Too often the media and our citizens worship at the altar of political ideology. In this time of crisis, I hope people’s eyes are being opened to the truth--political ideology is no substitute for God. Political leadership is no substitute for God. Total dependance on them is like trying to pay a water bill with fool’s gold. This is why God warned his people to follow God alone.
In the book of 1 Samuel, when God’s people asked for a king, Samuel prayed and the Lord said, “It is not you they have rejected...they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Sam. 8:6 NIV) God went on to warn that one day their king would rule as most humans do--through greed, oppressiveness, and violence. And when that day comes, the Lord said, “the people would cry out for relief from the king [they] had chosen, and the Lord will not answer [them] in that day.” (1 Sam. 8:7-18 NIV)
The political stress in our nation, and especially now in this crisis, is a reminder of why we should always follow God above humans. His law intends that people would love God with heart, mind, and strength, and love neighbor as self. It was God’s intent that we keep God and his will at the center of our existence. Symbolically that was expressed by the Tabernacle’s central location in the Israelite camp. God in essence taught that to obey him is our best hope for stability and peace. God is always with us and his wisdom and grace guides us when we obey him.
We may have to live in a world of trouble. But we don’t have to center our existence there. We are only visitors in this earthly realm, passing through to eternity. Most of the time we can honor the law of the land while abiding in the Lord -- in obedience to our true leader. It is for spiritual peace that we follow God and trust his promises. Remember the words of the Psalm, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” (Ps. 23:1-3 NIV)
(Please read John 4:4-42 before continuing.)
To modern readers...our text this morning is a great story of how a woman comes to faith in Christ. We see our Lord’s divine power to win souls for God. What is often missed...is the controversial aspect of what Jesus was doing. You see...Jesus did something that was shocking and appalling. He asked for a drink of water and had a conversation with a Samaritan woman. It had the markings of scandal written all over it.
Jesus’ disciples would have been freaking out. For those who may not know the history, Samaritans were descendants of the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom who had intermarried with non-Jews. They valued and followed only the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Bible) and denied the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple. They had their own place of worship on Mount (Ger’ uh zim) Gerizim. They worshipped the same God as the Jews in Jerusalem and held some of the same beliefs...but they had different history, traditions and experience. The friction between the two peoples began when the exiles returned from Babylon in the fifth century BCE. It was so bad...Jewish law said contact with a Samaritan resulted in ritual contamination.
The Jews at that time were about protecting boundaries. Their law and customs were meant to keep them religiously and racially pure. The Jewish Jesus humbled himself before a female untouchable and in doing so...he crossed a huge social and religious boundary. It was a radical act of tolerance, acceptance and love. In this story...Jesus challenged those who follow him to re-imagine how their lives and religion should look. Jesus not only imagined a world without social and religious boundaries...he lived and operated in that reality. It was challenging and exciting at the same time.
How does Jesus challenge your expectations? Most of us have been hearing and reading about Jesus all our lives. It is easy then, to begin to feel comfortable...to feel as though Jesus fits us like a well-worn pair of bedroom slippers. Many would confess they know Jesus well. But then we have times like this virus outbreak. For some, the expectations of Christ they’ve carried around might seem to fall short--limited as they are by their version of history, tradition, or experience.
The testimony of scripture reveals Jesus as one who challenges and surprises. Over and over we see him crossing boundaries...healing the incurable, consorting with sinners, touching the untouchable and challenging the status quo. So it surprises me when so many people try to put Jesus in a box...limiting him. Overheard while shopping, a man said, “What will Jesus do about this virus? Love it away?” He definitely had Jesus in a box, for he limited the power of the Messiah. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus offered her living water--and her boundaries for the Messiah were shattered.
One reason Jesus humbled himself socially and religiously is so that we might grow beyond our limits as Christians. He challenges us to love beyond the boundaries of doctrine, interpretation, and traditions...to relate to those who are radically different. Are we open enough to let the radical Jesus change us--even after years of keeping him in a box? This outbreak is the time to examine our lives...to question how much we look like Jesus. He loved beyond boundaries. This is a very good time to be asking, “Do we?”
