God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

February 25 -- Jesus Washes Feet (Lent 2)

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. x2
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”

Awkward!  Pretty much sums it up:
Awkward...thinking about foot washing.  Ever done it?
Awkward...reading this text at the beginning of Lent.  Isn’t it the Maundy Thursday story?
Awkward...singing together without the words or a hymnal to look at!
Awkward!  Considering anyone who betrays Jesus, like Judas, as “a devil”.  I’ve certainly betrayed Jesus.
Awkward!  Talking about and focusing so much on love.

OK, let’s “undress” this awkward-fest a bit.  
(See what I did there?)
This is one of the gifts of the Narrative Lectionary: simply reading straight through the Gospel of John.  We haven’t skipped chapters and chapters here to randomly landed on what’s usually Maundy Thursday’s text, during Holy Week.  This is only Chapter 13 of 21!  The entire second part of John’s Gospel is Jesus‘ passion, death and resurrection, and next 5 long chapters are at the table here, Jesus teaching and preaching to his disciples.  (Not arrested until 18.)  It’s like we’ll be in Maundy Thursday all the way through Lent...because it’s the Year of John!  Awkward, I know, but bask in this, this year:  we really get to experience the rhythm of John’s Gospel here.  Let this year, this spring, really highlight Jesus’ work at the table, the night before his crucifixion.  In John, this isn’t the Passover meal, like in the other Gospels: it’s the night before the Passover.   In John, Jesus is the the Passover Lamb!  

So this whole long sermon begins — typical of John’s Gospel — with action.  An image, a symbol to work with:  the teacher washing the students’ feet.  Let it soak in…

How many of you have ever had your feet washed on Maundy Thursday here?  How many have never?  How many refuse?

Why?  Because it’s...awkward!  You think it’s awkward now, imagine back then.  I encourage us to do it to each other, specifically because it’s awkward.  And because Jesus told us to.  And because it’s a symbol of something much, much greater.  See, Peter wants to over do it... 

It reminds me of when we feel like — at the Sharing of the Peace — we have to shake every single person’s hand in the church.  Do you ever wonder about that?  Who do you shake? Who do you not get to and feel bad about?  

I remember my worship professor ranting even about this.  He told us only to shake the hands of those immediately around you.  Why?  Because it’s about much more: “You don’t have to shake every person’s hand in the sanctuary.  This is a symbol of something much, much greater.”  What’s our bulletin, say?  “...far more than a quick hello: It is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed.  Jesus’ resurrection offers true peace.”  

Jesus’ symbol of washing the disciples’ feet was about much more than even just being humble and serving our neighbors.
Like the sharing of the peace, “it is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed.  Jesus [washing our feet and commanding us to do likewise] offers true peace”... true community, true vocation.
(Church’s Vision Statement? “Washing feet like Jesus.”)
This is his final gesture with all his disciples there, including Judas!  We can only assume he washed the feet of even the one who was to betray him.  “A devil”, he calls him back in Chapter 6.  This is love outpoured.  The symbol is there, doesn’t need to wash all of Judas, or anyone else.  Just the feet.  

Friends, even though Jesus washes our feet, we still run out and betray him too, don’t we...if we’re honest?  What are ways that you’ve betrayed your Christ?  This season of Lent is long, 40-day examination of that?  A journey into the wilderness [point to altar parament].  What are ways we’ve chosen not to love our neighbors, not to love our enemies, not  to humble ourselves, not to trust God, not to take care of our own bodies, not to serve and protect God’s whole creation?  What are ways we’ve walked out our Jesus and our community, like Judas is about to do?  What has the devil put into our hearts?  “Awkward!”  Ah, Lent.

And yet, here’s the most awkward part of all:  
God. Loves. Us. Anyway!

Shared this quote a few weeks ago, inviting you to keep it close by during your Lenten journey.  It’s from mid-20th c. German-Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich (he was far from perfect, but, man, one of my absolute favorite thinkers): 

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. 
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when year after year the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joys and courage.

“Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’”
Jesus washing our feet is awkward, because love and acceptance and forgiveness and peace is pouring out.  
All we can do, sisters and brothers in Christ, is sit back and receive it.  

Even here.  Even now.  Even you.  AMEN.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

February 18 -- Jesus Raises Lazarus (Lent 1)

Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, who raises the dead. Amen. 

What strikes me about the text this time — there’s so much here, and we’ve shared this text together several times over the years — what strikes me this time around, is that Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” not at the end, after Lazarus is all raised and showered and fresh and alive, but when things are at their worst.  

There’s a scene right at the beginning of the next chapter where Jesus is actually sitting at a banquet table with Lazarus and Mary and Martha.  Everyone’s together, food is being served, wine is being poured.  You can easily imagine the good smells and the hearty laughter at the table one chapter past this point.  But that’s not where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life...everyone who lives in me will never die.”  Jesus says this, at exactly the moment when Lazarus is stone cold dead, stinky-4-days dead in the tomb, when Martha comes at him in bitterness and blame: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  (And of course, beneath the anger is always sadness and fear.)  

Friends in Christ, Jesus isn’t just with us in the good times — as we’ve experienced together many times — Jesus is with us through it all.  Jesus doesn’t say “I am the resurrection and the life” at the end; he says it right smack in the middle.

And we’re in the middle now here at Shepherd of the Valley.  I’ve been describing this past week on a family level (especially with our kids), on a staff and congregational level, and certainly on a personal level — this has been a tough week — I’ve been describing it as going down into a deep forest, into a dark, thicketed valley.  
We’ll get through it.  It’s not all death and despair, we’ll get through it, you’ll get through it — whatever “it” is for you (maybe your valley has to do with my announcement, maybe it’s something completely separate).  But whatever IT is, whatever your dark, thicketed valley is, it’s certainly no fun.  

We’re right smack in the middle of it, these days.  In this new season of Lent.  But we have a God who is here with us, in it.

And this God, this one Jesus Christ does several things: First of all, Jesus weeps.  What is that about?!  Especially in the    Gospel of John!  If you’ve been following along, or listening to my interpretations of John, I continually find Jesus to be completely in control, cool and in command.  He loves everyone, but I haven’t seen him lose it before.  After all, Jesus is all divine.  There’s no question about that, according to John.  All these signs, all these miracles, all point to his divinity.  
So what’s he cryin’ about!?  He has the power to raise Lazarus! 

:)  If any of us had the power to raise the dead, if I had the power to raise the dead, I’d show up to your house after the  death of your loved one, and I’d be like, “Step aside everyone!  Check this out!”  I don’t think tears would be my issue.  If anything I think most of us would be a little more like a stoic hero.  Like a paramedic or a firefighter or a police officer.  I mean they’re all so cool and calm amid crisis and tragedy.   I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve never seen them cry, right in the middle of it...  
But Jesus weeps!  Ponder that this week.  I think one could write a doctoral dissertation on this shortest verse in all of Scripture, especially because it’s John’s Gospel.  I don’t have the answer as to what that’s all about, but I will say: Jesus weeping points to Divinity also.  This is not counted as one of the 7 signs, but I think it should be: What kind of a God cries?!  
Ours does.  Tears say, “I’m with you.”  Ever been with a friend when you were really hurting, who didn’t have an answer or any wise words, but just started crying with you?  I’ve never felt so heard, so understood, so accompanied, so loved.  

And that’s just a tiny glimpse of our God, who so deeply and completely hears, understands, accompanies and loves us.  Maybe that’s what those tears were about...

Jesus is here right smack in the middle of our pain, of our sorrow, of our fear, of our losses, of our anxieties and of our tears.  All this happens — not after the raising and unbinding — but before it, when things really, literally stink!  Christ is there, present, loving, weeping.  Never felt so loved.

And then, the final sign — the raising of Lazarus is the final sign of the Gospel of John.  The whole second half of the book of John is the Passion narrative.  So this is it, and what a finale this is to (what’s been called) the Book of Signs, the first half of John’s Gospel!

