By Thy Mercy, O Deliver Us, Good Lord

Jesus, Lord of life and glory,
bend from heaven thy gracious ear;
while our waiting souls adore thee,
Friend of helpless sinners, hear:
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

From the depth of nature’s blindness,
from the hardening power of sin,
from all malice and unkindness,
from the pride that lurks within,
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

When temptation sorely presses,
In the day of Satan’s power,
In our times of deep distresses,
In each dark and trying hour,
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

When the world around is smiling,
in the time of wealth and ease,
earthly joys our hearts beguiling,
in the day of health and peace,
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

In our weary hours of sickness,
in our times of grief and pain,
when we feel our mortal weakness,
when all human help is vain,
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

In the solemn hour of dying,
in the awful Judgment Day,
may our souls, on thee relying,
find thee still our rock and stay:
by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

James John Cummins (1839)

Award Ceremony Invocation

Dear God,

I ask for your blessing on this ceremony, our awardees and all who are gathered with us today. I pray that you will fill each employee with satisfaction at the great work they are doing for the sake of their country. I especially pray for those who are deployed away from home. Keep us all, and those we love, safe and strong. Grant us success in every good endeavor as we serve our community, our nation and our world. Be with us this hour, and every hour, I pray. Amen.

The Wedding at Jacob’s Well

Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:6-7

There should have been a wedding in John 4. In the Torah, when a man meets a woman at a well, there’s often a wedding in the future. Isaac (Genesis 24), Jacob (Genesis 29) and Moses (Exodus 2) all found wives at wells. The story of Abraham’s matchmaker finding Rebecca for Isaac even involves a traveler asking a woman to draw water so that he can have a drink.

He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” Genesis 24:11-14

John 4 fits the Old Testament pattern so well that there should have been a wedding. And maybe there was one – not in the manner of the “Jesus was secretly married” conspiracy theories that capture headlines from time to time, but in John’s way of using a wedding as a symbol of God’s kingdom. In John 2, Jesus attended a wedding in Cana and turned water into wine. John calls this Jesus’ first “sign”. The coming of the kingdom in Jesus’ life and ministry is like a wedding feast. In John 3:29, in response to a question about Jesus baptizing people, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the bridegroom”.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

John 4 comes on the heels of the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the bridegroom. I think, then, that the echoes of wedding imagery in the Jacob’s well story are intentional. Like his patriarchal ancestors, Jesus the bridegroom came to the well for a wedding. In this case, the wedding marks the spiritual union of the Son of God with the redeemed and restored people of God.

Perhaps, then, Jesus’ discussion of the woman’s marital status in John 4:16-19 is not a coincidence, either. Certainly, Jesus is speaking about the woman’s real life history when he mentions her five past husbands and “the man she has now.” It’s Jesus’ supernatural knowledge about her life that convinces the woman that Jesus is a prophet. But as John so often does, he writes this passage so that it has multiple levels of meaning. Despite the woman’s history – and the history of the Samaritan people and the overall history of God’s broken and idolatrous people – the bridegroom still comes for his bride. God’s wedding feast is taking place. I think the early church fathers were right to read this detail allegorically; that’s probably how John meant it to be read.



Jesus in the Land of Jacob

So Jesus came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. John 4:5-6a

John sets Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman on the land Jacob purchased near the ancient city of Shechem. John is not giving us a tourist’s guide to the Holy Land; he is telling us that God is reconstituting Jacob’s family on Jacob’s land, uniting Judeans and Samaritans in the person of Jesus.

Although the overwhelming majority of sermons I hear on this text emphasize the social divisions and prejudices that existed between Judeans and Samaritans, few seem to catch the underlying unity that Jesus was restoring. Samaritans and Judeans both understood themselves to be Jacob’s descendants and heirs of God’s covenant with the patriarchs. Samaritans saw themselves as descendants of Jacob’s son Joseph and his sons Manasseh and Ephraim.

Shechem and God’s Covenant People

According to the Book of Genesis, Shechem was Abraham’s first stop in the Promised Land. The city was situated on the shoulder of Mount Gerizim, across a narrow valley from Mount Ebal. Canaanites then owned the land on which Abraham camped, but God promised him that his descendants would one day possess this place. Abraham built an altar to the Lord at Shechem before he moved on to Bethel (Genesis 12:6-7).

Two generations later, when Abraham’s grandson Jacob (later known as Israel) returned to Canaan, he too stopped at Shechem. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought the land where he camped from the family of a Canaanite tribal chief named Hamor. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jacob, too, set up an altar to the God who had appeared to him (Genesis 33:18-20).

Continue reading “Jesus in the Land of Jacob”

On the Return of the Exiles

Many of the Old Testament prophets anticipate the return of Judean exiles to their homeland and to the temple in Jerusalem. I’m not sure that everyone captures the significance of this hope. It’s not just that the exiles were homesick or that the land that had been taken from them was better than the land of their captivity. The Judeans were victims of Babylonian imperial power, suffering physical and economic harm, losing their freedom and being threatened with cultural genocide, but neither is this simply an abstract matter of social justice.

The area between the Tigris and the Euphrates is hot and dry today, but Babylon may have been perfectly lovely in the 6th century BCE. Some Judeans may have even prospered under the Babylonian system. Many Judeans found a way to cling to some of their traditions, adapt others and to create some new ones, even in the face of pagan culture. None of this matters.

The issue for the prophets of this era was the same one that we see throughout the pages of Old Testament. God’s covenant was at risk. Would this be the end of the story God began with Abraham? Although Judea’s defeat at the hand of the Babylonians was the direct result of God’s judgment on Judean sins, it was also a direct threat to the covenants God had established through Abraham, Moses and David.

Continue reading “On the Return of the Exiles”