Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon Series and the Woman at the Well

Preaching and teaching, teaching and preaching… we try to do these one at a time, most of the time, but it is impossible to keep it all completely separate.  Then sometimes we throw it all in together in a sermon series like this one and intentionally preach and teach, teach and preach, all a jumble!

In the instructed eucharist sermon series, this weekend we are looking at the Lessons, Psalm and Gospel.  It’s usually about 10 minutes in our total worship time – the First Lesson, the Psalm, the Second Lesson and the Gospel.  It is our most ancient piece of the liturgy when you think back to our spiritual ancestors gathering in the Temple or Synagogue to hear the reading and exposition of Scripture. We have examples of Jesus doing just that in his time on earth.

In our tradition, we follow a fixed three-year lectionary – one in which all of the readings hang together somehow. Ideally, the readings should connect to the Gospel and the Psalm should connect to the readings. Some weeks, the fun is in trying to figure out how J  Other weeks, it all weaves a beautiful tapestry of epistles, poetry and story.

The first reading is usually from the Hebrew Testament – except in the Easter season, when we will have readings from the Acts of the Apostles. 

The Psalms we hear in the Episcopal Church have an interesting background.  Coverdale composed them in 1539 when he translated the psalms from the Latin, which had been translated from the Greek, which had been translated from the Hebrew – got that?  Those same psalms have now been revised for the translation troubles, but are still mostly Coverdale’s because they are rhythmic and set in poetical, metrical lines – very conducive to corporate reading and singing.  You will not find the Psalms that we use for worship in any Bible – but the Lutherans liked them so much, they have started using them also (according to Marion Hatchett).  The psalms are read in unison, antiphonally (back and forth), responsively (one set response repeated), and sometimes chanted. Here at SMitF, it is the reader’s choice as to how we read and hear the psalm each week. 

The second reading is from one of Paul’s writings, or those attributed to him.  He is actually the earliest New Testament writer, so we always hear from him, except during Easter when we get readings from Revelation. 

An interesting side note: the responses after the reading have different origins.  The “Here ends the reading” is from our Scottish friends from 1662.  The “Thanks be to God” is from our Roman Catholic friends from medieval times. 

The Gospel is the last reading.  It holds a place of honor as always being a reading about Jesus, usually containing Jesus’ actual words as well as we think we know them.  In the late 4th century, people began to stand for the Gospel reading.  In the 7th century, acolytes with lights started formal processions, some with incense.  Highly ornate books began to be carried in procession, which signified Christ as the Word dwelling among us.  In the 9th century, people began making the sign of the cross at the Gospel reading.  The sequence hymn started out as always being a Psalm with an Alleluia chorus, but has now evolved into a hymn that references the Gospel text. 

Most weeks the sermon will be based on the Gospel reading, and in fact, some Bishops insist on it.  I love that we are part of a progressive church that always looks for new ways into the Gospel readings and has many different ways of interpretation.  For example, in today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the Woman at the Well -  every tree years – right on schedule.  For the sermon, there are a million and one ways to look at it, here are a few:
            Face Value – a woman meets and talks with Jesus and is changed
            In contrast to the Nicodemus story from last week – an upstanding member of society who visits under the cover of darkness and leaves confused, vs a marginalized powerless member of society who meets Jesus in the hot sun of high noon and understands Jesus’ message and teaching.
            First Mission Trip of Jesus – he feels a Holy imperative to go through Samaria and converts people as he travels through.
            Literary device – woman meets man at well, think Jacob and Rachel (Bride and Bridegroom connections).  The five husbands we find so scandalous are actually representative of the five occupiers of the land of Samaria over the centuries of their estrangement with the Jewish people.  Jesus has the longest, most theological conversation in this reading.  This woman becomes for us an example of how to evangelize by showing us the power of telling our own conversion stories: “This is how Jesus changed my life.”

And this is where it turns to preaching: what do we learn from this story? I believe we learn a way to evangelize - a model to embody.  What would happen if we all went out from here and said, "I met this guy and he changed my life!  Here is what Jesus has done in my life.  He knows me and he loves me and you need to come see!"  The woman has questions still, just as we all do, but she becomes an evangelist by telling her story. 

Are you thirsty yet?  Our readings, and lessons and Gospel should always answer some questions in our lives, but always leave us thirsty for more.  Amen.

Audio of the sermon found on the right sidebar in the PodBean player.