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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT Slumming - John 4: 5 - 42

In this week’s gospel, Jesus is slumming. He’s in Samaria among the outcasts. But he’s not slumming to soak up local color. He’s slumming with a purpose… the same purpose that he preaches to high and low alike… turn from sin and follow him to the love of the Father.

He meets and talks with a woman at a well. And what appears as a chance encounter is in fact a scene of profound revelation. Jesus is telling us that the love of God is not the narrow privilege of the elect. It is not rationed out exclusively to the pious. Whatever our station, pedigree or profession, God loves us all. Whatever our sins, weaknesses or addictions, he wants us all. Despite our betrayals and despair, God gives his all. And while John’s gospel is rich in obscure theological nuance, Christ’s main message is clearer than the water from the well: Those who drink from the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.

Jesus isn’t talking about H2O, Evian or Perrier. He’s talking about grace… the water of eternal life. Jesus is the font of God’s grace. In him we are saved. He is the Messiah… he is Emanuel… God come among us. Salvation is at hand.
To make this cosmic announcement, he doesn’t convene the Sanhedrin. He doesn’t proclaim the good news to the chief priest. He simply tells a Samaritan… and a Samaritan woman at that… a serial adulterer… an outcast among outcasts.

How’s that for slumming… but how better to prove that the gates of heaven are open to all? The Messiah who was born in a stable and raised by a carpenter, the Messiah who turned a bunch of working stiffs into apostles… Jesus Christ didn’t just stumble into Samaria and didn’t just happen to bump into the most married lady in town. He deliberately picked the place and the person. He is talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, but through her he is teaching us… and generations yet unborn.

Clearly Christ’s choice of messenger is integral to his message. The risen Jesus chose to reveal himself first to Mary Magdalene. Women were the first to proclaim the Resurrection. And now, early in his ministry, he reveals himself to another woman… a clearly flawed woman… a sinner like us… someone we can clearly relate to. Once again, the King of All Creation, speaks to and through the humble of the earth. Once again, the proud are put on notice.

He is telling us it can all be ours… saving grace, harmony, serenity, an earthly life of purpose and dignity, culminating in the eternal life of the faithful. Beyond that, this message does not just happen by chance to land right here, right now on our Lenten calendar. As we journey with Jesus towards Calvary, it is precisely what we need to know: Our sins are cleansed. Our souls restored. The grace of God flows freely over us… in Baptism… in scripture… in prayer… in daily reconnection and communion… in witness of his love. Despite daily distractions and disappointments… it is what we need to know… it is what awaits us in the glory of the Resurrection.

Whenever we hear this gospel… whether freshly free from sin or racing towards it… whoever we are… a pillar of society, the dregs of humanity or just garden-variety sinners… we are God’s beloved. He sends his love, manifest in Jesus, to surround us, to comfort us, to gather us home.

Even among the most exalted of the earth, the Son of God is slumming. But he’s slumming with a purpose: Jesus Christ has come to a sin-soaked world to lead us home to glory. His purpose is so clear that even the despised Samaritans get it, as they proclaim: We know that this is truly the Savior of the world. Jesus has come to take us where there are no slums and there are no gated communities. There are no Samaritans… no Jews… no Gentiles. There are only the beloved children of God... united at last… at
home with our Father.

eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Moses said to [the people of Israel] ‘Why do you quarrel with me?’ - Exodus 17:8-9

In Cecil B. DeMile’s movie The Ten Commandments, “rabble and quarreling” were personified in the character played by Edward G. Robinson. Every time the going got difficult, he was the guy that kept saying: “Yeah Moses where is your God now?” The quarrelers’ toleration for discomfort was low, and their capacity for complaint was high.

Challenge and Opportunity:

Taking a closer look, the most dangerous rabble is not the complaining people around us, but the rabble that lives inside each of us. It’s as if we have tiny little Edward G. Robinsons inside who keep prompting us to be anxious and fearful. Can we press the delete button on this during Lent and soak up a measure of trust and grace?

Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck The Call of the Wild

“... And one was a soldier and one was a priest and one was killed by a fierce wild beast ...”

This has always been one of my favorite lines from any hymn in any hymnal in any tradition.
It comes from “I sing a song of the the saints of God” and I always smile a bit whenever I hear that line. Maybe it’s personal for me. I mean I was a soldier, I am a priest, but I surely hope to avoid that third option.

The whole point of the hymn, written in 1929, is to broaden the definition of what it means to be a saint. It mentions the classic saints, “patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.” But it also goes on to talk about the “saints” in our own world that can serve as examples in our daily life and encourages us to live saintly lives as well.

Not to minimize the sacrifice of the early martyrs of the Church, but being done in by a “fierce wild beast” just doesn’t sound like much fun. Plus, the only “wild beast” in my life is Delilah, my 11-year-old yellow lab/husky mix rescue dog. She comes to work with me most mornings and, while she once barked at the UPS guy, her general demeanor is not exactly ferocious.

This snippet of hymn text did become a bit more tangible for me, however, recently. A group of 27 of us from St. John’s — half teens and half adults — spent ten days on a transformative trip to South Africa. We took in the sights, immersed ourselves in the culture, learned about life in this post-Apartheid world, followed in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, and finished up the journey with two days on safari in the African bush of Kruger National Park.

It’s hard not to reflect upon your own mortality when you come face-to-face with a lion. Or a leopard. Or a pair of hyenas. Or practically any other animal we encountered — rhinos, elephants, buffalo. Okay, maybe not the gazelle. They seem rather skittish and tame.

But returning home just in time for Ash Wednesday services and the start of the penitential season of Lent seemed somehow appropriate. As I hauled my jet-lagged self up to the altar rail to impose ashes on the foreheads of parishioners with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” I was myself thinking about the fleeting nature of this mortal life. Out in the bush, most animals are just hoping to eat and not get eaten. That’s the bar and it’s pretty low; the drive to survive.

Hopefully we have slightly more ambition, but there are days and even seasons of our lives when we just hope to survive. The victory is in simply enduring and making it through to the next moment. This isn’t a sustainable model to experience the fullness of life in all its joy and wonder. Yet it can be our reality in our darkest moments.

Even though we live in a death-denying culture, one that resorts to euphemism to avoid talking about death, unless we confront the reality, we cannot fully live. That’s the paradox of life and the hope of faith. And we’re reminded that to fully live is to forego fear in exchange for embracing the inter-connectedness of our lives. Only when we allow the death of our self-centered natures and open our hearts and minds and souls to generosity and compassion, are we able to experience true peace and joy.

Getting mauled by a “fierce wild beast” still isn't on my bucket list. But I do think even the potential helps keep life in perspective. And it helps us remember that saintly souls are all around us. As the song says, you can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea (another line that cracks me up!); for the saints of God are just folks like me, and I mean to be one too.” Which is something we can all aspire to.

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