Tag Archive: Jewish


The sermon from last Sunday at Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA!

On January 12 of this year, Jeff and I found ourselves standing with approximately 40 others around Jacob’s well. We had driven into the West Bank that morning, leaving Israel behind for a time and entering the Palestinian Territories. We were driving through the crowded city of Nablus, thought to be Biblical city of Shechem or Sychar as it’s called in the Gospel. Our bus driver pulled over to the side of the road for us to get out, and looking up, I noticed that we were at a walled monastery. Upon entering, we saw gardens and cats – there are lots of cats in the Holy Land – and a fairly large church, with statues and mosaics. We entered the church, gazing at the gorgeous iconography and proceeded to the front of the sanctuary. From there, we headed down stairs, toward the crypt, where Jacob’s well is.

Once at the well, being a good tourist, I took out my camera, but was promptly told that we weren’t allowed to take photos there. As we squished in the room, located beneath an altar in the church, our guide lowered a bucket into the well. When it reached the end of the rope, he began the task of cranking it back up, bit by bit, creaking, creaking, creaking, until it reached the top, some 135 feet later. At that time, one of our fellow travelers, a pastor from Maryland read the passage of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

As she read, those closest to the bucket, grabbed some of the tin cups sitting nearby and ladled out water. They drank and passed the cups around our group, some drinking out of the cups, others cupping their hands to receive the water. We each drank, listening to the story, feeling the cold water against our lips, refreshing us and quenching our thirst in a dry land. And even more than that, it felt like communion – none of us took the water for ourselves, but rather received it from others, sharing what was given to us by passing it along to the next person.

The story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well is a wonderful one. A woman makes her way to the well at noon, hoping to draw enough water for her needs and she ends up getting way more than she bargained for. But who is this woman? She is clearly not integrated into her town social network because she’s coming to the well at the hottest part of the day – at high noon – to draw water. The well was the hang out spot for women, but this woman comes alone. So she’s isolated and outcast, living on the margins and hoping for life-giving water so she can just make it through her day-to-day life.

But she arrives at the well to find a Jew there. She must have been thinking, “oh give me a break! I just wanted my water and now I have to deal with this guy?!” And what’s worse is that Jesus asks for a drink. He breaks the silence and steps across the barrier between Samaritans and Jews, asking for some water. This, of course, sparks the now famous conversation at the well. It’s two thousand year-old water cooler chat!

But what I find most intriguing is how this conversation ends. There is a turning point in which they discuss the woman’s marital history and current living arrangement. And I’d like to point out that Jesus does not pass any kind of judgment upon this woman, but rather shows that he knows her. He knows about her life and he knows why people in town whisper about her. He reveals that he understands her deeply – far more deeply than anyone in her village. And then they begin to talk theology. They talk about who God is, and when the Messiah will come, and then Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah.

Enter the disciples. They come traipsing to the well and they see their teacher chit-chatting with a Samaritan. And not just any Samaritan, but a woman! “I mean, come on, Teacher, we all know Isaac and Moses met their wives at wells, what’s going on here?!” But they don’t say anything, and the woman runs back to the village, leaving her water jar by the well.

Back in the village, this woman who no one liked – whom everyone regarded as separate – as an outsider – bursts onto the scene shouting about her encounter with this strange Jewish man at the well. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”This exchange is shocking to me because why does she think that all of a sudden these people who have so disregarded her would listen? And yet, she goes. Becoming vulnerable with this group of people in order to invite them to “come and see” and to share the experience she has had.

And what’s even more shocking is that they respond. Not by mocking her or telling her she’s out of her mind, but by listening and suspending their disbelief. They, too, become vulnerable, dropping their guard and heading to the well in order to share in the encounter with this bizarre interloper. John’s Gospel tells us that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…” And that, “when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” This woman’s story caused some to believe and brought many people, quite literally, to Jesus. And from there, they were able to have their own personal interactions with the Messiah. After two days, these villagers are able to say to this bold 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.’” We don’t believe just because of what you’ve said, but also because we’ve had our own face-to-face interactions and experiences with this person. What started as a conversation between two people at a well, became a movement in the Samaritan village.

The Samaritan woman’s life was changed by an encounter she had with Jesus. And once she had that encounter, she wanted to share it with people – even those who didn’t normally want anything to do with her. She went and invited others to “come and see” and to be in conversation with her about who this man was and whether or not he could be the Messiah.

We, too, have had encounters with Jesus. Or, if we haven’t, maybe we are looking to have one. Maybe we’re wondering what such an encounter with God would look like. Or maybe we’re struggling to figure out how God is speaking to us. These are the things that keep us coming back week after week, listening to God’s Word, receiving forgiveness, and tasting bread and wine.

But we, like the Samaritan woman, cannot remain at the well, but we are called to go and tell others what we’ve experienced. We’re called to invite others to “come and see,” but how often do we remain silent, keeping our faith neatly hidden away?

