Reading Ramblings – March 15, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:1-9; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-30, 39-42

Context: Fascinating themes swirling around in the readings this week. The people of God in the wilderness, newly freed from slavery and from the constant threat of their children being murdered, yet somehow distrustful the Lord can provide what they need next, in this case water. How is it that we in our suffering often fail to see the work of God present and active, shaping us as Paul asserts in Romans? Do we differ so much from the Israelites of the Old Testament in this respect? Or perhaps the theme of deliverance not because of faithfulness but in spite of unfaithfulness? God doesn’t require the Israelites to quit complaining before He provides them water. Christ dies for the ungodly, not those trying their best. Jesus offers the promise of salvation to the woman at the well before He challenges her sexual and marital practices. The grace of God is just that – grace that is undeserved. Our Lenten humility and self-examination are the results of God’s grace in our lives, not the prerequisites for it. Thankfully!

Exodus 17:1-7 – Recently freed from the Egyptians and delivered through the Red Sea, the wilderness God leads his people through is neither the expected path eastwards (which would normally hug the Mediterranean coastline but which was guarded by Egyptian garrisons) nor the easiest. It is literally a wasteland, and the worry of the people is certainly understandable to one degree. Though if Moses and his God had been able to deliver them and demonstrate great power thus far, you’d like to think they would trust in further provisioning even when it wasn’t readily apparent. Still, when your kids are tired and thirsty and you’re tired and thirsty, it’s easy to lose perspective and start complaining. Fast. Yet is God is gracious, and just as their rescue from genocide was not predicated on their obedience and faithfulness but rather God’s faithfulness, so here God provides for them, making sure the elders of the people are there to witness God’s faithfulness through Moses, and so better trust him in future situations. This issue of trust in God and his servant will resound for the next forty years, and it’s not hard to say it continues down to this very day!

Psalm 95:1-9 – This psalm always evokes in me echoes of the Venite, a traditional part of Matins worship that I grew up with (you can listen here – the Venite starts at 1:06). A beautiful psalm that fits very well with the reading from Exodus 17 and is likely based directly on it, given vs. 8-11. I’ll admit that prior to this reading, I never really thought of rock of salvation as a reference to water coming from the rock in Exodus 17. I always think of rock as immovable, secure, something to cling to in a storm or tornado, perhaps, something that will not be moved when everything else is in turmoil. But perhaps the Biblical use is more specific! Fascinating!

Romans 5:1-8 – Hands down one of my favorite Scriptural passages, though by no means one of the easiest to take to heart and live out. Paul has expounded briefly in the past chapter and a half on the center of his proclamation – the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ as the source of our faith and trust in him, which faith and trust conveys to us the forgiveness and grace of God the Father. We do not earn God’s grace, and we certainly don’t deserve it. He speaks now of the implications of this good news. We don’t have to wonder if God loves us and forgives us because we trust his promise in Jesus Christ that He has. How does this impact us? Well, for one, when we suffer we needn’t jump to the conclusion that God is punishing us. While God certainly might discipline us, He is not punishing us for a lack of faith. So we accept our suffering acknowledging we can’t know the ultimate meaning or purpose of it, but trusting and knowing that in the midst of it God is both present and at work. Christians can suffer like no other person on earth, literally, because we can assume and look for and cooperate with God the Holy Spirit as He shapes and fashions us even in the midst of suffering. We can trust this, knowing that even in the fullness of our sin God the Father was willing his Son should die on our behalf. How much more so, now that we are in faith, will God not fail to turn all things to the good of those who love him (James 2:5, and many others)?

John 4:5-30, 39-42The woman at the well is a well-known story. Perhaps it’s the scandalous nature of the woman and her past. Certainly Jesus wouldn’t associate himself with such a woman. Certainly not many Christians would willingly do so! And yet Jesus does not dismiss her or insult her or in any way reject her. He transforms not just the sinfulness of her own life (we presume), but perhaps even her role in her community. No longer the spurned woman who fetches water at mid-day rather than facing (or being rejected by) the other women of her community, she becomes the means by which the gospel comes to her village. She returns to town not simply with a lecture or even the pride of being honored with a conversation with a prophet – or the Messiah. Rather, she comes back with an invitation. I might be wrong about this. Some of you may be wiser in these things. But this guy knows all about me and we’ve never met. What if he’s the Christ? We’re told that many of her fellow Samaritans – Jewish in ancestry but unwelcome amongst faithful Jews since the return from the Babylonian exile five hundred years earlier – come to faith in Jesus. Their faith is not based in her testimony alone but in their encounter with Jesus. She invites them to explore for themselves and they do.

All of which happens not after she changes her life, but before. The Gospel comes to her, literally sits down next to her and talks with her even though she is living a life many were then and would be today aghast at. A lifestyle our culture now promotes as normal and healthy, putting directly at odds the purity many churches wish to espouse and the sinful lives many people are caught up in. If we presume the Gospel has to wait until lives are changed we misunderstand both the power of sin and the power of the Gospel. It is the Gospel that breaks through the sin, that effects change in a person they might not otherwise be able or willing to engage in on their own.

Fortunately, the Gospel doesn’t wait until we are ready for it or better suited for it. The Gospel strikes us between the eyes in the depths of our sin. While we were still weak, while we were still the ungodly, while we were still sinners. The fact that for many of us this happens too early in our lives for us to remember does not weaken the significance in the least, and should drive us to a deeper desire to share this same good news with those who didn’t receive it early on, or who may conclude it no longer is available to them.

When we take the power of the Gospel seriously, we can better anticipate the power of God the Holy Spirit at work, whether it’s drawing water from rock or creating character out of suffering or creating saints out of drunks and whores and thieves. The power of the Gospel is capable of breaking through any barrier of doubt or sin, we just never know when or how it will. We simply provide the introduction, the invitation. Come and see. This is what He has done for me. Could He be the one sent for you as well?

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