SERMONS

I graduated from Seminary in 1985. As a gift my husband arranged a group tour to the Holy Land. There I purchased this olive wood carving of the Samaritan woman at the well. I had to have it because in my studies I learned a new interpretation of this well known story. I learned it from Dr. Raymond Brown, a world renown Jesuit priest and scholar on the gospel of John. He also alone argued on the papal commission for the ordination of women in the catholic church.

One of the things he taught was the fact that this is the longest recorded conversation that Jesus has with any person in his ministry. So the story is worth exploring.

"It’s not to Peter as we’ve always been taught or to any other disciple that Jesus reveals HE is the Messiah."

Jesus is returning to Galilee. Did he have to go through Samaria? If he wanted to save time, yes. So he purposely ignored Jewish law that branded Samaritans as unclean, unfaithful Jews who intermarried with their conquerers. That’s the first rebellious act of Jesus in this story.

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Have you ever found that it was only in looking back at a conversation that you began to see the true gifts that were present there for you?

You know, I wonder if the disciples found themselves looking back to Jesus’ words - from that last night that Jesus was with them - there at the Last Supper and that night on which Jesus was betrayed; I wonder if the disciples found themselves looking back after Jesus was crucified and was resurrected, realizing that there was more importance to what was being said than they even realized when Jesus was first saying it?

In the portion of our gospel text that we heard today, what is referred to by theologians as the Farewell Discourse, Jesus talks about how he will be leaving, but that the disciples should 1) hold fast to loving God and 2) trust that a peace more than the world can provide will be given to them and 3) that God will send the Holy Spirit to guide them in all things – and she will be awesome.

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A retired Methodist pastor in Elkhart, Indiana, takes scraps of metal discarded by local companies creating band instruments, and assembles works of art from them. One, titled, “Doxology,” is a beautiful cross that hangs in the narthex of a local church there. What a gorgeous image, that of a cross – the most potent symbol of God’s redeeming love – represented through discarded scraps assembled into a new creation. Maybe this is the real work of love, to participate in God’s re-assembling of the scraps of humanity and the world around us into a new work of art.

Did you know that the part of our brain called the hypothalamus, which together with the amygdala brings about a fight or flight safety response – “danger, danger, warning, get out, run, or strike out, lash out with words or body” – this same hypothalamus is also involved in the feeling of love? This might make more sense if you think of the nervous excitement or anxiety one can feel when “falling for” another person – “danger, danger, this feels really special, this person makes me feel really wonderful, what do I do about these feelings?”

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My question for us today is this: Are we fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus?

Wait, what? Did my pastor just ask me if we’re fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus?

Listen, little details in scripture can fly by us so don’t worry if this one flew by you. Maybe because we were distracted, or these days having a Covid brain moment, or maybe because we’re so busy trying to be proper church people that the mention of someone being naked makes us say “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”

But, in fact, the gospel text of John says that when Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time, the disciples had gone back to doing what they did before Jesus called them to follow him and become fishers for people. The disciples were out on a boat fishing for fish. And, as numerous works of art from the time period when Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected show us, fishermen (and they were all men at that time) would often fish au natural – naked – or in a loincloth. So, when Simon Peter hears that it’s Jesus who is calling them from the shore, we read that he puts on clothes (probably an outer robe), and jumps in the lake to swim to Jesus.

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Do not doubt, but believe. This is the message for us today. Do not doubt, but believe. We have a Savior who is risen. Anything is possible. Anything can be done when we have the courage to begin and the resolve to believe that with God’s help, even our set-backs will become the building blocks for a brighter tomorrow.

This past Friday was Earth Day. Did you know there have been studies that show that people who think there’s no hope of changing the destruction humans have been causing to the earth are less likely to recycle? Less likely to try and do something at all? Locked in our rooms of fear and despair we just huddle around the table and grow more despair and more fear.

But Jesus does not want us to stay huddled in our fear! Jesus arrives and says “peace be with you.” In other words, you do not need to fear. Or if you are fearful, take courage and look for where you can act anyway. Then Jesus breathes upon those first disciples, we hear, and tells them that they have the power to forgive sins! Those first disciples - and us – we have the power to forgive sins. We can forgive people’s bad behavior (and hope someone is busy forgiving us our own!) We can forgive the ways we have fallen short of the glory of God and tell people that they, too, can be discovered by a peace that passes all understanding.

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