Service for The Second Sunday of Lent
13th March 2022
photo credit Erda Estremere / unsplash
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray King
Welcome to worship from the United Reformed Church. I’m Elizabeth Gray-King, URC Minister, project manager and visual theologian. With the Education & Learning team, I support the continuing professional development of URC Ministers part of my working life and the rest of the time I either create visual theology or support affirmative management of charities via elizabethgrayking.com.
Let us worship in joy and hope.
Call To Worship
One: Almighty God, we pray for your blessing on the Church here in this place: Here may the faithful find salvation and the careless be awakened.
Many: Here may the doubting find faith and the anxious be
One: Here may the tempted find help, & the sorrowful find comfort.
Many: Here may the weary find rest, and the strong be renewed.
One: Here may the aged find consolation and the young be inspired.
Many: Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Hymn The God of Abram Praise
(attributed to): Daniel ben Judah; Paraphraser: Thomas Olivers (1770)
The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of Everlasting Days,
and God of Love;
The Lord, the great I AM!
by earth and heaven confessed;
We bow and bless the sacred name
2 He by Himself has sworn;
We on this oath depend.
We shall, on eagle wings upborne,
to heaven ascend.
We shall behold His face;
We shall His power adore,
and sing the wonders of His grace
3 There dwells the Lord our king, the Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin the Prince of peace;
On Zion’s sacred height His kingdom He maintains,
And glorious with His saints in light forever reigns.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
Eternal God of this time and all time, we come to you in this blessed Lent to worship you, to bring you the reality of our lives and to connect with you in body, mind and spirit. We adore you for the enormity of your connection with all creation; with our beloved planet, with our companion life of all varieties. We praise you that you have made yourself real to us, come out of the eternal spirit life in the person of Jesus, showing yourself to us in the acts of others.
When we see and experience you, Oh God, we see ourselves in sharp relief. We are aware of the commitments we wish we’d made and didn’t, the promises not kept, our silence when we should have spoken. We are aware of the alliance with ideas or actions where we should have kept away, when we spoke and should have been silent. In this silence, we speak our confession from our hearts.
Forgive us as only you can, Good God.
Praise you. You have lifted our faces to you, looked us in our eyes and declared that we are forgiven and set free.
Prayer of Illumination
God of all light and love, open our hearts and minds to hear your word which will give us life and hope this day. Amen.
Reading Exodus 17:1-7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Psalm 95 – Arranged and sung by David Haas and Marty Haugen
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
1: Come, let us ring out
our joy to the Lord,
hail the Rock who saves us!
Let us come into His presence
let us hail Him
with a song of praise!
2: O come, let us bow
and bend low.
Let us kneel before
the God who made us,
for He is our God and we the people
who belong to His pasture,
the flock that is led by His hand.
3: O that today you would listen to His voice!
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your forebears put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.
St John 4:5-42
So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
Hymn: I have no bucket and the well is deep
Brian Wren © 1986 Hope Publishing Company
I have no bucket,
and the well is deep.
My thirst is endless,
and my throat is dry.
I ask you, stranger,
silent at my side,
can words refresh my longings
if you speak?
I have no bucket,
and the well is deep.
2: Can love unbar
the strongrooms of the mind
and scour the tombs
and warrens underground
for toys and treasures lost,
or never found,
for all I cannot name,
yet ache to find?
I have no bucket,
and the well is deep.
3: Who are you,
strange yet friendly at my side,
and can you see and judge,
my hidden self,
and heal with wounded hands?
Are you the path,
the gateway and the guide,
the keys, the living water,
and the light?
4: Come break the rock,
and bid the rivers flow
from deep unending wells
of joy and worth,
for tears, for drinking,
drowning and new birth,
and I shall find
and give myself, and know
the keys, the living water,
and the light.
Lent, the Second Sunday. That’s today – a Sunday in Lent, but not one of the forty days. The 40 days of Lent mirror the 40 days Jesus is said to have been tempted in the desert. He was tempted to affirm the very human greeds that food above fellowship is the only nourishment we need, that it’s fine to prove God exists by looking for something astonishingly theatrical, that choosing absolute power rather than community is a good thing. Jesus refused, reversing such greed by giving testimony to love, faith and humility.
This is the context of Lent. This is the time in our liturgical year when we meaningfully remember Jesus in order to prepare to meet the answer to any temptation to abuse power. We pray and work in Lent to align ourselves with Easter and its resurrection truth – the ultimate response to abuse of power is forgiveness so ridiculous that nothing short of eternal life is the outcome.
It is in this rich context that we come to the Samaritan Woman in the Gospel of John. As we’re not so sure what fine theologian or theologians wrote this, I’ll adopt an accepted name and say that Evangelist gave us this story.
