Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Third Sunday of Lent-2008

Cowboy Diva's meditation on these verses is at the homepage link in this comment.


Exodus17:1-7
17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

17:2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"

17:3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"

17:4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

17:5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.

17:6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

17:7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

Psalm 95
95:1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

95:2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

95:3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

95:4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

95:5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

95:8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

95:9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

95:10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways."

95:11 Therefore in my anger I swore, "They shall not enter my rest."

Romans 5:1-11
5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

5:7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.

5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

5:9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

5:11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

John 4:5-42
4:5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

4:6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

4:8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

4:11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

4:13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

4:14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

4:15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

4:16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."

4:17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';

4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"

4:19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."

4:21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

4:25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."

4:26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?"

4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

4:29 "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

4:30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something."

4:32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about."

4:33 So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?"

4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

4:35 Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.

4:36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

4:37 For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.'

4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done."

4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.

4:41 And many more believed because of his word.

4:42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."


You know, people used to "read" stained glass images like this one, the way you read this post. They were illiterate, by our standards, which means they were ignorant, dull, backward, and superstitious. They were, of course, nothing of the sort. Paul, by our standards, was illiterate. He could read, but he could write no more than his name, and that crudely. He paid someone to take dictation from him. Listen to a letter like the letter to the Church in Rome sometime, a long section of it, and you'll realize he's talking to someone who is writing down what he says. Would you call such a person "illiterate"? We who do all our writing with aids that playback for us immediately what we have just said, and allow us to erase and correct and redraft even before we've finished thinking to the end of a sentence....we can't imagine dictating something as complex as the letter to the Romans. Small wonder we consider Jesus godly when he talks off the cuff, as he does in John's gospel. But to the people of Jesus' day, this was a sign of wisdom, of great knowledge. It wasn't necessarily the sign of absolute wisdom, and divine knowledge. On the other hand, it was considered much closer to it than we are willing to accept today. If Barack Obama is a gifted public speaker, we soon easily imagine he is "too gifted," that perhaps he is even hypnotic or persuasive in ways that must be derided, belittled, reduced to more common experience. He's a little too much better at public speaking than the rest of us, than almost any of us. Such skill is as frightening as it is attractive. It has always been so.

We raise Jesus up; we say he could do it because he was God! We raise Paul up, we say Paul could do it because he was inspired by God! But that's an oddly pagan answer; it's Hellenistic. It's Homer asking the Muses to inspire him to poetry, so that Homer doesn't speak, but the gods of the arts and history do. No, better to preserve the mystery, the sense of awe it brings us. Paul is led by the spirit of God; but it is Paul dictating that letter to the Romans; it is Jesus, the man who will die on a cross as any mortal would, speaking to that woman at the well. They are, even at the moments they write or speak words we still remember, as human as we are; and just as close to the divine.

When, then, are we close to the divine? When we are alone? Or when we are with others? Paul is almost never alone; when he writes a letter, he imagines the church he is writing to, the people there. And he writes with someone listening, someone scratching out the words as rapidly as he can speak them. Jesus, too, is almost never alone; and this time, when his disciples have gone elsewhere, he speaks to a woman, a stranger. And he tells her the truth: which encompasses the truth about herself, and the truth about him; and both truths are equally strange and wondrous. Why strange and wondrous? In part because they are so real.

Step back a moment, and consider this passage from a letter by Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud, concerning the tendency of nations to go to war. Einstein lays out three nested questions, one arising from the other:

But recognition of this obvious fact is merely the first step toward an appreciation of the actual state of affairs. Another question follows hard upon it: How is it possible for this small clique to bend the will of the majority, who stand to lose and suffer by a state of war, to the service of their ambitions. An obvious answer to this question would seem to be that the minority, the ruling class at present, has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb. This enables it to organize and sway the emotions of the masses, and makes its tool of them.

Yet even this answer does not provide a complete solution. Another question arises from it: How is it that these devices succeed so well in rousing men to such wild enthusiasm, even to sacrifice their lives? Only one answer is possible. Because man has within him a lust for hatred and destruction. In normal times this passion exists in a latent state, it emerges only in unusual circumstances; but it is a comparatively easy task to call it into play and raise it to the power of a collective psychosis. Here lies, perhaps, the crux of all the complex factors we are considering, an enigma that only the expert in the lore of human instincts can resolve.

And so we come to our last question. Is it possible to control man's mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness? Here I am thinking by no means only of the so-called uncultured masses. Experience proves that it is rather the so-called "intelligentsia" that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions, since the intellectual has no direct contact with life in the raw but encounters it in its easiest, synthetic form--upon the printed page.
We are, like it or not, stuck by history among Einstein's "intelligentstia" when we read the scriptures. Not because we read it and desire to send people to war, but because we inevitably read it as life in its synthetic form. Scripture has certainly been used by the church, which is in turn used by the minority Einstein identifies, to drive people to do things they otherwise would prefer not to. There is only a difference of degree between the situation Einstein describes, and the situation of the Samaritan woman at the well. In modern parlance we might understand Jesus and this woman as Sunni and Shi'ite, or perhaps as adherents to the same faith when at least one side is not religiously tolerant, and thinks God wants it that way. As Moses said of the law he was given, it is not far away nor over the sea, but near to you, even in your heart. But how many of us want to look in the raw nature of our hearts? Better to stick to synthetic forms, and leave the pain of reality to others.

