The Rev. Canon Leonard Hamlin: God Is At Work
I invite you to join me in a word of prayer. Almighty God, once again we come saying thank you for your presence with us, your love towards us. And now we ask that once again, you would hold us, you would fill us, you would unite us, that we might be prepared for all the places you are sending us. This, we ask in your wonderful name. Amen. You may be seated.
In the words of the hymn that we just sang, “Lord, my soul is thirsty and I want a refresher. Lord, my soul is thirsting and I need a fresh touch”. When you think about it, there are seasons in all of our lives when reflecting on present circumstances and current day challenges, where we are wondering and asking ourselves, asking our families, our friends, and the discussion even takes place within our communities, “Where are we headed in life?” And we start to wonder, what does the future really hold for all of us. I look forward to coming to worship during the seasons of Lent because as we gather during this season, it does not take long for these type of questions to rise up in our ordinary everyday lives. Does not take long, when we are reading the ample tweets, texts, articles, or listening to or viewing the many broadcast programs and specials that are so abundantly made available to us,
They cause us to ask questions. Where are we really headed? In this season of Lent, there are many who have taken time, set aside time, who are sacrificing time and other routines of life, so that we would withdraw closer to God in order that we might be a true witness for our God. I look forward to Lent though, for so many reasons. But I specially look forward to this season because I am constantly reminded as we march toward Easter Sunday morning that God is still at work. Truth is that’s what I came to tell you this morning simply to remind all of us in this season as we are sacrificing, as we are looking to draw closer together with God and each other, that there are moments in all of our lives where something as simple as that just needs to be said. God is still at work. No matter what we read, no matter what we see, no matter what’s going on personally, and perhaps there’s a few in here that really needed to hear that this morning, that in all of our sophistication, education, all of the work that we tend to put in our hands and forget that it needs to be first in our heart, that we need to remember, simply put, that God is still at work. In our homes, in our families, in our communities, all around.
I don’t know if you have taken a good look, if you have looked back and see where he’s brought you from, but we need to remember that no matter how dark it may appear, there’s always a bright side somewhere. In challenging moments, we all need to be reminded of some truths that we have taken for granted or bring to our remembrance those things that will encourage us and motivate us to keep on keeping on. I know that there are many here that have been listening and reading your devotions. You have been saying your prayers, but now we have this moment of gathering together as a community, whether in person or joining us online, where we might remind each other, we might stir up the good within each other, where we might unite with each other. And when we look at all of these routines that we are so engaged in, we simply remind each other, God is at work.
God is at work, extending God’s grace and mercy to us, because God loves us. God is at work because he’s sent his only son that God may work through us. Once again, we have this opportunity to assemble knowing that we are not to be just hearers of the word, but we are to be doers as well. And it is in the doing that our life really changes. In the simple feat sometimes and task of just saying “good morning” to your neighbor. Something can change not just in their life, but especially in ours. God wants us to be not just hearers but doers. We have come to worship, but within the worship of God is the call and challenge to serve God. Jesus’ ministry was a concrete expression of his person and throughout this season of Lent, we are working on our person so that in everything we do, we might have the right expression. And so what does the world see when they look at us? What does the world hear when they’re listening to us? What does the world get excited about when they see us getting excited, when they see us facing the difficult moments, the dark moments that here, that our faith tells us that God is still at work.
Here we are when we are dealing with these important questions of life and circumstances of life. I remind us that we are in dialogue with God and we must be careful not to get drawn into just a one-sided monologue. I am reminded when listening to John’s gospel, the singing of the hymns and experiencing the blessing of a new day, that God really is at work. We must remember that God desires to place new wine, not in old wineskins, but he wants to place new wine in new wineskins. The prophet Isaiah shared with us what God told him one day. He said, “Behold, I’m trying to do a new thing”. Now it springs forth. Don’t you see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and the rivers even in the desert, and there are moments when we are listening, watching and reading where it feels like we’re in dry places. I know that many of you will not admit it, but truth is we all know what it is to be thirsty. The kind of thirst that the latest water cannot satisfy. The kind of thirst where here, whatever beverage you might pull out doesn’t satisfy, but thirsty when it’s deep down in your soul.
Being in God’s presence should transform us, move us and empower us. Our walk with God is calling us forward and asking us to walk and go where we have not gone before, to do what we have not done and become all that we have been created to be. Over the years when I often have said that, I would get a question afterwards and folk would say, “You gotta tell me. How does God do that?” Well, I have to put it this way. Most of us are familiar with Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, e = mc2. Don’t ask me how to explain it. I don’t know. I’m familiar with it, but I don’t fully understand it. I just know I’m affected by it. But it’s this other statement by Einstein, that’s called the Parable of Quantum Insanity, that most of us are familiar with. We are familiar with it and most of us know it. It says insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You may not be able to explain it, but all of us are affected by it. All of us have been guilty of it. All of us may even have some of that germ in us right now.
But God sent his son Jesus Christ in order that some of us, and some of our self-imposed routines, might be interrupted, disrupted and redirected. I’m so glad that there are moments where God just shows up and disturbs everything. I am reminded of words I read years ago concerning the rebirth of ministry written early in the 1950s that stated, “Our words must become flesh in us who preach and then must become flesh in those who hear. They must be lived out joyfully and sometimes lived out painfully, syllable by syllable, until the life of the Christian fellowship becomes in itself a proclamation of the gospel and a convincing witness to the truth of the gospel”. When we look at this passage of John that records an incredible encounter, familiarly known as The Woman at the Well, we see God at work through the life of Jesus. And if you read all and listen to all that was read throughout this entire passage, Jesus is challenging the status quo. Jesus is disrupting the normal routines. Jesus is redirecting and elevating expectations. This is not just about some folk, it’s about all folk. It’s not just about a certain circumstances, but in every circumstance how when Jesus is about his work, he’s not including just folk in a certain place, but everyone in every place.
