47-48) reminds us that God invites all of us to be God’s ambassadors. We don’t have to agree on every minute point of theology to be of one accord (Acts 1:14) and in common mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is true because there are many people whose stories and experiences resonate differently with ours depending on their background.

There is room at God’s table for all of us regardless of where we have been or where we came from. The way we organize ourselves into church communities is secondary to the way we come forth to make disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world.

What are some of the ideas that limit our outreach beyond the walls of our church building? What are some of the questions of faith that you are struggling with?

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 17, 2015

Scripture for Sunday: Acts 10:25-48

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 699 – Come and Let Us Sweetly Join

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (vs 1 & 2) – WUMC only

UMH 133 – What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; May 10, 2015; Mother’s Day

image

Last week sons, daughters and husbands across our country were busy selecting presents for their moms ahead of this year’s Mother’s Day celebration.

The celebration of the Mother’s Day holiday is most widely spread in the USAmerica because it has roots in our country. But Mother’s Day, unlike those all-American dates of Thanksgiving and July 4, is also celebrated in some other countries. In many countries, religious or cultural holidays revolving around women and families have evolved into their own celebrations of motherhood. In other countries, this holiday has been imported with USAmericans who settled there.

image

The first attempts to establish a “Mother’s Day” holiday in the USAmerica came from women’s peace groups shortly after the American Civil War. Their common goal and desire was to support each other as they grieved their sons who perished in the American Civil War. {From Jeremiah 31:15: “A voice is heard in Ramah,  mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”}

In our country, those whose moms are still alive spend Mother’s Day bestowing flowers, gifts and heartfelt sentiments upon their moms. Those who lost their moms reflect on what they miss and on the effect that their moms had on the direction of their lives.

image

Each of us has a unique and complicated relationship with our mothers. Each of our relationships with our moms is probably the most significant in our lives; after all she was the first person we met just seconds after birth! Because our mothers are human, not all of them are perfect; because all of us are human, we make motherhood challenging. In other words: IT’S COMPLICATED. That is why Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our personal relationships with our moms, the role they play in our lives, and to recognize and honor their contribution to what we have become so far and hope to become in the future.

In a perfect world, our moms make sure to be around and available to their children. There are countless recitals, and soccer games, parties, field trips as well as unplanned, spontaneous moments. All those planned and unplanned moments strung together throughout our childhood built up our confidence and understanding of self-worth as well as defined our path and trajectory for the future. Some moments are joyful, some moments are filled with frustration, and in their entirety these moments with our moms build the foundation of our lives.

Recent events in Baltimore gave us a glimpse of what it means to be a mom and a mother.

image

On April 27, 2015, as riots were raging in Baltimore, Mrs. Toya Graham was filmed taking her son out of the Baltimore riots before he could get in trouble with the law. Her actions have been praised by many including law makers, and Baltimore’s Police Commissioner.

My understanding of what happened is that Ms. Toya Graham saw her 16 year old son, Michael, wearing a hat and a mask, intent on throwing rocks and other objects at the police. Local TV station WMAR-TV captured Mrs. Graham on camera taking out her son away from the fighting. She was yelling at her son, telling him “Are you kidding me?” “Take the mask off” and “Get over here.”

I was surprised to hear how much judgment there is IN MEDIA towards this lady, this mom, who went to get her son and get him off the streets of Baltimore as the tensions were heating up. We don’t know the whole story of their relationship, but from the video that was broadcast and also went viral on the youtube, it is difficult not to be moved by her love, by her fear, by her determination to get him out of harm’s way and to safety.

We were given the opportunity to witness an intimate moment between mom and her child and for me what I saw is a sign of hope and an illustration of tough love. Her intention was not to publicly shame or to embarrass him in front of his friends. She was not beating him, nor was she trying to get the mother of the year award. She had only one thing in mind at that moment, and it was simply getting to her child and making sure that he was out of harm’s way. She was teaching him that what he was doing was not productive nor was it right. I pray that this young man, Michael Singleton, understands all this and that he will forever remember this day and then one day tell the story to his grandchildren about how his mother cared enough to show up and drag his sorry behind out of harm’s way. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if ALL mothers and grandmothers showed up and dragged their sons home, those with guns and those without (Wooliver). How different would that day (April 27, 2015) be in our memories and recollections?

image

Our mothers play a huge role in who we have become and what we make with our lives. For most of us, our relationship with our mom is one that approximates our relationship with God. Those who refuse to accept disciplining from their mom, will most likely turn a deaf ear towards God as well. In most of our lives, it is our mothers that teach us to recognize the presence of the Holy and to rejoice in the Holy Spirit of God around us (Luke 1:47). It is from our mom’s that we learn about being gracious and merciful (Luke 1:50), it is from our moms we learn about humility, and the difference between ambition and hubris (Luke 1:51).

image

So today, whether you are celebrating mother’s day with your mom or with your children, or reflecting on memories of your mom, I encourage you to reflect on what it means to be a mom and how our moms make this world a better place.

