Lent 3 –27 February 2005

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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages as the Lord had commanded.” Lent and election have something in common, for they’re both about making choices. Or perhaps we can fool ourselves, or be fooled into thinking we’re making choices. But I wonder, as it’s so close to mind, I wonder what were the factors that determined your vote yesterday. Just pause for a moment and think about it – what were the factors--. Try and list three of them, three factors that determined your vote yesterday. “From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages as the Lord commanded.” Anyone who didn’t put Labour as number one, can probably – and that’s probably a few of us – they can probably recognize their vote was that sought to be movement from the wilderness of Sin. But let’s not be too hasty there, because if we go a little further and little deeper -- we also appreciate that one of the difficulties in contemporary elections is that regardless of who is chosen the outcomes seem very similar. And rather than a movement or a journey from the wilderness of Sin, don’t we just experience a sort of rearrangement of furniture in the same place.

So let’s just go back to those three factors that you’ve now got in a little list that determined your vote. As we consider the movement from the wilderness of Sin, let’s just take note of the rest of that text. “The whole congregation journey by stages as the Lord commanded.” Out of your three factors that determined your vote yesterday, how many were based on an orientation of the whole congregation, the whole community? Rather than being issue based, personality based, or maybe even being focused on a particular grouping or social group? How many of those factors were based on steps leading to a fuller or richer realization? Steps on the way, stages on the journey. Now of course they all were, but consciously, one of the way to test it is, was there something further out in mind. And you saw that this factor which determined my vote was a step toward that. And how many of the factors that determined your vote could be aligned to “as the Lord commanded”? In other words they were in harmony with the unfolding of creation, they had their genesis in love, they held together, as the French would say, freedom, fraternity and equality.

I think Lent is the election campaign for Easter. Sunday by Sunday the readings give us the press releases to help us discern and make our choices when we get to Easter. It was quite delightful yesterday, for different members of the St Paul ’s community were handing out “how to vote” cards, in different places and for different parties. There’s such a rightness in that because it speaks of us as individuals. Lent is also an opportunity for us to reconsider ourselves as one body. We don’t lose our individual nature, but we can consider ourselves as one body.

And then we might ask, from what wilderness of Sin do I and we seek to move? What journey or movement do I and we seek, desire and discern? What are the sign posts, the reference points that affirm my or our journey as the Lord commanded? Psalm 95: “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving. Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.” What brings me, what brings us, what brings the whole of creation into the divine presence with thanksgiving? Christians like that, we can start to lose the focus on issues and look for something that does in fact touch the all, the we.

Imagine what life would look like such that I, we and all make a joyful noise with songs of praise. Perhaps during Lent, that fairly difficult passage from Romans that we read this morning, we might re-read it, re-read it, changing it so that it becomes question rather than affirmation. Paul wrote it, Paul wrote that letter with a huge confidence. Paul wrote that letter from that place of being St Paul . We might need to still pin it with questions rather than conclusions. Are we justified by faith? Do we have peace with our God? Have we obtained access to grace? And can we boast in our hope in sharing in the glory of God? Or are these potentially available to us? Are they potential realizations waiting for us to cast our vote at Easter?

The Gospel today needs to be read over and over. There’s familiarity for many of us with the story, an often with familiarity we can gloss over it. Read it again slowly, but having read it through, consider when Jesus asks you the question, “Give me a drink”, what will your response be? And what will be the conversation that follows. When Jesus asks you for a drink, what will your response be? My guess it won’t be a trite response, like “Hang on, I need to build a canal from up north in order to bring water down,” or “Hang on, we need a de-salination plant”. Hopefully, as you read it you realize there is in that question something more, something that touches the ‘we’ as well as the ‘I’.

And then perhaps we can see ourselves as the Samaritan woman, waiting, waiting to be surprised that the Divine has something to ask of her, to ask of us, to ask of me. Let us stay with the election compaign and realize that when we get to Easter to make our vote, voting is compulsory. The Lord be with you.