Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First Thoughts on the (Non-Lectionary) Readings for Sunday, November 12

We have a new wrinkle in my sermon prep this week!  The congregation's women's organization is having its annual "Thankoffering" service this Sunday.  If you are unfamiliar with the practice of Thankoffering, this paragraph from the Women of the ELCA Thankoffering 2017 resource gives some of the background and tradition of this practice:

"As we make our Thankofferings today, we share in a tradition that goes back to the 1800s or even earlier. Then, when it seemed that there was not enough money to carry out the work of the church, the women would take action. Gathering in groups called “cent” or “mite” societies, each woman would set aside offerings at home throughout the year, in thanksgiving for blessings received. And on occasion, the women would come together as we do today, joining their offerings together to support ministry of many kinds.  When Women of the ELCA was formed 30 years ago, we committed to continue this tradition of giving in gratitude for blessings. Each year, in thousands of congregations, Thankofferings are given to support the life-changing ministries of Women of the ELCA. Together, we do more than we could ever do apart."

This Sunday, the congregation's women's organization will participate in this tradition by giving their Thankoffering for the year and helping to lead the worship service.

This event brings its own set of Bible readings for worship instead of relying on the readings offered by the Revised Common Lectionary.  As I read these, I am looking for ties to the Thankoffering as well as development of the themes of water and baptism.

Exodus 17:1 - 7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"
 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."
 5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

In Exodus 17, the people of Israel are not far removed from their slavery.  They are extending their escape from Egypt and find a place to camp, but the place does not have water for the people to drink.  The people complain to Moses, flatly declaring that slavery in Egypt was better than this place with no water.  Moses turns to the Lord for help, and the Lord directs Moses to lead some of the elders of Israel to a certain rock and strike it with his staff as the elders watch.  Moses does so, and water pours out from the rock.  The Lord is able to provide water from a source that, by all appearance, could never provide water for the people.  How might the Lord provide for us, even when it seems like all of our resources are gone?

Psalm 104:1, 10 - 15
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,
 11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.
 12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
 13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
 14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
 15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. (Psa 104:10-15 NRS)

Psalm 104 is a grand proclamation of all that the Lord has done by creating all things and all creatures.  We cut the psalm down to focus on the scenes of water within the psalm.

Titus 3:4 - 7
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3 is a very Lutheran passage.  The Lord acted to save us not because we earned it but from the Lord’s own love and mercy.  Through the waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit, the Lord makes us children and heirs.

John 4:5 - 26
 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
 9 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.)
 10 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."
 11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
 14 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."
 15 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."
 16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."
 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';
 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
 23 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.
 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
 25 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."
 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

John 4 is the famous Samaritan Woman at the Well story.  How does this fit with the Thankoffering service?  I believe that verses 13 and 14 make the direct connection; the people who come to this well draw water to drink, but that water is only a temporary help.  Soon the people will be hungry again.  But those who draw from the baptismal water in Christ will receive the water of eternal life; such water does not stop giving us life.  While the obvious understanding is eternal life, we can also point to the various resources through which the Lord sustains our lives.  Is Jesus “greater than (our) ancestor Jacob?”  The story says, yes, Jesus is great than our ancestor Jacob.  Jacob dug a well, providing us access to water.  Jesus died for us on a cross and rose to new life, providing us with the potential to spend the next age in grace and love.

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