Harken back to the first sign:  Back when Jesus turned the water to wine.  Mary, who was there then and is here at the tomb of Lazarus as well, said back then, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Do you remember that?  She said this to the servants:  “Do whatever he tells you.”  

As Jesus’ seven signs unfold through John’s narrative, Jesus is always giving a command, telling his “sheep” to do something:
whether it’s “fill the jars with water,” or “take up your mat and walk,” or “gather whatever food is left over,” “go wash in the pool of Sent”...and today, “Lazarus, come out!...Unbind him and let him go!”  

Let’s heed Mary’s advice: “Do what he tells you.”  Why?  Because when we do what Jesus tells us to do, good things happen, God’s glory is revealed.  Because when we listen, when we trust, then we see and walk and eat and rise from the dead...and finally understand.

We’re all sheep of the Good Shepherd, remember?  And sometimes we go astray.  And God’s gonna love us even when we fail miserably at listening, trusting, seeing and understanding Jesus…

But our life becomes abundant when we follow Mary’s advice, and “do whatever Christ tells us to do.”  

Not only has Jesus given sight to the blind, health to the sick, food to the hungry, and brought a crazy-good party to the wedding feast in Cana...and to all our feasts here in La Mesa over the years, right?!  Not only has Christ done all this, he even raises the dead!

He even brings us through our valleys, through our losses, through our pain, definitely through our tears, through death itself, and gives us life.

This life is ours — not just at the Great Feast That is To Come — this “resurrection and life” is ours right now, right smack in the middle.  Right here in our valley, the Shepherd is with us.  

Now that’s something worth celebrating!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Friday, February 16, 2018

from Pastor Dan

February 16, 2018 — The Season of Lent

Dear friends and family of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 

It is with an incredible spectrum of emotions — both a very heavy heart and great excitement — that I share with you this news:  I have received and accepted a call to be the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Virginia.  It’s a small but solid congregation just outside of the Washington D.C. beltway.  I will be resigning my call here at Shepherd of the Valley, effective June 15.  My last workday among you will be May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday.

This letter comes at the conclusion of a long and painfully private journey of prayerful discernment. I have served as your pastor since July 2008.  We have walked together through both magic and tragic days: baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmations, anniversaries, preschool chapel and graduations, an exciting building project, trips, camps, retreats, and lots and lots of every-days.  Through the seasons and the years, we have striven to be the community in faith that God has called us to be, together.  And I am so grateful for that...for you. This congregation is in a very strong place, with a bright future for dynamic Gospel ministry, continuing always to “extend God’s welcome to all we meet along the way”!  It’s just that my time has come to move along, as a new chapter begins.  

Please know that I am not leaving because of any conflicts or grievances.  Quite the opposite!  I feel so comfortable and safe here.  I am leaving because change and movement — I would call it “procession” (like what we do every Sunday in worship) — is how God’s church thrives.  I think of our beautiful sanctuary banner from Guatemala, with God’s people always in procession.  I have discerned that it’s time for a new pastor and a new voice to be in your midst, and there are so many great ones!    

SVLC will be an extremely attractive site; Bishop Andy Taylor and his Assistant for Mobility, Pastor Terry Tuvey Allen, will be a blessing in this process; and I trust that God will absolutely direct your steps into your next chapter.  Meanwhile, I am stepping into a new call, where — trusting in God — my gifts and passions are a fit for their next chapter.  Can you see God’s church moving?  Always in procession, pressing on in faith, even as ministers come and go, never dependent on any one leader...except Christ.

I remain hopeful, nervous, nostalgic and excited.  I’ll aways be so thankful to God for you — to have had the privilege of serving, sharing life and vocation together.  My family and I absolutely love you all and this place, which makes this extremely difficult.  
I will especially miss working so closely with Jenny, Ron, Tanya and Gina...and Dusty Holycross — all absolute angels, as you know, faithful and loving shepherds among us.

