Jesus incognito

Jesus incognito

Dear Friends,

My friend was walking on a beach in Florida over Thanksgiving weekend, when he heard a familiar voice behind him.  Another stroller, hat pulled low over his eyes, aviator glasses covering most of his face, was calling his dog who had run off. My friend paused to think about how he knew that voice. And then it came to him. It was a voice he’d heard on television for months prior to last summer’s Republican convention.  My friend slowed his pace until the other walker was nearly beside him and then said, “I’m sorry, sir, but I know your voice.  Are you _____ (name of Republican presidential candidate)?”  The man hurried ahead, grunting an unintelligible response. My friend also picked up the pace and said, “My apologies again, but I just want to thank you for your persistence and courage. I’m a big fan; I voted for you in the primaries and really wish you’d been our candidate.”

The man slowed, lowered his glasses and said, “Thanks. Most people who stop me on the street aren’t as nice. I’m vacationing here with my family and really don’t want to talk about the election, if that’s okay with you.”  Instead they fell into conversation about dogs and Florida beaches and the best way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey. (“Deep fried,” won both the electoral and popular vote.)

What must it be like to be known everywhere you go?  To know that millions of strangers have an opinion about you? To flinch every time someone wants to talk to you, expecting either unsolicited advice or undeserved criticism?  In fact, my friend who was walking on the beach that day asked that if I ever shared this story I keep the name of the candidate confidential. “He’s suffered enough,” my friend said.

On Sunday we read one of my favorite resurrection stories—Jesus on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24.13-35). Until a few years ago, this story was read during worship only on Easter Evening—heard only by liturgy junkies who just can’t get enough church. But now this unique tale about a post-resurrection appearance is part of our regular lectionary fare. And unlike the Beach Candidate who can’t get away from the crowds, Resurrected Jesus seems almost invisible.

In last week’s Gospel (John 20.19ff) Jesus was in Jerusalem, appearing both wounded and resurrected to frightened disciples in a locked room. The gospel writer Luke tells a different story, placing Jesus on a road that night, walking alone and anonymously. He was overtaken by two who had witnessed all the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, who had heard about the empty tomb and were hurrying home to Emmaus to tell their tale. They fell into conversation with Jesus (think “Undercover Boss”) and were stunned that their nameless companion professed to have no knowledge of any of it. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Jesus responded, “What things?”  The denouement occurs when, after being invited to stay the night and offer the table prayer in Emmaus, “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus (in the breaking of the bread); and he vanished from their sight.”

How it possible that an unsuccessful presidential candidate can go nowhere without being recognized, but the Son of God, resurrected from death, walks though the world unnoticed and often ignored? That is one of the issues we will ponder on Sunday, since we struggle with the same.

Please join us for Sunday Forum, where we will begin a three-week study of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the gospels. Our Sunday School children are singing and studying the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, and preparing to offer a special Mother’s Day song.  After worship, Director of Ministries Jan Hincapie and I will meet with any who are interested in attending Lutheran Day 2017 in Springfield on May 9.  You can read more and register at www.lutheranday.org.

This morning on the radio I heard an interview with that presidential candidate-turned-beach bum my friend accosted in Florida. I smiled as I imagined him sauntering, sandy-footed and head down on a windy November day. What does it mean for him, for me, for you that Jesus , who suffered more ridicule and judgment than any politician could survive, meets us where we are, walking down the roads of our lives? What would it mean for us to “have our eyes opened and our hearts to burn within us” when we encounter Jesus?

I invite you to meet Jesus for yourself, as we open the scriptures and break the bread together on Sunday.  I invite you “stay with us” for awhile, lingering over love in the waning Easter light.

Christ is risen, and meets us on the road.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

Mary was here, too

Mary was here, too

Dear Friends,

I almost didn’t believe my eyes when, in the middle of Holy Week, a sad-eyed, heavy-hearted woman appeared at the church’s front door. It is not unusual for sorrow to appear in our midst, but because of our modestly isolated suburban location, it is unusual for people in need who are otherwise unaffiliated with Ascension to find their way to us.

