Moneyreagh Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church
Sunday 15th March 2020 - Address: ‘A Lenten challenge!’
Rev. Chris Wilson
Friends, today is the third Sunday of Lent. That time of self-examination and reflection ahead of Holy Week, ahead of Easter continues. Have you given up anything for Lent? I have set aside drinking red wine (in particular, Malbec) not that I drink much but I do (or should that be did?) enjoy a nice glass of wine, only when I am ‘off duty’ of course.
Perhaps you are doing better than me? Do let me know if you giving-up anything for Lent. It is always good to exercise a little self-discipline. Those little sacrifices are certainly useful. But today, I want to encourage us all to give something else up for the Lent. And this is something we can only do together, so we can only achieve this if we encourage each other. Here is my Lenten challenge. Let’s give up prejudice!
You know the kind of thing. Its very common and very human. Its when we look down on someone – or don’t treat them fairly – because they are different to us. And it takes very many different forms.
For some it is religion. We don’t like you because you don’t worship like us. We are this and you are that. It is very silly and should have no place amongst followers of Christ. Of course, there are difference between Christians. But courtesy matter. Kindness matters. Humility matters; with each in their own way evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
For others it is gender. I am amazed (and, in truth saddened) that there are those who would exclude women from ministry because they are, well, women…when it is God who does the calling, and in case we forget, the first person see the Risen Christ was, well, a woman, Mary Magdalene.
Our first reading was Psalm 95 (NLT):
‘Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.’
Sometimes we need to get a bit of perspective! Put things in proportion. The LORD God is in charge. The earth, everything it in belong to God and that includes, as Ezekiel 18:4 reminds us, ‘all souls’, all human beings. The Psalmist declares that:
‘He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.’
I love that! ‘The flock under his care’! That being the case, we should always seek to be in fellowship one with another, finding equality, sisters and brothers all, as disciples of Christ. The problem is that we all do – deep down – know how we should behave. It just that human pride, human arrogance, gets the better of us. Now wonder the Psalmist continues:
‘If only you would listen to his voice today! The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’
That last line is important too. The Bible reminds us again, and again, turning from God’s ways won’t bring happiness ‘my place of rest’. Division, prejudice, call it whatever, will never bring peace of mind. It only brings the same back, in return.
Our second reading was John 4:1-14 (NLT):
‘Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.’
Jesus stood against prejudice in His day! He challenged the religious powers and the religious ideas who taught that God hated, Romans, gentiles, Samaritans, those who were different.
Christ challenged those who discriminated. He challenged the prejudices of His day. The prejudices that divided the sick from the well, the rich from the poor, the men from the women. John’s gospel tells us that:
‘He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.’
Christ Asking for a drink?! A Jew asking for a drink from a Samaritan! A man asking for a drink from a woman! And at Jacob’s well too, a sacred spot for both Jews and Samaritans. Christ understood that the Kingdom of God was not, is not, about pushing people out, judging, excluding, but it is rather about bringing people in, loving, including, and transforming:
‘The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
Of course, the woman is surprised. And confused too about the ‘living water’. She reduces – as so often people do – the things of God, to the mundane, to the unimportant:
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” ‘Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
Friends, here is the point. ‘The living water’, Christ’s way is for everyone. No exclusions. To be lived and shared by all. But first we need to ditch prejudice. So back to my Lenten challenge. Christ gave His example, talking to those excluded in His day. I wonder, whether this Lent if we could do the same. Whether, we might also leave prejudice behind? Amen.
The Reverend Christopher Wilson, MA – 9th March 2020.