John 4:5-42 The woman at the well....

As we journey we must look at the events of our lives to see God and be witness to the love of Jesus Christ. This past weekend's events have so many components of awareness that is part of our ministry. As each of you may know I am engaged 1/3 time at St. James PC and have a field placement on top of my paid time. This gives me opportunity to preach every Sunday, engage with the interim moderator who is also my supervisor, while engaging in new and exciting programs to help this rural congregation feel inspired.

This weekend was no exception to the greatness of rural community and the rural family. In January I had approached session about bringing in a Christian youth band that I am familiar with to perform at St. James on a Saturday night. It was approved and this past Saturday was the night. The congregation had never heard of this group before and were not familiar with the music or the experience. I have known of this group many years. I have watched as the youth come and go from it; this June the group celebrates their 25th anniversary with over 150 alumni.

The social club took on the challenge of the meal prep, as this group consists of 14 youth between the ages of 11 and 18, 4 to 6 parent volunteers and a conductor. They arrived at the church at 2:30 pm set up for the concert, practiced for an hour and then it was our responsibility to have a meal ready and then they performed at 7:00 PM. We also invited other congregations to bring youth and have dinner; so all in all there were about 40 people who had dinner. (we get about 20 out on Sunday morning to worship)

The concert was well attended (over 100 ppl) and almost $400 was collected through a free will offering for the group and there was $100 in CD sales and donations for cassette tapes. Then the group packed up at 8:45 pm loaded into vehicles, and lead by the truck and trailer, went to a church in London set up before they were billeted and returned for the 9:00 AM contemporary service. This group of inspired young people then broke the equipment down once again to move to a third church where they performed at 2:00 PM as a mission fundraiser for a country church just outside of London. This group much like our congregations have seen people come and go, participate then wane, grow into it and die out of it (retire).

On Sunday morning I had a pew full of young people. They were all present the night before and were inspired by this group of singers. Young people praising God in song is, to some, an unorthodox way of worship. The sanctuary of the church was still ringing with the sounds of Chaverim (means ‘good friends’ in Hebrew) and the people were all talking about them and asking when they would be back. The outlying churches have reported that they went away with a fresh feeling of hope and all are hoping to book this group into their church.

It warmed my heart that I was able to facilitate this meeting of two worlds. Then on Sunday morning the scripture was John 4:5-42, the woman at the well. In my undergrad I had presented a paper in which we were to take on the persona of a woman in the bible and I had chosen the woman at the well. So I dressed the part and while the congregation was singing the hymn ahead of my reflection. I stepped out and came back in costume. I presented the story from the woman’s perspective. A conversation with Jesus in a place that most people of the day avoided (Samaria), detoured around for fear of their lives or fear of encountering a despised people. An unorthodox approach perhaps but my message was simply how many people avoid our churches, detour around and miss having a conversation with Jesus.

These two events on the same weekend raised a personal awareness that we must be somewhat unorthodox, but not to the detriment of our roots, traditions or heritage. We must listen first to the congregation’s heartbeat and get into its rhythm. While taking the time in pastoral care to place the stethoscope, listen carefully, trust is built and we then can hear God’s voice directing how and where we should go. In taking on the role of the woman at the well those in the pews had a feel for what it might have been like for her. I wanted them to have this experience because I feel like the woman at the well all the time. I have great conversations with Jesus and yet feel sometimes the world despises what I am or detours around me in fear. I was out for a beer and a social time with my daughter on Friday night, engaged conversation with a couple over the pool table and when they asked what I did it was interesting to see the change in them. A pastor having a beer and shooting a game of pool just seemed to be something that did not comprehend. I am aware that I must be where people are; I must meet them at the well like the woman met Jesus.

This praise and worship and unorthodox way of delivering a sermon both were accepted because I have built a trust with my congregation. This rural community is hungry to see what is going on in the world. Contemporary music to them is “Open the eyes of my heart Lord” which is a piece that is 20 years old or more and contemporary music has exploded since then. This small area of the world has been like the woman at the well, the world has been detouring around or avoiding the rural life in search of a more modern life in an urban setting. The context of rural life is no less hungry for new ideas and they are willing to ease into the community at large, but unlike the fast pace of urban contrast it must be done slowly and carefully, allowing time for it all to sink in and feed their very soul.

