Category Archives: Pastor’s Page

From the Desk of Pastor Stan …..

Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church is pleased to announce its Annual Stewardship Month, October 1 through October 31.  SHARING GOD’S GOODNESS.

Please join us as we celebrate this momentous occasion.

During the month of October we will be providing messages and photos of our members “Sharing God’s Goodness”. In mid-October be on the lookout in your mail for your Stewardship Letter and Pledge Card.

Please prayerfully consider how you will help Bethel Wesley share God’s goodness in 2022.

Honoring Bishop Frank J. Beard (A Prayer Guide): Week of September 19th

Two weeks ago, we prayed for the physical needs of Our Kids, last week we focused on the soul, and this week, our focus is on the spiritual well-being of the children and their families. Through one of the chaplains or spiritual life programs, they can be embraced by the love of God and connect with Christ. <!–split–>

For Bishop Beard—Lord, we know that Jesus saw willing spirits in even the tired bodies of the disciples. As we support Bishop Beard in prayer today, we lift his willing spirit into Your holy presence. We pray for his spirit to be held near to Your own and for that nearness to be a joy and a delight for him and for You both.

Prayer for Us—Lord, we lift our hearts to You in gratitude that we are known by You, that someone brought us to the place where we could be found by You. Let our hearts break for those who have never felt Your love or experienced Your grace.

Prayer for Our Kids—Lord, we want to pass on Your gift of salvation to others. We want every child to know they are accepted by You, loved by You, guided by You. God, we pray for the children and families who are seeking peace, and do not know that You are the Prince of Peace. Make us true disciples who support these ministries that introduce Jesus to the children.

Honoring Bishop Frank J. Beard (A Prayer Guide): Week of September 12th

Last week we prayed for the physical needs of Our Conference Our Kids. This week we will focus on the soul, and next week, the spiritual well-being of the children and their families. We all have soul needs to be met. Whether we are praying for our Bishop, Our Kids, or ourselves, we must include the wellness of the mind and heart.  <!–split–>

For Bishop Beard—Lord, we give You thanks and praise for Bishop Beard’s dedication to You and to living out his call in the United Methodist Church. Today we pray that rest comes to his heart and mind. May this season bring Bishop Beard renewal in his heart and mind as both have borne the weight of the work among us he has so faithfully engaged through denominational upheaval and a pandemic besides.

Prayer for Us—Lord, we lift our hearts to You and express our gratitude for the healthy relationship that we enjoy and the comfort of family and friends. Thank You that we feel safe in our homes and places of business. We are grateful for the supports we have that allow us to have the opportunity to make sound decisions and to plan for the future.

Prayer for Our Kids—Lord, we lift our hearts to You and pray for those who live with chronic stress due to poverty, loneliness, fear, and trauma. Living like that makes it so hard to think beyond current needs. Thank you for the ministries that show them how to stabilize and develop the ability to make wise decisions for their families and their future.

Honoring Bishop Frank J. Beard: A Prayer Guide, Week of September 5

As we gather in prayer today, we will be praying for Bishop Beard and for Our Conference Our Kids. We know that the prayers of the righteous are effective and good. (James 5:16). In order for the children to experience real change in their lives, they need to be supported in body, soul, and spirit. Help comes from the outside in, healing comes from the inside out. We must address the physical and soul needs before we can successfully address the deep healing that happens when a family is introduced to the transforming power of Jesus’ love. <!–split–>

Week of September 5

We are people who are bodies, souls (hearts and minds), and spirits so as we pray for Bishop Beard and for Our Kids we will begin today by praying for physical needs. Next week we will focus on the soul, and finally, the spiritual well-being of the children and their families.

For Bishop Beard—Lord, we know that Bishop Beard is on medical leave and we pray for the journey of healing he is on. May the same Spirit who moved through Jesus’ hands and the mud of the earth for the man who wanted to see, move through today’s healers who reach out to touch his eyes. Even as healing might be incremental, slow, or incomplete, may there be as much as possible and peace on the journey.

Prayer for Us—Lord, we lift our hearts to You and express our gratitude for all of the blessings we enjoy, and too often take for granted. We are sheltered, we are fed, and do not often need to think about how to meet our basic needs. Forgive us when we feel dissatisfied or compare ourselves to others.

