Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Three weeks into the season of personal transformation as we seek a stronger connection with Christ and we find ourselves struggling with the resolutions we made to foster the transformation. We have maintained them about as long as we do our new year resolutions each January. Without noticing immediate results, we chalk it up as another fruitless effort. We want to be the redeemed in Romans, yet we find ourselves much like the wanderers in Exodus.

The newly freed Jews present a fascinating study in the adjustment from slave to free. After generations with no responsibility for themselves, the Jews found themselves with some control of their daily lives and personal circumstances. When they were slaves, if there was a shortage of any essential, the masters, those in power, were responsible; now in the desert, there was no pharaoh to blame. They transferred the responsibility to God and Moses.

The generations of enslavement removed the Jews from the close relationship with God and practice of their faith. Restoration to freedom did not immediately restore the close relationship. Despite the recent experience of the ten plagues and the miraculous rescue at the Red Sea, when confronted with a challenge, they immediately jumped to the most extreme outcome. There was no, “we are in the desert; we should conserve our water from point to point.” The first response was, “I’m thirsty. You’re killing us, God!” The entire people found themselves driven by fears in the new situation. They demanded an immediate solution to every challenge they encountered.

In contrast to the now-focused Jews in the desert, the future-focused Christian described in Romans 5 held a viewpoint that grace gives us the tools to endure any hardship now because of the promised reward. Paul three times uses the word, “boast,” to describe our response to the expected outcome. Paul, earlier in Romans, condemned those who boast, yet here treats it as an expectation upon our justification. The extended passage helps cement the future ideology as it describes the timing and purpose of Christ’s death: it happened then to save us now for our coming reward in Heaven. Past. Present. Future.

We know our reward will be in Heaven in the same way the wandering Jews knew their reward would come at the end of the journey from Egypt to The Promised Land. What we know, though, does not always govern our actions. Paul declares that we boast about, that we take pride in, our suffering. It is much easier to complain. It is much easier to change our behavior. Whatever brings immediate relief to the discomfort in our life is what we want.

Three weeks into the Lenten season marks a turning point. Are we able to persevere through this period of doubt? New practices have not become habit and denied habits have become uncomfortable. Going back to the way we were on Fat Tuesday suddenly seems highly desirable. It is time to reflect on the reason we made the decisions we did and rededicate ourselves to growth through the entirety of Lent. Growth comes in its season and we are ready for the warmth.