Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Lent – March 23, 2014

St. Photina
An Example of the Missionary Spirit

By Dennis S. Hankins

third sunday of lentA woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus is thirsty. Arriving about noon, having walked some distance, Jesus is tired, hungry, and thirsty. He rests a bit on an ancient well, Jacob’s well in fact, unable to draw water from the deep, cool waters below. For centuries this well has been the source of refreshment for man and beast. Now, Jesus who created the water that he cannot reach to quench his own thirst, asks an approaching woman of Samaria, a half-Jew with a past, for a drink of water.

[Samaritans are the result of the intermarriage between Jews of northern Israel and Assyrian colonists. Through conquest, exile, and returning back a racially mixed population is the result with roots nonetheless in the land of promise and the law of the Lord.
The Samaritans were inspired when Nehemiah organized the effort to rebuild the Temple and offered to help in the project. Regarded as religious apostates, their offer was rebuffed, creating deep feelings of animosity faithfully passed down to every generation by Jew and Samaritan alike.

The true Jews would have no camaraderie or dealings with the half breeds! The result? The Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim inspired with no small amount of spiritual superiority on their part. Their religion was a mixture of idolatrous worship assimilated from the Assyrians and Judaism. Consequently, they were knowledgeable of Moses and the Law and possessed a Messianic hope as well.]

Now the rest of the story!

Jacob’s well has a rich history serving the needs of the rural area for centuries. A Samaritan woman with a past approaches the well with a shriveled heart. If Jesus had not said a word, she would have thought nothing of it. Protocol. Just the way things are. A Jew, a Jewish man at that, has no dealings, cordial or otherwise, with Samaritans, let alone a Samaritan woman. She would have drawn her water and gone on her way with a pitcher full of water and an empty heart.

Same stuff, different day.

But not this day. This day is different because Jesus asks her for a drink of water. And because Jesus will not let her past, racially or morally, keep him from quenching her deep thirst. Looking into her empty eyes he sees a woman used, and abused; an empty heart filled with useless and empty promises. Many years she’s struggled with faith and fear; hope and hopelessness; promises, mostly broken. Even the local women scorn her. They never accompany her to the well. And if any women are at the well, they scatter quickly.

No social network. No welcoming smiles. No escape from her past. She’s a woman. She’s a Samaritan woman. She’s a Samaritan woman with a past. And Jesus greets her with a request.

“Give me a drink, please. I’m thirsty.”

Startled, she objects.

“Why? You and me shouldn’t even be talking to each other. Don’t you remember? Jews and Samaritans hardly breathe the same air. And we certainly don’t drink from each others pitcher. And where’s your pitcher, anyway?”

“If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Bewildered, she ponders what she’s heard.

“Sir, again, you don’t have a pitcher! And this well is deep. Are you greater than our father, Jacob? He gave us this well, you know. He and his family and herds all drank from this well. And many generations since he fell asleep drank from this well. So, just who are you?”

Jesus smiles with compassion.

“This water here in Jacob’s well is good water. However, everyone who drinks from this well will thirst again. That’s just being human. But whoever, and I mean whoever, drinks the water I shall give will never thirst!” In fact, the water I shall give you will be in you a spring of living water welling up to eternal life. It will burst forth in you so that you will taste of the very depths of everlasting life!”

“Sir, give me this water! Please! I don’t ever want to thirst again, nor have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said, “First, go find your husband and bring him to the well too.”

She confessed, “I have no husband.”

“I know. You’ve had five husbands and the man your living with now is not your husband.”

“Are you a prophet? I believe there are prophets. On this very mountain many holy people have prayed. But you say that in Jerusalem is the only place where men should worship.”

“The fullness of salvation is a promise deeply understood and embraced by the Jews. We worship what we know. This has not always been true among your people. But there is something more you should know. Today is a new time when all true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is not a mountain nor a place. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Standing up, the Samaritan woman could hardly contain herself. She said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming; when he comes, he will show us the way.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Her heart bubbled over with the gift of eternal life. The waters of everlasting life caressed her soul into a joy she had never known. Falling down before Jesus’ feet she wept, overwhelmed as she was with a newness of life she never dreamed existed. Rising from the dust and her past she asked Jesus not to leave.

“I’ll be right back. I promise.”

