“He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge:” Palm Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Palm Sunday banner

[Editor’s note: We thank Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for again recording this message and music for us during this season of Coronavirus pandemic when we are unable to meet together. You can follow the text below and listen to the audio by clicking on this link:]

 

Opening Hymn: Ride On, Ride On In Majesty (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Download hymn sheet music here

Words and sheet music for Ride On, Ride On in Majesty

Good morning, people of St. Mark’s.

It is Palm/Passion Sunday morning. Please imagine being in church at St. Mark’s this morning. We have read the Palm Sunday Gospel about Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem. One of the regal hymns appropriate to Palm Sunday is being sung. The crucifer is processing, followed by the choir. You have turned and faced the cross as it passes you and have placed your palms in the aisle.

This imagination and the memories from which it comes is what we have today. But worship on in a humble but hopefully faithful way we will.

Listen now to the passion, according to St. Matthew:

NARRATOR: Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him:

PILATE: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

NARRATOR: Jesus said,

JESUS: “You have said so!”

NARRATOR: But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him:

PILATE: “Do you not hear the many things they testify against you?”

NARRATOR: But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him:

PROCULA: “HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, FOR I HAVE SUFFERED MUCH OVER HIM TODAY IN A DREAM!” 

NARRATOR: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them:

PILATE: “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

NARRATOR: And they said:

CROWD: “BARABBAS!”

NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: They all said:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: And he (Pilate) said:

PILATE: “Why, what evil has He done?”

NARRATOR: But they shouted all the more:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washing his hands before the crowd, said:

PILATE: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”

NARRATOR: And all the people answered:

CROWD: “HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.”

NARRATOR: Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying:

SOLDIERS: “HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.

NARRATOR: As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read,

ALL: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one at the right and one at the left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying:

RIGHT SIDE: “YOU WHO WOULD DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, COME DOWN FROM THAT CROSS.”

NARRATOR: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked Him, saying,

LEFT SIDE: “HE SAVED OTHERS; HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF. HE IS THE KING OF ISRAEL; LET HIM COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM!”

ALL: “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD DELIVER HIM NOW, IF HE DESIRES HIM; FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”

NARRATOR: And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:

JESUS: “Eli, Eli lama sabach-thani?” [That is…] “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

NARRATOR: And some of the bystanders hearing it said,

RIGHT SIDE: “THIS MAN IS CALLING ELIJAH.”

NARRATOR: And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink. But others said:

LEFT SIDE: “WAIT, LET US SEE WHETHER ELIJAH WILL COME TO SAVE HIM.”

NARRATOR: And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.

NARRATOR: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said,

ALL: “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD!”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Words and sheet music for Ah, Holy Jesus

 

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. amen.

As the week we call “Holy” is about to begin, along with fellow Christians around the world, we are unable to worship together physically. We read in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Ours is an incarnational faith with Jesus having entered our history. It feels very non-incarnational to be away from each other in the flesh and for Christians to be “meeting” in some virtual manner. Better that, however, than to allow the Feast of the Resurrection and the events of the prior week to go utterly unacknowledged.

Please pray with me:

Oh God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the Holy Wind blow mightily among us and our Christian family the world over today and into the days ahead. Grant us wisdom for dealing with our reality, which unfortunately includes a deadly disease. May we remain trusting and caring in the midst of crisis, and in this precious season, may we be renewed in our hope. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

I have believed for a long time that a most significant scene in this Passion Drama is Jesus standing before Pilate. Freeze frame this image for a minute or two. Just stare at it: A Representative dignitary of the then most powerful Empire on the planet, sent to Palestine precisely because he was so good at dealing with crises, and The Son of God sent to this world precisely because God so loved the world, facing each other. Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.

“Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.”

Earlier, Pilate had asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus simply said:  “You say so!” Now, seconds later, in response to Pilate’s asking of Jesus about the accusations against him, Jesus “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge.” In Mark’s Gospel account of the same scene, “Jesus made no further reply.” (Mark 15:3). Luke also has Jesus saying only “you say so.”