Works Cited

Wooliver, Tammy Lewis. “Facebook Timeline Post .” 29 April 2015. Facebook Post. 29 04 2015. <https://www.facebook.com/Revnawny/posts/10200481801363320?pnref=story&gt;.

Mother’s Day Litany / Call to Worship

L: We pray for moms whose children are grown.

P: Grant them joy and satisfaction for a job well done.

L: We pray for moms experiencing changes they could not predict.

P: Grant them rest and peace as they trust you for the future.

L: We pray for pregnant women who will soon be moms.

P: Grant them patience and good counsel in the coming months.

L: We pray for moms who face the demands of single parenthood.

P: Grant them strength and wisdom.

L: We pray for moms who enjoy financial abundance.

P: Grant them time to share with their families.

L: We pray for moms who are raising their children in poverty.

P: Grant them relief and justice.

L: We pray for step-moms.

P: Grant them patience, understanding and love.

L: We pray for moms who are separated from or have lost their children.

P: Grant them faith and hope.

L: We pray for moms in marriages that are in crisis.

P: Grant them support and insight.

L: We pray for moms who gave up their children for adoption.

P: Grant them peace and confidence as they trust in your providence.

L: We pray for adoptive mothers.

P: Grant them joy and gratitude for the gift you have provided.

L: We pray for women who think about becoming mothers.

P: Grant them wisdom and discernment.

L: We pray for women who desperately want, or wanted, to be mothers.

P: Grant them grace to accept your timing and will.

L: We pray for women who have assumed the mother’s role in a child’s life.

P: Grant them joy and the appreciation of others.

L: We pray for persons who are grieving the loss of their mother.

P: Grant them comfort and hope in Christ’s resurrection.

All: We pray for all the ladies that have shown extraordinary love for their children. Through their efforts to make their children’s lives better and more productive, these moms also made an impact on all of our lives. Through their love for their children, they serve God by serving the world around them. We honor their efforts and dedication and pray that the seeds that they have planted will bear fruit for generations to come. AMEN.

Thinking Towards Sunday; Mother’s Day 2015

Each of us has a unique and complicated relationship with our mothers.

In the USAmerica, those whose moms are still alive spend Mother’s Day bestowing flowers, gifts and heartfelt sentiments upon their moms. Those who have lost their moms reflect on what they miss and on the effect that their moms had on the direction of their lives.

Truth be told, each of our relationships with our moms is probably the most significant in our lives; after all she was the first person all of us met just seconds after we were born! Each of our relationships with our moms is different. Because our mothers are human, not all of them are perfect; because all of us are human, we make motherhood challenging. That is why Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our personal relationships with our moms, the role they play in our lives, and to recognize and honor their contribution to what we have become.

In a perfect world, our moms make sure to be around and available to their children. There are countless recitals, and soccer games, parties, field trips as well as the unplanned, spontaneous moments. All those planned and unplanned moments strung together throughout our childhood built up our confidence and understanding of self-worth as well as defined our path and trajectory for the future.

So this Sunday whether you are celebrating mother’s day with your mom or with your children, or reflecting on memories of days gone by, I encourage you to reflect on what it means to be a mom and how our moms make this world a better place.

I wish you all happy and blessed Mother’s Day!

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message @ Worton UMC; 3 May 2015; Matthew 16:13-20

Scripture this Sunday is Matthew 16:13-20

Hymns are:

UMH 131 – We Gather Together

UMH 465 – Holy Spirit, Truth Divine (vs 1 & 4) – At Worton UMC only

UMH 117 – O God, Our Help in Ages Past

image


“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Today I want to take the time to look at this reading through the lens of a church community: “Who does Worton United Methodist Church say that Jesus is?”