Prayer for Our Kids—Lord, we pray for the parents, who worry every day about how they will pay their bills, feed their children and keep them safe. Give them the strength to persevere through hardship and not give up hope. Thank you for the ministries who come alongside them to connect them with community resources.

— Pastor Stan

It’s Not Your Table, It’s God’s Table!

Pastor Stan wanted to share this article . . .

Max came to church about once a quarter. Even that was too much for some of the more “dignified” church members. A few of them scolded me for not barring Max from attending, especially on the first service of the month, Communion Sunday. They suggested that if he were allowed to attend, the ushers should have a seat for him at the back of the balcony. They also said that Max should not be allowed to participate in the service of Holy Communion, because “everybody knows the kind of life he lives.” <!–split–>

One of the hallmarks of Methodist theology is the clear understanding and teaching that, “it is not your table or my table, it’s a table of grace, offered by a loving and gracious God.” Everyone is welcome to participate or to abstain from participation in a United Methodist service of Holy Communion. It is no accident that the opening words of our communion liturgy states: “The response is a recognition of our desire to not only receive grace but to offer grace to others. And also, with you.

Max was an alcoholic bum who was often homeless. He was often unkempt, dirty, and smelly. His clothes were worn-out, he needed a bath, a haircut, and a shave. Whenever he came to church, he would teeter and totter his way to the front row and be seated. Max always responded to any invitation to pray or to receive Holy Communion.

He was never disruptive unless the ushers bypassed him during the offering. Max always had a few coins to put into the plate and he would get agitated when the ushers would ignore him. I wonder if any of those blessed saints calling for his head recognized his faithful insistence in giving from his meager resources. His stewardship challenged me.

I remember one Communion Sunday after church, while standing at the back door shaking hands, Max came through the line. He was right at the end and only two or three people remained at the church. One well meaning “saint” spoke up after Max left the building, “why do you let him ruin our communion service?” Before I could answer, another church member said, “hold on a minute, you need to know something about this man.” We all gathered around, and this is a summary of what we heard:

“Max was an 8th grader and was one of the best athletes in the city. He could play any sport with proficiency and skill. One day he came home to find his mom and dad engaged in a physical fight. He intervened and his father left the room, only to return with a shotgun. He watched helplessly as his mother was brutally murdered in front of him. Max’s life was never the same.”

The story of Max Bell (yes that is his real name) never improved and it did not have a storybook ending. Max was found one winter huddled in the corner of a garage frozen to death. I often wonder what additional things we could have done to help Max. We got him in contact with social services, we provided him with places to stay, we tried to get him therapeutic help, we gave him money for food, but nothing seemed to work.

One of the comforting memories that I have is knowing that Max was never turned away from the Lord’s Table. He was never discouraged from receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion. Perhaps Max found comfort in the invitation, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.”

I’m not sure that Max ever found the peace that was needed to stem the tide of turmoil turning within. I’m not sure that he was able to ever defeat the demons that haunted him day and night with the painful image of his mother being savagely brutalized as he stood powerless to defend her.

I am confident that Max, despite a few looks and an occasionally misguided comment from well-intentional “saints”, could recognize that Jesus was sitting with him on the front row, inviting him to partake of a meal where Max was the guest of honor.

I fully expect to see Max when I get to heaven. I hope he will say to me, “Pastor Frank, thanks for recognizing that the Lord’s Table was a welcoming place for all.”

God Bless Bishop Beard Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the desk of Pastor Stan ….. Forgiveness

What is involved in the practice of forgiving someone—or indeed, being forgiven ourselves? Almost all of us sense the importance of forgiveness, aware as we are of situations and relationships where there has been a breach, or where unresolved conflicts cause harm year after year. Knowing these, we yearn for resolution, for ways of moving toward a future that is free of brokenness. But thinking about forgiveness, – to say nothing of finding the courage to practice it—can be difficult. <!–split–>

The very notion of forgiveness conjures up many painful images in our minds. Merely to consider this practice causes us to think about horrifying evil: slavery in the United States, or the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, or individual acts of rape, child abuse, and domestic violence. It is difficult even to comprehend the depths of pain and suffering in such situations. No wonder, then, that we are unsure whether forgiveness can make a difference—and if so, how.

