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Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday in Lent - Year A
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Third Sunday in Lent - Year A


EXODUS 17:1-7            This is another story of Israel's continuing
struggle to believe and follow God's leading during their wandering in the
wilderness.  Moses comes into conflict with the Israelites because they
have no water and want to return to Egypt where water was plentiful. 
Following God's instructions, Moses makes water flow by striking a rock. 
The point of the story is that faithful living is obedience to God, not
finding plentiful resources.


PSALM 95                 This is one of series of psalms which may have
been sung by pilgrims as they approached the temple precincts.  It recalls
the steadfast providence of God in contrast to the faithless complaints of
the Israelites related in the story from Exodus 17.


ROMANS 5:1-11            In all of Paul's letters there is no other passage
which carries such a powerful message.  Faith has established our new
relationship with God.  We now receive many additional blessings -
endurance in suffering, hope of standing the test of our faith,
reconciliation with God.  These come to us because of God's love has been
poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  All of this
has been brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus who died
for us.


JOHN 4:5-42              Jesus' conversation with a Samaritan woman is
perhaps the most unusual of all those reported in the New Testament.  John
told of it to reinforce the theme of his gospel: Faith in Jesus is the
source of living in relationship with God now and in the life beyond death.
Here again as in Exodus 17 and Psalm 95 water has a symbolic meaning.  It
represents the life of the Spirit which comes through faith.  In this
instance it may also symbolize the water of baptism which initiates our
faith relationship with God.  There are subtle sexual connotations in this
passage too indicating that sexuality and spirituality are closely related.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS


EXODUS 17:1-7   This is another story of Israel's continuing struggle to
believe and follow Yahweh's leading during their wandering in the
wilderness.  Moses came into conflict with the Israelites because they had
no water and wanted to return to Egypt where water was plentiful. 
Following Yahweh's instructions, Moses made water flow by striking a rock.

Despite several geographical references, no one is quite sure where this
incident took place.  The Sinai peninsula to this day has little else but
wilderness where pasturage and water are difficult to find.  The OT has two
other references to this event in Deut. 33:8 and Ps. 95:8-9.  In both the
implication is as straightforward as in this instance: the Israelites'
contention amounted to testing Yahweh's presence among them as they
wandered toward the promised land.
     
The metaphor of Moses' staff, probably a normal shepherd's staff, has some
significance.  To strike the rock as he had struck the Nile symbolized the
power given to him by Yahweh.  To have such power controlled the destiny of
those who followed him.  Yet the power was always derived as the first 
reference to Moses' staff in Ex. 4:1-5 stated.  It was never possessed by
him nor used except at the specific command of Yahweh.  This derived power
indicated to those who would believe that Yahweh was indeed still with them
as arduous as the journey might have been.
     
The  point of the story for us: faithful living is to believe that God is
with us and to obey God, not in finding plentiful resources and comfortable
surroundings.
     
A businessman who made frequent long, tiring trips in crowded aircraft
discovered that being upset with travelling only made it worse.  He learned
instead of to relax and make the most of his time in the air.  He now can
usually read a good book through on his travel days.  He is also thankful
that his company allows him to keep the frequent flier miles.  He saves
them in case he ever needs to fly back to where my parents, brother and
sister live, which would cost quite a lot.


PSALM 95   This is one of series of psalms which may have been sung by
pilgrims as they approached the temple precincts.  It probably had
liturgical use in the reconstructed temple after Israel's return from exile
in Babylon.  It may have been part of the celebration of the New Year
festival when Yahweh was proclaimed Israel's true sovereign. 
     
As it exists now, the psalm has two parts. Vss.1-7c contain a hymn of
praise filled with joyful thanksgiving and  acclamation of Yahweh's
greatness as creator. Possibly this was sung by a choir of Levites.  Vss.
7d-11 contain a prophetic admonition.  While the first part recalls the
steadfast providence of God, the second presents a contrasting reminder of
the faithless complaints of the Israelites related in the story from Exodus
17 above (vss.8-9) and on other unnamed occasions when the Israelites went
astray. 
     
Vss.6-7c presents a vivid picture of the procession of worshippers entering
the temple gates and prostrating themselves in reverent homage to Yahweh,
thereby acknowledging themselves to be God's people and possession, "the
sheep of his hand" (vs.7a-b).  This declaration of faith brought forth the
warning by the officiating priest to whom had fallen the prophetic function
of delivering a solemn appeal that the people heed the voice of Yahweh.  As
might be expected, such an appeal by a strong, solo voice would silence the
assembly so that the Torah could be attentively heard .


