Now, the actual figure itself stood about six feet tall. But because it was elevated up on the eastside of a long rectangular reflecting pool Jesus seemed much larger than life. If you stood in the right place, and looked at your reflection in the water, it looked as if Jesus was embracing you. As you might imagine, it was a magnificent work of art, that quickly became the church’s pride and joy.
Once a year, for Easter, volunteers would draped Jesus with white linen and adorned the edges of the reflecting pool with beautiful and fragrant Easter lilies. At the sunrise service, the congregation gathered around it to worship, always amazed at how the rising sun would make the silhouette of Jesus both blinding and alive.
As the years went on, and the town began to grow and generations changed over, the statue became less prominent, almost invisible. Yet, when people called the church office, the secretary would say, “Just look for the statue of Jesus welcoming you home.”
Still, beautiful as it was, the statue could not stop the effects of time and progress. Smog stains, tree sap, the dirt and grim of modern life could only hide the cracks for so long.
When the homeless claimed the pool as their own personal bath, the church let the water evaporate until the grand reflecting pool was nothing more than a swallow box that collected trash, graffiti, and the occasional rainwater.
Then one day, and sadly no ones exactly when, someone did something terrible. A vandal took a hammer to Jesus, smashing off both hands and part of his right arm.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, the heartbroken members gathered around empty pool to hold a prayer vigil. The only one who seemed to notice their sadness, was the humble face of Jesus that looked down on them.
But those gathered there could not see the grace that still lingered in his smile or the mercy that radiated from his eyes. All they saw were the broken outstretched arms that gave their Lord and Savior the appearance a homeless man seeking alms for himself.
Slowly and mournfully, the church community returned to worship as normal. But something was brewing underneath. There was an air of uneasiness and sadness. And soon a bigger problem began to surface. The statue that once defined the heart and soul of who they were, and how they wanted to be seen in the community, had begun to redefine them.
They began to see themselves as aging, broken, and overlooked by the community at large. No longer did they have the prominence they once had. No longer were people being drawn to their worship. They began to feel like beggars themselves, desperately trying to get the world’s attention to rescue them.
The people did not know what to do anymore. And so they did what they have always done. They formed a committee. Their first order of business was the obvious. And quickly they voted unanimously to hold a fundraiser to repair the statue to its full glory. They were going to save Jesus, no matter the cost.
For the next month, the volunteers spent hour after long hour making the preparations for the fundraiser. They made flyers to help get the word out. They visited the local business and gathered donations for a silent auction. They even convinced a well-known caterer to donate her professional time as a way to draw more people from the community.
Yet a week before the big event, the minister, who had been mostly silent on this issue, stood at the pulpit and said that the fundraiser would not happen and declared that the necessary repairs would not be made. Instead he said, “We will become the hands of Jesus.”
This story is a good reminder that the church is not a building, any more than it is a statue. The church is the people. And if we want the world to notice us, then we must become the centerpiece, God’s pride and joy in our community.
In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul reminds the people that race, gender, or social status will no longer define or divide God’s people, because we have been united as one holy body through Christ Jesus. Through our baptism, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and ordained to continue Jesus’ ministry. We cannot forget that just as we rely on God for help, so too does God rely on us.
In his final words to his disciples Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to bear the fruits that I have shown you.” As Paul writes, “Through love become slaves to one another.”
Jesus left us with his Spirit of love so we can become the hands that go out into the world carrying the “fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” By these actions our faith will be judged, both by the world and by God.
"...'for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’... "
And so I encourage you, implore you, and beg you from the bottom of my heart, to be the arms and hands love, the visible presence of Jesus Christ our Lord, by serving him and one another with gladness and singleness of heart. Amen.
God has invested generously in you and me. The risk is real, and so is the reward.
I’d like to begin by asking you What risk would you be willing to take if you knew you could not fail? For me, it would be flying. To actually soar in the sky like a bird, or Superman.
It’s fun to imagine all the wild things you might do if fear were not an option. But just the thought of leaping out of a plane without a parachute or safety net, congers up fear, anxiety, and doubt. At some point in life everyone has learned failure is all too real. And because of this, we tend to keep our imaginations buried in the dream phase.
Frank Logue writes, “Few great discoveries were made by playing it safe.” He goes on to point out that if we ever want to feel love, or raise a child, change career, or mend a broken relationship then we have to risk something.
To live life fully and completely we must come to the understanding that failure is not optional, it’s guaranteed.
Risk always requires an amount of vulnerability. Which is why faith is so risky.
Think about it like this, when Jesus tells the parable, he’s in the middle of his own high-risk venture. He made the decision to leave the safety of rural Galilee and go to the big city of Jerusalem to proclaim the good news. Whether he knew it or not, this would eventually lead to his betrayal and death.
Like always, it helps to put his parables into perspective. First there is a master who entrusts three servants with a rather large portion of his finances. One gets five talents, another gets two, and the last one gets one. Now a talent was a rather sizable chunk of gold that was worth roughly fifteen years’ wages for a common laborer. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year. That would make each talent worth 1.5 million dollars.
So let’s revisit the question. How much would you risk if I were to hand you 1.5 million dollars to invest for me?
Traditionally this parable is preached on tithing or using our human talents and gifts that we bring to God’s kingdom. While that is a powerful message, I think it misses an important point. The story isn’t about the talents or the money. It’s about the risk we are willing to make.
Second, the master in this parable doles out the money and then goes away. There are no instructions, just one expectation. Grow this investment to best of your ability. Jesus gives us a look at a generous and giving God who invests in us according to our ability. And not only that, God also gives us the freedom and space to go on our own high-risk venture. What we do and how we grow God’s investment it is up to us.
A few years ago, Amy Frykholm wrote a wonderful article in Christian Century magazine about the LaSalle Street Church in Chicago. Back in the 1970s, LaSalle Street and three other local churches invested a small amount of money and a whole lot of sweat equity to help build a housing complex in their urban neighborhood.
Being wise investors, they retained a 2 percent share in the building. In 2014, when the building was sold, the church received a check for $1.6 million dollars. With so many active ministries in the community, the members began to dream up all sorts of ways to spend the money.
Do you think they took a risk with that money? Or played it safe?
After much joyful celebration, the elder board held a secret meeting and decided to take $160,000 from the windfall. What they did next was radical and completely unheard of. They give every active member in the congregation a check for $500. The only caveat was they had to use it, in whatever way they chose, to do God’s work in the world. Talk about faith, and trust.
On the Sunday that the checks were handed out, the minister at LaSalle preached this parable to her congregation, and left them with this message: “The master isn’t worried about the money. He’s worried if the servants were going to take a risk.” Faith, trust, love, justice, compassion…these amazing qualities of God all take risk. And so must we.
God has invested generously in you and me. The risk is real, and so is the reward.
God calls us to live life knowing we have already been given great abundance so that we might invest God’s grace and love into our communities, and throughout all creation.
What God has invested in us through Jesus is something we can never repay. But the good news is we don’t have to pay it back; just pay it forward. Put it out into the world, double down on kindness and generosity, and make love grow.
As the parable goes on, we see that two of the servants invest wisely. One does not. He buries his talent in the ground out of fear of losing his masters fortune. And as a result he looses the great reward that is waiting for him.
It turns out the greatest risk of all is not risking anything.
Perhaps Jesus senses his disciples are becoming more afraid the closer they get to Jerusalem. And so perhaps he tells them this story to help them build up their faith for when he’s gone. Just as much as this story is about what Jesus hopes and expects of his disciples, so too is it a the story about you and me, in the way we live, love and share fearlessly and faithfully...just as he did.
Jesus invites us to be his disciples, to invest our life in God’s mercy and grace, to risk God’s love through concrete actions toward others, and to expand the depths and horizons of our faith; giving it away all that was given to us.
I will leave you with this advice to take with you as you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving. It comes from Mother Teresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Invest in love; knowing that when you take the risk, the Spirit of God works through you, and does all the heavy lifting.
So give love as if you will never run out. Love as if you cannot fail. Through his own glorious resurrection, Jesus has assured us the rewards of such love is greater than any risk we are asked to make.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Westminster John Knox: 2011) pp. 309-313.
Frykholm, Amy. LaSalle St. Church Makes Use of Abundance. (Christian Century: September 30, 2014).
Logue, Frank. Love is Risky Business. Downloaded from episcopaldigitalnetwork.com on November 16, 2017.
Christ has invited us to the wedding.
Jesus is thirsty.
A little country boy name Willy, whose grandmother sent him down to the water hole to get a bucket of water for Sunday’s supper.
As Willy dipped the bucket in, he saw two big mean looking eyes staring back at him. Scared, Willy dropped the bucket and ran to tell his Grandma what he saw.
After hearing his story, Grandma told him, “Don’t you be afraid, that old gator’s been down there since I was your age. He’s never hurt nobody. And he’s probably more scared of you than you are of him!”