When we talk about being in ministry, most of us get visions of lofty actions with far ranging implications. The reality, however, is that most of us do not engage in heroic actions to make disciples. None of us are able to diffuse tensions in the city of Baltimore by ourselves. None of us will broker peace in the Middle East or stop the war in Afghanistan. None of us will single-handedly defeat ISIS or win the war on drugs. None of us will stop worldwide hunger or reverse climate change by ourselves.

image

On the other hand, small thoughtful acts of kindness multiplied by thousands (if not millions) of Christians can, and will, make this world a better place. And it starts with listening to our neighbors.

image

I want to share with you a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that had far reaching implications in my life:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren [and our neighbors, aft] is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98).

image

In Matthew 13:20 we hear, “Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” I think that Jesus was challenging his disciples and followers to listen to people’s pains and problems and then offer them the peace that comes from knowing that someone cares and someone is walking by their side.

So how do we listen to our neighbors?

image

1) Provide an environment where our neighbors feel invited and feel comfortable and not threatened. {Illustration}

image

2) Provide an environment and place where our neighbors are validated and offered understanding. {Illustration} They need to feel they can contribute or they won’t come back.

image

3) Provide an environment where our neighbors know that we care and will walk by their side helping them to figure out how to reinvent or rebuild themselves in their times of trouble.

Notice that all these steps depend on us listening instead of talking. Notice that all these steps have nothing to do with logic, or with persuasiveness. Making disciples and reaching out beyond the walls of this building has a lot to do with building relationships and being flexible, adaptable and patient as opposed to being right. Making disciples and reaching beyond the walls of this building has a lot to do with being kind and understanding as opposed to having all the answers.

image

There is a quote that is attributed to Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California that goes,

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle [or beliefs], you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.

Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

We live in a world that is hungry for compassion, kindness and understanding. We don’t have to compromise our convictions or abandon our faith to exhibit compassion and to provide a welcoming environment.

image

{John 10:5 – Illustration}

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

To the communities of Christ and Worton United Methodist Churches: Call to Prayer for the Situation in the City of Baltimore

Today is Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Yesterday as Debbie and I were getting off of the plane in the airport, we learned about the riots and looting in the city of Baltimore.

Tensions run high, there are injuries, stores have been looted, cars and buildings set on fire, and as I understand, tensions are escalating and curfews are set. That being understood, there was also another story. Last night, Debbie and I watched one of the local TV stations and we saw some of Baltimore’s clergy united, holding hands and walking shoulder to shoulder between police lines and the rioters. These members of the clergy came from different religious traditions and denominations and they stepped forward in one accord, risking their own lives to diffuse the tension, and to offer their support for a meaningful and productive dialogue that would lead to a safer Baltimore with improved economic conditions conducive for all to coexist, flourish and prosper.

I am asking everyone in the communities of Christ and Worton United Methodist Churches (the communities that I have the privilege to pastor at this time) to be in intentional prayer for the situation in Baltimore.

Please pray for everyone involved, those who have been injured or otherwise affected by the violence, and for a peaceful resolution to this conflict.

Pray for the Office of the Mayor of the City, for the City Council, for those who are called to protect and to serve the communities (firemen, EMTs, and policemen), for the National Guard that is being deployed and for our nation.

I know that sometimes it is hard to find words and to know what to pray for. If you are at a loss for words, please use the words of the prayer below that is traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, Make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

There is always more than one side to every story. Every side of the story has valid and painful points. We can focus on the sensationalistic aspects of what is happening, or we can celebrate what is right with the world. My prayers are with those who are physically and emotionally hurt and are so frustrated that they cannot see any other way out than to riot. My prayers are with the clergy who chose to risk their own lives to be instruments of God’s Peace; I wish I could have been there with them last night.

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; John 4:27-42

This is a fourth sermon in the series:

{Sermon # 1}

{Sermon # 2}

{Sermon # 3}

We discussed the Samaritan Woman at the Well last week. Here is a link to that sermon: {Click Me}

Today we will continue the conversation about church, how church relates to the community in which it lives and how the church community relates to the larger culture around it.

image

In prior weeks we looked at how Jesus called his first Disciples, and how unique each of the Disciples was. We saw that although they each had different ambitions, interests, and strengths, they were of one accord. We saw that they were inspired by the common vision and worked towards a common mission. We saw that each of them had different skills, ambitions and interests, and how together they worked to complement each other’s efforts.

image

We also saw that outreach and mission implies a certain level of risk. In order to reach BEYOND the walls of the church building, in order to bring others to Jesus, someone has to be willing to take calculated risks and step out on faith and actually interact with people who do not share their beliefs.

image

It goes without saying that we cannot bring enemies to Jesus; the people whom we consider to be at odds with ourselves would not listen to our stories or follow us to Jesus. In order to bring someone to Jesus we need to be able to interact with them and consider them to be on the same level as ourselves; we need to treat them with respect (John 10:5 – Does the community around our church building know our voice). What is the message that our neighbors see? What is our testimony and witness to the presence of the Holy?

