Tom Sawyer’s Sermon Notes Grace United Church, Lloydminster
March 27th, 2011 Third Sunday in Lent
Psalm 95 VU Page 814
Introduction to the John Reading
I would almost assume that most know who the Biblical Samaritans were, however, I will remind you. The kingdom that resulted from David’s amalgamation of the twelve tribes around 1,000 BC, had fallen apart after Solomon died. Ten tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel in the north, while Judah and Benjamin combined for the Kingdom of Judah. Israel and Judah were bitter rivals and often fought wars against each other, each claiming they were the true descendants of Abraham. In the mid-8th century, BC, the Assyrians invaded Israel, destroyed the temples and carried the people of into exile. Around 742 BC Israel disappeared off of maps until 1948 when the United Nations carved modern Israel out of Palistinian territory. The people of Judah assumed that the Israelites did not worship God in the correct way, that is with the priesthood in the Temple in Jerusalem, therefore God allowed them to be destroyed. The problem in Jesus’ day was there was a small group of survivors from the Assyrian conquest of 800 years earlier who still worshiped at Schecem, who had the Torah but none of the Prophets and writings, and thus were considered by the Jews as beyond the pale.
Forty eighty years ago the Alaska Highway had only been pushed through Muskeg and valleys, and over the mountain passes for twenty years, when the church placed me at Fort Nelson, mile 300 on that mountain gravel highway. The church, built as an Air Force Chapel at the airport, had been bought from Crown Assets when the airport was turned over from the Military to the civilian Department of Transport. It was moved onto a basement foundation poured by volunteer members of the little congregation that had been started two and a half years earlier after the local newspaper carried an editorial, “Where the Hell can I find a Protestant Minister? The site was on a hill overlooking the settlement down below, so the chosen name was Hillcrest United Church. It had six resident members when I arrived.
I can remember standing at the back door of the church casting my eyes northward and realizing one could fly on a thousand mile line from there to the Beaufort Sea without crossing a road -- winter trails, perhaps, but no road. The wilderness began just feet from my office, the way the Saskatchewan border lies a few feet from my Lloydminister office. That wilderness consisted of Muskeg, forests, mountains and valleys complete with caribou, elk, deer, bear, beaver, lynx, moose, rabbits, mink and the wide assortment of northern Canadian animals.
The biblical wilderness is very different. I remember talking to some soldiers who had done a peace-keeping mission after Lester Pearson brought in the concept in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. They had found completely mummified victims of the fighting lying in their uniforms where they fell in the Sinae. The air was so hot and dry that moisture was driven away before the normal rotting process could begin. Thus, when reading the Bible, we need to shift our thoughts away from Canadian wilderness complete abundant flora and fauna to a very different wilderness that is closer to the Red River badlands in hot, dry year. There, through browned out grass and prickly pear catcti, along the edge of the river, grow huge Aspen trees that push their roots down under the river to find sustaining water. Looking down from the valley top one can see this ribbon of water, bordered by huge, lush trees meandering through the dry, dusty valley. The Palistinian wilderness is like a magnification many times over of the Alberta Badlands.
Can you picture Moses with thousands of people out in the wilderness, angry that they are thirsty and there is no water to be found? Death by dehydration was a real possibility. We have the dramatic story of Moses hitting a rock with his staff and water coming out, so the people and their animals were saved.
In the passage from John we again have water with a well central to what was happening. The discussion touches upon many points:
• The relationship of Jews and Samaritans,
• Living water, that confuses the woman
• The woman’s series of husbands that rivalled Elizabeth Taylor’s numbers
• Where and how we are to worship God
• Who and what Jesus is
• Spiritual food in addition to Living Water
One of the questions Grace Congregation will be facing in the very near future is around the proper place to have our worship facility for the next generation of believers. Do we renovate on this site, or do we follow the big box store concept and move to the periphery of the city? Jesus told the Samaritan Woman, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” We will come back to those basic questions:
• Who are we?
• Whose are we?
• What is God asking us to do?
Where we worship is not as important as the fact that we worship in the way we live from day to day.
If we accept the call to follow the Christ, we are to offer the things Jesus offered. We live in a time and place where there is a great hungering and thirsting after living water and spiritual food. We have found both to some extent or we would not be here worshipping this morning. Our challenge is to provide it to our community and the world. Grace Church can be “Great Grace” if we are seen like the meandering stream flowing though the dried badlands of modern life, with trees pushing down their roots to draw living water, and God’s creatures coming to drink that water and be spiritually fed.
The Romans passage we heard as today’s epistle lesson reminded that when we turn to Christ in faith, we are justified and reconciled. There is much need for reconciliation with those who offend us, and who we in turn have offended. If we are truly justified and forgiven, we can be forgiving and empowering in the name of Christ.
Wherever Grace Church is located in the future, may she be like an oasis in a spiritually dry place, a food pantry to a people hungering for meaning and purpose. May those who gather here have living water to offer in the midst of a parched landscape. May we be watered and fed so we may offer the living water and spiritual food to those wandering the wilderness of modern life.