While this announcement may come as a shock today, this new season of farewell and re-visioning is a somewhat extended period of time — longer than usual, I understand:  Heather and I would like our children to finish their school year, and we would like for them, and all of us, to have some time to transition and say good-bye.  (Micah and Katie are just learning about this big move too.)  All that is to say, we’re not gone yet... 

I look forward to sharing ministry with you for some more months: Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost are before us.  The Gospel of John continues.  Potential projects together abound. (Solar panels, becoming “Reconciling in Christ”, new carpet, landscaping, youth ministry, serving the growing numbers of people who are homeless in our area, and reviving the Community Garden are just a few that come to mind, right off the bat!)  What would you like to do together while I’m still here?  Every day is a day of grace, amen?  And Jesus guides our remaining days together.  There is plenty of Gospel work — and Gospel play — yet to share.  And the good Holy Spirit certainly still stirs among us in this Lenten journey, as in all times and seasons.  

After all, look at how far our God has brought us!  What words have we been repeating from the Scriptures all these years?  “Do not be afraid” (67x throughout the Bible).  God’s got us, no matter what...today, tomorrow, into new ventures, and into eternity.  Let us continue to hold each other in prayer, as we carry on in faith, hope and love.

Inhaling grace, exhaling peace,
Pastor Dan

“Light our way, O God of the living, May we learn to see with new eyes!  
Jesus the Lord, our power and promise; light for the blind, and food for the hungry: 
God is alive!  Alleluia!” (SVLC’s Hymn of Praise in 2017, by D. Haas, verse 4.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14 -- Ash Wednesday (Good Shepherd)

Grace to you and peace on this Ash Wednesday.  AMEN.

Today at the beginning of Lent, we reflect again on Christ as our shepherd, our Shepherd of the Valley.  But here in this Gospel text, Jesus also very clearly states (vs. 9) that he’s the gate.  This image is often lost or subsumed by the Good Shepherd image.  Lots of Good Shepherd Lutheran Churches out there.  I’ve never been to a “Holy Gate Lutheran Church.”  

But the image of Christ as the gate is a very important one too.

It really gives us…and gave the people of John’s day…an opportunity to reflect on “church” – those who reside both inside and move outside of the fold, the sheep, us – we are in here now within the fence, we’ll go out there into this Lenten season, we’ll come back in here on Sundays (and Wed.)...  

John the Gospel writer’s community had tons of different “church groups” popping up in his day.  It must have been terribly confusing—all of them claiming to be the right way (that’s the “hired hands”, false prophets).  This image of Jesus as the Gate of the church is poignant.  It gives us an opportunity again here on Ash Wednesday to stop and check ourselves at the door, at the gate.  Here’s the question:
Do we, sheep of God, live as though Christ is our gate?  In other words, is Christ the means by which we come and go from this place?

Or is something else the means by which we come to and go from church, the fold?  Is it the friends, or the escape from the world?  Or maybe it’s the pastor... 
This is a really good question about pastors too.  We have to be careful that pastors aren’t the means by which we come and go from this place.  
I always get so uncomfortable when people say to me, “It’s your church, Pastor.” Or worse: “It’s your show.”  Partly because I like that idea.  [pause]  What if it was “my church”— put yourself in my shoes — what if people looked to you to dazzle us, “give us a great show”.  Enticing maybe?  All to many story of pastors getting drunk on their own egos...I’m sorry, but the pastor’s picture outside in front of “their” church, down by the street, I think, really sends a strange message…Who is the gate there?  (We have a cross out front.)

Even the Bible, I think, can become an alternative gate!  Do we point to Christ or do we point to the Bible?  Luther and his companions were very clear—and I think very helpful—on this, saying that the Bible is only meant to point to Christ.  “Cradle of Christ”.  
Is Christ the means by which we come and go here at SVLC?  I think our answer is — most honestly — a wonderful blend of yes and no.  We do some things really well:  The text talks about having “life abundant”?... I see that here, in so many ways!  I am proud and thankful to be a part of it—not just a leader of it—but a part of it.  SVLC has pastors that come and go, council presidents, leaders that come and go, people that come and go.  There’s never been one, single human being we can point to who captures the absolute essence and embodiment of SVLC; rather, there is a spirit here that endures  through the seasons and through the changes...because I believe we do strive to live in ways that reflect the reality – that Christ is truly the means by which we come and go!