Her name is Mary. Her story is a hard one. A son lost to heroin. A marriage lost to alcohol. A job lost to absence. A home lost to foreclosure. Money lost to a scam. Grandchildren lost to DCFS. Hope lost to circumstances that would destroy the strongest among us.  Did I believe her story? Did it matter?

She mostly looked down at her lap as she spoke, occasionally lifting her eyes to study mine. I think she was afraid I would judge or dismiss her. But I did none of those things. I knew she had to be very desperate to have wandered as far off the beaten path for help as she did. She spoke of faith in God, but at that moment her faith was in me.

After the brilliance of Easter and its irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, we turn down the volume this week to ponder the inevitable disbelief that followed. Caught up in the moment, the women at the tomb (also named Mary) lifted their skirts and ran all the way back into Jerusalem that morning to testify to the disciples, “We have seen the Lord.”  The disciples wanted to believe. They really did. But Resurrection was (and is) a tough sell. And, even if it was true, Jesus’ resurrection left them even more alone and defenseless than they had been before.

Sunday’s scripture readings are honest about the difficulty of belief in a resurrected Jesus, and of living as though it were true.

We read a portion of Peter’s inaugural sermon (Acts 2.14a , 22-32) in which he places Jesus’ resurrection squarely in the sights of prophecy fulfilled. It was a leap for Peter’s mostly Jewish audience. Peter claimed that even King David, centuries before, had anticipated this moment of messianic fulfillment when one of his descendants would again serve as King of Israel. Peter concluded his rousing remarks with wild confidence, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”

The First Letter of Peter (1 Peter 1.3.-9) makes an additional leap of faith. Not only was Jesus raised from dead, but those who believe in him will receive a similar “inheritance, salvation ready to be revealed.”  I can’t begin to imagine the mental gymnastics required of those early believers to accept the truth of events most of them had not seen—resurrection from death, appearance to disciples, ascension to the right hand of God, fulfillment of prophecy, confidence of resurrected life for themselves.

The Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Easter is always from John 20, the story of so-called Doubting Thomas.  (This will be my 33rd homiletical run at the text. Thomas and I are long-time sparring partners.) After two encounters with disciples in various stages of disbelief, Jesus does a very cinematic thing—he turns his eyes to the audience, to the camera, to us and says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Yikes! How did he know we would struggle to believe? But we do.

Please join us Sunday, on what is typically a “low” Sunday—the result of Easter Fatigue. Our Sunday School children perform a mini-musical about Doubting Thomas for their parents during the education hour. Sunday Forum will not meet this week. During Worship we extend our Easter celebration with song and prayer and the scent of straggling lilies that survived the week.  We will also announce an almost-final total of our Lent Holy Family Challenge+ and thank our many generous donors.

But you’re wondering what happened to my new friend Mary, whose story was almost too troubling to believe. She needed an Easter miracle in the midst of her own personal Holy Week of darkness, disappointment and fear. After a tearful telling of her story, Mary’s “ask” was simple. A meal. A place to stay. A prayer.  We were able to honor all three.  And if our office manager had not also met Mary, I might wonder if the encounter was real—a frightened woman named Mary appearing at a closed door in search of hope on the eve of Easter? It’s practically biblical.

Sometimes we are called to believe that which is not readily apparent or independently verifiable. And that belief propels us to act, to care, to take risks so that others might know the truth we teach.

Christ is risen, Mary. Now, go and tell. And we will, too.

Alleluia,

Pastor JoAnn Post

+60+ households have supported our Holy Family Challenge and we know that a few gifts are still outstanding. The average gift is just under $500. We attained our goal of two scholarships weeks ago, and have just learned that your generosity funded four full scholarships for Holy Family’s next academic year. You rock!