Thinking about forgiveness also causes us to consider the smaller, day–to-day struggles involved in living with others at home, in church, or in the workplace. These struggles involve annoyances that seem petty but that nonetheless can sow the seeds of bitterness, as well as specific conflicts that sometimes fester into large and painful wounds. In these situations, it may be easier to understand that forgiveness is the right response than to be able to give or receive forgiveness, or even to want to do so.

Most of us would admit that sometimes we just don’t want to forgive someone or ask them for forgiveness, even when we know we should. The “should” may be based in our deepest beliefs; whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, after all, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Or the “should” may arise from our wish for peace, from our yearning for relationship restored. Even so, we just don’t feel able to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness; the

wounds are too raw, or we sense that the other person is unwilling to repent or to grant us the forgiveness we seek. And sometimes we simply prefer to let the conflict fester. Church council records from 16th-century Switzerland tell of a man who pretended that he could not remember the Lord’s Prayer because he knew that if he said it he would have to forgive the merchant who had cheated him. This was something he had no intention of doing!

Many of us believe in the importance of forgiveness and long to find ways of making it more central to our life together. Yet we wonder whether and how this can happen. On paper, forgiveness is great. The problem comes when we try to take it off the page and live it in our actual relations with one another. Can we do this?

Part of the problem is that we are often less sure of what and whom we love than we are of what and whom we hate. Indeed, we too often stake our identity on being against some person or group. We define ourselves against those who are strange to us, hoping perhaps to overcome our own uncertainty and vulnerability by defining them as less than human. Or we define ourselves against those from whom we have become estranged, whom we perhaps once loved by now see as enemies or threats to our well-being.

As a result, we allow feelings of hatred or bitterness to define and consume our lives, even to our own destruction. The story of two shopkeepers illustrates this. Their shops were across the street from each other, and whatever one did, the other would try to match and, if possible, exceed. One night, an angel of the Lord came to the first shopkeeper and said, “The Lord has sent me to you with the promise that you may have one wish that, no matter how extravagant, will be granted to you. There is only one catch: whatever you receive, your rival shopkeeper will receive twofold. What is your wish?” The first shopkeeper, thinking of his rival, responded: “My wish is that you would strike me blind in one eye.”

 Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

– Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

From the desk of Pastor Stan ….

For the past month, I’ve been reading a book written by Dorothy Bass entitled Practicing Our Faith a way of life for a searching people. I was also thinking about a song we used to sing when I was a member of the Miles College Gospel choir in Birmingham AL. The words were simple but loaded with some very impactful words. The race isn’t given to the swift or the strong but to the one who endured to the end. <!–split–>

The Christian life is like an athletic competition, the apostle Paul once wrote. A great prize awaits those who run their race well, but the running requires great exertion. “Athletes exercise self-control in all things” in order to win their contests, even though their prize is only a laurel wreath that will soon wither. Christians ought to run their race with just as much exertion and self-control, Paul urged, for they pursue a prize that is “imperishable.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Many of us long to grow stronger in the Christian life. But we are really ready to exert ourselves? Being spectators comes much more easily. We prize the football player’s skill and strength; we admire the dancer’s trim, toned body; we applaud the pianist’s dexterity. But when it comes time to actualize our own plans for physical exercise or for rehearsals, too often we prove half-hearted and fickle. The slogan “no pain, no gain” cuts close to the bone. We are conditioned by our modern culture to count on immediate results; we want the gain, but we shrink from the pain. If we find it difficult to respond to the demand of athletic training, then it is not surprising that we find it difficult to engage in the Christian practices so sorely needed for the development and growth of the interior or spiritual life.

Throughout Christian history, it has been clear that spirituality is not a spectator activity. Tough decisions and persistent effort are required of those who seek lives that are whole and holy. If we are to grow in faithful living, we need to renounce the things that choke off the fullness of life that God intended for us, and we must follow through on our commitments to pray, to be conscientious, and to be in mutually supportive relations with other faithful persons. These acts take self-discipline. We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God.