Many of you know that I did not grow up going to church. I became a Christian in middle school, and for many years, my faith was something that I kept to myself. I became even more quiet about it after having a negative experience with a very conservative evangelical church in high school where the emphasis was largely on converting people.

And yet, I knew that followers of Christ were called to speak about Christ with others. But what would people say? Would they think me foolish or childish for believing in God or miracles? I’m sorry to say it, but I was ashamed of my faith and nervous, really, really nervous, about sharing it in a public sphere. That began to change, however, when I went to church in Germany and spoke with Pastor Christof Schorling.

When I talked with him about the struggle I was having, he told me this which has stuck with me, and shaped my views on evangelism. He said: “Our never-ending task is this: to seek ways to ‘really’ witness to our faith.  By ‘really’ I mean that we remain true to ourselves – that we do not disguise ourselves or simply repeat something we’ve learned by rote.  That we learn to say what God means to us, where He is important, and how He helps us.  When we practice that, we will notice that we are not laughed at.”

There was so much grace in his words. They showed me that it wasn’t so much about having the right words, or the most articulate theology, or even being able to answer all the questions someone might ask of us. It was about sharing our experiences of God by being our authentic selves. By bearing witness to God’s action in our lives by being the people we were created to be and trusting that the Holy Spirit was at work in the midst of it all.

Sharing our faith with others means being honest about who God is and what God means to us. It means listening to others’ experiences and questions about God and life, and being open to what they have to say. It means being able to say “come and see” and leaving people free to respond to the invitation. We cannot control how people respond, but when we can speak truthfully and humbly about what God means to us, and maybe that will speak to them.

And maybe they’ll be like the Samaritan villagers, accepting the invitation only to have their own encounters with the Jewish man at the well. The one who is not so fond of societal barriers. Faith is deeply personal. That’s true. But it is also public. We gather in community. We confess together belief in a God who lived, taught and was crucified in the public sphere. A God who was also raised from the dead, appeared to many, and is at work in the church – the body of Christ.

As we have our thirst quenched here week after week, how can we invite others to the well to encounter the living God? To come and receive living water? Who else is thirsty and might be longing to receive a drink? How can we be so filled with excitement about what God is doing in our lives and here at Community that we want to run and tell others about it?

At Jacob’s well in January, our tour group shared water together in community. And what began as a conversation between Jesus and one woman in that place has become an experience and an encounter that affects many. There’s no longer one marginalized outsider at the well, but a global community drawn together by living water. Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Love One Another

This was the last sermon I preached at my Teaching Parish of Trinity Lutheran in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and was given today (May 2, 2010).

John 13:31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love. The Beatles said it was all we needed. We use this little word to say we really like something, as in “oh my gosh, I love shoes!” or “I really love mocha chocolate chip ice cream!” Both of those are totally true by the way… We even use it when speaking to one another, and amazingly enough, this one word is used to cover a broad range of relationships – relationships between parents and children, those between friends, those between lovers. For a four-letter word, “love” is pretty versatile!

Last November, I had an interview for Clinical Pastoral Education, a program I’ll be participating in over this summer. Basically, I will be a chaplain at Gettysburg Hospital, learning about pastoral care firsthand. After speaking with me about what I hoped to learn over the summer and a bit about my faith journey, the interviewer asked me about what exactly had brought me to faith in God. You see, I wasn’t raised in any religious background so the interviewer was wondering how on earth I had ended up at seminary! A fair question to be sure!

After thinking a bit, I answered that it was God’s overwhelming and amazing love. The love that says no matter how much I mess up, God still wants to forgive me and have a relationship with me. And the fact that someone, a man named Jesus, had been willing to die for me in order to forgive me and bring me into relationship with God. That astounded me – who was this man who would give his life for me? I mean, he would do that for me even though I didn’t even know him?! That blew my mind and continues to leave me speechless. The feeling I had that God was out there, coupled with hearing about Jesus’ selfless act on the cross, told me that there was a God who loved me more than I could even begin to fathom. Once I heard that, I wanted to hear more – I wanted to know more about this God who would go to such incredible lengths for the sake of people who sinned and turned their backs on God and each other.

It was from here that my faith journey took off, slowly, but surely. Along the way, I have encountered many things, both positive and negative in the church, as I am sure you have as well. It’s quite inevitable to avoid any negative experiences within the church, because, ultimately, we are dealing with people who share and struggle with the same sins. In my personal experiences, I have encountered the condemnation of others who did not believe the exact same things being taught as well as people looking down on those of different faiths. I firmly believe that this is contrary to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus declares: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This statement comes just after Jesus has knelt to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. It also follows Jesus’ statement about the glory he and God the Father have received through Judas’ betrayal and the upcoming crucifixion. Jesus gives this new commandment, but he elaborates on it, saying that the disciples are to love just as he has loved them.