John reports Jesus as having said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews…. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-38)

Without denying Divine inspiration, it seems to me that John simply couldn’t accept the quiet of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and couldn’t resist adding at least some qualifier in this his much later Gospel.

Generally, we are stuck with this quiet even poignant scene, the seeming helplessness of Jesus against this worldly “Goliath,” known as Pilate and everything he represented.

“For God’s sake, Jesus, say something!” “For Jesus’ sake, God, do something!”

This plea has come from countless people throughout history since Jesus’ time on earth, when injustice was occurring, when diseases were spreading, when Jews were dying in the camps, when Armenians were being slaughtered by the Turks, when illness or accident had taken a loved-one, when marriages were breaking up, when financial ruin was rampant, when, when when…. In the face of human tragedy, God seems so silent, so powerless, perhaps even so indifferent. DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Lord God, where are You when most we need You?

One of His disciples would betray Jesus, another would deny Him, the others  abandoned Him — and we? Clearly, we would surely have operated differently, better somehow, more faithfully! Yeah, right! The human condition is portrayed in living color here, with us like them — but what of the Divine position?

The very fact of Jesus having died FOR us reveals that God is still dying WITH us, at least for now. Ours is a faith of apparent defeat, of cross-centeredness, not yet one of triumph and victory. The victory can be hoped for and believed in but not experienced just yet. The Kingdom is not of this world! We may not rule here. We may not get our way here! We may not insist that others share our perspective on anything here! And we will need to die rather than kill, bear our crosses before we wear our crowns.

And that is what takes so much faith, gobs of grace, mounds of mercy, loads of love and pounds of patience. The Kingdom has not yet been fully realized and we must continue to pray: “Your Kingdom come” and in the meantime: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

In our rather quiet way this year, we will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the victory it was for Jesus and one day will be for us! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.

‘Where Were You Lord?’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

The Rev. David and Gigi Mueller

[Editor’s note: Again this week, as we remain separated by the Coronavirus pandemic, Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, have collaborated to provide a message and special music for the fifth Sunday in Lent. Pastor’s message is drawn from John 11: 1-45.]

With the link below you can listen to Pastor’s voice as you read the text.

Listen to Pastor Mueller’s message here.

As we begin, please allow me a few brief if also redundant announcements:

  • Those of you with email, our bulk emails often go to spam. Please check yours daily.
  • It is extremely important that you mail in your green sheets. The Transition Team is meeting regularly so as not to get too far behind during the crisis.
  • We hope all St. Markians are joining in prayer between 6 and 6:10 p.m. daily. We are adding a prayer component at the end today, but will be praying in general as we want to avoid publishing names and conditions.

We begin now with prayer.

Dear Lord, during this critical period for the whole world, we ask that You enable us to keep the faith, indeed, grow in the faith. Through these humble efforts that we are making as a congregation to communicate and celebrate with each other, enrich and deepen our gratefulness for grace, mercy and love, which we know You are blessing us with. Guard and protect us from severe impact of the virus upon us, others dear to us and all the unknown people who also are cared about by You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

During the year I was in a Clinical Pastoral Residency at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, a book was published by an adjunct professor at the university. Dr. Raymond Moody was the author; “Life After Life” was the book. Inevitably, upon checking patient needs with nursing staff on any of the units to which I had been assigned, I would be asked: “Chaplain Mueller, so what do you think of ‘The Book?’”

