pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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Extend His Welcome

Reading: John 4: 5-30 & 39-42

Verse 14: Whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst.

In today’s story, Jesus reaches out to a woman that no other Jew would reach out to.  He speaks to a Samaritan woman who is coming to draw water from Jacob’s well.  Water is essential to life.  Women came to the well each day to draw water, to socialize a bit, to care for their families.  Jesus probably senses there is a reason she comes to the well alone, in the heat of the day.  Perhaps her life and her choices have made her into a person that is not often spoken to by her own people as well.

Even though this is the longest recorded conversation with Jesus in the Bible, He is not out for some polite conversation. For Jesus, there is a point, there is a reason to speak to this outsider.  Jesus sees a lost and broken soul in need of God’s love and grace.  In Romans 5:8, we recall that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.  In today’s passage, Jesus is living this idea out.  He is allowing the prejudice to die as He reaches out to the Samaritans.  In their conversation, Jesus offers her the ‘living water’ and she shows interest.  There is a spiritual hunger in this woman.  Jesus draws her further in by speaking truth about her life, but He does not allow this to be a barrier either.  There is no judgment, just openness and truth.  He acknowledges who she is and offers her love and grace anyway.  This too is our story with God.  No matter the road we’ve gone down and whatever choices we have made, Jesus’ message to us is the same: come, sit, talk with me, drink of this living water.

The story and invitation does not end here.  Our lesson is not over.  Yes, we see in Jesus’ example the call to reach out to those who are lost, to those who are outsiders.  After all, we are ‘there’ every once in a while ourselves.  And, yes, we too have felt the grace and love of Jesus making us new again.  But let us not look past the woman’s response.  She found healing and went and told others.  She brought others to Jesus so that they too could experience the living water.  She set aside any fears and doubts about being an outsider in her own village and invited all to come and know Jesus.  This too is our call.  May we each set aside any barriers and boldly share our Jesus, the source of living water, with all we cross paths with today.  May we each extend Jesus’ welcome to all.


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Go and Do Likewise 

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

God, who is my neighbor?  This question has a different connotation today than it had in Jesus’ day.  In Jesus’ day, the community was close knit.  One knew a lot about one’s neighbors.  But today many people do no even know the person across the street.  We may have hundreds of friends on social media flung far across the world, but we are too often isolated in our own homes.

In today’s parable Jesus sees neighbor as not just the people living around us, but also as anyone we might come into contact with.  This definition really changes the ball game.  We might be willing to take a meal to the family next door if we know they are struggling, but the family across town that we do not even know?  In Jesus’ world, yes we would.  Neighbor is everyone.

We can take a meal to the family next door even if we are really not friends.  We can do it even if we do not really get along.  It is a quick, limited interaction type of engagement.  It is a safe foray with little commitment.  In our story today, the Samaritan goes beyond this – way beyond.  He stopped, got his hands dirty, actually cared for the wounded man, took him to a place to recover, and paid for it.  He even told the innkeeper he would pay for any additional expenses when he returned.  And I bet he stopped in and checked on the wounded man.  They probably became friends!

Jesus saw all people as His neighbor.  In the parable we clearly see our call ad Christians to love all people that we encounter.  It is the example set by the Samaritan and by Jesus.  As Jesus said to the lawyer, may we too go and do likewise.