Everything about this encounter is a witness of the fact that following Jesus and walking in faith will challenge us to operate outside our self-imposed routines. This encounter follows, I remind you, the memorable nighttime encounter that Jesus had with Nicodemus in chapter three. After moving through the region of Judea, Jesus was returning to Galilee, but instead of returning to Galilee following the normal routine route of the Jews at that day, we are informed that Jesus had to go through Samaria. There are some things we all should be saying I must do. I wish I had more time in that, but I know I don’t have enough time to talk about how there are things we must do, we must do. It’s deep down on the inside that sometimes I can’t help myself but do it. Sometimes I have to hear, recognize, that it’s something on the inside that goes to work and seen on the outside because I must do it.
Jesus said he had to go through Samaria. The Jewish custom was not to pass through Samaria, but to go around and take a different route. The direct route was through Samaria to where Jesus was going, but the custom had been developed to go around. And how much of us and how many of us have developed customs to go around issues that we ought to be facing? How many of us are taking the long route when we need to take the direct route? How many of us are avoiding certain things because it has become the norm not to speak to certain groups, not to go to certain places, not to do certain things? The easy way I can get there, but I’ll take the long route around so that I don’t have to meet them face to face. When you look at this, Jesus meets a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria, whose name we do not know, who came in an hour that was not usual, who arrived, not with the usual company of women together to draw water, but all by herself. There are moments for all of us where we can feel so all alone. We can feel so ostracized and those are the moments I need to know that God is still at work. So Jesus breaks with the status quo and takes a direct route, and here as He takes a direct route, this encounter changes everything about this woman and changes everything even about us, to this day.
The encounter begins with Jesus asking for water and shifts to Jesus offering water. This is a motto we ought to witness and we ought to follow. We’ve come in here asking, but how many of us are prepared to leave here offering? We’ve come in here to get, but how many of us are ready to leave here and give? We’ve come in here that he might hear our wants, but how many of us will go here from here telling others that he will supply all of our needs? The conversation moves from natural water to living water. The discourse moves from temporary satisfaction to eternal fulfillment as the concentration becomes not just ordinary but personal. Jesus asks about her husband, and she tries to here masterfully shift the conversation from how I’m living to how I worship, as if worship can cover how I’m living. How many of us try to do that with the Lord? I’m here today but just don’t look at my life. How many of us go through the motions and you can see that I’m trying to do the right thing? Just don’t ask me how I’m living. She just could not get her relationships right. Yet she believes her routine worship is a sufficient response.
Just because I’m wearing all this purple doesn’t mean I’m living right. Just because you’ve got suits and dresses and clothes doesn’t mean you’re living right. I know that may be a little tough to hear, but we ought to have the right challenge. Lord, when every time I draw close to you, it’s not you I see, it’s me I see. The more time she spent with Jesus, the more everything began to change. It was the author Richard J. Foster who once wrote and perhaps said it best when he stated, “To worship, is to change”. What’s gonna be different about us when the amen is finally given. What’s gonna be different about us when we finally are sent into the highways and byways? Well, while it’s not clear to this woman at the well, she holds on to her hope that with the coming of the Messiah, all of this would make sense and everything would be different. It is then that we hear Jesus make it clear to her as Jesus said to her and one of the few direct statements that he makes, he says,” I am he. I am the Messiah. The one who is speaking to you”. Other folk had questions, but this woman got to hear the truth.
The disciples come back and can’t figure out all that is going on. The woman drops her water pot, runs to the city and tells them, “Come see a man”. I have to hold myself in place cuz if I were in a different environment, I’d rear back on that one. Come see a man. There’s something good about that in my soul. Come see a man. Most of us can talk about, look at what I’ve got. Look at what I’ve achieved. Look at what’s going on in the world. But I came by to tell you on today and to remind us in the mid of Lent that here we ought to have a witness that simply says, “Come see a man”. If it had not been for him, I wouldn’t be where I’m standing today. Had not been for him, many of us wouldn’t have the joy that we have. If it had not been for him, some of us wouldn’t have made it through the dark nights of the soul. I have to pause and say thank you for this woman’s witness that even in this month, Women’s History Month, thank you for some of the women who have great witness.
Oh, I don’t know what you’re looking at, but it was a woman who was carrying the message. It was a woman who was changing the town. It was a woman who was turning everything upside down. Thank you for the women who have brought me. It was my mother who taught me how to pray. My mother who told me how to call on his name. I’m thankful for a woman in an aunt who’s knee I sat at in worship. Whose knee I heard prayers and songs. I’m thankful for that aunt that I sat into. I’m thankful for a wife who knows who he is, and even today I’m thankful for a mother-in-law who happens to be sitting here, who I get along with, who’s a praying woman. On this day today. I’m thankful for women who would be able to say, “Come see a man”. Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of this woman’s testimony. “He told me Everything I’ve done”. They said to the woman, “It’s no longer because of you, what you said, that we believe for we’ve heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world”.
Our personal witness ought to be sure right now because God is at work. I’m so glad that when we think of what God is doing, God is at work. So no matter where you are, no matter what you’re going through, no matter what is happening in the world today, as we walk through these remaining days and your soul is thirsty, God is at work. And in the words of that song that Israel Houghton and New Breed said, “Lord, I am not forgotten because God knows my name. I am not forgotten. Light over darkness, strength over weakness, joy over sadness. He knows my name. Father to the fatherless, friend to the friendless, hope to the hopeless. He knows my name”. I sat with those old seniors of the church who would always say, I’m so glad I’ve got a God who knows my name. Amen.