My answer was consistent and most often met with bewilderment and disappointment: “I don’t care!” I suppose folks expect something a bit more spiritual from a Chaplain or Pastor. So I would go on to briefly explain: “There are certain mysteries in life and in the faith which I simply believe must be left alone. Preserve the mystery, even mysticism, of the sacred. After all, St. Paul wrote (Romans 8:24, 25): ‘Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’”  

I believe in eternal life as a gift from God in Jesus Christ by grace through faith, to put it in pure Lutheran/biblical language. If I did not believe that, I had to be lying at literally hundreds of funerals. It is well beyond my pay grade to make judgments of any kinds about other than Christians getting in. Doing so feels like being the Commandant at a German Concentration Camp, saying: “You go to the right into the fields or factory; you go to the left and into the ovens!”  

Also, the issue of eternal life or “life after life” CAN be a distraction from other more pressing and current issues which require our attention. Here I am talking specifically about matters Jesus would have us attend to.

Turn to John 11:1-45 about Lazarus, which I invite you to read on your own later.

The first thing I notice is that the Disciples were reluctant to go back to Judea because “The Jews were just now trying to stone you” (7) on the one hand; and “… many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother” (19) on the other hand. I simply must point out that any speaking of “The Jews,” which is characteristic of John, can never be thought of as “all Jews.” Jews can too easily be the enemy for Christians so we must remember that most Jews were not bad guys. In 11:45, we read: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

Lazarus, whose name means “God Has Helped,” brother to Mary and Martha, had become ill. The sisters sent for Jesus. Curiously, upon hearing about his friend’s sickness, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Since it is said that Lazarus was four days dead and a stench had developed, it is safe to presume that it took about a week for Jesus to get there. I bring this up because one of the issues we take hardest when it comes to the promises of God is the time it takes for God to get things done. Even back then, now was too late.

Jesus finally arrives and each of the sisters takes a turn at receiving him with words that are often read or thought of softly, when it was more likely theyAn arrow that says: Where were angry with him for being so slow to act. “WHERE IN THE HELL WERE YOU?” might have been more like it. In the meantime the Jews were doing the consoling.

Jesus and Martha have a brief discussion about resurrection of the dead, the conversation ending with Martha confessing that she believed Jesus was the Christ, which at that moment changed nothing; Lazarus was still dead NOW!

After encountering the two sisters separately, Jesus goes to the tomb, prays to the Heavenly Father “for the sake of the crowd” to believe and then shouts: “Lazarus, come out!” With the burial cloths still hanging on him and the stench not yet worn off, out came Lazarus!

The incredible thing is that from then on, we hear nothing from or about Lazarus. If one stands at the top of the Mount of Olives and looks down toward Jerusalem, immediately behind about two miles is Bethany. Am I to believe while Jesus was soon suffering in Jerusalem, Lazarus was too lazy or unappreciative to come and lend some support? And, by the way, why is there no book of the Bible written by Lazarus about the post death experience? Inquiring minds want to know! One would think that Lazarus especially would wait outside the tomb of Jesus genuinely believing that he too would be raised from the dead!

The Bible works that way, however, that is certain people come on the scene, do their part, and leave never to be seen or heard from again. Think about Joseph the carpenter. What on earth happened to him? Another mystery! And really, just how much time need we spend on trying to figure it out?

It is interesting that in Luke 16:19-31, another Lazarus is featured in a parable of Jesus. God helped him too, but for the rich man who failed to see let alone help the poor Lazarus, it was too late. He asked to go back to warn his five brothers to get their act together, for not caring about others must have been in their genes. They have Moses and the Prophets and if they don’t listen to them, “neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

The resurrection of the dead is not in a biblical sense a feat performed by God just to prove God can do such a thing. Clearly, it is a promise of a holy and heavenly hope for us who believe. The promise is in the now, however, so we can be free to live in the now in worship and in service. The rich man and his brothers had Moses and the Prophets and we have the words and will of Jesus to be His disciples in the world as it is: dangerous, diseased, war-ridden and the like.

To that world, in the event that we have not already come on the scene and performed our purpose, which is highly unlikely, we can bring help, healing and hope. We are alive and in Christ free to live creatively, generously and lovingly! While we cannot be absolutely sure, my hunch is that Lazarus learned quickly and surely to live that way. Amen.