Theological Reflection

In the voices of the youth and acting the scripture I felt breath of the Holy Spirit weaving its way through all who witnessed. God was present and I feel God said “it is good” as thunderous applause and hearts were joined through praise and worship. From the 82 year old man who has been part of St. James since he was 18 (1948) to the 9 month old who was watching intently God was bridging the generations through our common heart of music and visual. On Sunday morning, all the children could name all three puppets used the previous evening and were abuzz as they went down to the lower level to paint God into their picture during lessons on Sunday morning. God is ever present we just have to find ways to bring people to the well in the heat of the day and they too can have a conversation with Jesus.

At 8:30 pm on Saturday night we honoured God and Mother Earth for Earth Hour and Chaverim sang Point of Light. A song about volunteers and they link it to the great mission of the church. It was moving and the electricity of God was in the air. As we darkened the sanctuary and the members of Chaverim held candles there was a hush over the crowd as this prayerful song reminded us of our responsibility to God’s creation.

In taking risks we probe and poke at our faith. We probe and poke at the faith of others. By building a trust and honouring each and every person where they are they will let you lead them into unchartered waters in faith and be open to where they might see God for the first time. God will speak to them if you take the time to help them listen. As Jesus walked into Samaria, to be with the woman at the well we must watch for Jesus in places that we do not expect him. It is the human who thinks him not there. It is not because he is absent. I have seen great growth in myself this year. With the help of the TFE requirements and the congregation opening their hearts to a student, with all her flaws, God has blessed us all in many ways.

A colleague of mine said, “I'm wondering what God really wants us to do.” I believe God wants us to listen and then act in faith. Blessings, Cynthia.


Conversations with Jesus from the eyes of a woman

I am a woman from Samaria; my land is east of the Mediterranean and west of the Jordan River. To the north I know there is Galilee and the south I understand is Judea. I do not travel but I have heard from others who have been there. My home is near the city of Sycar which is hot, dusty and dry and centrally located in Samaria.

I am of mixed race; a Jewish sect which accepts the Torah as its scripture and am part of a despised race. The relationship between true Jewish people and Samaritans has been one of hostility for many generations. Being a Samaritan we follow Jewish law and being a woman I keep to my chores and do as I am told. I know we are bound by Jewish law and I do not question, however, my people are outcasts and hated especially by the Jews. Samaria is mostly avoided by travelers and few venture through Samaria. It is safer to detour around.

I have my own demons to deal with so I am especially careful in where I go and what I do. I am currently living with a man who is not my husband. I have had four husbands before him so feel somewhat vulnerable. However, I recently had an experience which gave me hope and a renewed sense of faith. I have learned from a great teacher about God and, as a woman was allowed to drink of the living water. Let me tell you the story.

It was a hot day like most and I needed to draw water, like I do every day. I gathered up my vessel and headed to the well; our ancestor Jacob’s well. It is a deep well and provides for us as it provided for Jacob’s sons and his flocks. We are thankful for this well. It was in the heat of the day, around noon. For most it is an odd time to draw water. No one draws water in the heat of the day, but I like to go at noon as I can be alone. For others, it is a time of siesta.

As I come to the well to draw my water, there is little activity. Few are around, for as I say it was about noon and the sun is hottest. I notice there was a man, all alone, quietly resting, obviously dusty and dry from traveling. Knowing I am not to speak, I keep to myself, my eyes lowered and I began the task of my drawing my water. Carefully without being noticed I look at the man and I can see plainly he is Jewish. I was very surprised to see him there. But I speak not and go about my business.

The man says to me, “Give me a drink.”

I am very surprised he is speaking to me and with some fear I reply, “How is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I plainly and rightly know of our people’s past history. Since he is Jewish I know he should not be speaking to me. We share nothing in common and our history of hostility is known by everyone.