 

image

Then last Sunday we talked about the Samaritan Woman at the Well (Her traditional name is St. Photina and/St. Svetlana). Her encounter with Jesus asks a question, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?” We are fallen human beings and we live in a fallen world and because of that it is much easier for us to make wrong decisions (i.e. “to drink from the wrong well”). {Illustration}

image

Before we continue, we need to understand who the Samaritans were. In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the Northern Country of Israel and took everybody that they considered worthwhile into exile. They left behind a few men and women who in their opinion would not be good producers and would not make {“} “good” slaves – people with physical disabilities, least educated, and least capable.

As a result of the resettlement there were farms left open. In II Kings 17: 24 we learn that the Assyrians resettled people from other countries in the territories of Northern Israel. These newcomers were pagans. The Samaritans of Jesus’ time were the offspring of those Israelis left behind by the Assyrians and those who were brought in for resettlement. Because of that intermarriage, the Samaritans were considered “ritually unclean” by the Jews. That is why the Jews did not want to have anything to do with the Samaritans: interacting with the “ritually unclean” would mean that they would be expelled from the community for purification rituals – which were expensive and time consuming.

image

All of a sudden, Svetlana’s statement, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) takes on a different meaning. All of a sudden her statement, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20) takes on a different undertone. I think that she was trying to pull Jesus into a debate, asserting that Jesus would become ritually unclean.

image

Notice that Jesus did not take the bait. Jesus did not argue the finer points of theology with her. What Jesus talked about was her life, and what her life could become: “I will give you the living water that will well up to a spring of eternal life” (John 4: 14 paraphrase).

Let’s unpack what happened as a result of Svetlana’s and Jesus’ meeting. In John 4: 28 – 30 we hear:

image

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Svetlana is still not sure about the true identity of Jesus, but she is fairly certain about his relationship with God (“He understands me” – “he told me everything I ever did” // {???} “Could he be the Messiah?”}.

It is a consensus that she was not the most outstanding citizen of the town. We saw last week that she was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. With all these strikes against her, the power of her conviction was so strong that the people in the village dropped everything and came to see Jesus at the well.

John 4: 39-42 tells us what happened as a result:

image

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

So what’s in it for us.

image

We live in a world surrounded by “Samaritans.” We live in a world driven by economic globalization, rapid communication, and easily available mass education. The resulting global culture is syncretic[1], synergistic[2] and pluralistic[3] with every conceivable belief system interacting with other beliefs and lifestyles. The exchange of ideas, ideologies, and cultures is complex and fruitful. When the Church allows itself to get bogged down in theological debates instead of graciously respecting other points of view, we alienate ourselves from the communities in which we live. Jesus did not pick a fight with Svetlana; all Jesus said was “I can help you to make sense out of your life” (John 4:19 paraphrase).

{Illustration: we cannot bring enemies to Christ…}

As a result, Svetlana went to the town empowered, with a new understanding of herself, and her testimony brought the whole town to Jesus. How does our relationship with Jesus empower us? What is the testimony of our church community? Do our neighbors see the strength of our convictions in the way we live our lives? Do our neighbors see us living out our convictions in a gracious and respectful manner?

As a result of Svetlana’s encounter with Jesus, there was probably a church community established in Samaria. Two groups of people who had not seen eye to eye for generations, came together and a seed was planted for a new community of followers of Jesus.

In that encounter between Jesus and Svetlana we see the interaction between Church and a community of people who did not see any reason to be in a relationship with Jesus or the Church. In that encounter we see how a community interacts with the culture; we see an example of how to make our voice heard and recognized.

Being part of a church, being in a relationship with God is about the meaning of our lives. Together we can help not only each other, but also our neighbors, to discover meaning in our lives. And that is how we help each other to be the best version of what God created us to be.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Dictionary.com defines term syncretism as “reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion.” The term syncretic is defined as “union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.”

[2] Dictionary.com defines term synergy as “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.” The term synergistic is defined as “producing or capable of producing synergy.”