And of course as a church, we wouldn’t be a church or human beings for that matter, if we didn’t still have some work to do…

Welcome to Lent.  That’s what Lent is all about.  Now we’re invited to take that honest look, that inner journey: 

How might we even more share what we have with those in need, how might we even more give ourselves to the teachings of the Jesus and the Apostles, who shared with anyone who had any need.  How might we even more delve into the Word of God, hear even more the voice of our Good Shepherd, beckoning us to greater trust, deeper faith, higher risk, nudging us out into the world and back into “the fold”/the church.  Where is Christ the Good Shepherd calling you this new contemplative season?  Leading you toward more inner work, leading you outward beyond the fences?  Christ is that gate through which we walk in either direction.

[slowly] What do you see as being the thing most needed...is it the same thing you think Christ sees as being the thing most needing attention?  Jesus opens our eyes to a new way of seeing.  Last week we had the story of the blind man, right before this episode: these Good Shepherd and Holy Gate texts are the explanation texts for that sign that Jesus performed: restoring sight to the blind.  This is what that means!  It means that now we see as Christ sees that which is most important...  

Jesus continues to be our Gate, sisters and brothers in Christ, the means by which we come and go.  Thanks be to God our Good Shepherd – who guide us even now, who still lead us, who watches over us, who nudges us both into the fence and back out, and who always, always enfolds us with eternal love and abundant life.  

Today, we begin anew the Lenten walk with Jesus.  AMEN. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 11 -- Man Born Blind

So many ways to go here.  But I’d like to focus on that pool where Jesus tells the blind man to wash: what that meant then, and how this speaks to each of us today.
First, Jesus puts mud in his eyes.  Other years, I’ve talked about that great toast that I grew up with: before clinking glasses,  “Here’s mud in your eye!”  That comes from this passage.  “Here’s to seeing things in a new and healthy way!” First Jesus puts mud in his eyes, and then he tells him to go wash off that mud...

This is the 6th sign of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  The 1st, you’ll remember is the water-to-wine.  Then — we’ve skipped a bunch jumping to Chapter 9 today, but — Jesus also heals the royal official’s son, heals the paralytic, feeds the 5000, walks on water.  Then the blind man today.  Then Lazarus.)  All signs point to Jesus’ divinity.  

7 signs all together in John.  And it’s no coincidence that there are also 7 days of creation, way back in Genesis.  Jesus is re-creating, re-newing, re-defining, re-freshing the whole creation in these 7 signs.  So, hear these stories and wonders of Jesus in a cosmic, universal context.  They’re always about/symbolizing much more than just one person being healed (or even 5000 being fed) a long time ago...  

So today is the 6th sign, Transfiguration Sunday: Jesus puts mud in the blind man’s eyes and then tells him to “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam (which means sent).” Go wash in the Sending Waters.

So what does it mean to wash in the Pool of Sent?  In the Sending Bath?  Sounds like a baptismal font to me!  ;)
First of all: [page through your worship folder] 
See the sections?  What’s the longest section?
Trick question: Sending...

So again, what does it mean to be washed in the Sending Waters?  In the Pool of Sent (or Siloam)?