 

The Great Three Days–and a cookie

The Great Three Days–and a cookie

Dear Friends,

While chatting my way through Coffee Hour Sunday, I stooped to retrieve a chocolate chip cookie fallen to the floor. My intention was to drop it in the nearest trash can, but instead I fell into conversation and forgot all about the rapidly liquefying confection clutched in my warm palm. I remembered it quickly, however, when I extended my hand to greet someone who recoiled at the soft, brown, shapeless blob I offered. We both looked at my hand in silence, wondering what could possibly have sprouted there.  “It’s a cookie!” I finally exclaimed, with relieved recognition. My conversation partner’s raised eyebrow asked: “And why are you hiding a melting cookie in your hand?”    I offered a silly grin and disappeared into the crowd.

Fortunately, it was only a forgotten, soggy, half-eaten cookie my open palm revealed. What if my hand had opened to reveal the unformed forgotten mess I carry hidden in my head, my heart? Unkind thoughts. Unfounded fears. Unrepentant impulses. Unexamined motives. But, my sweet secret was only a cookie, so you never need to know the things I hide.

But soon you will. And I will know of yours.

Tonight at sundown we enter a liturgy as ancient as the Christian church itself. We call it by its Latin name: Triduum. In English, we enter “The Great Three Days.”  During this holy time, we willingly expose all the messes, missteps and malice we hide at other times of the year. We open our hands to God and to one another, both to let go our sodden sins and to receive forgiveness freely given.

Tonight, on Maundy Thursday, we gather in the semi-darkness to hear a word of forgiveness over our heads, to wash one another’s feet, to remember Jesus’ dying gift of his own body and blood. We leave the sanctuary wordlessly.

Tomorrow evening, Good Friday, we take up the silence with which we left one another the night before.  Gradually we find our voices in the haunting text and setting of Theodore DuBois’ “Seven Last Words”, and in an ancient bidding prayer in which we remember before God all for whom Christ died. We end again in silence, contemplating the cross on which Jesus opened his hand in forgiveness, and to gather all people to his side.

Saturday is a quiet day around the church, as we recover from the honesty of the night before and reverently, hopefully prepare for the brilliance of Easter Morning.

I invite you to open your hands and hearts to the gift of Love offered in these holy days. “O Love beyond all telling,” as the hymnist writes (ELW 241). But we will try; we will try to tell it. In honesty about our own shameful sins and in wonder at the free gift given in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

This weekend’s worship marks the pinnacle of our life together—incontrovertible evidence of God’s unfailing love for the whole human race, known in and through Jesus Christ. It will be a privilege to share it with you.

Sunday’s mushed confection finally found its way into a garbage can, but not before leaving a chocolate stain on my slacks and a sheepish grin on my face. Rest assured, when next I meet you it will be with clean hands, open arms and a grateful heart.

Maundy Thursday-April 13, 7:00 p.m.
Individual Absolution, Footwashing, Holy Communion

Good Friday-April 14, 7:00 p.m.
The Seven Last Words of Christ , Theodore DuBois

Festival of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday, April 16,  8:30 and 10:30 a.m.
The Return of “Alleluia!” Brass and Choirs, The Easter Gospel, Holy Communion

Blessed Triduum and Easter,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

Passion and Politics (Jesus’ Way)

Passion and Politics (Jesus’ Way)

Dear Friends,

For those who believe politics and preaching don’t mix, this will be a very uncomfortable week. Not because of anything I will do or say (in fact, I will offer very few words—the events speak for themselves)but because of what Jesus will do and say. If you are familiar with the events that will unfold this Holy Week in text, song, and action, you know that Jesus was brutalized not for raising the dead or feeding the hungry, but for challenging the political authorities of Jerusalem.

This Sunday’s liturgy opens by naming Jesus “king,” “prophet,” “Son of David.” If the politicians in Jerusalem had not noticed him before, they couldn’t ignore him any longer. There was only one king in the realm and it wasn’t Jesus. (Matthew 21.1-11)

The political stakes rise with every turn of the page. Jesus will be questioned (and feared) by both Caiaphas, the High Priest, and Pilate, the Governor. Soldiers will spit on him. Crowds will jeer him. Jesus was so feared that, in a traditional Passover prisoner release, the crowds chose to release a convicted terrorist named Barabbas rather than the suspected terrorist name Jesus.  Though Jesus will be given 15 names in the course of the story (I counted them), the name which hangs over his head on the cross is a political one: King of the Jews. (The whole story is found in Matthew 26.14-27.66.)

Jesus’ preaching had consequences—real world consequences. His passion for the poor, his willingness to forgive, his openness to the Other were powerful, unflinching statements for God and against the world’s ways, which are too often driven by greed and self promotion. Our faith in him has real world consequences, as well. When forced to choose, the church always chooses to side with the widow and orphan, the poor and despised, the immigrant and the outsider. Those are not sentimental decisions, but faith-full, scripturally-informed mandates from the king of our lives—Jesus.

I invite you to join us for Holy Week at Ascension. You will be comforted, challenged, confused and encouraged by the images and actions of this week. We begin with Passion Sunday’s palm procession and a dramatic reading of Matthew’s Passion. Maundy Thursday invites you to confession, to footwashing and to the table. Good Friday’s story will be sung in a  hauntingly beautiful cantata, punctuated by bidding prayer for all those for whom Christ died.

The week is also marked by the joys and sorrows of our common life. Tomorrow morning we gather to grieve and give thanks for our brother Glen Anderson. On Sunday morning we welcome Holy Family School’s CEO and Communications/Development Director. We continue to receive gifts for our Lent Holy Family Scholarship Challenge—we have already funded three full scholarships and are on our way to a fourth. There will be no Sunday Forum this week, but our Sunday School children are deep in preparations for both Easter and the Sunday following.

And, of course, we all woke this morning to news of U.S. air strikes against Syria in retaliation for the brutal murder of civilians by Syria’s government. Though we may differ on a partisan level, our faith-driven politics unite us in prayer for victims of violence, and for our government and military leaders who bear the heavy burdens of both response and restraint.

Though the ages have softened his edges, Jesus was, in fact, not a nice guy. He was a powerful leader who was unafraid to name evil, to stem violence, to challenge power when it was corrupt. We tell his story this week. And in the telling, we are changed.

Blessed Holy Week,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

“It is not for your sake . . .”

“It is not for your sake . . .”

Dear Friends,

All week long, I had opportunity to engage the world. And never far from my own zip code.

I was part of a consultation with LSSI (Lutheran Social Services of Illinois) about the creative and courageous ways they continue to provide powerful and much-needed services to their constituents in spite of the unresolved budget crisis in Springfield.

A group of Northshore pastors met with the CEO of a Southside bi-lingual (Spanish and English) legal firm that works exclusively with family immigration law. The demand for their services, the political minefields they negotiate, and the heartbreaking stories of their clients are mind-boggling.

I attended my first meeting as a board member of Lutheran Campus Ministry at Northwestern University. The meeting lasted three hours and encompassed everything from property concerns to investment strategies to conversation with students, all of whom are remarkably conversant about their faith and their faith commitments.

But, of course, the immediate work of the congregation chugged along, too. Worship. Teaching. Planning. Sermon preparation. Meetings. Correspondence (aka e-mail). Writing. Reports. Holy Week and Easter coordination. Pastoral care. Study. Chatting with people who stop by the office. Putter Thinking. (If you ever see me aimlessly wandering around the building, rearranging chairs or replacing candles, you’ll know I’m deep in thought. I can’t sit and think at the same time.)