So the woman, knowing how Jews treat Samaritans, and more importantly how men treat women (it is practically a scandal for Jesus to speak to a woman not his wife or sister. The scandal of the anointing in Luke (7:36-50) is that a woman is in the room full of men at all. Even the host's wife would not be permitted to join them.), is amazed that Jesus speaks to her, but she stands her ground. Indeed, she is almost defiant. But then Jesus quickly leads her away from a discussion about literal things, into a discussion about spiritual things. It is worth noting that Nicodemus, the famous scholar and Pharisee who came to Jesus in the dark, and left in the dark, never makes sense of what Jesus means in the most quoted passage in the New Testament. This Samaritan woman, however, first misunderstands, but soon accepts what she is told, even if she never understands the metaphors Jesus is using. She understands that Messiah will "proclaim all things to us," and when Jesus proclaims her life, down to the number of men she has married and what the law of Moses says about that, it is enough for her. Jesus doesn't have to explain the nature of the universe, or time, or expound a theory of salvation, or even tell her that her sins are forgiven. Indeed, he never speaks of her faith at all. But still, she tells everyone she meets: "He told me everything I have ever done." This may be one of the most personal encounters with Jesus in all of the gospels; and yet, as a theological teaching, it's one of the least satisfactory.

Like Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman doesn't understand what Jesus means about "living water." Unlike Nicodemus, though, she doesn't try to. Understanding, in the hands of the author of John's gospel, is a two edged sword; it is a thing of power. Those who understand have an obligation to convey their understanding to others, to share it, not to hoard it. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, afraid he will be recognized; he has no intention of sharing the rabbi's teachings. The Samaritan woman, by contrast, tells everyone she knows, and her message is a simple one; it is even followed by a question: "'Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?'" That is all she has to say, but it is enough. Even the disciples, echoing their confusion in Mark and Matthew, are perplexed by Jesus talking to this woman, and then talking about food. Their response to his teaching is: "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Like Nicodemus, they just don't get it. But who are we to presume that we do?

Jesus is living water, and the will of God is to go into the fields and labor? After what? If Jesus is water, how should we drink him? If the labor is in the fields, what labor must we do? We approach this word in synthetic form, in the words preserved in Greek by John, and translated and conveyed to us millenia later. The line is already broken by the time John writes them down; he is already trying to share artificially what is meant to be alive. The "living word" is as paradoxical and metaphorical as "living water," or as making one's food the will of God. How are we to understand such things? More importantly, how are we to encounter the reality of such things, if they are to be real to us?

In human encounters; in struggles in worship. "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?," would be a question asked by any one of us if, on any given Sunday, or every given Sunday, worship simply doesn't "work" for us as we imagine it is supposed to. The living Word is living precisely because it is alive in people. It does not swim off the page and stand, vibrant tne three-dimensional before you, a wholly other which you can encounter on your own. Sigmund Freud, in his response to Einstein, speaks of the religious use of "love:"

The psychoanalyst need feel no compunction in mentioning "love" in this connection; religion uses the same language: Love thy neighbor as thyself. A pious injunction, easy to enounce, but hard to carry out!
Yes, it is, and that is precisely the point! It is hard to carry out! It is not easy, it is not simple, it is not a matter solely of the will, or the ego, or the superego. It is a matter of effort, and better it is carried out by those making the same effort, or at least attempting to.

And let no one be afraid to seek him or find him for fear of the loss of good company; faith is no sullen thing, it is not a melancholy, there is not so sociable a thing as the love of Christ Jesus.--John Donne
Love is the heart and soul of worship; worship is the heart and soul of love. "O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!" When we do that, what do we do, except kneel before each other? "But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Reconciliation to whom? To God? Yes; but how is that known, how is that lived, how is that experienced, if it is not reconciliation to each other? And what other part of our lives do we set aside, what other place do we go, to find and practice and experience that reconciliation, the real and not the synthetic form, except in worship? As Donne said:

...'They are not hid from thee, neither are they far off.' Not in heaven, that you should say, Who will go up to heaven for us to bring them down? Not beyond the seas, that you should go over the sea for them. But the word is very near you, even in your mouth and in your heart; and so near is Christ Jesus, or who shall never find him.
And where is the presence ever so near, so encouraged, so alive, except in the possibility and the reality, of worship?

What else is worship for, if not for us still, today, 2000 years later, to know the living God?

Amen.

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