[3] Dictionary.com defines term pluralism as “a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.” The term pluralistic is defined as “a condition in which many cultures coexist within a society and maintain their cultural differences.”

Thinking Towards Sunday; From the Desk of Pastor Asher

“…open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35 NIV2010).

Human beings are created to be a community (Genesis 2:18, 1:27). We need human interaction. If we don’t interact with others we lose our sense of purpose and we fade into nothingness.

Jesus established the Church to be a worldwide connection of communities. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus himself gave us the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The way I understand the Great commission is that each church community has a mission to serve God by serving the world in which we live.

Surely we have our share of problems (and who doesn’t). The biggest challenge in talking with our neighbors about the Church Universal and about our church community is for us to accept and to acknowledge our own problems and our own responsibility. It is hard for us to acknowledge and to accept the ugly and uncomfortable truths from our past and present traditions. We have been wounded, and we have wounded others by our actions and inactions.

We also have wonderful accomplishments. For the longest time the Church was on the forefront of Science; we still have Wesleyan Colleges and Seminaries all around the world bringing education and opportunities to men and women from all walks of life. The Church is resilient and adaptable; it has changed and adapted with the times. It is true that we have fallen a bit behind in that respect now, but if history is any indication, by the Grace of God we will bounce back.

I believe that the United Methodist Church is inspired and guided by our Living God, and that being a part of a church community helps us to deal with the problems of the day. It also brings us closer to Jesus so that we may love God more, follow Jesus closer and to see the work of the Holy Spirit better in our midst and all around us.

That is the message that our neighbors need to see in us because we live in a time when hope and vision are scarce, and fear mongering is all too common.

The fields are ripe for the harvest! Open your eyes and look at the fields…” (John 4:35 paraphrase).

Thinking Towards Sunday: 19 April, 2015

This Sunday we will continue with the message series titled Church, Community, Culture.

Last week we took a look at the Samaritan Woman at the Well (also known as St. Photina/St. Svetlana in some circles). This coming Sunday we will continue looking at her impact and role in building the Church, interacting with the Community and influencing the Culture.

Scripture for this Sunday: John 4: 27-42

Hymns:

UMH 304 – Easter People Raise Your Voices

UMH 400 – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (verse 3)

UMH 547 – O Church of God, United

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; John 4:4-26

This coming Sunday (April 12, 2015) we will gather for worship @ Worton UMC @ 9:45. At 10 am, the communities of Christ and First UMCs will gather together for worship in the Sanctuary of First UMC.

Scriptures for this week are: John 4:4-26. You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

clip_image004

Before we begin, I want to thank Nivek Johnson from Janes United Methodist church. It is his reflection at the Seven Last Words service at Potter’s House that gave me the idea and inspiration for today’s message.

clip_image006

And I want to start today’s message with this simple question, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?” The answer to this question is neither simple nor obvious; and considering what our church communities are striving to accomplish, considering how our church communities are trying to be in shared mission, it is of vital importance that we get the correct answer.

So, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?”

clip_image008

The woman in today’s story (John 4:4-42) was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. She had a reputation for getting involved in toxic relationships; she had difficulty fitting in and making friends. Hers is the story of an angry, frustrated soul that believed that the best defense is a good offence. Her story challenges us, the followers of Jesus, to seriously look at our own lives and ask ourselves some tough questions.

Prior to encountering Jesus, the woman was an outcast. That is why she had to go to the well in the heat of the day instead of in the cool of the morning; more than likely her neighbors shunned her. We know that she was angry and argumentative; she even tried to start an argument with Jesus (John 4:9). When Jesus asked her for a drink, her response was, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

We know that she had a shady past (John 4:16-18). We learn fairly quickly that she had six failed relationships. We don’t know any particulars; was she having the same relationship with six different men? Did she have difficulties in navigating life? Did she want everything done her way or else? We simply do not know.

All that did not stop her from recognizing that Jesus was NOT an ordinary man, or stop her from making a profession of faith, “I can see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). Even after making that confession, she tried to pick another fight with Jesus, arguing about the proper place to worship God. In verse 20, she said, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus tested her to see if she was sincere in her desire to turn her life around. He asked her to go to the village and bring back her husband. Only after being sure that she was honest with him did Jesus reveal his true identity to her. In essence, Jesus offered her the “living waters” of faith. In turn that faith became a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” in her (John 4:15).

clip_image010

John writes, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41).

clip_image012

It is easy for us to get a judgmental attitude about the woman. We can focus on her aggressiveness, her anger, her inability to maintain relationships (as in “my way or the highway”). But the truth is that most of us have been in her shoes at one time or another. How many of us have tried to reach a certain goal only to fail time, after time, after time; becoming bitter and angry, and stopped trying, blaming everyone for our failure? How many of us have tried to quit smoking 5 or 6 times? How many of us have tried 5 or 6 different diets? How many of us have had 5 or 6 different jobs?

