From where is my help to come?
‘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 […]’Romans 5:3-5
Friends, I am a newcomer to the journey in Christ. God had always been watching me – there’s no doubt of that. I though, didn’t know God meaningfully. I had had encounters with God, I enjoyed a certain closeness, but I didn’t have a deep closeness with God. My relationship with God was limited. As such, the first time I recall reading these verses from Romans 5 (extracted from the Epistle for Lent 3, Year A – Romans 5:1-11), I was an adult. That was some years ago and I have been chewing on those verses ever since. The notion of boasting in my suffering doesn’t immediately appeal to me. When I read those words, it was like walking into a store, being drawn to an item, but upon learning its price, discreetly returning it to where it was on display. Yet, unlike such an experience, I knew I had to return to these verses. My spirit knew that I had to grow to say these verses from the heart – in spirit and in truth. Let me say, it’s a work in progress. It continues to be a work in progress because to appreciate the power of these verses, I had to learn God’s sustenance. I had to learn where my help comes from.
You know, over the past weeks, I’ve been returning continually to Zechariah 4:6 ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’ Now, in Scripture, Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah approved by God to oversee the reconstruction of the Temple. Zerubbabel was a leader who lived in a luxurious house. This contrasted sharply with the Temple that, in 520 BCE (Before the Common Era), had not yet been rebuilt. As such, in extending the honour of leading the reconstruction of the Temple to Zerubbabel, God was effectively saying this would be completed not because of Zerubbabel’s might or power, but by God’s spirit. By these words, God was keeping things in perspective. By these words, God was declaring to Zerubbabel through Zechariah that the restoration was not his to claim, but God’s. And, if the restoration was attributable to God, then the sustenance (the endurance) that was required to fulfil his role would come from God.
My help comes from God – from Love
Some months ago, in the message entitled, ‘Without Me You are Nothing’, we were reminded, not in a belittling way, but rather, in a loving way, that everything that we needed came from God. It was a reminder that everything that we were called to be would be fulfilled by the grace of God. And, in like manner to God’s words to Zerubbabel, the sustenance to be who we were called to be would come from God. For, if it is God who called us into being, it is God who assigns us our life’s mission, a life’s mission that draws us closer to God. And, if it is God who assigns us our life’s mission, then it is God who pours out the sustenance required to fulfil that mission.
Returning to the verses from Romans 5 quoted at the beginning of this message, verse 5 continues, ‘because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ Friends, the sustenance that we need is God’s love for, it is love that is the beginning of everything that God is, and that God offers to us. Last week, in the Gospel, John 3:1-17, we were reminded that it was through God’s love that we were offered Jesus Christ who died for us so that, as long as we believed, we might have eternal life. It was love that moved God to create. Is it any wonder, then, that the Great Commandment is rooted in love: love of God, and our neighbour as ourselves?
And so, as we journey through the wilderness by stages just as the Israelites did as described in today’s Lesson, Exodus 17:1-7, we must know that it is God’s love that will sustain us, even if our father and mother forsake us (the reference here is to Psalm 27:10). As we journey through our tests in life, know that God’s love will see us through. And then, as we prepare to emerge from our tests, we must remember that it was God’s love that sustained us, and it will be God’s love to take us further yet.
Encountering Love – Jesus & the Woman by the Well
In that knowledge, what are we to do? I turn now to today’s Gospel, John 4:5-42, the well-known story of the Woman by the Well. In this account, Jesus, alone, tired out by his journey, sits by a well. A Samaritan woman approaches to fetch water under the midday heat. Jesus opens the conversation with her with the words, ‘Give me a drink’ (John 4:7). There is a form of a courtship that ensues, all with the purpose of the woman becoming familiar with the Messiah, for, just as Jesus says to her, ‘I am he [the Messiah], the one who is speaking to you’ (John 4:26), the disciples who had gone in search of food, return. This though, is not the focus of my sharing. Rather, it’s the woman’s excitement after this revelation. In verse 28 it is recorded, ‘the woman left her water jar and went back to the city’ where she would tell her fellow Samaritans of her encounter with the Messiah.
Now, mind you, the woman had gone to the well with a jar in the midday heat to fetch herself some water. The jar represents self-sufficiency and self-reliance. After her encounter with the Messiah, however, she hurriedly left behind all notion of self-reliance because she now accepted (at least in her heart, even if she wasn’t aware that that was what her actions demonstrated) that her help came from the Lord.
Sustained by Love
Friends, our wilderness experience, our tests, or to use the word used in Romans 5, our sufferings, are intended to draw us closer to God. This season of Lent is intended to draw us closer to God. We enter our tests seeking to attend to our physical needs, but leave having had our spiritual needs met through the love of God, just like the woman who approached the well seeking to quench her physical thirst, but left, full of the Holy Spirit to go and tell of her encounter with Christ. Perhaps we enter our tests in life knowing that it is God’s spirit that sees us through, but we leave those trials understanding that it was God’s love that sustained us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We understand that it happened, not by might, not by power but by the spirit of the Lord of hosts.
Armed with this understanding, I leave you with the prayer for the week, the collect:
Until next time, I bid you the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit.
This week's featured Painting: Christ at the Well by Peter Koenig, United Kingdom
Allay your fears, be still, concentrate
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