And running through the community she shouted with a joy that could not be ignored: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

Today this Samaritan woman is venerated as a saint in the Christian East by both Catholics and Orthodox as St. Photina. She is known as Svetlana by the Russians. In Christian tradition she is noted for the missionary spirit she maintained from her conversion until her martyrdom in Rome. One of her last missionary efforts resulted in the conversion of Nero’s daughter Domnina and all of her servants.

Infuriated, Nero had her confined to a well, where she gave up her last breath in praise of him who gave her the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit.

May it please God that we should be as immersed in the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit as St. Photina. And like St. Photina let us invite all to meet Jesus, the Savior of the world. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Second Sunday of Lent – March 16, 2014

Lenten Light

By Dennis S. Hankins

And when they lifted their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:8)

Light for a Pilgrim

It may come as a surprise to some! But this world is not our home. No matter how enamored we are of this ‘place,’ this season of time is not our destination. I’m reminded of a catchy tune we sung with some gusto in my Pentecostal childhood. It goes like this in part:

This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through;
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door;
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore!

The lyrics of this song speak about another time and place that has the welcome sign out. It’s A Forever Embrace where the welcome is as deep and wide as the love of God.

In Abraham’s calling to leave home and kindred he’s leaving everything he knows; everything familiar to him is in the rear view mirror. In Christian terms it is known as a pilgrimage of faith. God filled his calling to Abraham with the promise of a land, that is a place to call home, a legacy of faith, and a mission to be a blessing.

My journey of faith began in an old fashioned Pentecostal church. It seems I can still hear wafting through the mystical air of yesteryear the singing that is unbound by time: “I love to hear that old time preachin’, prayin’, singin’, shoutin’; I love that old time readin’ of God’s words.’” And how we did. Little did I know when I was cutting my spiritual teeth on good Holy Ghost anointed preaching and prayer how God would lead me on an arduous and sometimes perplexing journey in my faith.

My spiritual journey began at 9 years of age at a Pentecostal altar praying through tears asking God to save me. I encountered the living Christ, the forgiving Christ! At the age of 13 I had a spiritual dream. In that dream I heard God’s call to preach his Gospel. At about the time I turned 20, deep questions began to formulate in my heart and thinking. Early in our marriage I began to leave the safety of my Pentecostal surroundings and found myself pastoring in Methodist churches and going to College and through Distance Learning, I earned a BA in Theology. Then not long after turning 42 I was ordained a priest, October 30, 1997, in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I thought my journey was complete. Surely I had found the place of God’s choosing after wandering through varying religious and faith traditions! Then the unthinkable happened. After serving almost 8 years as a priest in the CEC I found myself professing the fulness of faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, April 15, 2006.

Living in the light we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Anything less is stagnation and inertia. When the living water of the Holy Spirit is no longer a mighty river in our lives we become earthbound and worldly, lacking spiritual energy to be a true pilgrim. Then we forget the promise of our pilgrimage is to reach an eternal city, the New Jerusalem, the City of the Living God. For here we have no continuing city, but like Abraham, we are called to seek the one to come! These 40 days of Lent are days to remember our calling as pilgrims to walk daily in the light of gracious and holy promises.

Persevering in the Light of Easter

The way is not always easy. There may be trials not of our choosing. We may find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances from time to time. Not everyone will embrace our convictions of heart and soul. To some, the Gospel will be foolishness and those who embrace it regarded as fools. Paul understood these realities. But he did not address these realities from a defeated and abandoned frame of mind.

Paul tells us today in the second reading to embrace any suffering for the sake of the Gospel with God’s power. Through his mercy God has shed his grace upon us in the waters of baptism. It is his salvation we embrace and the holy calling to be his light and witness. None of this is through any virtue of our own, but it is by the grace given us through Christ Jesus ages ago. The phrase, ‘ages ago,’ is fascinating. It means that before creation, within the counsel of the thrice holy God, the plan of salvation was known; the riches of grace and truth have always been; Easter is forever! And when Christ appeared he brought life and immortality to light through his Gospel. In his own body he abolished death. In our Lenten journey we learn how to persevere through our trials and temptations by embracing the brilliance and strength of Easter Light.

Jesus, the Only Light

It is fair to ask, “Who lights up your life?” A special someone in your life no doubt. Or something special hidden within your aging memory that grows richer and brighter with every passing year and brings a smile to your face. Special people, and special moments, and special thoughts fill our lives leaving them bright and fuller.