To note – yes, the woman was not given a name. It isn’t that unusual that the main characters in Evangelist’s narratives are un-named, but we know how often women are un-named throughout the Bible. There we are. We have the power to not make the same omissions as we narrate stories into the future.
To our Samaritan Woman. Evangelist’s point of the no-named Samaritan Woman was that she was a Samaritan. “Duh” I hear you say. But there are all kinds of things about that. We’ve got at least two theologies going on in this conversation, at least two kinds of backgrounds, at least two ideas about how worship is done, at least two ideas about thirst and hunger and knowledge and power. At least two ideas about heaps of things. I say at least two ideas because there are two individuals in the drama. But there is much more going on, and there always is with Evangelist.
The last to be written of the of Gospels we have, John’s author can’t stop seeing the particular story and the global eternal story at the very same time. The author has a deep and personal faith with every story a testament to that faith. The whole of John is profound testimony to what Evangelist believed and experienced to be true about Eternal God as shown through the actions and conversations of Jesus. Evangelist can’t help tying each particular event into an overarching narrative. That’s what happens with people of faith; they can’t help seeing eternal God in everything.
Evangelist is brutally choosy about what stories are told. Our author had access to the other Gospels, but a significant number of their narratives are not in Evangelist’s book. Our author chose just a few stories, had listened to years of Jesus witnesses to bring us more, and in the select stories used, always pinned the story to lead us to wider and eternal truth. Evangelist seems to have felt it critical to get to the overarching story. Two generations after Jesus, just after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, this author was dead keen on pointing people to Jesus the Eternal One, known to humans by revelation and Holy Spirit. When people couldn’t trust the politicians and, in some cases, each other, they had to know where rich life and trust are to be found.
So in the second Sunday of Lent, trying to receive resurrection truth, we have a story about water. Then, when the Disciples re-enter the drama, there is conversation about food. Along the way, Jesus talks about God as Spirit. As Evangelist winds down the scene, Jesus says something about reaping a harvest from someone else’s work. OK…
The two theologies bit of the conversation which bounce around the desire to drink is interesting. There’s a bantering challenge to where people believe God is to be worshipped. Jesus ends up saying that it really doesn’t matter where God is worshipped because God doesn’t live in buildings or patterns. God is Spirit. God is anywhere, everywhere and beyond all that stuff about where and what day any of us pays attention to God. If we dare, we can see that water is something to be sipped and swallowed. Water is part of our very practical bodies. Most of our body is water. Jesus is Living Water. God is Spirit. This isn’t an external God on fluffy heavenly peaks. Samaritan woman has opened the conversation for Jesus to reveal that God is physically located in the cells of our bodies. That’s the Living Water.
The myth we heard this morning of the Exodus people crying out for water is a story of physical thirst, and God is called on to reply with the miracle of physical water. The Exodus myth was written, like the Gospel John, from a framework of faith. The writers knew in their bodies that God is true, but not understanding why, using miracle stories they found around them, and knowing the practice of their people, constructed epic stories to explain. Their body held belief was that God provides all, and a story of God giving water to drown thirst was a faith filled belief. Deep in their ancient bodies, these ancients of ancients knew the truth Jesus revealed centuries later. Why did they just know God would be like that? Perhaps the very moisture in their cells cried out? It’s a thought.
Back to Samaria. What fascinates me is that our dear Samaritan woman wasn’t shocked that Jesus was a prophet. He told her things about her life which she knew to be true. OK, she says, so you’re a prophet. Fine. Her issue wasn’t about prophecy it was whether she could trust him. They banter about where to worship and when Jesus says it’s not important and that God is Spirit, her own body knowledge wonders if Jesus is the Messiah they all know about. Can she trust him? If he’s said what he’s said, could he be the One? She runs off to find one more way to test if she can trust him. She brings back other Samaritans to check if they see what she sees.
In the meantime the disciples pop back in and check if Jesus had eaten anything. The Evangelist pops us back out to the larger story. Food? That’s God too, says Jesus. Hmm. Like water, really. Food is eaten, chewed and becomes part of our body. What is nutritious hangs around, what doesn’t help goes elsewhere. What a fabulous filtering system for taking in what is of God and ridding ourselves of what can damage us from eating the other things of those very temptations which were thrown to Jesus.
To the end of this drama from Evangelist. We’re going to reap a harvest from work other people did. What harvest? What work?