Training For Faithful Living

“I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air,” Paul wrote, continuing the athletic image (1 Corinthians 9:26). It was the apostle’s passionate concern to nurture women and men in living worthy and holy lives in expectation of the Lord’s return. That, he knew, would require them to be deliberate and purposeful, for saying yes to life in Christ would mean saying no to that which harms. Christians who wish to inherit the kingdom of God must curb their appetites and passions, he told the young church in Galatia; they must renounce “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Irrespective of social status or wealth or cultural attainment, they shared a communal life centered on uncompromising faith in Jesus as Lord. They gathered to remember Jesus, and they zealously met the needs of strangers, the infirm, the imprisoned, and the poor. The way these women and men lived gave rise to a distinctive Christian way of being in the world, or Christian spirituality.

Spirituality: Choosing Life

Our spirituality is our capacity to relate to God, to other human beings, and to the natural world. Through these relationships, we give meaning to our experience and attune our hearts and minds to the deepest dimensions of reality. Thus spirituality is integral to the ways in which we live our lives. It is about the kinds of persons we are and the kinds of persons we hope to become.

Far too often, however, our attention to these deeper questions wanders, and our spirituality stagnates. We find ourselves merely drifting along. But then some painful event or demand for decision jolts us. We look up and find ourselves on a path that mocks our deepest longing, a road to joy that suddenly takes a treacherous curve. And it is no longer possible merely to drift along. At such times, we find out that only we ourselves can decide that we, by our choices and commitments, are to make of ourselves. We are compelled to acknowledge the persistent yearning, the subtle pull toward a new and different way of living. We are drawn on by questions: What is most necessary in our lives? For what are we living? What does it mean to be a human person?

From the desk of Pastor Stan . . .

Most people define love as an emotion – affection, passion, or tender. The Bible however describes love in terms of sacrificial actions. Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend, in this case it describes love in terms of sacrificial actions. What Jesus did for us! <!–split–>

While it’s rarely necessary to die for the sake of another, true genuine love usually involves some sacrifice. As Christians, we are to show unconditional, selfless love to others just as Jesus did for us. What a pattern Christ set.

Jesus gave his followers a new challenge to love one based on obedience to Him and commitment to follow believers. John 13:34. Our story is a love story. A love story based on love. A story of followers who would be lost were it not for a Savior who was willing to pay the ultimate price for our sins. Jesus paid the price so that we could be free. Free to dream, free to hope. For this I believe that there is “no greater love.” What the savior did for us followers gives me hope, joy, peace and reminds me that Jesus loves us so much that he would lay down his life for his followers.

Some years ago I sang with the Miles College Gospel Choir and we sang a song, “He keeps doing great things for me.” I’ve thought about this song a lot lately. A sacrifice so great that He would give his life for my sin and all He asks for repayment is a devoted life to Him and His followers.

What a love—NO GREATER LOVE.

From the desk of Pastor Stan . . .

Most people agree that COVID-19 has drastically altered their lives compared to what they were before the pandemic, redefining in so many ways what clergy members now call life in this new normal. As of January 25, 2021, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 2.1 million people worldwide, infected millions of others, turned the world upside down, and exposed pastors to a new type of burnout. Clergy members and the rest of the global population have experienced disruptions in personal health habits, family life, occupation, economic stability, social connections, and the health of their loved ones. <!–split–>

The COVID-19 crisis has displaced members from their usual places of worship and altered koinonia, the fellowship of believers. It has led to the adoption of online religion service in various forms, small-group fellowship, and house worship. Few, if any, seminaries prepared pastors for the challenges of running a virtual church – especially the challenges involved in operating a single virtual church, let alone a virtual multiple-church district.

Additionally, changes in the medium through which clergy members provide religious services have increased their workload, destroyed many of the boundaries they had in place before COVID-19, and put in disarray the solace they usually experienced in homes now transformed into primary workstations. Ministers who are inundated with phone calls, emails, text and WhatsApp messages, and communications through a host of other platforms, identify with Monmouth University’s poll showing that 55% of the general population reported higher stress levels.