This man answered me saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” I am not permitted to ask any questions, let alone to ask anything of a Jew.

I looked around and saw he was carrying nothing. He had no means of getting water and no vessel to carry it in. I was puzzled. So I asked him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep, where and how do you get this living water?” Water is a blessing and truly necessary and there is no other place that I know of to get water. I am unsure of what he means by “living water”. So I carefully inquire further.

“Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” I asked him with caution as I remember my place but he has engaged me so I feel compelled to continue our conversation. The ease to which he puts me is comforting and grants allowances I would never have taken with any other man.

The man answered, “everyone who drinks of this well will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty again. The water I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

He must know of a different well and water of another source. So I asked him to tell me where I can get this water so I will not be thirsty and never have to come back to the well to draw water again. It would be wonderful to never be thirsty and never have to carry heavy water again. I wait for his reply. He instructed me, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” Getting my husband would be one task but to be allowed to come back with him seemed odd. I wondered if I should be frightened. I had to reveal my living arrangements and I say to him, “I have no husband” and I step back and wait for his reply. I was shocked by his next words. He tells me, with certainty, he knows I have no husband and he also tells me that I have had four husbands before this. How could he know? Mixed feelings overcame me as I realized at that moment this man is a prophet.

I ask about worship. Our ancestors worship. We talked about the mountain where we worship and that the Jewish people are telling us to worship elsewhere. Who is right?

This man tells me, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” He goes on to tell me that the Father we will worship will be neither on the mountain or nor in Jerusalem. I have heard teachings from the Torah but nothing like this. I know from the Jewish law and teaching that the Messiah is coming. He who is to be called Christ, and I tell the man so. I feel good I have worshiped and understand some of the teachings and this man makes me want to know more. I tell him with the coming of the Christ, he will proclaim all things to us. And the man said, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Could this be? Could this be the Messiah?

Before we could talk any further, I was then frightened as some men returned and joined him. They appeared shocked the man was talking to me. Although nothing was said I could see the surprise in their faces. They spoke not a word to me so before anything could come of it I quickly dropped my eyes and left. Leaving behind my precious water vessel but I was too overcome to care. I wanted to share my story with others. I wanted to bring them to hear and see the man. I wanted to share the good news he had shared with me and have them see him for themselves so they would believe me.

I told the villagers, "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" And they went out to see for themselves. I told everyone in the city and many came to hear him. When asked to stay, he remained for two days making believers out of many. Many told me they now believed because they had seen and heard his teaching for themselves. Many of my people were committed to him those two days. He brought us faith. Many told me it was not my word they needed any longer but still I was the messenger who brought them to him and it was me who the man spoke to at the well. No man had spoken with me the way this man did, it gives me hope and faith. It was a great day, a great day for a simple Samaritan woman.

John 4:5-42 When you encounter Jesus do you have a conversation? Do you challenge what it is he is offering you? Do you drink from the Living Water? Do you challenge him in order to understand him better? Have a conversation with Jesus today...


God's Glory in Creation

Psalm 19: 1-4a ~~ The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The sky is hidden today with the snow that is falling. The ground outdoors has covered over the rains of the past few days. There is silence here in St. Thomas Ontario. But the cry of the people is the cry of God as the people in Japan and surrounding areas struggle in the aftermath of the tsunami. The heavens are telling the glory but on the ground is fear and anxiety. Where is God when this happens? How do we reconcile a loving and caring God of God's people when the earth shakes causing such devastation? This is an eternal question that has been asked since the days of the Hebrew scripture. Where is God when we are suffering? My short answer... right beside us, crying with us. Jesus is wrapping his loving arms around us telling us not to give up, keep on going and trust in those around us.

The God I believe in does not bring suffering into the world. The God I believe in does not let anything happen. The God I believe in carries me when I do suffer and when I struggle.

Day to day we listen to the world and by night we gain knowledge processing what we have heard. Take the time to stop and pray for others today. Be with them in their grief and lend a hand however you are able.

Blessings to all my friends and neighbours in this world.