First Congregational Church
May 14, 2017
John 4:5-30 & Romans 5:6-11
“Abundance of Grace”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It wasn’t any of the teachers here, but one day, a Sunday school teacher asked Ole if they said prayers before eating in their home. Ole said, “No, ma’am, we don’t have to. My mom’s a good cook.”
Then there was little Doug who was talking to his best buddy, Dan. Doug said, “I think my mom’s getting serious about straightening up my room once and for all.” Dan said, “How do you know?” Doug said, “She’s learning to drive a bulldozer.”
This morning’s sermon is the second of four in a series on abundance, which sort of balances a series we had on “fear” during Lent. Last week, the focus was on "The Abundance of God - in Creation.” It’s interesting that this morning’s topic of the abundance of grace happens to coincide with Mothers Day, although it started only as a coincidence and seems to have turned into a God-cidence.
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
The Disciples Rejoin Jesus
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Thank you, Bill and Molly. A lot of folks get the idea of “grace,” even if they don’t really know its definition. As a verb, it is honoring someone or something by one’s presence. A person is definitely graced if my cat deigns to make an appearance to anyone that comes in the house. As a noun, it is simple elegance or refinement of movement - the stuff that I am often lacking when I trip on air. In Christian belief, it is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. If the apostle Paul had had that definition, he could have saved himself a whole lot of effort in writing the 16 chapters that make up one of the great books of the New Testament.
“Dear Romans, Here’s the deal. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Go think and live on that. Your friend, Paul. Instead, after stating his credentials, Paul started his letter “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” That phrase alone could offer a month of Sundays in theological discourse.
Grace to you. Because the Gospel writers weren’t standing there with notepads or recording devices, perhaps that is how Jesus greeted the woman from Samaria. Grace to you. Jesus didn’t have to leave God and all that is glorious. But he did - for you - because of the grace Jesus had, has and always will have through and because of God. If you were the only person in the entire world, God would have still sent Jesus to show you what grace and love and mercy. If we all left now, that is a huge amount of grace to contemplate and ruminate and envision pouring on to you like the head in your shower. Except not those little tiny shower heads that get caked up with calcium and actually hurt when they spit at you. We’re talking about those fancy rainfall shower heads here.
We know that God’s lavish grace of truth and forgiveness and mercy changed the Samaritan woman’s life. Hopefully, to one degree or another, we all get that God’s grace on us and for us is huge, unending, eternal, of cosmic proportions bigger than that which we can wrap our brains around.
Life can be hard sometimes, and it may not seem like God’s grace is all that abundant. But we get free rides around the sun every year. (Well, maybe they’re not so free, but just go with me here.) We get to watch babies grow into young adults and see how they go on to make their mark in the world. We get to watch the environment around us change and morph and we get sunrises and sunsets that rival any artist. Regardless of what goes on around us, God’s grace surrounds us abundantly.
Like the Samaritan woman, God’s abundance of grace is more than we can carry around in our own earthen jars. It was never really a point that stuck out before, but did you catch that she left her empty earthen jar with Jesus when she did what? She “went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see.’” When we realize the enormity and grandeur of God’s grace to us as individuals, it’s hard sometimes to contain. It can ooze out to those around us and our joy becomes a “come see” God’s grace. In those instances, the Abundance of God’s grace becomes even more abundant.
The definition of reconciliation is “the restoration of friendly relations.” God’s grace restores our relationship to God. When God’s grace plays a part in reconciling other peoples’ relationships to God, we get first hand understanding of how the Abundance of God’s grace is so much greater than we realize.
But that’s also the place where the Abundance of God’s grace can become uncomfortable. Because if God’s grace is abundant to me - to you - then it’s abundance is relevant to every person. And the fine point of God’s grace comes down to this: either it’s limited or it’s for everyone. Either there is no grace at all, which is becoming less of a reality all the time - just from the standpoint of science - or God’s grace is abundant enough for everyone - no limits on enough to go around.
It’s easy to read John 4 and embrace God’s personal abundant grace. And it’s easy to see how Romans 5 relates to us. And it’s understandable how God’s grace can spill over on to those around us or those we love. But it becomes irksome when those passages apply to those people with whom we don’t see eye to eye or those who have done truly despicable things.
Be careful that you don’t hear those words as excuses for people that do bad things or bad events that happen in life. Those issues still carry their own sorrow and hurt. But there are no people who are beyond redemption - in God’s heart. Because God’s heart is in our heart, we live best when we try to forgive and still hold accountable. Like the idea of a good mother, God loves all God’s children just the same, even when the kids draw on the walls with color crayons or throw garbage all over the kitchen or jump in a mud puddle with their brand new Sunday clothes.
Erica Shemper, the Presbyterian pastor and composer of this abundance series said that the Abundance of God’s Grace is a hard thing to preach, and boy is she right. She also asked the question, “Are there people we think of as beyond redemption? She also suggested that we ask God’s Spirit for the strength and compassion to follow through on that answer. So let us do just that.
Holy Spirit, we know that there are people that we feel that are beyond the effort of redemption and reconciliation. We are reminded today that those are merely human thoughts, and not yours. So help us to draw closer to you, for the strength and compassion that you need of us to pray for those we’d rather not spend time thinking about, much less praying about - because we believe in - we have faith in the abundance of your grace being enough to not only fill us, but overflow our hearts, that others may share in the abundance of that same grace. Thank you for those whose understanding of such abundance has flowed into us, so that we may pass it along. And thank you for those whose understanding of your grace have inspired us to do great things for you. For the abundance of all your gifts, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.