But there is someone more special than all of the specialness we can imagine. That someone is Jesus, the Light of the world. Emanating from him that day on the Mount of Transfiguration was uncreated light. His face shone like the sun. The best way to understand this is that our Lord’s face was brilliantly light itself. As was his whole person. Even his garments were affected and became ‘white like light.’

Our calling, my friend, this Lenten season, is to make living in Christ, who is Light itself, more real, with more commitment and depth. In this season of deeper self denial we will find Christ. Let us seek the Lenten Light – encountering Christ who will heal our hearts and renew our vision – so that when we reach the holy vigil of Easter and lift our eyes we may like Peter, James, and John, see Jesus; only Jesus!

Shine, Jesus shine! Shine on me, in me, and through me, I pray. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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First Sunday of Lent – March 9, 2014

A Battle Against Spiritual Evils

By Dennis S. Hankins

Collect For Ash Wednesday
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

We have two outdoor cats. Socks and Lucy. They are brother and sister. We adopted them and we take good care of them making sure they see the Veterinarian for their shots and check ups. In addition to being soft and cuddly and all that, they reciprocate and take good care of us. As far as I can tell, we are mice free. However, there is the occasional slip up when they decide they want to pick on my cardinals or blue birds or titmice or gray squirrels.

When Socks or Lucy zero in on a potential meal, they assume an attack posture with their ears perked up and their eyes riveted on the unsuspecting prey. It’s fascinating to watch. Well, this past Ash Wednesday, my ears perked up like Socks and Lucy. The priest intoned, “Let us pray:” ‘Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…’ ”

I was all ears: “That we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…take up battle against spiritual evils…armed with weapons of self-restraint.” A call to arms as it were. Take up your positions. The season of Lent begins. A penitential season meant to eradicate any strongholds of Satan. There is a particular spiritual objective that Lent is about. It is a time to consciously draw a line in the sand as it were, and resist the devil. We’re supposed to do that all of the time. If we’ve let Satan sneak in here and there, Lent is good time to get back in the battle.

In the first reading we hear how Adam and Eve did not resist Satan. Sometime Satan roars like a lion announcing his intentions to subdue and rob and steal and kill and destroy. But that’s not how he approached the first care takers of the Paradise of God. He was more subtle and coy, disguising himself as an angel of light. His talk was smooth and dripping with ‘new information.’ “God didn’t really say that, did he?” Satan questioned. And with a wink and a smile he captured Eve’s imagination. And she saw as if for the first time that the forbidden tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.

The first bite was more delicious than she even imagined it could be. Adam said, “Honey, that looks so good. Don’t eat all of it. Let me have some too!”

A strange darkness and fear that they had never known touched their hearts. Something was terribly wrong, but it can’t be wrong when it feels so right. Right?

We encounter that same lie every day in countless ways. Especially deep in that inner sanctum where spiritual battles are often waged. It’s our heart and devotion and worship Satan wants. He wanted it from the beginning. He wanted it from Jesus. Why wouldn’t he offer the same deal to us that he offered the Son of God?

Satan says to us what he said to Jesus, “Be empowered! Strut your stuff. Embrace glory. Embrace pride. Embrace authority. Demand for yourself all this that is obviously good for your self esteem!” And with a wink and smile he says, “Come on! Just a little bow…to me. It won’t hurt you. Who said it was wrong? Don’t worry about that. I’ve got your back and I’ll give you everything you want. I promise. So just bow! How can it be wrong when it feels so right. Right?”

Jesus said, “Satan was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Lent calls us to submit ourselves to God and his love. One way to do that is to avail ourselves of God’s mercy and go to confession. This is how we become spiritually strong and more able to resist the devil and his lies. As we reconnect with the Lord and his strength and the power of his might we can resist Satan’s devious and cunning and manipulative ways. He will flee from us when he encounters our superior strength. Because he who is in you is greater! But we won’t know that he is greater unless we allow him the time and space to be in our lives. (1 John 4:4)

Spiritual battles are real. So it is right to ask what are weapons of self-restraint. Traditionally they are prayer, fasting, and charity or almsgiving. As we pray and fast and have mercy on the hungry and thirsty, and don’t care who gets the credit, we draw near to God and he draws near to us. You see, the weapons of our warfare are not of human or worldly origin. Even though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war. As the Collect from Ash Wednesday reminds us, we are in a battle against spiritual evils. So our weapons of self-restraint are not worldly but have divine power to destroy the prideful objections and arguments parading as superior to knowing and loving God and his will. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

We are called to resist Satan’s work and lies wherever we may find him working. Are you encountering a situation that unless God intervenes nothing is going to change with that situation? Somethings just don’t change without prayer and fasting and acts of charity. Somethings won’t change unless we enter into prayerful battle and argue with God in behalf of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.

