These last few days have felt like years. Opinions range from “Nothing is wrong and you all are crazy” to “We’re never going to survive.” We’ve gone from no guidelines in MN to restrictions on gatherings of 250, to the closure of schools, to restrictions on gatherings of 50, to restrictions on gatherings of 10 for the next 15 days. A good pastor friend of mine has said, “Never waste a good crisis.” Today is a day when we can be particularly and peculiarly Christian in the way that we spend our time, the way that we demonstrate our values, and the way that we love our neighbor.
What we’ve done so far. Community leaders met and formed a network of communication among our Janesville community organizations. We have a Janesville website on COVID-19 matters. Our Foodshelf has stepped up to change protocols so that they can be safe and meet what will be growing food needs in the coming days (and possibly weeks or more).
Our school had a Teacher Workday on Monday and one final class day for students on Tuesday. On Monday, the teachers made a plan for flexible / distance learning and on Tuesday, they distributed packets of work, explained the rhythm of instruction for the coming weeks, and had a final devotion for kids. This will be a combination of paperwork sent out, video chat, chatroom, and phone conversations. Our school is following the guidance provided by Gov. Walz and is shut down at least until March 27. Unlike some public schools, March 17–28 will remain class days for us.
Our church took precautions with last week’s Sunday services, and we have suspended Wednesday and Sunday services for the next two weeks, while offering a live-stream option on Facebook and continuing to burn DVD’s for use on the local access cable channel.
What we’re doing. Our school has instituted flexible / distance learning and will be in contact with families and students on how to improve wherever improvement may be needed. Our pastors gathered with circuit pastors on Tuesday and formed this statement of consensus: We will take into account the CDC guidelines and continue to provide opportunities for Word and Sacrament ministry to our congregations.
Our church office has begun regularly calling members, beginning with our oldest and most vulnerable members. We have asked elders to call all those on their member lists to check on them. Our Youth Ministry has been doing the same with youth.
We have postponed our Annual Meeting indefinitely and will be using the Elders meeting to consider how to abide within CDC guidelines while continuing to provide opportunities for Word and Sacrament ministry. We realize the economic toll that this situation takes on businesses, people, and communities, and the church is not immune to it.
What we hope to add. We hope to add Bible study opportunities to our social media presence. We also hope to provide a regular devotional time each day. We finally hope to provide opportunities to allow people to love their neighbor, even when they cannot physically come near that neighbor.
What we ask you do. We ask that you would 1) Engage with your church: worship and study your Bible however you can, 2) Engage with your neighbor in appropriate way and listen for needs your church can help fill, and 3) Engage in giving so that your church and school finances might stay healthy.
In the Wilderness, we come to you thirsty.
Third in a series of four
John 4:1–26 // Romans 5:1–8 // Exodus 17:1–7
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 4, where Jesus meets a woman of Samaria and says to her, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” Our text thus far.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the wilderness, we come to you thirsty. During the Sundays of Lent, we are in the wilderness. What does that mean? We are thinking about our scarcity, how it seems that we never have enough. We are thinking on our debt; we’re thinking about our lack. Two weeks ago we saw Jesus led into the desert by the Holy Spirit and tempted in the desert by the devil, and yet in his lack he did not sin. Last week we saw Nicodemus come to Jesus in the night, searching and seeking a question he didn’t know and finding an answer he couldn’t handle.
And today we think about the Samaritan woman and her conversation with Jesus at the well, and we see that she was thirsty.
Not necessarily physically thirsty. If you read along you would see that Jesus is the one who starts the conversation by asking her if he could have a drink. But nonetheless she was thirsty. I mean, she desired something. She knew that she lacked something.
We go to our text. Notice this, that the “living water” line I read at the beginning of the sermon, that’s pretty early on in their exchange. At this point she was puzzling out that he wasn’t talking about the well in front of her. Jesus begins this second part of the conversation by telling her that he has living water, that this water will never make you thirsty again. It will begin to do more; it will begin to well up to eternal life within you.
Three areas were this woman is thirsty, where she desires for more than she has. Three areas where we too may in fact have great desire. Three ways then that we see Jesus as the living water who quenches our thirst.
Way #1 We all search for someone to love. Jesus says, “Go home and bring back your husband.” “I have no husband.” You’re right you’ve had five.” Her love life has been rocky, but notice what this means: she’s searching for something that she hasn’t found: Deep love. Care. Stability.
What could be more human than this? Who among us hasn’t longed for someone to hold, hasn’t longed to be understood, hasn’t longed for someone to go through life with? This woman is thirsty for that, but one could infer that she has been looking for it in all the wrong places.
And that is remarkably human too, isn’t it? Wanting the right thing but looking in the wrong place. We have a bad day, we look to a bag of chips to make us feel better. We have anxiety, so we buy a couple dozen cases of toilet paper to make us feel better. Now, I’m not telling you to stop buying toilet paper, and I’m not telling you that anxiety and depression are easy to deal with. I am inviting you, as Christians, once again to the foot of the cross, to find your worth in Christ, to find your identity as a precious and redeemed child of God.
Way #2 We search for something to worship. The woman says, “We worship on this mountain, and you in Jerusalem.” The Samaritan culture pulled together a lot of threads. They were the ragtag accumulation of peoples: the ones kicked out before Israel invaded the promised land, the northern kingdom of Israel that had rebelled from Judah, set up it’s own temple (on the mountain this gal is referring to), was exiled by Assyria and came back to the land under Babylon, only to be shunned by the people of Judah as they rebuilt Jerusalem. They were a beaten, battered, torn ragtag group that had finally scratched out a territory here. They didn’t know who they were and they didn’t know what kind of God they worshipped. But the bottom line is that everybody worships something, whether or not what you worship has a name, everybody worships something, everybody puts something first.
So, what do you worship? I’m not asking, “Where do you go on a Sunday morning?” but “What consumes your time? What do you sacrifice for? What do you put first?”
We don’t know what the woman at the well would have said to that, but we do know what Jesus said in response, not only to the words of her mouth but moreover to the thoughts of her heart, “The hour is coming when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The hour is coming when the presence of our God will be wherever the church gathers, wherever the Word is preached, wherever the sacraments are administered, because when God breaks into this place, then, the people of God go out to show what he did in every other place.
Way #3 We search for someone to save us. “I know that Messiah is coming. When he does he will tell us all things.” In this case, she is searching for someone to tell her plainly what she wanted. She was looking for someone with knowledge to enlighten her, to be saved from her ignorance.
We all desire a savior. For some it is the government. For others it is an outsider. For others it is an institution. For others it is a relationship. But we all desire to be saved, to be helped, to be led.
And here is a great truth. She is recognizing the great and terrible truth that we cannot do it on our own. We are not enough. We are, in the end, inadequate to the task. As a man, as a husband and as a father, I see this clearly enough. I remember as Benny’s due date was coming close, a friend of mine told me about the birth of his daughter. He said, the hardest thing was to see his wife in pain and not be able to do anything about it. We are, in the end, inadequate to our tasks.
But notice how she phrases this: the Messiah will TELL us all things. She says, when I am saved, I need to be saved by more knowledge. She says, I’ll know the right things and I’ll be okay. Notice what Jesus says back to her: he says, “I who speak to you am he.”
She longs for a savior who will give her perfect knowledge. The savior who is in front of her perfects her by the knowledge and the more than knowledge that comes to this world in the form of Jesus Christ, the God who is man, the God who makes his dwelling among us. And he is more than just a God who walks among us: he is a God who walks among us and sympathizes with our weaknesses, and more than that He is a God who walks among us and sympathizes with our weaknesses and dies our death for us, and ....
More than that. Because the one who died was raised to life, and his life has become our life, so that every desire we have, every lack we feel, every place of scarcity we come to is formed by Who He Is and is filled In His Time.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther