How shall we “remember the Sabbath” when, because of the Coronavirus, we cannot come to church? Here is an “order of worship” that I offer, for personal or family devotions, that you can use tomorrow, March 15, the Third Sunday in Lent:
OPENING – PSALM 95
Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to the LORD with psalms. For you, LORD, are a great God, and a great ruler above all gods. In your hand are the caverns of the earth; the heights of the hills are also yours. The sea is yours, for you made it, and your hands have molded the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For the LORD is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand. Oh, that today you would hear God’s voice!
Take a moment to silently thank God that the same One who created the heavens and the earth invites you to come into God’s presence and worship …
GOSPEL: JOHN 4:5-42
5[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 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.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27Just 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?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he? 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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 Savior of the world.”
Before reading my meditation / sermon, I invite you to spend a few minutes thinking about this remarkable story. Put yourselves in place of the Samaritan woman. What would you have thought, as an outsider, if Jesus defied social convention and asked you for a drink? Now, imagine being back in the city. Your neighbor comes back from the well to share with you that she may have just met the Messiah. What would your reaction have been? Would you have believed her? Would you go to meet him?
MY MEDITATION / SERMON
Here is a version of the sermon I would have preached, if we were able to gather for worship:
Today’s gospel reading is not just a beautifully-told story about a Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at a well; it is really a story about each and every one of us. It is the gospel itself, in story form. And so, what I want to do in this reflection is simply take us back through this story, and help us to find ourselves in this story.
The story begins with Jesus sitting by Jacob’s Well. He is tired and thirsty. It is about Noon, and his disciples have gone in search of some lunch. A Samaritan woman enters the story, as she comes to draw water. For her, it is probably a day like every other day. Until this man, Jesus, asks her for a drink.
So, think about what we are already learning about our Christian journey. It begins with Jesus. He first comes to us, not the other way around. And remember, too, where he comes to this woman. At a well. Is that so different from a baptismal font? Isn’t that where Jesus first comes to many of us? In our baptisms? But however we first meet Jesus, it is at his initiative.
And, of course, our encounter with Jesus is not the end of the story – it’s just the beginning. He comes to this Samaritan woman at the beginning of the story. And he asks her for a drink. Because he’s thirsty. But also because even in a tired moment sitting at a deserted well in the heat of the day, Jesus sees an opportunity for ministry. And so, he doesn’t just ask this woman for a drink. He also offers her living water.
“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 to eternal life.”
So what is this living water that Jesus offers? Well, clearly it’s not just water. It’s not our physical thirst that Jesus offers to quench. It is our spiritual thirst. We all thirst for God, whether we know it or not. And until our thirst is quenched by Him, we will run from well to well and drink and drink and never quench our thirst. We will drink from the wells of food, money, pleasure, power, wealth, security; and we will still find ourselves thirsty.
When we are reminded of this powerful truth, we join with the Samaritan woman at the well in saying:
“Lord, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
We have all said this, in some way or another, once or perhaps many times in our Christian journey.
But here is where the story takes a little twist. As soon as the Samaritan woman makes this request, Jesus says to her: “Go, call your husband, and come back.” That is a strange twist, to me. He has just offered her living water, and she has asked for him to give it to her.
Why wouldn’t he just give it to her? Baptize her with that well water, or invite her to accompany him and the disciples on his journey? Why would he suggest that she call her husband and come back? Can’t she become a Christian without inviting her husband to come back? After all, Peter agreed to follow Jesus without having to first go and call his wife and come back.
But the situation, of course, is different with the Samaritan woman. She has no husband. She has had five husbands, as Jesus knows, and the one she has now is not her husband. It seems important to Jesus to confront her with this truth before he offers her his living water. Why? Not to judge or condemn her, I don’t believe. (He comes not to judge, as we heard last Sunday, but to save.) But in order to be saved we have to give up on all the false wells in our life.
The wells that we think will quench our spiritual thirst, but never do. And I suspect that is why Jesus invites this woman to call her husband and come back. Because he wants her to think about the false wells. Because before Jesus can really offer the living water that will finally quench her deepest thirst, he knows that she’s got to repent; she’s got to give up looking for it down the wrong well.
Now, if we want to find our place in this story, we’re going to have to ask ourselves: What is the wrong well that we are tempted by? What well do we have to give up in order to accept the living water that becomes in us a spring of water gushing to eternal life?
After the woman is asked to call her husband and bring him back, the conversation between Jesus and this woman continues, with Jesus finally revealing to her that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Just then, the disciples return, and the woman leaves her water jar and goes back to the city. I personally love that little detail, because to me it symbolizes that she has left all of her false wells behind. She has found the living water that she has been searching for, perhaps without even knowing it, all these years.
And then, what does this woman do? She goes back to the city and says to the people,
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Now, before we look at how amazingly effective her witness turned out to be, think of what a terrible job she did. First of all, she clearly the wrong person for the job – she has been married five times, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. Does she really think it is a good idea to tell the town that the man she met out at the well told her everything she has ever done?! And then, instead of telling them that she believes he is the Messiah, she openly wonders whether he is or not! – “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” She is new to the faith, with a questionable past life, and still not willing to say that He is the Messiah. But her witness brings many to Jesus!
“Many from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”
The moral to this part of the story is pretty clear to me – we all need to get out there and share our faith or serve our Lord in some other way, and trust God with the results. It doesn’t matter whether we think we are any good at it. It doesn’t matter how new we are to it. It doesn’t matter what kind of life we have lived. Just do it, and leave the results to God.
We don’t know the name of this Samaritan woman. But by the end of the story, she has found the living water that gushes to eternal life. And many in her town have come to believe that Jesus is truly the Savior of other world. May we, too, not just find this living water, but share it with a very thirsty world. To the glory of God. Amen
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
A PRAYER IN RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS
God, our peace and our strength, we pray for our nation and the world as we face new uncertainties around coronavirus. Protect the most vulnerable among us, especially all who are currently sick or in isolation. Grant wisdom, patience, and clarity to health care workers, especially as their work caring for others puts them at great risk. Guide us as we consider how best to prepare and respond in our families, congregations, workplaces, and communities. Give us courage to face these days not with fear but with compassion, concern, and acts of service, trusting that you abide with us always, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Holy God, speaking, spoken, and inspiring, bless you, unbind you, and send you in love and in peace. Amen.
5 thoughts on “Remember the Sabbath Day … When You Can’t Come to Church”
Thank you for your faithful diligence, Pastor James. While the ‘contrarian’ I am, I consider the widespread suspending of worship services across denominations a bit ironic as it contrasts with our faith in God’s care and protection, this is a lovely alternative. God’s peace and love to you.
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Pastor James, Although reading your sermon isn’t the same as sitting in God’s house listening to you, it is greatly appreciated!! I hope everyone will pratice social distancing and other recommended measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 so we can unite again soon.
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Thank you for posting this beautiful devotion for our use when we can’t be together for our Sunday morning service. Also, thanks for posting the picture of our church–I can almost feel that I’m there!
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Thank you for posting this Remember the Sabbath. I took time to read it even though I, like Anne find it a bit ironic to suspend worship at a time we need God the most. I appreciate your diligence to providing a way to worship.
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