The harvest is new people of faith. The work is the faith narrative told from deep inside human bodies for, it seems, eons. Without knowing the revelation of Jesus, writers all through the Old Testament narratives gave us stories of deep faith, historically true or not. They knew in their own bodies, with Holy Spirit living in them, the overarching God story made particular in Jesus. So, they told that story, people believed, the work of the ancient evangelists made more and more faithful people reject the temptations around them and align their lives and justice towards those who needed the life they already knew. Generations of people with and after Jesus recognised God-life inside them, testified to their faith as surely as our Evangelist did and carried the faith through the years to us. Our bodies cry out with Holy Spirit voice to give honour to people and to work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
This Lent, let us be brave in how we deal with our own temptations and how we love and honour other people and our planet. Let’s believe that when Jesus talked about living water and eternal food, he literally meant God physically inside our bodies. In 21st century reality, God is very much alive and present in our physical cells. That means that our bodies, majority water, are, at this moment you read or hear these words, full of courage, love, commitment and grace. It’s all just there. We don’t have to work to resist temptation or beg for God to love us. This is all quite physically true.
If this is too much to take in right now, that’s OK. There are more weeks of Lent to remind us, there is the shock of the Easter truth to charge us, then if we still struggle, there is Pentecost to come. For now, rest with the idea. God is everywhere and that includes inside every one of us. Amen.
Music for Reflection Deep Harmony by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
Affirmation of Faith
One: This is the good news that we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved, if we hold it fast:
Many: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that
he was buried, that he was raised on the third day,
One: and that he appeared first to the women, then to Peter, and to the Twelve, and then to many faithful witnesses.
Many: We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the first and last, the beginning and the end, He is our Lord and our God. Amen
God of all places and peoples, we come to you in prayer for ourselves and for others. We thank you for your revelations to us each day and thank you for the trust you put in us to act as your love so there is justice of every description for our planet, for our nations and for people who have been injured in body, mind or spirit.
In gratitude for what you have done for us, we ask particularly that you move us all to awareness and action for those who are excluded from parts of societies by nothing other than being who you made them to be. In each culture, some people perceive difference in others and declare such difference something to be restricted or made illegal. Governments collude in such injustice, people run for their lives, people find no welcome. Make us care, dear God. Make us speak where we can, march where we can, sign what we can, welcome where we can. When we are exhausted with knowing so much and doing so much, give us your permission to rest, to pray, to renew and to return.
We pause now to speak to you silently of the injustices which make us angry and exhausted, that we may hear your guidance.
Deeply grateful for your care for our personal lives, we pray for those who struggle to find a purpose for their lives. So many feel that their minds have no point, their bodies are too much hard work, or their spirits are broken. Heal, dear God.
We name to you those who break our hearts. Let us hear what you will have us do and what you will have us not do.
We bring all these prayers to you in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power and presence of Holy Spirit.
In these odd days when money is spent by so many means and used in so many ways, it is good to recall that what has been given to us is what we can share and that a small amount of money can make a big difference.
Whatever we can spare wisely, Oh God, we give it to you through this, our church. Let us discern its purpose together and dedicate ourselves to your work as we do. Thank you that we have money to give. Bless it to its purpose.
Hymn: No cause for fear
James Montgomery, 1771-1854
God is my strong salvation:
what foe have I to fear?
In darkness and temptation,
my Light, my Help, is near:
Though hosts encamp around me, firm to the fight I stand;
What terror can confound me, with God at my right hand?
2: Place on the Lord reliance;
my soul with courage wait.
His truth be thine affiance,
when faint and desolate.
His might thy heart shall strengthen,
His love thy joy increase;
Mercy thy days shall lengthen;
the Lord will give thee peace.
May God who is light shine in your darkness
May God who is love be the love between you
May God who is life be your life everlasting
And the blessing of God, Eternal God, Incarnated Christ and Inhabiting Spirit be with you and remain with you now and forever.
Call to Worship adapted from The Worship Source Book (p46) recorded at Barrhead URC. Affirmation of Faith from St Matthew 16:16, St Mark 16.9, St John 20:28, I Corinthians 15: 106 & Revelation 23:13 (The Worship Source Book p153) and recorded at Barrhead URC. All other material by the Rev’d Elizabeth Gray King.
Psalm 95 – Arranged and sung by David Haas and Marty Haugen © GIA Publications from the Revised Grail Psalter
I have no bucket and the well is deep – Brian Wren © 1986 Hope Publishing Company, sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
No cause for fear – James Montgomery, 1771-1854 sung by the choir of St John’s Episcopal Church, Ithaca, NY
The God of Abram Praise – (attributed to): Daniel ben Judah; Paraphraser: Thomas Olivers (1770) sung by the Choir of the Cathedral of St John the Divine
Opening Organ Piece – Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”) by Max Reger (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
Closing Organ Piece – Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to Pam Carpenter, Marion Thomas, Liane Todd, Susan Kirkbride, Graham Handscomb and Ruth Tompsett for reading various spoken parts of the service.