ROMANS 5:1-11   In all of Paul's letters there is no other passage which
carries such a powerful message.  Martin Luther based his 99 theses
initiating the Protestant Reformation in 1517 on the study of this passage.
It also formed the basis for the intense evangelical preaching and hymnody
of John and Charles Wesley.  In fact, it is not too much to say that every
Protestant evangelical revival and statement of faith has found it roots in
this vibrant confession of the essential meaning of the life, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ.
     
Faith in Jesus Christ having established our new relationship with God, we
now receive many additional blessings.  These come to us because God's love
has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Innumerable spiritual blessings follow. 
     
Paul had plenty of personal experience with the law courts of the Roman
Empire.  He turned to that experience for the metaphor of *justification*
so prominent in this passage.  A person was justified if declared not
guilty of the charge which brought about arraignment before the court.  In
this instance, our justification in the moral and spiritual realm came
about because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 
     
These are the mighty acts of God in Christ: God loved us.  God came in
Jesus, the Son of God, to die for us while we were completely unaware of
and rejecting God's love.  By doing so God removed all the barriers to a
full, spiritual relationship between God and ourselves.  To realize the
fullness of this reconciliation, God has poured into our hearts the same
love revealed in Jesus Christ by giving us God's own Holy Spirit.
     
Consequently, the blessings we have received, if in faith we accept them,
are these: peace with God; hope of sharing the glory of God; endurance in
suffering because of our faith; sound moral character; a life filled with
love for God and others now and forever.
     

JOHN 4:5-42   Jesus' conversation with a Samaritan prostitute is perhaps
the most unusual of all those reported in the New Testament.  Few incidents
in Jesus' ministry present so many contentious issues.  Yet John told it to
reinforce the theme of his gospel: Faith in Jesus is the source of living
in relationship with God for all people now and in the life beyond death. 
     
Not only did Jews and Samaritans have no dealings with one another, even to
accept a drink of water was the epitome of ritual uncleanness for a devout
Jew. Vs. 9b in the NSRV encapsulates this in parentheses: "(Jews do not
share things in common with Samaritans.)"  For a Jew to have any contact
whatsoever with a prostitute only made matters worse.  No wonder the woman
was startled when Jesus asked for a drink and the disciples horrified when
they returned.  To find Jesus deep in conversation with this woman while
sipping water from her pitcher broke all their preconceived notions about
the relations of Jews and Samaritans.  The modern parallel in the often
violent relationships of Israelis with Palestinians flash before us in so
many news items from the Holy Land today.
     
Here again as in Exodus 17 and Psalm 95 water has a symbolic meaning.  It
represents the life of the spirit which comes through faith.  Not only did
Jesus refuse to argue about to proper locale for rituals of worship as any
other Jew might do, he went right to the heart of the woman's moral and
spiritual problems: her inappropriate choices and repeated failures in
sexual relationships.  A pure heart comes before theological debate.
     
Several not too subtle sexual connotations filter through this passage to
indicate that sexuality and spirituality are closely related.  The Holiness
Code commanded repeated washing of body and food vessels as acts of
purification and the fulfilment of the covenant.  Much of the burden of
these commandments fell on women.  Jesus offered the woman spiritual
cleansing and refreshment, far removed from the ritualistic requirements of
Judaic law.  Direct fellowship with God who *is* Spirit comes about through
faith in Jesus Christ.

The final scene in the story appears somewhat ambiguous, but again it has
to be understood metaphorically.  Were "the fields ripe for harvesting" the
crowd a white robed villagers hastening to the well where the woman had
told them she had found the Messiah?  Vs. 39 would appear to say as much. 
     
Without raising the evil spectre of anti-Semitism, we know that John's
Gospel is controversial for its outspoken criticism of the Jewish religious
and political leadership.  In the decade when this gospel was taking shape,
the hostility between the Jewish and Christian communities had reached its
high point.  Is there not in this story the implied challenge to all
Judaism that its rituals of  purification and worship were no longer
necessary?  Were not the Samaritans metaphorical representatives of the
Gentile world of John's time rushing to hear the good news that the Christ
for all the world had indeed come to their neighbourhood? 

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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