What we know is that her encounter with Jesus changed her. Once she figured out how to drink the living waters of faith her life was changed. She has the honor to be the first evangelist in the Gospel of John; the first one to go around town telling people about Jesus. We don’t know her name; it is not recorded in the Scriptures. Traditionally her Greek name is Photina (the same root as photosynthesis); her Slavic name is Svetlana (“svet” translates as “the light”); her traditional name reflects her encounter with Jesus and her seeing the light of faith. We can learn a lot from her.

clip_image014

How many of us spend our lives drinking out of the wrong well by setting wrong goals and then wondering why our lives do not work out the way we hope them to? Who among us has not dreamt of having a better relationship with our loved ones, a new car, or a nice boat, or the latest TV, or going on a nice vacation? The truth is that there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things from life. Where we get into trouble is when we want these things so bad that we go through heroic measures to attain them at THE EXPENSE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND WITH OUR LOVED ONES. That is how we drink from the wrong well: we ignore God and let go of our relationships. We isolate ourselves as we put the wrong things first. We pass tests and somehow we end up with no testimony (Nivek Johnson).

{Illustration}

Oscar Wilde said once that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” What separated the woman at the well from her future is that she drank from the wrong well. Once she found the right well to drink from, the living water of faith, her life was transformed. As our churches look towards working closer together, what well are we drinking from? Are we working together just to share expenses and save money, or are we working together because it will help us to have a more effective ministry in our community and beyond, to help us make disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world. What well are we drinking from?

This is the question our communities need to answer in the months to come.

Do you prevent abundant life from reaching you in the future by drinking from the wrong well today?

clip_image016

Works Cited

“I Thirst”. By Nivek Johnson. Preached by Nivek Johnson. Potter’s House Ministries Church, Fairlee. 03 04 2015. Sermon.

From the Desk of Pastor Asher; Thinking Towards Sunday–12 April 2015

jesusandthesamaritanatthewell-rembrandtThe Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:4-42) was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. She had a reputation for getting involved in toxic relationships; she had difficulty fitting in and making friends. Hers is the story of an angry, frustrated soul that believed that the best defense is the good offence. Her story challenges us, the followers of Jesus, to seriously look at our own lives and to ask ourselves whether we ourselves are drinking from the wrong well.

Prior to encountering Jesus, the woman was an outcast. That is why she had to go to the well in the heat of the day instead of in the cool of the morning; more than likely her neighbors shunned her. We know that she was angry and argumentative; she even tried to start an argument with Jesus (John 4:9). We know that she had a shady past (John 4:16-18). That however did not stop her from recognizing that Jesus was not an ordinary man and to make a profession of faith, “I can see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). Even after making that confession, she tried to pick another fight with Jesus, arguing about the proper place to worship God.

Jesus tested her to see if she was sincere in her desire to turn her life around. He asked her to go to the village and bring back her husband. Only after being sure that she was honest with him did Jesus reveal his true identity to her. In essence, Jesus offered her the “living waters” of faith. In turn that faith became a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” in her (John 4:15). John writes, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41).

How many of us spend our lives drinking out of the wrong well by setting wrong goals and then wondering why our lives do not work out the way we hope them to? Who among us has not dreamt of having a better relationship with our loved ones, a new car, or a nice boat, or the latest TV, or going on a nice vacation? The truth is that there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things from life. Where we get into trouble is when we want these things so bad that we go through heroic measures to attain them at the expense of our relationship with God and with our loved ones. That is how we drink from the wrong well: we ignore God and let go of our relationships. We isolate ourselves as we put the wrong things first.

Oscar Wilde said once that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Do you prevent the abundant life reaching you in the future by drinking from the wrong well today?

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 12, 2015

This coming Sunday (April 12, 2015) the communities of Christ and First UMCs will gather together for worship in the Sanctuary of First UMC @ 10 am.

Scriptures for this week are: John 4:4-26. You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 220 other followers

%d bloggers like this: