Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.” 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.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, `I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 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.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
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?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 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. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So 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. 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.”
When I was growing up in Fernandina Beach, FL, there was a guy who would park his small, red pick up truck on Centre Street in the historic downtown 8 block section of shops and restaurants. In my memory, he came every Friday morning in the summers, as I worked at Palmetto, LTD, a small clothing shop two blocks from the docks. He parked right outside the shop sometimes, and had a megaphone as his communication tool. He screamed out shouts of hellfire and damnation as he stood alone with empty parking spaces all around him and tourists crossing the street to avoid any confrontation. We usually kept the front door to the shop open to attract more business, but we closed it when he was close by to block out the screaming and wait for him to leave.
This was my early definition of “evangelism” and I was not interested. I also didn’t see anybody hearing that and thinking to themselves, “Hey, that guy makes a ton of sense and I want that life for myself too!” Hearing someone yelling out the consequences of our choices is never going to fall into the best practices for changing our beliefs. We have to change the way we view the concept of evangelism.
An unnamed woman who met a stranger became one of the most famous evangelists in the Gospels. She didn’t know Jesus when they met at the well, but he surely knew her, just as he knows each and every one of us. Knowing or believing in him isn’t a prerequisite to being known by God, and this story highlights that this woman certainly wasn’t full of virtues and family values. In the Christian tradition, we know many stories of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing and grace, but this woman knows none of this. Yet she goes back to her community and spreads her story of meeting Jesus so very well, striking just the right chord with those who heard of it, that they became believers who welcomed Jesus to their community. And it all started with a chance meeting at an unremarkable place, with no planned intentions or prior understanding and in the midst of a load of what we would call promiscuous behaviors.
So how does this connect to my life? I have always tried to live a life of good works and try always to be my authentic self, but I also rush through my life at a breakneck speed, working to get my to-do list accomplished and fulfill my many roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and principal. I know I miss out on opportunities to just tell my story of my encounters with Christ. I always find the time to tell funny stories, share my struggles with a colleague, hear the latest news from those I know, and even to exchange some tidbits of gossip. But I don’t always make the time to share the Good News of Christ in the world. Maybe I don’t know how? Maybe (and more likely), I don’t share my relationship with Christ with others because it makes me uncomfortable. And I’m not going to be lumped in with that yelling dude from my childhood for sure, so I don’t seize the opportunities when they are right in front of me.
But if not me, and if not you, then who are we trusting to share God’s love? Are we leaving it to the street corner screamers? The televangelists preaching prosperity? The door to door kids giving out literature? Those ways don’t work to turn people to Christ – if they did, more people would be doing it. Instead, we need to walk in our faith in all of our relationships, sharing our faith through our actions of love and support, our words of encouragement rather than hurtfulness, letting our deep love of God show in all we do. And tell our stories when we can. If a harlot who has a casual meeting at a well can be an evangelist, then we certainly stand a chance when we TAKE the chance to change the world and bring folks to Christ.
Gracious Father, thank you for continuing to give us the gift of your love and forgiveness. Equip us with the words and actions to be tellers of your truth in all we do and say. Continue to lead us to share our love for you and to bring us closer to Christ. You know our strengths and our challenges and still love us and count on us to do your kingdom work. With your support we can do more to spread the Good News! In your name we pray. AMEN.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
- “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
- according to your word;
- for my eyes have seen your salvation,
- which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
- a light for revelation to the Gentiles
- and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We were on vacation on the island of Kauai about eight years ago and visited a local church for Sunday worship, as we try to do whenever we travel. We happened upon the yearly visit from the Bishop of Hawaii, so the church was packed and there was a high level of excitement present at the gathering. One of the great things about worshiping God in the Episcopal Church is the familiarity of the liturgy, no matter where you go, but there are still subtle nuances in each individual parish which make it a distinctive experience, and the Bishop’s visit was certainly a factor making this visit even more unique. We were about halfway through the sermon when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear…”Do you know who that is?” and he pointed to a gentleman sitting in the pew in front of ours. Let’s start with this – I have a terrible memory. I also need a lot of scaffolding to keep information safely in my brain and I couldn’t place this guy at all. David tried to give me a few subtle hints, but I was getting nowhere. Then he shared that it was Beau Bridges, the actor and brother of Jeff Bridges. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts (as most of the worshipers were as well) and he passed the peace to us later in the service like he was just another guy and without any hint of his fame and fortune. We chatted with him later and learned this was his home parish, and he welcomed us as parishioners should always welcome any visitors to their church.
But I didn’t recognize him at all. David not only recognized him, but was able to name many of his appearances in movies and on TV. Once I was told who he was and what roles he had, I was able to make the connection in my memory. Without the help of my husband (whose ability to remember and recognize people from his past is LEGENDARY!) I would have never even noticed Beau Bridges. For me, it took someone to make that connection for me – then I was a bit starstruck and distracted the rest of the service, admittedly.
Simeon knew that he had to meet God’s Messiah before dying. He knew to go the temple the day that a little baby named Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to be presented as he was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to be there that day to meet him. I am sure that Mary and Joseph knew that their roles as parents to Jesus were a bit out of the ordinary based on the experiences with the archangel and the whole “born in a manger” thing, but they still may not have understood at that time the significance their little boy would have on them and the world. Simeon didn’t necessarily know that either, but the prayer he speaks following his meeting of a little child in the temple speaks loud and clear that he understood something huge had just happened to him and to the world. That prayer has been so important in the life and development of the Christian church that it is found in our Book of Common Prayer, specifically in the service of Compline found here.
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
His parents seemed to be surprised by this spontaneous prayer from a stranger who recognized the significance of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Simeon hugged Jesus and then told Mary a great foreshadowing of her life as a mother and the powerful impact on the world that Jesus would have. He RECOGNIZED both the greatness of Jesus’ life and the pain that would come to Mary as a result. There were most likely others in the temple that day, but Simeon was the one who knew that this small child would change the world. After Simeon, the elderly lady named Anna had a similar experience. She appears to have spent her nights and days in worship at the temple around the clock, and must have seen folks coming and going all day long. But something was different about Jesus. She wasn’t afraid to go and tell all who came after of the saving grace of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Beau Bridges was lovely and welcoming to us that day in church, but Jesus is so much more to all who turn to him. As we look ahead to more severe winter weather, the picture for today’s entry is that of the flower called the Snowdrop flower. It is a winter flower that appears around February 2nd for the first time, the day some refer to as Candlemas – celebrating the cleansing of Mary following the birth of Jesus when the baby is brought to the temple for the first time. It looks like such a fragile flower but has an incredible design that encourages it to bloom in the darkest and coldest times of winter.
We don’t always feel equipped to face the dark and cold times that challenge us in our daily lives ourselves. But the strength comes from somewhere beyond us and directly from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simeon would have missed out on his lifetime opportunity if he had ignored the will of the Lord. Anna’s deliberate existence in the very presence of the Lord gave her the chance to speak to others about Jesus in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t stayed the course. God gives us strength to face our challenges and provides us all we need if we will just take a moment to recognize it, even if it is hidden right in plain sight.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, and we accept the call to recognize Your Presence in our lives. The gift of your son was life-changing and in an enduring influence on our work in the world. Thank you for always finding ways to reach us and have us see you in the face of others. In your name we pray. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The First Disciples of Jesus
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
On Tuesday, I was given a very powerful gift. I walked into the school office at the end of the day to get some long overdue work completed as I waited for our PTA event later that evening. There are always a few kids whose parents are running a little late and the regulars were sitting in the chairs reading their books and waiting for their parents. Amidst the small group was a mom I knew – being new to our school this year, I am still learning the parents! This parent had two kids at my previous school and so we had known each other from there. She had a baby last spring and I always ask to hold him when she comes to school. Tuesday was no exception – I greeted her and offered my arms to this sweet angel and rekindled my love affair with him on the spot! She had some small talk with me, then asked if she could speak to me privately; we headed back to my office with her sweet pumpkin in my arms. Her other two weren’t with her at the time of our conversation when she asked me a favor. She needed to leave her car and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be towed from our school parking lot. After some gentle probing, she shared she was out of gas and money and planned to walk home with her three children; one infant, one with a brain injury and a kindergartner (the older two still in their car seats in the parking lot). The short version of this story is that I had a choice Tuesday afternoon. As a school principal, I quickly agreed to make sure her car was safe. As a Christian, I had to take it a step further. It was one of the best afternoons I can remember once I made the decision to embrace this encounter and lend a hand. She made it home in her car that day with hopefully one less worry on her plate.