Post Script: Any number of books have been written and movies have been produced in recent years about Heaven. Since Dante’s “Inferno,” however, few if any have written about hell. Have any of these been helpful? Perhaps to some! For the most part, such concepts remain a mystery. Even after the 43 years since Life After Life and my comments about it, the mystery is still fine with me!

That said, deaths due to COVID-19 are on the rise and are projected to skyrocket soon. There are those arguing that we older ones ought to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others or the economy or both. There is nothing in our beliefs to suggest that anyone ought to be in a hurry to go to glory. Were that the case, why not let more of us, young and old, be willing to die and “go to that better place?” Since that is ludicrous, all of us can do what we can to preserve lives and, in due time, discover “Life After Life,” as Moody entitled his book.

‘There are still some issues remaining:’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, have been meeting to record Pastor Mueller’s sermons while St. Mark’s is closed to help curtail spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. We include a link to the audio here and also the text. We’ll be back together soon!

Here’s the link to the audio:

Sermon by Pastor David Mueller

We still are unable to meet this Sunday for corporate worship. Once again, therefore, we are providing the members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church a sermon and a song, something to keep our spirits fed during this very unusual and frightful time. We will provide these weekly until the crisis is passed. As is our usual custom, we begin with prayer.

Heavenly Father, good and gracious God, hold all of us, our families and friends, and people the world over in Your hands and allow us relief from this unseen, silent, but lethal enemy. Give us the courage and confidence of faith to face our realities, personal and collective. Grant us a renewed sense of the Holy Spirit so that we might be agents of hope, healing and helpfulness in the times ahead. We ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Grab your Bibles and turn with me to the appointed Gospel from John 9. Please take a quick gander at this chapter, which I will not read now but hope you will read in its entirety later.

One of the issues of life that causes us concern and consternation is suffering. I have previously shared while at St. Mark’s that suffering comes from more than one source. For the Christian, there is suffering for what is right and just. We fight for righteousness and justice in the world for others as well as ourselves and risk trouble for it. We suffer for Christ, although in our culture and political context, the risks of suffering for Christ are few for most believers; not so in other cultures and political contexts throughout history.

We suffer because we live in a fallen world. Here on the planet, there are consequences. If we smoke, there is a good chance we could get lung cancer. If we drive recklessly, we could hit a tree and get hurt badly or killed or worse, hurt or kill others. If we consume too much alcohol, we could get cirrhosis and other social problems. Oh, there are exceptions, like some old guy in Arkansas who when asked about what his secret to living for 104 years is, replies “a cigar a day and a pint of good whiskey.”

Then there is suffering by coincidence: being in the intersection when someone blows a stop sign or red light; sitting on the front porch when a bullet meant for someone else hits you; walking in the woods when a tree falls on you, etc. It is perfectly acceptable to refer to these sorts of things as “bad luck.” There are accidents: slipping on ice, a ladder falling, etc. And finally, there is the issue of bad genes, picking the wrong parents.

The suffering questioned most often is of coincidence. We need a cause even if it is cruel or wrong. The Disciples were like that, except they looked for causation in another place: “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness, his own or his parents?” This was a typical notion in those days: the cause must be the sins of someone. Obviously, they had a lot to learn. The verse was also true for Pharisees: “Whose righteousness was responsible for their success and prestige?” Why their own, of course. It was a simple if inaccurate way of looking at the people of their world: black and white, absolutely no ambiguity or mystery.

Can you imagine persons being so cold and sure of themselves as to be simply incapable or unwilling to celebrate a man born blind regaining his sight? The Pharisees interrogated his parents and got nowhere with them because they really didn’t know how their son received his sight. They then threatened them with being thrown out of the Synagogue, whatever that meant? Sad, sorry and spiritually bankrupt this was!
Pastor David Mueller's Bible
The man, formerly blind, knew! It was Jesus who did it with a healing touch of his eyes. He did not, however, know who Jesus was when asked, but later came to know when Jesus revealed Himself to him! Is it not truly amazing that this man was given no time, due in large part to the hang-ups of others, to just look around at his world, to see for the first time the parents who raised him, to enjoy the sights of trees and flowers blooming, to wonder about how the many building he now saw could ever have been built? The Pharisees drive him out; thank you Lord for the capacity to keep sinners out and unable to influence our well-being!

Oh my, what a sinner this Jesus must be, to help and heal on the Sabbath! Horrors! In a very real way, the Pharisees were more blind than the formerly blind man. The “Sabbath” issue is another sermon.

Might we be able in faith to make the quantum leap of two millennia and from blindness affecting one person to a virus affecting the whole planet? Let’s try!

Already there are those who know exactly why the Lord is so inflicting us or who are the main targets of wrath even if a slew of others must take some hits. It is inevitably and invariably those other sinners, whose sins the “knowers” of God’s will gladly confess. It also could be yet another demonic plot to deceive us or to distract us from other real societal or human issues. Unfortunately, Pharisee-like Christians are still around in force. That is what is so demonic or “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” like. Jesus warned us to be weary and worried about false prophets.

Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was a member of the Institutional Review Board of Christiana Care, having followed Carl Sachtleben, by the way. Over supper, between screening treatment protocols, interesting conversations would take place. For instance, Northern Delaware and its surrounding valley has a high incidence of breast cancer in women and prostate in men. Is it due to chemicals buried in the ground decades earlier or poisons in the air or streams? Good guess in our region, except that most people in Delaware at least, were not born and raised here. Could it be that people who have moved here brought with them a predisposition for these cancers?

Who will get very sick and possibly die from Coronavirus and why? There are some hints: age, health, social contacts, etc. Yet within those categories, there are many exceptions. How can we deal with the mysteries of it all? Together! Instead of Pharasaic blaming, shaming, gaming and judging, this can be an incredible opportunity to care for and about each other: doing the unusual and not doing the usual for our own and the sakes of others. If the good Lord has anything at all to do with this, it is jumping in and trying to get all of us to reorder our priorities in life. The Disciples finally would come to learn this but the Pharisees never did!

Just as with the Samaritan woman at the well and the “living water, welling up to eternal life” last Sunday, so also with this formerly blind man: “I believe” meant that his sight was not just restored but his relationship with God was sealed forever. Amen.

‘Astonished by a Woman:’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Pastor David Mueller

Good Sunday to you! We visit from a distance during this season of Coronavirus, having canceled services at the recommendation of health officials who hope to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

This morning, Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, met in our conference room to record Pastor Mueller’s sermon. We include a link to the audio here and also the text.

Lay low for now. Watch for weekly communication! Take care of yourself and others. Rest assured that God is with you and in the midst. We’ll be back together soon!

Here’s the link to the audio:

You can follow along with the text here:

“Astonished by a Woman”

Pastor David Mueller

It is not often that we cancel church worship services, but today is one of those occasional days when environmental circumstances require it and there may be more until the Coronavirus, as it is commonly known, is controlled and a vaccine is developed and produced.

Let’s begin with a word of prayer:

“Lord God, Gracious and Merciful Father, on behalf of and most probably with all of the citizens of the world You created, protect and preserve us all from the harm and danger this germ could cause. Teach us humility in the midst of this crisis so that we will realize anew that there is so much is beyond our control. Allow healing

and hope to happen universally. Turn us to You and, Lord, please help us all. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Now please bear with me as I learn with you to speak and hear a sermon in a communal vacuum. It clearly is odd for me not to have faces to see or expressions to notice, I trust that some instruction and inspiration will occur even though we are not here together.

John Lasher and Pastor David Mueller
John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, met with Pastor David Mueller in St. Mark’s conference room to record his sermon.

I presume that you have a Bible handy and can turn to John 4:5-42. It is the first of three quite long Gospel lessons from John during the next three weeks. I am not going to read it here. Actually, I was not going to read it in planned worship at St. Mark’s anyway. I had a song ready to play about this encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman.

This story is jam packed. Given its content, I must admit that I believe it would be better to have a woman and not a man interpreting it. Hard as I may try and diligently as I may pray, it is nearly impossible for me to relate to this woman’s life. And as we all know, I am not Jesus either. But as usual, let’s jump in.

After a long morning haul, Jesus was traveling through Samaria on His way back to the Galilee region to the north. He was tired and was sitting by Jacob’s Well at the noon hour, a usually quiet place at that time of day when it began to get hot.

Earlier in the morning, the area around the well would have been noisy and busy as the women of Sychar, the town, came both to get water and to catch up with each other about scuttlebutt and such. They had long since gone back to their homes, but a lone woman came to draw water when Jesus was there.

Freeze frame this scene for a moment, for a woman alone encountering a man, let alone a Rabbi, was itself rare, risky, and even inappropriate. This may sound benign in our day but back then in that culture. The disciples later on were astonished that Jesus was talking with a woman — any woman. Set aside, please, the water part of this encounter and we will pick it back up in just a bit.

The conversation leads to this woman’s marital history and present state: five previous husbands and now living with a man who was not a husband. Now it is no longer benign. Most of us view her, initially at least, as pathetic, perverted, promiscuous, not a very nice lady. That, by the way, is exactly how the other women in town saw her. Had she gone to the well with the others earlier, she would have been scorned, belittled, shamed and laughed at.

In taking a closer look at her, mindful of life back then, she is also a victim. The prerogative for divorcing was exclusively the man’s. And because of economic circumstances back then, a woman would have to prostitute herself in some fashion to survive. Perhaps one or more of these five husbands died. But that changes nothing. A woman would essentially be destitute. So if you are into blaming, blame the husbands as well as the woman.

Jesus in no way was pejorative with her. He states the facts and treats her with a certain quiet dignity she may never before have known. And what soon becomes most incredible is Jesus’ revelation to her that genuine worship of God has little if anything to do with where — there in Sychar or in Jerusalem — or with whom — Samaritans or Jews. Worship, He freely shares with her — having not yet shared it with anyone else, male or female — is of Spirit and Truth, for God is Spirit.

Next thing we notice here is that this woman ran right into the village where she was usually scorned and badgered and became the very first know evangelist, evangelism at its root meaning “Good News.” To make a still long story a but shorter, people in the village believed her so very authentic testimony and later went to check out this “Messiah” for themselves, becoming even more convinced.

Now, please move with me back to the early water wonder here. After asking her to give Him a drink, Jesus brought up the issue of “Living Water.” Water from this well or any other physical source would have to be drunk every day, but not living water “gushing up to eternal life.” Here Jesus treated this scorned, abused, and misunderstood woman with more dignity and respect and opportunity than she knew existed. “Sir, give me this water.”

I am reminded of the Prophet Amos (5:23 & 24) when he said on the Lord’s behalf: “Take away from me the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the melody of your harp. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

This woman asked for this water and it would have been cruel and unreasonable for Jesus to have denied it to her. So at this moment this water would have gushed up within and without her and whatever sin she had committed in her obviously sad and sorry life were washed away, making her righteous and granting her justice.

This is powerful, beautiful, and terrifically loving stuff. The disciples were astonished that Jesus was talking with a woman and a Samaritan to boot, but we get an even better look than they did at the time and I hope we can be astonished as well, but by the righteousness and not the risk of it. And may we remember our Baptisms when living water was offered to us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Altar during Lent

Sundays with our Synod

Bishop William Gohl

During this time of Coronavirus pandemic, when congregations including St. Mark’s have canceled services to prevent spread of the virus, our Synod — the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA — is posting a Sunday service of the Word. You can watch Bishop William Gohl here.

