Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Faith for Life - Building Trust

Preached on Sunday, January 29, 2017

Scripture readings: Isaiah 55:1-13; John 4:1-26

When I was a kid, there was this line that a lot of kids knew. It comes from an old, old poem, but there was also an old, old cartoon, in black and white, that was sometimes shown on TV, early on Saturday mornings. The line was: “Welcome to my parlor said the spider to the fly.”
Along Lower Crab Creek, Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
January 2017
We invented games in which we had teams that would hide from each other, and ambush members of the other team, and capture them, and put them in our prison. When we caught someone, we just might say: “Welcome my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
We said this to sound scary.
I liked watching spiders to see what it was like for them to lie in wait, in order to catch other bugs. I also liked teasing spiders by dropping little bits of things into their webs and watching them come out to see what it was. When they found that it wasn’t a bug, they would tear the thing out of their web, and drop it to the ground, and repair the damage I had caused.
When Jesus rested by the well, at the town of Sychar, I’ve always felt that he was lurking on purpose. Jesus was lying in wait to capture this woman and as much of her town as possible.
He wasn’t doing this for a spider’s reasons. I think spiders enjoy what they do. I think Jesus enjoyed what he was doing; although he was doing this for completely different reasons. Jesus lay in wait for love. Jesus already knew this woman and her town. Jesus loved them; although they had no idea that they were so known and so loved.
Ages ago, I learned a prayer that is one of those prayers that ought to be one of the first prayers you pray when you wake up in the morning. It goes like this: “Good morning, Lord. What are you up to today? Let me be a part of it.”
When you’ve prayed this prayer in the morning, for the rest of the day, no matter how busy the day becomes, this prayer sets you up to lie in wait to find out what the Lord is up to. You lie in wait to see who it is that the Lord wants you to love that day. You lie in wait to see who it is that needs to know that the Lord himself knows them and loves them.
You have to be forewarned that it’s possible, even for Christians, to lie in wait for a spider’s reasons. For some Christians being an agent of Jesus is more like proving themselves, or scoring points. They’re doing it to get something.
Jesus lay in wait in order to give. He asked for a drink of water, and there’s no mention that he ever got what he asked for. Just so, there’s no record that he ate any of the food the disciples went to get for him. Jesus asked purely so that he could give. Jesus gave the woman what he told her that she should have asked for from him. Jesus gave her living water.
Living water, technically, meant running water, water that moved: like fresh creek-water, instead of well-water. John tells us, in the twentieth chapter of his gospel, that he selected the material for his gospel for a purpose: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) The story of Jesus and the woman at the well tells us who Jesus is, so that we may believe in what he truly is. And it tells us about the life we receive from him, because of who he is.
Jesus is the giver of the living water. The Lord, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, is the giver of living water. The Lord says: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” (Isaiah 55:1) Those who come to the giver of the waters will find life, and nourishment, and forgiveness, and mercy.
Jesus told the woman that she needed what only he could give her. And he told her how well he knew her need.
He told her that he was willing to give her new life though his living water, which was the gift of the life of the Holy Spirit: a Spirit-centered life, a God-centered life. He told her enough about her life to prove that he knew everything she had ever done. He also told her that he was everything that she had ever hoped for.
Jesus died on the cross carrying our sins, and feeling the full weight of their power and despair. When he prayed for those who crucified him (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”) he was also praying for us, because we seldom see to the depths of our own sins that helped to put him on the cross. When we see Jesus on the cross for us, then we know that we are both fully known and fully loved.
The story of Jesus and the woman at the well shows us how his lying in wait for us, and our lying in wait for others, is more like a conversation than an ambush. Or maybe it was Jesus who turned an ambush into a conversation.
The woman at the well seemed pretty resistant to Jesus. She almost ambushed Jesus with challenges. If she had talked to us the way she talked to him, we would have stopped and left her alone. Jesus didn’t stop. At very least, he didn’t leave her alone.
We wouldn’t have known what to make of her. Technically, she was mostly asking questions, but they were rude questions. They were off-putting questions, and they were evasive, and slippery, and tricky.
The woman’s questions show her to be full of layers of defensiveness, and Jesus peeled back those layers, one by one. Haven’t you found that Jesus has been trying to do the same with you, all along. We hardly know ourselves, and we certainly don’t want other people to know everything about us. We don’t want to know everything about ourselves.
We are just like the woman at the well. We have to find out, sooner or later, that Jesus knows everything about us. Once again, John is giving us an example from the life and ministry of Jesus, in order to tell us who Jesus really is. There’s a wonderful Psalm that tells us who God is. It’s Psalm 139. “O Lord, you have searched me and know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:1-2)
This is who Jesus is. We are a mystery to ourselves until we find out exactly what Jesus has uncovered at last. He is the Lord who searches us and knows us.
Everyone we know is just such a mystery as we are to them. To lie in wait for others in love we have to be willing to not stop and go away. We have to stay in conversation with others until we see Jesus uncover the layers, whatever time it takes.
The very first thing that Jesus showed the woman was that he trusted her and he gave her the dignity of having something worth giving to him. We lie in wait, in love, by showing others that we trust them. We treat them humbly in the faith that we believe they having something worth giving to us.
There’s no greater honor than knowing that you have something worth giving. Jesus has given us this honor and this gift. When we follow Jesus, we learn to give such honor to others.
Jesus geared what he said to what the woman said to him. Jesus let the woman set the agenda. That’s another honor that we give to others, when we love them as Jesus loves them.
It comes from being willing to love others graciously from the depths of our hearts. It means loving in spirit and in truth, just as we have learned how to worship God in spirit and in truth; from the depths of our hearts. This comes from Jesus, who loves us from the depths of his cross, and so we love others from the depths of our own cross that we have taken up in order to follow Jesus.
We haven’t read all the way to the end of the story. One of the great things Jesus says there is this: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) When we have the spring of living water welling up in to us eternal life (John 4:14) then we will only give to others what Jesus has already given to us.

Spiders lie in wait to eat. The people of Jesus lie in wait to give, and that is their food. They have started their day with the prayer. “Good morning, Lord. What are you up to today? Let me be a part of it.”


  1. Thanks for your message Pastor Dennis! I'll try to be a good spider today, letting others God puts in my path today know that they have value to me and God, and being willing to let their needs today set the agenda for our interaction and my prayers.

  2. Give me some of that living water! Amen.