"Well, Grandma," replied Willy, "if that’s the case, then that water ain't fit to drink!"
Just as a car cannot run without gas and oil, the body cannot work without water. It serves as a lubricant in digestion, regulates body temperature, and flushes harmful toxins from the body. Water is also essential to the food we eat. All one has to do is fly over the American Great Plains and look down on the brown and green patchwork, and you’ll see where there is water, there is life.
In the bible alone, the word water appears 770 times; it’s rich with symbolic imagery. With it God created, purged, and blessed the Earth. It’s been used as both a curse and a favor. And to not only harm the enemy but to help as well. It’s been prayed for, wept over, and used as a weapon; and it has caused as much fear as it has relief.
In the waters of the Jordan River, the humanity of Jesus is baptized. And just the same, when he quieted a chaotic storm, walked on water, or turned water into wine, his divinity was made known. Today, we sit with Jesus by an ancient well, as he uses an earthly situation to make a spiritual point: Where there is living water, there is everlasting life.
I’ve spent the better part of this week spiritually dry and thirsting for something more than what the world was offering me.
Has that ever happened to you? Maybe right now you are sitting there feeling completely dehydrated and depleted of joy or inspiration? I get it. I’ve been going through it all week.
It’s in dry times like this that God calls you to sit at the well, drop your empty bucket into the deep unknown, and draw from the living waters to find your refreshment: a renewed and everlasting life.
As a well gives water to our bodies, God gives life to our souls.
Like the diverse symbolism of water, this one passage in John’s gospel is loaded with all sorts of good inspiration. Which is why I abandoned the lectionary this week to draw from this particular well. In the bible study this week, I invite you to put yourself in the story. You are the one who comes to the well. You are the one Jesus starts a conversation with. You are holding the bucket. And so you are the one who can help Jesus quench his thirst.
Plot Twist: The thirsty stranger is not the Samaritan woman. It’s Jesus.
Although Jesus was Divine, he was also human. He got tired like us. Hungry like us. And yes, he even got thirsty like us. I never thought of Jesus like me. And I certainly never thought he’d come to me to find refreshment. It’s supposed to be the other way around, right?
Sip on that for a moment. God thirsts for us; so much so that he came to be with us; to meet us at the well and to teach us about life, how to drink it in and share it with others. This sheds new light on Jesus and the Beatitude, “How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they will be filled.” God is blessed when we are filled, vise-versa. Living water flows both ways.
Through us, God’s righteousness is satiated. His hunger for justice, mercy, and peace is fed. As God drinks us in, we become an inseparable part of him; we become living water. Where there is living water, there is everlasting life.
Jesus is thirsty and we are the ones with the bucket.
You’d think it would be easy for a thirsty man to get a drink at a well, but Jesus cannot do it by himself. He has no cup, no bucket. It’s not like he can just waltz into a 7-11 and stick his head under the soda fountain. He relies on a stranger, a Samaritan, a woman. By this humble act, we learn how to care for the simple needs of one another. Even those we are taught to avoid.
Bishop Desmond Tutu would say, “A mighty ocean is made up of little drops. Just do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
When Jesus asks for a drink of water, he is doing more than looking to quench his thirst. He is offering us an opportunity to see the Messiah in the face of a stranger. And to act accordingly. It’s through our selfless actions, that God’s love is revealed to the world. Just as we trickle into God, God comes gushing out through us like a broken water main. It’s newsworthy, and bound to get noticed.
Because she stopped to help a thirsty stranger, her life would be forever changed. And so is her community. John’s gospel shows us how one simple act of kindness, done with selfless love, begins our salvation journey into renewal.
This story is not just about going to the well to find our faith, but what we do for the world with our faith bucket. It’s about knowing who Jesus is and doing what he asks us to do. A well full of water is only able to provide refreshment for those who seek it. And if it’s not used, our faith can become like stagnate water.
God is calling us to be living water; to provide nourishment, restore hope, and replenish joy during those spiritually dry times.
As you go out into the world, to school or to work or to be with friends, remember this: God has a drinking problem that needs your immediate attention. You are the one holding the bucket. Is it empty? Or is it full?
Through Christ, God has given us a way to participate in the very source from which all life originated, even when we are feeling spiritually parched. But will we go to the well or share the good news we draw from it?
With every act of kindness, righteousness is quenched. And love and mercy fill the deepest wells within us, and throughout all of creation. God is thirsty, for us and for righteousness. And so, sip-by-sip God drinks us in, mixing us together, with all the saints, into the eternal living waters. And where there is living water, there is everlasting life. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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