Garden

File:Nevuas.jpg

“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


File:Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms - Flickr - treegrow (14).jpg


…and good for food.”


File:Cornucopia of fruit and vegetables wedding banquet (cropped).jpg

God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


File:Manavgat waterfall by tomgensler.JPG

Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


File:Louis Rémy Mignot Solitude.jpg

Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


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And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Water of Life

Watching for the Morning of March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent

California reservoirs are full now. We have been scrimping in our use of water, taking brief showers, flushing only occasionally, saving the water in which we cooked the pasta to pour on the plants outside the kitchen window, saving the water that runs while waiting for the hot water to arrive. Lawns were allowed to die – or were replaced. If a half-drunk cup of tea got left behind, I poured it out on the rose bushes. I worried about the trees withering on the church property. And yet we still had water. No one went thirsty. No children perished. No livestock had to be slaughtered.

Sunday the texts are about water. Israel is in the desert, fleeing pharaoh behind them and fearing the deprivation ahead of them. The little words in our text, “there was no water for the people to drink,” are truly fearful. Water is life.

In one of the great metaphors of the scriptures, Moses marches ahead to Mt. Sinai (called Mt. Horeb in this text) and there, at God’s command, strikes the rock. From it gushes forth a river of water pouring through the wilderness until it reaches the people. The Word of God is life. The voice that speaks at Sinai is a river of life.

On Sunday, too, Jesus will meet the Samaritan woman at the well, this shamed and exiled woman, unwelcome in the community of women who gather in the cool of the morning at the well in town, this woman reduced to drawing water outside of town in the heat of the day. Jesus will offer her “living water”. It is the Biblical expression for flowing water, that cool, clear, wonderful, refreshing water pouring down a rocky stream from the mountain heights. Life-giving water. But Jesus carries no bucket; the water he offers is heaven’s love, God’s word of grace.

The psalmist will warn us not to harden our hearts as Israel did in the wilderness. And Paul will write about the love of God that has been poured into our hearts. And we will be invited to drink deeply again from this water of life, this font of mercy, this heavenly draught that flows like a river from the mountain of God.

Your Will Be Done

Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the third petition: “Your kingdom come.” Here is the heart of all prayer: for God to come and bring his reign of grace and life, to govern our hearts and our world by his Spirit.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 19, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

 

The Texts for March 19, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water. In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciled us while we were yet enemies, who brings that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.

Photocredit: dkbonde.  Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Fountains

Sunday Evening

John 4

File:Yonge-Dundas-Urbeach-christina-at-waterplay.jpg

Yonge-Dundas Square Urban beach, evening waterplay,
Copyright (c) 2004, Steve Mann.

14“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.”

We have a fascination with fountains.  I have no real interest in going to Las Vegas but, if I had the chance, I’d like to see that fountain I’ve seen in movies.  The waterfalls at Yosemite capture the attention, especially when they are full in the spring.  Fountains call to children and adults alike to “come and play” – though usually it is only children who answer that invitation.  Even a simple lawn sprinkler is a source of joy and delight.  And those of us with urban experience know the neighborhood transforming power of having the fire department come open the fire hydrant.

We linger at fountains.  They are joy and laughter.  They instill peace and reflection.  They spawn wishes and kisses. There is something entrancing in the splashing water, its cool clarity, the dancing play of water and light.  A fountain provides a wonderful image for the life of the spirit that has found its peace in God.

14“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.”

This does not mean, of course, that believers will never have days of trouble – or that the model of the Christian life is constant bubbliness.  It does not mean there are not days of discouragement – or afflictions of body, mind and spirit.  It means that there is a reservoir of hope, an underlying confidence, a joy founded on the encounter with perfect mercy that keeps us from becoming lost in ourselves and guides us on our path, wherever that path may lead.

We are headed towards the banquet that does not end.  We are inheritors of a life that cannot perish.  We are clothed in Christ risen from the dead.  We abide in the Word that infused all creation with light and life.  We have been met by a perfect mercy.

And whether we are big splashy fountains, or still, cool spring-fed pools, the living water born of the Spirit of God will overflow to others.  And should it fail to do so, we must attend again to the work of unblocking the fountain by drinking deeply from the living water that is Christ.

Audacity

Saturday

John 4

File:Angelika Kauffmann - Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen -1796.jpeg

Angelica Kauffman, Christ and the Woman at the Well, 1796

19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

There are things in the text that are jarring to ancient ears that seem perfectly innocent to us: that Jesus should speak to a woman in public; that a Judean would ask a Samaritan for a drink; that Jesus should discuss this woman’s her sexual life when she is not a relative.

We catch a hint of the scandal of all this when the disciples come back: 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?” (v. 27)  But since we don’t find it shocking, the audacity of Jesus often eludes us.  It’s like listening to Holst’s “The Planets” without a brass section; you can still get the melody, but you are missing all the drama.

There is another shocking element in the text we no longer hear: Jesus discusses theology with this woman.  Theology was the domain of men.  It was men who gathered to dispute questions of the law and prophets.  It was men who held a synagogue service. Theology was part of the public square not the domestic one.  For Jesus to discuss the proper location of worship with a woman was remarkable.  Astonishing.

This is a narrative like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, or Paul declaring there is now “neither male nor female.”  This is Junia (a woman’s name) called an apostle by Paul. This is Paul discussing the scriptures with the women in Philippi or Lydia being the head of the church in her home.  This woman of Samaria is not only a hearer of Christ, she is treated as a student – and becomes a teacher.  She gathers the men of her village and brings them to Jesus.  She is their first witness.

We misunderstand Paul’s injunction that women should be silent in the churches because we miss the dramatic and wonderful thing that women are present in the worshipping assembly.  (That a woman should be cautioned not to shame her husband in public shouldn’t make us hear Paul through the lens of the medieval church.  It is good advice still – for men and women.)