Every day, we have encounters with Christ in our regular lives. My little encounter this week wasn’t on the agenda of my carefully planned out day. My opportunity wasn’t specific to my faith, but my choice was made easier because if it. John and the disciples had choices to make as they encountered Jesus. The historical context of describing Jesus as the “Lamb of God” was a descriptor that meant a great deal to the Jews. Before Christ the Messiah was crucified for our sins, the faithful used animal sacrifice as their method of forgiveness from God. Jesus’ place in the Kingdom of God was so significant as to negate the need for this ritual that was embedded into the traditions of the faithful. I’m going to guess that I would have been pretty skeptical of such a drastic attempt at change based on my track record. But the disciples embraced Jesus as the Messiah, and the encounter was life changing for them. They walked away from their families and their roles in the community to follow Jesus on a wild adventure. They embraced the encounter in a way that makes sense today, but must have seemed incredibly unusual and quite risky with benefits that would be hard to see at the time to the casual observer.
The opportunities may not be so dramatic and might not cause us to so drastically change the course of our lives, but they are present and give us the chance to serve in ways we never imagined. And if you are like me, you may miss them if you focus on YOUR plans, YOUR agenda and YOUR comfort level. My opportunity on Tuesday didn’t cost me much money or time, but the rewards I received knowing I could be the right person at the right time to help someone in need were immeasurable. When she thanked me, I thanked her too. She didn’t approach me to make me feel good, but I was so enriched by the experience. Sometimes God has plans for us that don’t align with our vision for ourselves. Taking the risk to embrace the encounters put in our paths can enrich us beyond imagination. Where is God working in your life to get your attention?
Lamb of God, Giver of Gifts and Knower of Needs, I pray for families in need. May I always be open to responding to any encounters where I can serve you through others and know that you will continue to challenge me to show love to all I meet. Thank you for trusting me to do your work in the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
I’m not always proud of my behavior. I strive to live out God’s plan for me every day and fall WAYYYYY short most days. On my best days, I work to remember that everything is not about me and that my job is to further God’s work in the world where I live. In some of my worst moments, I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself, gossiping about others, passing judgement and being pretty selfish. It certainly isn’t pretty and when I reflect on those memories I am not proud one little bit.
But some of my worst behavior has happened when I feel threatened. In high school, the cliques of high school girls didn’t bring out the best in me. I may or may not have behaved like a spoiled child in the face of the girl drama. As a parent, the threat of something terrible happening to my family has kept me from being rational in decision making and too protective when I needed to let go. In my job as a school principal, parents sometimes come to my office to scream, yell and make threats toward me and our staff. My default when threatened typically isn’t to respond with love and understanding. King Herod most certainly felt threatened by strangers coming to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king; sounds like it was news to him and not welcome news at that.
Herod’s response makes him seem pretty insecure (somewhat understandably in the face of the loss of his power, status and livelihood) and then he gets a bit sneaky. Go find this king so that I can worship him too, he says. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of malarkey in light of a few verses down the page in Matthew 2:16-18 when Herod’s insecurities leads him to make a pretty nasty decision to kill ALL the kids who meet the age criteria of this suspected king. Talk about acting irrationally in the face of a perceived threat!
And that is exactly what it was – a perceived threat. Not a real threat. Jesus was born to save the world, not to rule over a small group of people. But in the face of the threat to his identity, Herod did what seems unthinkable – certainly a drastic response to the situation. He acts out of fear of the unknown – and we are guilty of the same over reactions in our perceived threats today.
For me, I am fortunate to be able to live a life free of too many real threats to my safety and security. So when I feel threatened, it is typically to my reputation, my beliefs, my lifestyle or my ability to be the winner is some competition. But in most cases, the threat isn’t really about me. Jesus coming into the world as a baby was no more a threat to Herod than one of the cool high school girls was to my happiness back in the day. The threat wasn’t real, but based on a misplaced sense of self importance and our need to hold on to those things which we deem important to ourselves, rather than on the real threat of loss, pain and suffering.
This story tells of Epiphany, a feast day in the church where the manifestation of Christ is celebrated along with his baptism. The symbolism of light in the form of a star leading the way to three strangers coming to honor a king beyond the scope of their understanding, the fulfilling of prophecy (Micah 5:2) from ancient teachings and the fact that the revelation of God sending his Son to live among the people as one of them – they certainly qualify as an epiphany where we come to understand something in a new and different way. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas – January 6, 2014 this year, to be exact. We are still singing Christmas carols in church (give us a break – we focused on Advent every week since Thanksgiving!) and now we find ourselves with the first of a long line of threats to the life of Jesus Christ, even as he is still a very young child living with his parents in a small town in relative obscurity. The threat to the life of Jesus was real – yet he didn’t respond in anger, defensiveness or with malice. He offered his other cheek, his love to the persecuted and downtrodden and his heart and salvation to all who follow him – personal status being irrelevant. Striving to live with that unconditional love for others is what we are called to do and fall short of as humans. But we must keep trying every day to keep perspective and discern the real threats: the very real threat of a life without Christ at the center of all we do, in all we meet and in our every day work, actions and relationships.
I haven’t killed anyone when I have felt threatened (whew!!!), but I have made others feel things other than love from me. That’s on me, and my lesson from this reading is to stop, listen and react with love, even when it feels unnatural and contrived at first. I know I’ll get better at it the more I do it.
Light of the world, help me to view others through the eyes of your love. When I am confronted with fear, help me to see that in you, my life is secure. Show me the way to live every day with you as the center. To you are the power and the glory. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Messengers from John the Baptist
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
This week has been filled with stories on the news about Nelson Mandela. I graduated from college in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. As stories about his life were explored at this time, I realized then what an incredible man he was. I became hungry to learn more about his struggles for freedom from oppression for the majority of the people of South Africa. As I learned then and and has been reinforced this week as his life is reflected for all to see, Nelson Mandela rose from the humblest of beginnings, experienced some of the most extreme hardships that people can face and came from all that to change an entire nation and impact people far beyond the borders of his country. I’m sure he had days, weeks and even years of doubt that his work would have meaning or make any difference at all. And the leaders of South Africa surely hoped that this felon would never make a ripple in the ocean of discrimination. But the legacy of his humble life continues to this day and well beyond his life here on earth.
Today’s Gospel reading highlights a portion of the humble life of John – no razzle dazzle at all. As he spends time in prison for his work paving the way for the Messiah, he himself has doubts about Jesus being the Messiah – the very reason he is living life as a prisoner. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question with a definitive “Yes,” (no surprise there!) but rather he proves it by sending John’s followers back to him with tales of miracles. The kind of acts that can only come from the Messiah. But he takes it a step further by teaching his followers about John himself.
Jesus teaches his followers that the job of John the Baptist is a tough one. No “soft robes” or well dressed man would do for this important job – to go out in the world John needed to “be of the world.” Jesus pays, quite possible, the biggest compliment of all as he wraps up his lesson about John’s important work by telling the listeners and us as readers, that no one was more important among the people. This, right after John voiced his doubts about Jesus and his role in the world. I’ll be that when word got back to John about this, he felt more than a little like a jerk for wondering whether it was all going to be worth it.
There is only one John the Baptist, but the doubt he articulates is real for us all, right? Who hasn’t had those doubts? Even in the face of the evidence of God working directly in our lives and the lives of those we love and live with? Each of us as Christians is called to do our work in the Kingdom of God here on earth – much less substantial than what was required of John for sure, but look how far we can take it when we act on faith in the example of Nelson Mandela! I’m certainly no potential world leader destined to change the face of my country, but every day, I am tasked with waking up grateful, loving the hardest to love along with myself as a child of God, praying for guidance and studying the Word. If each of us committed to these seemingly small thoughts and actions, imagine the way the world would change right in front of our eyes? And the bonus? The building of our faith and the squashing down of our doubts.
As we spend these last weeks in Advent preparation, remember that preparing the way for the birth and coming again of our Savior is not passive in nature. Building our faith to prepare the way – now that is action that will bring about the best gifts of all!
All of our gifts come from you dear Lord, and we stand before you not worthy to receive them. Help us to remember we are worthy of your miracles and tasked with spreading your love in your Kingdom. Our faith in you is stronger than we think and we commit to building it in preparation for your coming. AMEN.
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.
The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.
So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.
The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.
Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.