Sermon
March 3, 2002
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Romans 5:1-11
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in
which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And
not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering
produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces
hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for
a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love
for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more
surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved
through him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were
reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having
been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  But more than that, we even
boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now
received reconciliation.

John 4:4-26
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
worshiped 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 worshipers
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, the one who is speaking to you."

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Sermon: The Subject is Salvation


It is a current saying that without justice there can be no peace.  And for
a long time people have known that peace should be more than the mere
absence of war.  Some have described it as a positive force that counters
violence as a means of resolving the problems of human society.  The author
Toni Morrison described it as "the dance of an open mind when it engages
another equally open one."  But one time I heard a much more concrete
description.

I heard this in a cemetery in Leningrad - a cemetery where perhaps up to a
million Russians were buried in mass graves from the siege of Leningrad
during World War II.  The population of the city was surrounded for 900 days
by the troops of the German Third Reich.  They endured almost three years of
starvation, and God alone knows how many died and how many were buried in
this cemetery.  The speaker who told this story was a member of the
Leningrad Peace Committee, a veteran of the war, and his basic message was
that for the Russians who had lived through that era, peace meant not having
the Germans on their soil.

Peace, for these people, was not the dance of an open mind when it engages
another equally open one, but a simple very practical real fact - peace was
keeping Germany at a distance.

I have a feeling that Jesus may have encountered a similar practical reality
when he preached salvation to the people of Judea.  Salvation can be thought
of in many elaborate, even ethereal terms, but in that place for the people
of that day, salvation meant not having the Romans on their soil, not having
the puppet proxy government of the House of Herod rule their political and
religious life, and not having the collaborating tax collectors gouge them
of their meager incomes and assets.  The subject of salvation, in short,
could not be separated from the subject of Rome.

This may be true of people in many different difficult circumstances.  I
have heard it said that God comes to the hungry as a loaf of bread, and it
could be equally said that God comes to the sick as healing, God comes to
the imprisoned as freedom, God comes to the blind as seeing, to the deaf as
hearing, and the to lame as walking.  In fact, when God came in the person
of Jesus Christ, all of these signs of salvation were evident.  As he said
to the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked: 'Are you the one who
is to come, or are we to wait for another?' "
Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the
blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf
hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.

So sometimes the subject of salvation is very clear, very practical, very
concrete.  But is that the deepest, most universal meaning of salvation?  Or
are these subjects simply signs of salvation, signs that points to something
greater.

Last week our lesson from the Gospel of John gave a description of salvation
as being born from above - experiencing the Spirit of God like the wind, a
creative force of life in us.  Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus, thinking that
Jesus is talking about being born again, and wondering how an adult could
enter a second time into his mother's womb.

In this Sunday's lesson we hear a description of salvation as living water.
The Samaritan woman thinks Jesus is talking about water that is easier to
get - a spring breaking through the surface of the ground, a source of
flowing, bubbling water - not a well like Jacob's which is really a large
hole with spiral steps going deep into the earth and requiring a bucket to
reach the water at the bottom.

But Jesus explains further - he is speaking of water that springs up to
eternal life, a water that will be a permanent satisfaction for thirst.

The woman now understands a little more - she perceives that Jesus is
speaking in the realm of religion, but thinks of religion only in external
terms - in terms of ritual and groups separated by different doctrines - and
so she mentions how the Jews and Samaritans have different centers of
worship.  Who is right?

But Jesus keeps straight to his point - Those who drink this water will no
longer be caught up in discussions of who has the right religion, the
correct doctrine, the proper place or the better way to worship.  No, those
who drink of this water will worship God in Spirit and in Truth.  Religion
will no longer be an external observance of ritual but an internal
connection to the source of life.  And that will be salvation.

There is a clue to the true subject of salvation in the way John tells this
story and others in his Gospel.  There is a constant double level of
language going on.  On the one side you have the woman at the well talking
about what is important to her on a very down to earth level - she wants to
be able to get water.  On the other hand, Jesus is trying to lead her to
think on a different level, which he describes as heavenly.

As he said quite plainly to Nicodemus: If I have told you about earthly
things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about
heavenly things?

Jesus is the one who has come from above to reveal a truth of God's love
beyond human experience.  This word of truth has come down from heaven and
is now made flesh, and being in the flesh the only language that can be used
is the language of earthly things.  But our minds and our imaginations must
see beyond the earthly signs to receive the heavenly gift.

John leads us step by step through this encounter of Jesus with the woman at
the well for a very important purpose: because he wants us to have this same
encounter in our own lives.  John is clear and forthright about this motive
and states it quite plainly near the end of his gospel:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are
not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through
believing you may have life in his name.

In the end it turns out that the subject of salvation is growing in the
knowledge of God as fully revealed in the birth, life, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ - a God who suffers to serve us, a God who can
be trusted, a God who redeems, saves, gives life, and promises to raise us
up in a new creation.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the
stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

And if we know this God, will we not love him?

And if we love this God, will we not serve him?

This morning we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Just as the
Samaritan Woman met Jesus by Jacob's well, so we meet him at this table.

Christ has given us this sacrament as a means of remembrance, communion, and
hope - a means of making a connection between our spirit and his spirit,
between our thirst and his spring of living water.  We use the most common
things of daily life - a scrap of the broken bread, a sip from cup of
thanksgiving - we use these earthly signs to participate in the heavenly
gift - the gift of God in Christ.

Do not be content to receive this sacrament as merely a ritual of the
church - but today penetrate its deeper meaning, claim for yourself the
spirit and truth that Christ wants to give you as you meet him at the table,
for today is the day of our salvation.

Come, for all things are ready.

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