Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
March 15, 2020
Lessons: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn to be stewards and leaders, using their gifts and talents to make a lasting difference in difficult times.
Key Scripture: So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
Dear colleagues and friends, I don’t have to tell you that we live in difficult, challenging times—for the church, for the nations, and indeed for all of creation. You are in the midst of these challenges (and opportunities) every single day. You know the stresses your congregations and communities face. You can see, sense, and feel the rivers and tides of change ebbing and flowing all around you. The question on my mind this week is how do we lead, serve, and preach/teach to the Body of Christ when anxiety is pretty much at flood level for a lot of folks. What do this week’s lessons have to say to those of us called to lead in times like these?
Fortunately, there is an abundance of good material in these lessons. The Holy Spirit is lavish with her wisdom and guidance and will not disappoint you. The gospel lesson shows Jesus in action as a model leader, evangelist, and steward in his encounter with the woman at the well. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 5:1-11 that our hope is in Christ, and we are reconciled through him. The language of verse 10 is particularly hope-filled: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Psalm 95 provides a simple recipe for how to respond to God’s goodness and mercy when the going is tough. The short answer is worship, praise, and faithfulness.
A focus on any of these four lessons will yield rich homiletical and faith-formative material. There’s plenty of hope for people in anxious times in these passages. Yet today, I hope you will take some encouragement from Moses’s situation in the wilderness. Talk about leading anxious folk! The Israelites are not at all happy about this journey into what appears to be the middle of nowhere, especially since they seem to be getting nowhere fast.
They’re thirsty, and water is nowhere to be found at Rephidim, where they make camp. They do what most humans would do about the situation; they quarrel with Moses, their leader. They demand. They lament. They question the decision to follow Moses on this little wilderness sashay.
Moses must have been on about his last nerve with the people. He must have been tired AND tired of their quarreling. Deserts are dangerous places. Moses and the other leaders of the people were proceeding by faith, trusting God to guide them to the Promised Land. It’s not long before things go awry, and the people look back to Egypt with nostalgia, forgetting their bondage and oppression and remembering the good food. Whether it’s bitter water, no water, or no food, God continues to provide for the people and to school Moses in the ways of leadership.
No, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the connections between the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites and our current wanderings today. They were a people “in between” and so are we. They could be fearful, anxious, forgetful, and cranky, and so can we. They were created in the image of and dearly loved by God, and so are we. God did not abandon Moses and the Israelites, and God will not abandon you. No matter how tough the going gets in this place between “the already and the not yet,” God is faithful. What you do matters greatly, even when the people grumble and even when the world as you know and understand it spins wildly.
What word of comfort and hope, what good news, does this desert story offer us today? Life in community is both beautiful and challenging. Both people and leader(s) are going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes. Don’t despair; lean in. Like Moses, go straight to the power source. Take your prayers, your hopes, your laments, anger, ego, everything to God and then listen. Listen alone and listen in community. Know that a way will appear, although you may have to traipse through some desert to get to your destination and dreams. Know, too, that it may take what feels like a long time, so go ahead and live fully in the present moment. The Christ is for you, with you, and working through you, and the Spirit is troubling the waters and guiding you to where and who you are meant to be.
Yes, it’s Lent, but Sundays are always a “feast day” in honor of our Lord. Take the words of Psalm 95 as your guide to “…sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Be sure that your worship still reflects the joy and peace that we find in Christ. Perhaps include an emphasis on water or collect a noisy offering for a water charity. Consider hymns in your tradition that work well with Psalm 95.
The Old Testament lesson may provide an opportunity to talk about the Coronavirus. Imagine Moses with all the different problems he confronted with the people of Israel—lack of water and food, anxiety, and fear. He faced a lot of challenges and uncertainties. Yet through it all, Moses stays in close connection with God. He takes his concerns and fears directly to the source of all things, and God always leads Moses to a solution. We face a significant challenge today with the Coronavirus, now upgraded by the World Health Organization to the status of pandemic. What lessons can we learn from Moses to apply to today’s concern? If possible have someone in the public health or medical fields on hand to answer questions about the virus. Good, clear and consistent communication matters.
This week’s focus verse is John 4:37 – For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’
Read John 4:35-38 to the children. Briefly put it into context of the entire gospel reading. The disciples were getting sidetracked and were having trouble thinking outside the box. How could Jesus have broken tradition and law to speak with a woman? Why is she off and running to bring others to him? Why don’t they know what’s really going on? In the midst of all of this Jesus tells his disciples this little story about farming. He’s trying to get them to see that sometimes they sow and sometimes they reap. They are part of something much bigger than they can imagine.
Ask the children some questions about your congregation. What can you think of that has been “sown” by someone and the benefits “reaped” by others? Perhaps it’s your building, the stained glass windows, a building addition, paraments, a garden, or a ministry. Entertain all answers. Remind the children just like the seasons come and go in a circle, so too do we. We didn’t write the Bible, but we sure reap the benefits of it! Most of us didn’t build the church building where we worship. Others gave money and time to see the congregation had a place to gather. We reap the benefits. If we continue to keep the building in good shape and use it as God desires, future generations will benefit. Use other context specific examples as you see fit.
Show the children a Bible and say something like this: “Isn’t it wonderful that we have this record of how God interacted with people and creation for thousands of years? This book continues to live and breathe because we continue the story beyond its covers. We are part of God’s creation and are dearly loved. Because of how God loves us the story will never end; it will remain a circle of divine love. Let’s gather in a circle to pray. Instead of holding hands, let’s link arms at the elbow.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us). Thank you for teaching us (Thank you for teaching us), and for weaving us into (and for weaving us into) your circle of love (your circle of love). Please lead us and guide us (Please lead us and guide us) every single day (every single day). Amen. (Amen.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Faithful stewardship always requires us to yield our will to God’s will. This is not a bad or limiting thing. Like Moses in today’s lesson from Exodus, yielding to God keeps us connected and strong. We are then better able to be good stewards of God’s abundance.
Stewardship at Home
Think about this week’s Old Testament lesson (Exodus 17:1-7). Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in the desert, the middle of nowhere, with no clear idea of how you’re going to get to the Promised Land? Do fear and anxiety set you to grumbling? Have you ever lived with food and/or water insecurity? Who would you be in this story (Moses, an Israelite, God, another leader)? What modern parallels can you see? Ponder and pray for guidance.
Want to go deeper? Consider supporting a water charity or a local food program. Start with your denomination’s ministries and branch out from there. Pray daily for the ministry you choose to support.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/03/lifewater/
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/03/you-me-and-liquid-e/
Images: Kenny Uh and Johann Larsson, Creative Commons usage license.© Sychugina_Elena – Fotolia.com Thanks!
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