So Lent is a very special time to get our prayer life and Christian lifestyle back. And that makes Lent a time of joyful hope and expectation. Because the more we close the door on the devil the more we will see the windows of heaven open on us as our Father of mercies pours down upon us overflowing blessings. That’s what we need. We want more of God’s light and love showered upon us and those God gives us to love.

So let’s make this Lent a true season and campaign of Christian service and joyfully take up battle against spiritual evils armed with powerful and divine weapons of self-restraint. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – March 2, 2014

Your Heavenly Father Knows

By Dennis S. Hankins

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” – Jesus

I’m the oldest of six children. We never went to bed hungry. Our daddy worked hard; sometimes two jobs or was it three to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. Daddy knew we needed these things.

Also, every Wednesday night, Sunday morning and evening, the Hankins clan climbed into the old station wagon and went to church. I do not recall missing these appointed times unless there was illness. I never heard, “I’m too tired, I think we’ll stay home tonight.” Never! Daddy knew we needed God too.

In all my childhood and teenage years I was never anxious, concerned or otherwise uptight about what I would eat or drink or wear. I wore my shoes until there were holes on the bottom of the soles. And my britches had patches on the knees. I thought that was cool. Today, guys and gals buy their jeans already with tears in them. The holes in my blue jeans got there the old fashion way. I played outside and rode a bicycle and climbed the stately tree out back and got dirt and sand on my knees and every where else playing back yard basketball and football at Tully’s house across the street.

My daddy grew up in hard times. He quit school at age 16 and got a job to help feed the family. When the soles of his shoes wore through, he placed cardboard in them. After marriage and six kids later, he obtained a GED, an Associates of Arts Degree, and went 5 years of summer school for seminary training at Southern Methodist University in Dallas while pastoring in the United Methodist Church in Arkansas, serving that denomination about 30 years. He was a great preacher of the Gospel.

Seeking God and his plan and doing his will came first in the house I grew up in. My folks were stewards of the mystery of marriage and family. I learned from them that there there is a God, that He loves us, that He’s our heavenly Father and knows what we need.

Father. Heavenly Father. Jesus tells us about his Father, but more than that he tells us you and me that his Father is your Father. And that He cares for his children and loves them and knows our every longing and need. Not everyone is as fortunate as me to have grown up with a loving mother and father in the home. Maybe it’s easier for me to relate to my heavenly Father because of the home I grew up in. But even so, our heavenly Father is not out there somewhere beyond our wounds of heart and soul, unreachable, unaware of what lies hidden in our memories. His affection for each one is real, personal, and eternal. Even the deepest hurt in our heart he knows. There is nothing hidden from his love. If there was we could not endure another sunrise. He is, however, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all that burdens us. (2 Corinthians 1:3)

Our God is both fatherly and motherly. The first reading says so. The prophet muses that it is unthinkable that a mother could neglect or forget the child of her womb, that she could be without tenderness for her baby. But, even if that should happen, if a mother should forget the kids she’s borne because she’s old or has Alzheimer’s disease, God says, “I’ll never forget you!” He’ll not forget the mother with dementia nor her children. In His eyes he sees himself in us, children created in his image.

God cares for all of His creation. He even feeds the birds of the air. Because of Him the foxes have holes and the birds have nests and the flowers of the field burst with color and life. Oh, but for you and me He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humankind, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Why? Because life is more than food, and the body more than clothing, and what’s in your soul is more important than what’s in your bank account. And because you are of immeasurable value in his eyes.

So what comes first? I mean is it more important to accumulate stuff and things and the love of money your priority? Writing to Timothy Paul warned of this insatiable craving for more advising that some had wandered from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs, wrongly believing that godliness is a means of gain.(1 Timothy 6:10) He explained rather that holiness and charity in our heart with contentment is great gain.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:7, 8)

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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