Women’s leadership in the community of the church is no shock to us now, but it is another element in this audacious reality of Christ Jesus in whom the day promised through the prophet Joel dawns and God’s spirit is poured out on all people, men and women, young and old, freeborn and slaves – a radical idea from an audacious God.

Necessary, part 2

Friday

John 4

File:Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jruchi Gospels II MSS, Georgia, 12th cent.).jpg

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,
Jruchi Gospels II, 12th Century, Georgia
Center of Manuscripts (Tbilisi, Georgia)

3He left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4But he had to go through Samaria

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria, to go the unexpected way.  It was necessary for this woman discarded by five husbands and not worthy of a marriage contract by the one she is with.  It was necessary for this woman unwelcome among the society of woman at the well in town.  It was necessary for this woman bearing a burden of shame that has her carting water in the heat of the day rather than risking a chance encounter with others.

But a chance encounter is what she finds.  A daring encounter.  For this strange man speaks to her, transgressing all social boundaries, asking for a cup of cold water.  This is the one who will once again say, “I thirst” on that day when he is lifted up for all to see the face of perfect love.

Judeans regarded Samaritan women as ritually unclean from birth, unable ever to be made pure.  To share a cup is as unthinkable as sharing a water fountain in the Jim Crow south.  And a man would not speak to a woman in public unless she was a member of his family – unless his motives were dishonorable.  Even to be alone, one on one, with a woman would disgrace her, except this woman is already disgraced.  Jesus does the shocking and bold thing.  He asks for a drink.

It is of this very act that Jesus says in Matthew, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”(NIV)  By this act the nations will be judged, the sheep separated from the goats, in that great concluding parable of Matthew 25 when the Son of Man declares, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” – or, conversely, “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”

The gift of water, the sharing of a well, is an act that manifests the nature of God’s realm, the world brought under the reign of the Spirit of God, a world where resources are shared rather than guarded and horded.  By this simple request this woman is drawn into the reign of God, the realm of life and light, where shame and sin are lifted and all things made new.

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria.  Necessary for this woman.  And necessary also for us – for her story changes the trajectory of Jesus’ ragtag band not only this once in the beginning when the door was opened to outsiders, but again and again as her story is told and retold and continues to testify to the daring, radical, transformative mercy of God.

Necessary, part 1

Thursday

John 4

File:Woman at the well, Japan. (10797603194).jpg

Woman at the well, Japan. From the National Museum of Denmark from Denmark

5Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

What’s missing from our assigned reading this Sunday are the preceding verses which say 3He left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria.”  Hiding in the English of verse 4 is the little Greek word ‘dei’, ‘it was necessary’.

It was not necessary to travel through Samaria.  In fact, from Jerusalem to Galilee most Judeans would not take the road through Samaritan territory; they would go down to the Jordan River, up the far side of the Jordan, then back into Galilee, avoiding Samaria altogether.  That way they did not have to deal with their despised and (mutually) hostile neighbors.  In Luke 9, when a Samaritan village refuses hospitality to Jesus and his band, the disciples are ready to call down fire from heaven as though the village had committed a sin equal to Sodom and Gomorrah.  There was no love lost between Judeans and Samaritans.

But, for Jesus, it was necessary.

Scholars refer this little Greek word as ‘the divine imperative.’  It was the plan and purpose of God for Jesus to go through Samaria.

It was not by chance that Jesus encounters this broken woman at the well outside the city.  No less than it was by chance that Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch, or Paul finds the roads to Asia, Mysia and Bithynia all blocked, leading them to Troas and the vision of the man from Macedonia

Jesus had work to do, a ministry with this woman, a ministry with this woman that would change the whole Samaritan village and transform the followers of Jesus from a Judean club into the church, the gathering of all people to worship God in Spirit and Truth, the fulfillment of God’s purpose to redeem the whole world.

I wonder if Jesus was aware of his destiny at that well.  Surely John recognizes in Jesus a sensitivity to the Spirit of God that would make it likely.  But does Jesus “know” or was it just an inner sense that the path he should take was the unexpected one, together with a spirit open to God’s strange working, so that he recognized the moment when God provided it?

Attentiveness to the Spirit.  Openness to the unexpected.  Recognizing the moment.  They are important elements of walking in the way, of being agents of mercy in our wounded world.

Living water

Watching for the morning of March 23

Year A

The Third Sunday in Lent

File:Retezat Mountain - Spring Waterfall 01.JPG

Spring Waterfall, by Thalpha

The human body can go a long time without food, but not long at all without water.  It means life for Israel in the desert; it is also means life for the Samaritan woman and her village.  But the life that finds the Samaritan woman and her village is not an enduring supply of running water; it is the eternal spring of life that flows from God and wells up within those who are united with God in Christ Jesus.

Sunday we will hear about Israel in the wilderness and the water from the Rock, water that flowed from Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) where God will speak to all Israel.  The voice of God is the living water that sustains us in the wilderness, in our journey into freedom, into the promised land.

The Psalm will sing praise and yet warn us of the danger of rebellion, for the water from the rock came to a people who had turned against God in their thirst.  How easy it is to go from praise to bitterness and resentment.  Before them, Moses feared for his life.

But Romans reminds us that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” and “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”  God is not deterred by our rebellion.  He comes to save.

And so we come to the woman at the well, and Jesus’ scandalous approach to a scandal-plagued woman, to bring her the water of an imperishable life, to make her a member of God’s household – and with her, her whole village.

The Prayer for March 23, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus your Son

The Texts for March 23, 2014

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water.  In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciles us while we ere yet enemies, will bring us to that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.