I was in a grocery store today and a woman lamented, “No happy customers today.” I looked at her and said, “I’m happy!” She didn’t smile and responded, “Happy happy?” Guessing what she meant, I said, “I’m pretty happy.” She didn’t look convinced.
What did she mean? Was she talking about a whistling, sunny happy that says, “nothing in this world will bring me down today?” I don’t know if there are many of us with that feeling after the Governor’s order to shut down businesses. A lot of people are putting on the happy face but deep down--something else is churning. If I had to guess it’s maybe fear, anger, despair, or sadness.
As I drove away from that very busy store, I wondered what I was really feeling. I wasn’t sure. This virus closure may last a month or a year or anything in between. We don’t know. There is much we don’t know about the virus or our attempt to slow it down. The thing is--much in this worldly life is uncertain. It always has been. As I searched my heart it dawned on me there is at least one thing I know for sure. Christ dwells within me. The apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.“ (Eph. 2:8 NIVO)
The truth for those with faith in Christ is that deep down, there is always a seed of hope in us. Maybe it is obscured sometimes by the hard shell of events--but the hope remains as surely as Christ remains. If we nurture that hope it will blossom to the glory of God. I sure wish I could see that woman again to tell her, “Yes, I am happy-happy.”
This morning I awakened from a nightmare. I don’t remember the details--I was just very upset. Then my cat Buddy jumped up beside me purring. Immediately my heart settled. Later I was eating breakfast, watching news of the virus. I became annoyed and worried over some government action--imagining a whole world of negative outcomes. Suddenly my cat Buddy jumped in my lap purring. Of course there was nothing to be done but stop and enjoy his attention. My concerns went from fearfulness to mere thoughtfulness in the blink of an eye.
It struck me how much Buddy does to calm me. In moments of unsettledness, his loving presence makes me feel better. How much is that like God? God has a way of doing that...coming to us in the moments of our deepest concern. Maybe it happens as the happy song of a bird outside our window. It could be a silly TV show, or a text from a friend. When consumed with negative thoughts, if we open our eyes and hearts to God, he will jump in our laps and purr. He is always close to soothe us in some way.
God doesn’t want us wallowing in anxiety, anger, or despair. In first Peter 5:6-7 we read, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13 NIVO)
The last six days have been ridiculous. Last Friday schools were cancelled and from there it seems the world is upside down. The first few days people were processing what it means to live in a world on pause--a world where social distancing takes the place of handshakes and hugs. There is a lot of anxiety in the air.
At first, I was anxious and sad. I sat in our empty sanctuary on Sunday morning nearly in tears. I prayed for God to help us...guide us...protect us. I’ve mostly kept quiet until now--trying to make sense of it all. Whether one thinks this virus response is overblown nonsense or a serious crisis--this is the time to listen for God’s voice amidst the noise in our minds and hearts.
God is speaking. He always speaks but we’re often too busy to hear it. In this time when the brakes have been put on our worldly lives--this is a chance for us to accelerate our spiritual lives. This slower time is an opportunity for us to allow God a greater place in our day. Seems to me God is offering us the chance to reprioritize our lives--putting him at the top of our list of things to do.
If your world is radically changed--try making prayer the thing you do in the quiet of the morning when it is just you and God and no other distractions. Lay your worries at God's feet. Open your bible to a favorite passage and let it fill your heart and mind in this quiet time. And for the rest of the day, pray every time your heart feels anxious and angry. Pray with joy for blessings--for what God has done for you in the past. Pray, be creative in doing good, and trust in the Lord's will.
These days may seem like a curse. But they are an opportunity to reassess life’s priorities and practices. When we seek God’s face we will hear him speak. His voice is a song of hope even when all things seem dark.
May God bless and keep you,