Like you, I am part of many communities, engaged in many conversations, concerned about matters local, national and global. And I am also part of a biblical community, always in conversation with scripture texts, biblical characters, and ancient-but-still-lively theological conundrums.

On Sunday I will introduce you to some of the issues and people I’ve been living with this week.

We will read about the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37.1-14) and the profound disappointment it represents. The Valley of Dry Bones depicts God’s people as the lifeless, breathless, pointless, faithless husk of the people God had once created them to be. In that vision, God promised to restore them to life, to return them home from exile, but not for their sake. God had had it with Israel. No, God revived Israel for the sake of the communities they were called to serve, the nations for whom Israel was to be a light. We know this because in the previous chapter God is very clear about the rationale for allowing Israel to continue: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name and . . . that the nations shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 36.22-23)

The Apostle Paul picked up the ball and ran a different direction with it (Romans 8.6-11). The community to which he wrote struggled to know how to leave behind the “mind that is set on the flesh” in order to “set the mind on the Spirit of life and peace.” These early Christians were negotiating the competing thought worlds of Jewish law, Greek philosophy and Jesus’ teachings. To whom did they owe allegiance? Which laws applied to them? Did one have to abandon the temptations and pleasures of “the flesh” in order to follow Jesus?  Please note, these were community concerns, not individual concerns. The idea that an individual could have a faith life apart from the larger community was unknown and bizarre to them. The pronoun “you” in Paul’s writings is always plural.

We finally land in Bethany for the third of the Gospel Scrutinies: the raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-45). The quick and dirty summary of this rich narrative is that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick “unto death,” but Jesus willfully kept his distance until Lazarus was dead and buried. It seems harsh to us, but Jesus was only nominally concerned about Lazarus. Jesus viewed the raising of Lazarus as an opportunity to glorify God and bring many to faith. That Lazarus slept in his own bed that night rather than in a cold tomb is frosting on the cake of Jesus’ desire to expand the community of his disciples. How do we know this was Jesus’ intent? Verse 4: “Jesus said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory,’” and verse 45: “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary [to the tomb] and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

Sunday’s texts are all about concern for the communities in which the faithful live, the communities for which they have responsibility. Unlike in biblical times, the geography of our communities spans the world; it includes undocumented persons on Chicago’s Southside, legislators deep in debate, colleagues with whom we share a cubicle, students whose minds swim with possibility, the neighbors we greet in the early morning dog-walking-dark. If we are to follow the texts’ lead, our concern cannot be for ourselves, but for all of them, for those to whom God has called us.

We will gather as a community of faith Sunday morning, as we always do. Our numbers may be diminished by those traveling for spring break, but the faithful few will eagerly greet you. We invite children to Sunday School as they prepare for upcoming singing gigs; to Sunday Forum as we view and discuss Rick Steves’ documentary “Luther and the Reformation;” to Worship for scripture, song, meal and to meet the principal of Holy Family School—the dynamic engine behind the school’s powerful mission.

If I could, I would soften God’s harsh words to Ezekiel—that stern rebuke “It is not for your sake” was not God’s best self. But there has always been an urgency for God’s people to deeply engage “the nations,” their communities, those outside the household of faith who will not know God’s mercy, who will not know Jesus’ healing, who will not know the Spirit’s mind unless they encounter it with and through us.

For your sake,

Pastor JoAnn Post

I See You

I See You

Dear Friends,

Bill had been blinded by napalm in Vietnam. He left for the war a fully-sighted teenager and returned from the war a sightless man. When I met him he was middle-aged, married and a father. He had never seen the face of his wife or his children; he couldn’t admire the roses he tended in the backyard or wave at neighbors passing by his porch on a summer evening. I visited him during one of his many hospitalizations—the napalm had scorched his insides, too—and I asked him, naively, “If you had the chance to see, would you take it?”

I’ve been thinking about him all week in the context of the scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. They are all about sight and blindness, light and dark, life and death.

The Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 16.1-3) pits the prophet Samuel against Saul, the first king of Israel. You may recall that God was not a big fan of kings, warning Samuel, “The people who want a king have not rejected you; they have rejected me. Listen to them, but solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8.8ff) God’s reticence was well-warranted as the first king, though tall and handsome, turned out to be a complete bust.  So while Saul still occupied the throne, God undermined his authority, sending the prophet Samuel in search of the next king. That king’s name? David, who was only a boy when Samuel (secretly) anointed him. Samuel was not impressed with David, but God reminded him, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

We take a break from the book of Romans to study a brief passage from Ephesians for our epistle (Ephesians 5.8-14). The letter to the church at Ephesus was meant to encourage new Christians to live faithful lives in anticipation of the return of Jesus. Apparently, the city of Ephesus offered many opportunities to sin, so the writer of the letter warns them not to be Darkness, but to be Light. “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” What does light do? Light refuses to be part of “impurity of any kind.” Light shines. Light wakes. Light reflects the light of God.

In the second of the Gospel Scrutinies for Lent (John 9.1-41) Jesus encounters a man born blind who, by the end of the encounter, sees more than he cares to. Jesus told the man born blind that his blindness was an opportunity to reveal God’s glory (sometimes I disagree with Jesus’ theology). Jesus made mud out of dirt and spit, rubbed it on the man’s eyes, and sent him off to wash his face. No one was more astonished than he when the mud was washed away and he could see. “”The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes and said ‘go and wash.’ I went and washed and received my sight.”

Sight turned out to be an unpleasant experience. He saw the faces of neighbors whose voices he had always known, but who distanced themselves from him because of this unheard of miracle. He saw the faces of Temple leaders who accused him of blasphemy and perjury. He saw the faces of his parents who (metaphorically) threw him under the bus: “We do not know how he sees. He is of age. Ask him.” By the time the dust settled, both the formerly blind man and Jesus had been thrown out of town. When asked if it was worth it, the man said only, “Lord, I believe.”

Before I tell you more about Blinded By War Bill, let me invite you to join us Sunday. We know that many schools are on spring break, so we have decided not to offer Sunday School this week. We will however, offer Sunday Forum, continuing our viewing and discussion of Rick Steves’ “Luther and the Reformation.” During Worship we will again offer a sung version of the Gospel reading.  As part of our Lent Holy Family Challenge, we will welcome Ruth Newman, long-time faithful volunteer at Lucille’s, a consignment shop whose profits support Holy Family School. (Please remember that, any day of the week, you can contribute financially to our Lent Challenge through Realm. Just go to our website and click on “on-line giving.” We have not yet reached our $13,000 scholarship goal.)

If you are traveling this weekend, we pray for your safety and refreshment. If you are in town, we’d love to see you. (No pun intended.)

Now, the rest of the story. From his hospital bed, Bill turned his head toward me and said, “I can tell what sort of person you are by the sound of your voice. And I trust you. I know how my wife smells and I can feel the wrinkles around her eyes when she smiles; I feel my sons’ hands grow larger and hear the deepening timbre of their voices. I know the birds in the trees by their song and my roses by their thorns. Why would I need to see?”

For Bill, physical blindness was no impediment to a joyful life. But I know many who are sighted, but live blind to the joys and sorrows around them. Is that what God meant by saying, “the Lord looks on the heart?” Is that what the writer of Ephesians meant by, “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true?” Is that what Jesus meant when he said to the Pharisees, “Now that you say ‘we see,’ your sin remains.”

We see with the eyes on our faces and the eyes of our hearts. But only God knows who we truly are. And, miraculously, loves us still. And to us those who choose to live in God’s light, Jesus says, “Work the works of God who sent me while it is day.” Will you blame me if I hum, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Amazingly graced,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Well, Well, Well

Well, Well, Well

Dear Friends,

I always have a song in my head. This week it has been a spiritual I first learned at my home church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Titonka, Iowa more than 40 years ago. “Like the woman at the well I’ve been seeking for things that cannot satisfy.” (“Fill My Cup,” words and music by Richard Blanchard, 1925-2004.) As a middle school student who attended choir rehearsal mostly to see my friends, I could not have known the pathos and longing embedded in that lyric. But now that I am grown and deeply aware of the prejudices and practices that divide, the plight of the Woman at the Well moves me deeply.

Another critical matter about which we read in Sunday’s texts is the matter of Water. In many parts of the world fresh, clean water is still a rare and precious commodity.  In antiquity, a deep well belonged to the whole community, serving both as source of water for daily life and a gathering place.  Thus, the term “watering hole” for neighborhood bars—the well has always functioned as a meeting place.

Each of our scripture texts for Sunday takes us to the water.

The Old Testament reading (Exodus 17.1-7) tells of a conflict that occurred early in the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel. Just two chapters after being freed from slavery in Egypt, the people began to whine. The place at which they were camped had no easy access to fresh water. They complained to Moses, accusing him of tricking them into death by dehydration. Moses complained to God about the “this people!”  God provided water. In an odd way.  God invited Moses to tap his Nile River/Red Sea Parting Rod on a rock from which water gushed—water enough for people and herds alike.  (For another telling of this story with a darker outcome, consult Numbers 20.1-13).

Psalm 95 recounts that conflict in the wilderness, a place which was later named Massah (Prove It) and Meribah (Conflict). “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the desert.” The whining and complaining in the desert was legendary as a sign of faithlessness and impatience.

We continue reading in Romans, as Paul nudges his Jewish and Gentile readers about their propensity to boast (Romans 5.1-11). Rather than boasting in their own wisdom or power, they were to boast of the suffering they endured for the sake of the gospel. And in spite of their unwarranted high self-regard, Paul reminded them that when Jesus had died for them they were still sinners. Paul employs the familiar “how much more” argument to remind them that if Jesus loved them while they were steeped in sin, how much more he loved them once reconciled to him.

Now, come with me to the well. On Sunday we read the first of what are called The Gospel Scrutinies—three gospel texts used in the early church to instruct those new to the faith. Following the miracle of turning water into wine and sparring with Nicodemus, Jesus began the travels that would bring him finally to Jerusalem (John 4.5-42). The story is long and complex, but here is the kernel—Jesus risks his reputation and standing for the opportunity to bring hope to a woman.  A sinful woman. At a well. In the middle of the day. In Samaria. Alone. Everything is wrong with this story, as Jesus violates every rule about “engaging the enemy.” This gospel reading is especially poignant as our country grapples with our relationship to the Outsider, whether that person is “outside” because of  race, religion, gender, political party or our own prejudice.  Standing at a well in the noonday heat, Jesus offers the woman Living Water that will never run dry. She was both intrigued and wary.

Please join us Sunday to hear more about Water and Outsiders and Sin.

Our Sunday School children are working on our Lent Holy Family Challenge and preparing a number of songs for worship leadership in coming weeks. Sunday Forum begins a four-week viewing and discussion of Rick Steves’ PBS documentary “Luther and the Reformation.” (Some of us were privileged to be at the world premiere of this film—it’s worth seeing.) During Worship, we welcome an alumnus of Holy Family School and his father to tell us about the life-changing gift of the school.  If you have not yet friended Ascension’s Facebook page, you may want to do so. Yesterday we posted a brief “Welcome to Ascension” video in what we plan as a weekly feature. (You will see why friends tease that I have “a face for radio.”)

Meanwhile, that spiritual is singing in my head, and I am reminded of all the women and men of our acquaintance and around the world who long for both liquid water and living water. We can lead them to both.

Fill my cup, Lord.

I lift it up, Lord.

Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.

Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more.

Fill my cup; fill it up and make me whole.

Well, well, well,

Pastor JoAnn Post