The once-blind man’s story gives us some ideas to instruct us for the “longest part of the worship service”:

First of all, being washed in the Sending waters means being healed!  Christ heals us too!  What are your “blind spots”?  Think about that this week.  And know that Jesus puts mud in our eyes too and sends us also past the the Sent Pool and out into the world anew, re-freshed, re-created, re-defined!  The Word and the Meal are like mud in our eyes, and then as we pass by those holy waters on the way out we have been made new!  Being washed means that we are healed, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Being washed in “Sent” means being honest.  “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see.”  Here’s what I know.  Pay attention to your experience.  I feel like 9x out of 10 when a person changes they’re mind about something (maybe this has happened to you?), it’s not because of a new doctrine that got rammed down their throat; it’s because of an experience:  

*All I know is that once I never really cared that deeply for protecting the environment, for example, but then I spent a week in the Rockies hiking and camping…
*All I know is that I was taught that gay people were bad and dirty and wrong, but then I met Lawrence…
*All I’ve ever know is that I always thought Christians were judgmental and insular even cruel, and then I came to SVLC...
The blind man reminds us to pay attention, and be honest about our experiences, how they affect us, and how they change us.  We could remain unchanged, even with our sight restored…  
But not the blind man: “All I know is that once I was blind, but now I can see.”

Being washed in the Sending waters also means facing opposition and even aggression calmly.  Did you see how he did that.  He just stuck to his truth calmly, even while the inevitable opposition came on strong.  This breaks with the way it’s “supposed to be,” you see.  The blind man stays calm —and we see — faithful.  He’s not swayed by the fire and fury, the violence of the opposition.  

(This is kind of a footnote but it’s also instructive:  Being washed in the Sending Pool also means staying out of triangles.  Triangulation.  Heard of that?  “Go ask him.  Let him speak for himself…”)

Finally, being washed in Sent means worshipping Jesus...even while others don’t believe or “see”.  Vs. 38:  “He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped him.”  

On this Transfiguration Sunday we too fall down and worship Jesus.  We entrust ourselves to Christ’s mud touch and care and transformative healing again.  We give thanks for all that God has done for us — we show that thanksgiving in our tithing and our offerings, and our songs of praise.  Worship means worthy.  What is worthy of our sacrifice?  That’s the true object of our worship.  People make sacrifices and put their trust — i.e. people worship — all kinds of things.  The blind man worships Jesus…who loves us, whether we fall down, worship and recognize him or not.  
Whether we see it or not.  (Sing with children, “Jesus loves me when I’m good...Jesus loves me when I’m bad…”) 

But friends, that gift of new vision is ours this day.  This pool is right over there…We are bathed in those ever-flowing waters of the “Sending”.  And in that, is the peace that passes all human understanding.  

That peace is ours this day, and always, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

February 4 -- Woman at the Well

“Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway.”  

Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel of the conversation with a man under the cover of deep darkness, and of the grace that those moments can offer.  Today, we hear of a conversation with Jesus at the polar opposite time of day: at noon.  The sun is the highest and the hottest.  The light is the greatest.  

Last week, Jesus met a man at the center of power, at the center of temple life in the ancient Jewish world, a Pharisee, a man with a name: Nicodemus...by night.  Today, Jesus meets a woman on the edge, on the fringe, a Samaritan, who doesn’t even worship at the temple in Jerusalem.  And her name is not even mentioned.

It’s a wonderful and very stark contrast from last week’s Gospel to this week’s.  Christ in both places...and all places.  And always “staying” (abiding)!  [that’s another sermon...]

Honesty is a powerful theme in these Chapters 3 & 4 of John.  Jesus’ conversation today with the Samaritan woman draws us right into this theme and others: honesty, changing of  ways, even beliefs, place of worship, letting go and moving out...
The woman at the well has, for years, been assumed to be a prostitute or a harlot, even as we have no concrete evidence that this is the case.  Some have assumed that since she has had 5 husbands, that it must be her fault and she gets around.  But in recent years, many scholars and theologians have wondered and asserted differently.  Maybe she’s lost 5 husbands, to disease or war.  Or, in that day in age, a man could permissibly divorce and literally throw his wife out for just about any reason...often for not bearing children.  And being cast out, especially again and again, made a woman ritually unclean to the whole community.  [There’s a youth group exercise with a Hershey kiss…]  One scholar was even so bold as to state: Jesus is not slut-shaming this woman, so let’s not ever understand this passage in that way again.  She doesn’t disgust us; she inspires us with her witness in bringing her whole community out to meet this Jesus.  