Clergy mental well-being: Mental health is vital during this COVID-19 crisis, not only because it is extremely necessary for quality human life but also due to the notion that “mental illness has been called the pandemic of the 21st century.” Hence, we do a disservice to pastors if we talk about health without considering mental health. Ideally, there can be no true health without it. The million-dollar question is, how are pastors taking care of their psychological health during the current pandemic?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities. The COVID-9 disruptions cited above will likely produce significant distress, the precursor for mental disorders. As pastors, it is vital to understand that mental illness does not discriminate based on religion, age, gender, disability, color, race, nationality, financial status, genetic heritage, occupation, political ideology, marital status, or any other categories or characteristics. In other words, mental illness is no respecter of persons.

Two pastors describe their COVID-19 experience “as an overwhelming sensation of busyness” and having “new levels of irritation and stress.” In a study conducted during the pandemic with 400 pastors, clergy members indicated that they are worried about finances (26%), technological challenges (16%), offering remote pastoral care (12%), and the members’ lack of access to technology (11%). According to the clergy recruitment and development coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, pastors’ “pangs of anxiety and depression, which are normally higher (than the average population) anyway, are higher even yet.” Such findings indicate that pastors are experiencing intensified stress levels that will put them at increased risk for developing a mental illness.

The current crisis makes pastors even more vulnerable to illness on account of traumatic events arising from within their personal and family situations. Clergy members are also at increased risk because of their repeated exposure to the traumatic information shared by their parishioners, arising from their increased need for pastoral care. Consequently, it is vitally important that pastors implement strategies to care for their mental health during this time of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Strategies for mental well-being: As professionals, pastors need to recognize that if they do not care for their mental health, they will not have the psychological strength to adequately care for anyone else. In other words, if ministers fail to protect themselves, they will lack the quality of health to help others. While the negative impact of COVID-19 is a unique type of burnout or psychological stress, there are eight strategies that can reduce its adverse effects and improve overall psychological well-being.

  1. Maintain a work-life balance. The fact that pastors “often put the needs of others above their own” is a clear indicator that they require work/life balance. Work/life balance reduces medical costs, builds commitment, enhances job satisfaction, and improves productivity, which will likely reduce the pastors’ stress level and improve their psychological well-being. Such work-life balance will look different for each pastor, based on his or her family life-cycle stage. Work-life balance also increases profitability and affects employee retention. Consequently, faith-based organizations that put in place policies to support pastoral work-life balance, benefit both employee and employer.
  2. Manage stress and crises effectively. Proper stress and crisis management includes adaptability, admitting to and seeking help with problems, seeing crises as challenges and opportunities, growth through crises, openness to change, and resilience. Stress handled effectively can lead to happiness, health, effectiveness at work and less mental illness. Hence, it is paramount that pastors regulate their stress levels and manage crises successfully.
  3. Find a ministry buddy. Having a colleague in ministry that a pastor can talk with openly and safely is extremely important to his or her mental well-being. Social support from a trusted colleague is a possible safeguard against job stressors. I have personally found this to be extremely important for stress management, brainstorming, constructive feedback, and peer-to-peer support.
  4. Practice the attitude of gratitude. The Bible encourages us to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thess. 5:18). Thankfulness is associated with better mood and sleep, less fatigue, and more self-efficacy, as well as better mental well-being, greater social support, and adaptive coping. Gratitude is essentially “a positive emotion beneficial for positive functioning, as well as broadening and building other positive emotions, which, in turn, result in an increase in emotional well-being.
  5. Exercise. A physical workout of 30-60 minutes is a stress reliever and producer of endorphins, the happy hormone. Pastors who exercise at least three times weekly reduced their risk of high emotional exhaustion by 25%. A study on exercise and mental health found that individuals who exercise had about 15 fewer days of poor mental health in the previous month compared to those who did not exercise. All forms of exercise have shown links to a lower mental-health burden than no exercise. Clearly, exercise is a stress reliever vital to pastors’ mental health.
  6. Take a sabbatical. Seventh-Day Adventists understand the importance of taking a weekly day of rest, the seventh day. I am aware that the church does not have a sabbatical policy for pastors. Therefore, I hope that the denomination will develop a program that gives pastors at least three months of sabbatical every seven years of ministry, comparable to the rest that the land enjoyed in Old Testament times (Lev.25:4; Exod. 23:11). A sabbatical can help pastors de-stress, re-tool, re-focus their ministry, and deepen the connection with their most important earthly asset, their family.
  7. Seek mental health services. Talking with a mental health provider is essential to clergy members’ psychological health. Psychological distress is to mental health professionals as pain in the body is to medical doctors. If ministers’ psychological distress interferes with their relational, occupational, and social functioning or other important activities, they are probably overdue to see a mental health professional. It is imperative to note that mental health services are not just for a person with a mental health disorder but also for all those who need help dealing with issues such as life transitions, grief and loss, parenting concerns, personal goals, and occupational choice.
  8. Be hopeful. Hope is defined as “the belief that your future can be better than your past and you play a role in making it so. Such hope is linked to overall psychological well-being and resilience. It buffers stress and adversity, mitigates the negative effects of trauma, and is the best predictor for a life well-lived. Pastors can find hope in God (Ps. 71:5), His Word (Ps. 119:114), His mercy (Ps. 147:11), and ultimately in the Second Coming (Titus 2;13). It is essential for clergy members to understand that they can live without food for three weeks, water for three days, and oxygen for three minutes, but they will not be able to live a second without hope. Hence, I say to pastors, speak hope, walk in hope, think hope, preach hope, and immerse yourselves in hope. This article “The Pastor’s Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic” was published in the March 2021 issue of Ministry (international journal for pastors) and Pastor Stan wanted to share it with you.