When I don’t slow down to actually think about what Jesus is saying, I think “oh, loving other people – that’s like being “nice” to them, right?” Yes, of course, but Jesus’ two sentences here mean infinitely more. First of all, love is a verb, not a noun. It’s an action, and, in the original language, the verb that is used here translates into “keep on” or “continue loving one another.” Here, Jesus is urging his disciples to continue loving one another, especially given that he knows his trial and crucifixion are going to happen in a few short hours. The community of faith must continue on in the spirit of Christ, even though dark and trying times are around the corner.

Secondly, what exactly does “just as I have loved you” mean? At a quick glance, it’s tempting to think of pictures of Jesus smiling and laughing with children or of the songs “Jesus loves me” or “Jesus loves the little children.” While these are wonderful in their own right, I think Jesus’ statement here is much more powerful. Jesus stands before his disciples as the Word become flesh, the one who was “in the beginning with God,” the one who has done incredible signs and taught powerful things. He stands there as the one who has just taken on the role of a slave, washing the disciples’ feet and who has predicted his impending suffering, death and resurrection. He has done all of these things out of love and now, he tells them to love each other as he has loved them. That is way more than being nice to one another!

There is a Middle English poem in the Commonplace Book of John Grimstone written in 1372, which speaks to this love beautifully:

“Love brought me,
And love created me,
Man, to be your companion.
Love fed me,
And love led me,
And love abandoned me here.

Love slew me,
And love drew me,
And love laid me in a tomb.
Love is my peace,
For love I chose,
Man to dearly buy.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t rhyme or flow as well when it’s translated, but I think it captures the depth of Christ’s love for us.

But what does this all mean for us? Having received this amazing love, how does it affect our lives? Jesus has commanded his disciples and us to love one another with the same selfless love he showed in his life, throughout his ministry and in his death on the cross for our sake. We must get our hands dirty, throwing ourselves into loving others just as Jesus took on human flesh to show the love of God to and for us. Like happy gardeners reveling in the messiness and earthiness of the garden soil, we are to be busy about the work of the kingdom of God, loving with abandon.

Jesus also told his followers, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Like a badge or a tattoo, loving one another like Christ will show the world who his disciples are – who his representatives are on earth.

All I have to say to that is a sheepish, “Oops.” How many times have I shown less than Christ-like love to others? Driving on the road, in my relationships with those around me, the list could go on…I know for sure that I have not always loved as Christ loved me. I also have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one here who has had this problem! As I said before, love is an action, not a noun. It is something that we must continue to seek to do, relying on God’s never-ending grace and the Spirit working within us. I have also found that two of my favorite authors have encouragement for all who would seek to follow Christ.

First, C.S. Lewis, the great 20th century apologist and author, wrote, “do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
In other words, Lewis wants us to stop thinking about and pondering whether or not we are truly loving someone and, like Nike would tell us, “just do it!” If we begin treating people as if we already loved them, with dignity, honoring them with our time and extending generosity and hospitality, I think we will be surprised to find that our attitude toward them shifts.

Second, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and member of the Resistance movement against the Nazis, wrote extensively in his book Life Together, how Christians can and should live in community with one another. In this book, he urges people to pray for one another, to listen to each another’s stories, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive each other, to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness to one another, and to allow God to interrupt our plans and hectic lives for the sake of others. This list rings true today, even though it’s more than 60 years later.

Remember that we are not just to love one another in the church or in the body of Christ, but also to love one another in the world. The famous Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus from 30 BCE to 10 CE, wrote, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” This applies directly to loving one another as Christ loved us. Yes, it is important for us to speak for ourselves and love one another within the church, but if we are not speaking for and caring for others, for our brothers and sisters outside of the church, then who are we as the body of Christ? Jesus, a Jewish man, went to Samaria and taught there, even though it was taboo for the two religions and cultures to interact. Time and time again, Jesus reached out to the outsiders and the marginalized and loved them.

If we do not stand with indigenous peoples whose homes and livelihoods are being destroyed due to deforestation and pollution, who will? If we do not stand with those who are persecuted due to their race, ethnicity, gender or faith, who will? If we do not do so, just as Jesus did, who are we? And, if we do not do it now, when will we do so? Will we only wake up when it is too late?

Love is a many splendored thing for sure. But love as Jesus talks about it is not static or something that happens to us. Rather it is something we are to actively participate in. As love brought Jesus to take on flesh and love for all of us drove him to the cross, it is a powerful force, not just a four-letter word. We have been commanded to love just as Jesus loved us and we are able to because Christ loved us first. We are to respond to the love of Christ by going and doing likewise. Are we up for the challenge? Maybe The Beatles were right: all you need is love. Perhaps, however, we can expand our view to include that of the band Switchfoot when they sing “Love is the movement. Love is a revolution. Get up, get up. Love is moving you now.” Love, the overwhelming love of Christ, is moving us now. Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Love

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