...but it starts with her being an outcast.  That’s why she’s at the well by herself, at the least favorable time of day.  If we had to draw water from wells in the Middle East, we’d probably all want to go in the morning or the evening when it was cooler.  She’s been cast out of the comfortable times and circles of people.  She’s been relegated to noon-time.

And this woman was hurting.  No question.  She could have been grieving, she could have been physically battered and bruised.  And even if promiscuity or a certain sexual recklessness was part of her story — which many of us can relate to today, being careless and hurtful to our own bodies and others) — even if it was that, well, she no doubt had a painful story.  

She was “at the edge”.  A nameless woman, a Samaritan, and divorced and chewed up -- the imagery of “other” couldn’t be more blunt for the first hearers of John’s Gospel.  It always helps, when we’re talking about Samaritans, to think of who your Samaritan is today -- Muslims, atheists, evangelicals, Hillary Clinton supporters, Donald Trump sympathizers, Russians, LGBTQ, rich people, poor people, certain family members or friends you can’t stand/stomach
[a word about jumping to extreme-KKK, rapist, terrorist (getting off the hook?) vs. thinking about someone at work, church, cul-du-sac...)
it’s always helpful when we talk about Samaritans to draw our own lines, honestly (and deeply personally), and remember that Jesus is always there on the other side too, on the other side of the divisions that we make among ourselves...talking with the 5x-divorced, Samaritan woman.  
And the site of this extra-ordinary meeting is this ancient well, Jacob’s well, a place still supplying water, just as it did centuries ago for Jacob and his flocks!  Since the 4th century this has been one of the KEY baptismal texts for Christians.  Many baptismal fonts in Europe and the Middle East, Northern Africa (and in some of our churches too) are designed to resemble a well.  There is still water coming from the well: this is the place where Jesus meets us.  (Beautiful, new fountain at our entrance today: baptismal, cosmic, in memory of loved ones, in thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness and love!)

Jesus reaches out to this woman—and to all who are on the outside and hurting, all whose histories are messy and painful—and Christ offers healing, peace, truth and love.

“Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway!” she proclaims.

Just as there is grace in the darkness—as we were reminded last week—there is incredible grace and hope in bringing things to light...in bringing our stuff out into the open before Christ.  It starts in the dark, down deep in the soil, as the Spirit nudges us and stirs us, to be honest, and what a catharsis when it comes out.  Growth happens.  A new chapter begins — letting go of the past, moving outward into God’s future.  Out of the deep, peaceful darkness (Nicodemus) certain things come to light (the woman at the well).  Ah, Gospel of John!
Every Sunday (Luther even encourages daily) we offer our confession, splashed by the well waters of eternal life, and receive God’s mercy.  It’s like “we’ve had 5 husbands.” We confess not just our sin but also our pain and sorrow: “Lord, we are grieving and hurting; call us back to you.  We’ve had 5 husbands.  Forgive us for what we’ve done wrong — for the things for which we must take responsibility.  Comfort us in our pain and sorrow — in the things over which we have no control.  Draw us to you, as you point us back out (not inward) to be your people to the strange and the strangers.”
Finally, you’ve just gotta love the scene of Jesus talking with a person who is so vastly different.  (My Grandpa Hanske’s like this — he loves just chatting with strangers and he’s genuinely interested.)  Jesus meets and talks in the midst of difference... 
And then she goes back to her community from whom she’s estranged, and in a twist, actually leads them out!  She goes and opens their eyes to see in a new way. 

Our call here, our vocation, is to be like this woman at the well.  We meet Jesus here, in this place, at this table, at this water well, and then we go and call others, “Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway!”

There is still water coming from the well.  Forgiveness, new life, hope for a broken world.  Living water gushes and cleanses us now and nourishes us for faithfulness into eternity.  Jesus meets us and sees us plainly again this day, all our faults and blemishes, all our pains and sorrows, clear in the light of this day...and loves us anyway.  

Now that’s worth sharing!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.   

HOD: “For All the Faithful Women” 419,  vss. 1,8, 2