Peace to you all!

9.5 Theses for Modern Reformation (2019)

Engraving of the scene at Wittenberg after Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door.

He didn’t use a hammer or nail the message to a door at St. Mark’s. But Interim Pastor David Mueller offered “9.5 Theses for Modern Reformation (2019) — a “tithe” of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses more than 500 years ago — during worship on Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday, observed on the last Sunday in October, marks the day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements, which criticized the Church for the sale of indulgences, launched what now is known as “The Protestant Reformation.”

Pastor Mueller’s 9.5 Theses are printed here for your consideration:

1. The Church, especially the Lutheran Churches, must return to a Biblical understanding and practice of EVANGELISM. Traditional forms of verbally and personally sharing the “Good News” cannot work. With many young people having left formal religions, there is a new and large mission field. Many, however, know the traditional language, forms of worship, moral priorities and have rejected them. Some other Christians employ the language and tone of fear, as if to scare the hell out of people. New efforts with new language and new approaches of a creative and compassionate kind must be developed and employed, not just by pastors and evangelism committees but by whole congregations. (Matthew 28:19-20).

2. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17). It is an incredibly unfortunate understatement to suggest that most Christians are Biblically and theologically ignorant and spiritually ill-equipped for the responsibility of living as Christians in the modern world. To obtain knowledge of the Scriptures and read an occasional theological book that is NOT spiritual junk food could take no more than an hour each day, about the same time as watching a typical television program and far less time than the standard sport telecast. At the gate of glory we will not be asked who won the 2017 Super Bowl, the 1962 World Series or the 1999 Emmy for best new show.

3. We confess either the Apostles or Nicene Creeds with frequency but go on to neglect the Third article about the Holy Spirit and Sanctification and totally ignore the First Article about Creation and God’s desire that we use faithful stewardship of creation and seek to preserve it. We argue about climate change politically but need now more than ever to address the issue of the care and preservation of the earth spiritually. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it…. (Psalm 24:1).

4. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at ware within you?” (James 4:1). “For as long as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Corinthians 3;3). Christian congregations are made up of fallen human beings and as Lutherans we confess that freely. Conflicts and tensions will arise among us, at times quite serious. We will handle them as cross- and Christ-centered Christians who address one another with truth shared in love or we will surely fall even more deeply into sin. That we surely wish to avoid.

5. “I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I am writing to you, children, because you know the Father…. I am writing to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you….” (1 John 2:13b & 14 a, c). Oh that it were the case with us! We are hardly alone in having far fewer children and young people in our midst, perhaps the greatest scourge of the Churches these days. If, however, that is to turn around, it must be our high priority and not simply an adjunct. Our love of the. Young can be shown in the time, money and energy we employ in reaching out and training them in the Christian way at home and Church.

6. “Oh God, from my youth you have taught me … so even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me!” (Psalm 71:17a and 18a). It is quite possible for the Church to effectively minister to and with her youth and neglect her older ones. Balance among our ministries to all age groups must be sought. There are creative ways in which the young and old can minister to each other.

7. The Christian congregation must seek to become a “safe” place where any and every topic or issue, no matter how controversial, can be discussed freely and openly. I truly believe this is crucial and essential. I am truly sorry that we have failed in this in recent years. “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18a).

8. Networking with other Christian congregations near us is essential to the future health of the Church. We must seek ways to cooperate and not compete! We can and must do that without compromising our theological integrity. “Let anyone who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:17).

9. “Therefore, since we have been 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.” (Romans 5:1-2). The Reformation of the early 16th Century sought to bring the Church back to her most precious belief. In our struggle to become an effective Church in the 21st Century, with all the changers in priority and style necessitated, we cannot and must not deny, discount or destroy the faith-full-ness from Jesus and in Jesus which more than anything else defines us as Christians.

9.5 “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN ANY HUMAN AUTHORITY.” (Acts 5:29).