Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

The pastor was hospitalized recovering from a

heart attack when the chairman of the deacons visited him. He said, “Preacher, I have good news and bad news.”

“First the good news,” the pastor said.

“On behalf of the Deacon Board, I am here to wish you a speedy recovery.”

“That’s wonderful,” said the pastor, “and what’s the bad news?”

“The vote was 7 to 4.

A reading from the Book of Exodus

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

A reading from St. Paul to the Romans

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

 

Gospel according to John

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.

“I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him.
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

HOMILY

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 indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)

We come today to the second part of this marvelous story of a woman whose life was changed forever by Jesus Christ, and whose witness led to an entire community coming to believe in Jesus.

I cannot think of a story that brings greater encouragement for us in the work of ministry than the words that are before us today.

  • If you are tired, jaded or discouraged today, wondering whether the effort that you put into serving the Lord is worth it, these verses will be a tonic to your soul today.
  • If you have been wounded while serving the Lord, and now you are holding back from giving yourself to ministry, these verses hold the most marvelous incentive for you.
  • If you find yourself afraid of what might happen if you commit yourself more fully to following Jesus, these verses are for you.
  • If you have a desire to extend yourself more fully in serving the Lord, to discern how you can make the best use of your life for his glory, these verses are for you.

To summarize the story thus far, Jesus was traveling from Judea (in the south) to Galilee (in the north) and his journey took him through Samaria.

  • Samaria was not a place where you would expect to find people interested in following Jesus.
  • Our Lord was born a Jew, and there was a long history of hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans.
  • The Samaritans had their own religion, and while there were elements of truth in it –this woman knew that the Messiah would come (4:25) – it was buried under a heap of idolatry and superstition.

This woman had lived a life that was far from God and far from his commandments.  If you were looking for prospects of people who might become disciples of Jesus, this woman was the least likely person in the least likely place.

Today, we come to the sequel to this great story.  At this point in the story, the disciples had just come back from the city.  They had gone there to buy food (4:8), and that is why Jesus was alone with this woman at the well.

The disciples returned and were surprised to see Jesus talking with the woman, but none of them said anything.  The woman then went back into the city, where she began to speak to others about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did” (4:29).

While this was happening, John tells us about a remarkable conversation that took place between Jesus and the disciples that I hope and pray will bring blessing and encouragement to every believer today.

Give Yourself to God’s Work…
and You Will Have Great Joy

When the disciples left Jesus, he was weary from the journey (4:6).  They went into the city to buy food because all of them were hungry.  But when they come back with the food, Jesus shows no interest in eating.

Picture the disciples now sitting beside the well, eating their lunch.  But Jesus is energized.  He is walking around.  His mind is clearly somewhere else, and he shows no interest whatsoever in sitting down for the lunch that they have just bought.  The disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat!” (4:31). You sense the frustration they have with him.

The disciples didn’t know what to make of it: “What is this?  When we leave him, he is tired and weary.  When we come back less than an hour later, he is energized, animated, fired up, refreshed, reinvigorated and full of joy!  What has happened?”

Then Jesus says to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (4:32).

So the disciples asked one another: “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” (4:33).  “Did someone show up while we were away and give him his lunch already?”

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (4:34).

Jesus is saying this: If you do what God wants you to do and serve where God wants you to serve, it will be like food for your soul.  Years ago, I heard this phrase from Warren Wiersbe:

“Ministry is nourishing.”  Give yourself to the work of God and your own soul will be fed.

This is not the only truth about ministry.  If you give yourself to the work of God, you will also find that there is a cross to carry and there is a cost.  These truths belong together.

Think about the birth of a child: There is great pain, but the pain is overwhelmed by great joy.  Doing the will and work of God may bring you great pain, but it will also bring you the greatest joy.

Jesus was tired, weary, and hungry.  He could easily have ignored this woman.  He could have smiled and said something about the hot weather.  But he extended himself to reach out to this woman.  He gave himself to win her with faith, hope, and love.  And what came from this was that Jesus himself was refreshed, renewed, energized, and filled with joy!

Many years ago, at a time when I was jaded and quite discouraged, someone sent me a card with a verse from Proverbs that helped me then and has stayed with me ever since: “Whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25 NIV, 1984).

So here is the principle: If you hold yourself back from ministry to others, your soul will run dry.  But if you extend yourself in ministry to others, you will be blessed and you will experience great joy.

As we continue our Service today, let us all be cognizant of our actions and our own accountability to encourage others to see, hear, and know the good news of Jesus Christ.  I often brag about our beautiful church, lovely stained-glass windows, and magnificent pipe organ that still plays after 80-plus years.  But that’s all well and good.  I may be missing the mark by not going the extra mile in actually aggressively inviting and getting that person to commit to attending our Service.

And that’s where we all need to be.  A bit more aggressive in our action. A bit more accountable in our pursuit so that we too are refreshed, renewed, energized and filled with joy as Jesus was that particular day.

Whoever refreshes others, will himself be refreshed.

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to give you a bit of background on the patron Saint of Ireland.

When Patrick arrived back in Ireland again, having studied for the priesthood and being ordained a bishop, the pagan Irish had not yet arrived at the understanding that their pagan gods did not need human sacrifice; they were still sacrificing humans to their gods.

Prisoners of war were sacrificed to war gods and newborns to harvest gods. This was not unique to Ireland but was the belief of the Celtic peoples at this time. An example is the Gundestrup Cauldron which was found in a Dutch swamp. It was left there a century or two before Jesus as an offering to the swamp god.

It has beautiful silver panels which refer to sacrifice, animal sacrifice as well as human sacrifice. The gods that the Celts believed in demanded sacrifice, animal as well as human sacrifice. All early peoples sacrificed humans to their gods. At a certain point it seems they became aware that human sacrifice was not required by their gods and from then on, they sacrificed animals.

But the Ardagh Chalice found in a field in Limerick, which dates from the seventh or eighth century, is a happier story. In the Ardagh Chalice Jesus offered himself in Holy Communion. Those who received Holy Communion from the Ardagh Chalice were nourished the sacrifice of God for them, nourished by the blood of Jesus. The situation is reversed.

God does not need our deaths as a sacrifice; instead by living our whole lives for God our entire life becomes a sacrifice to God.

What a difference between the Gundestrup Cauldron and the Ardagh Chalice.

That difference is due to the ministering and sacrifices of St. Patrick to bring the faith to Ireland.

When Patrick brought the faith here the natives realized quickly enough that faith in Jesus was the answer to their deepest needs.

They had a fear of death but Patrick showed that there is no need to fear death and that one can be a person of peace and live without fear of dying.

No doubt as Patrick neared the end of his life, he could see that Ireland had been transformed by his teaching and preaching. Violence decreased, the slave trade came to a halt during or shortly after his lifetime. Christianity had answered the deepest needs of the Irish.

Today we thank God for St. Patrick and the gift of faith which he brought to this land and we ask St. Patrick our patron saint to continue to intercede before God for us. St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, pray for us.

So as the Irish say, “May the road rise to meet you and may you be in Heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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