 This article “The Pastor’s Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic” was published in the March 2021 issue of Ministry (international journal for pastors) and Pastor Stan wanted to share it with you.

From the desk of Pastor Stan . . .

Worship That Heals   — John 4:5-42

We take water for granted, but we couldn’t survive without it. We drink it, bathe in it, swim in it. We nurture our plants with it and even put it in our cars. Most of us, for now, have no trouble obtaining it. Not so for the Samaritan woman. She had to trudge all the way to a well to fetch it. She did not go to the well to gain insight about herself and about worship. She did not intend to become part of sharing God’s message. She went to slake her thirst. She thought she would simply draw the water, fill her jar and then trudge back home. <!–split–>

The conversation started innocently enough. Jesus asked her for a drink. We would think nothing of such a request, but in that day, Jesus’ seemingly simple request broke all kinds of barriers.

Important relationships often started at wells. Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at a well, and brought her home for Isaac. Jacob met Rachael at a well. But when Jesus, a Jewish man, asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, he reached through layers of taboo to make a connection.

Underneath the gender and religious issues, the two people at the well shared some things. They shared thirst, weariness and a common humanity. They both looked to the books of Moses for insight into God. Although her people considered this people outsiders and vice versa, they had some common ground. Despite all the reason not to ask for some water, Jesus started a conversation. Even with her objections, Jesus opened the door.

Despite the rough start, the conversation grew more profound with each exchange. The woman challenged both Jesus’ initiative in speaking to her and his ability to draw living water. She herself brought up their common heritage, their ancestor Jacob. Even so, she took a while to enter into the conversation. She seemed to acknowledge that her soul thirsted as much as her body. When she asked for living water, perhaps she was beginning to understand just who she was sharing a conversation with. She still understood at too concrete and literal a level, but she thought Jesus had something important to offer. Initially, she thought, as too many people today think, that Jesus would meet her physical or material needs.

Changing The Subject

We find out about one of her personal needs when Jesus asks her about her husband. The woman had been married five times. Jesus respected her privacy, as we should; he did not probe for details. Did she divorce, or had each husband died? We don’t know or need to know. She has felt deep grief. We need to know only that.

We might think that the woman tried to change the subject with her talk of worship. Asking about Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem might seem a way to distract Jesus from the pain of her relationships. However, the turn in the conversation makes more sense than we might think at first. We know that grief over broken relationships or the death of a loved one can cause great anguish. So can harmful worship. This conversation may show us the connection between grief over relationships and the grief over harmful worship.

We have known those who have experienced hurt over bad relationships. A betrayal, an abandonment, a trust violated can leave deep wounds that take much time to heal. We may live with the scars, but the hurt lingers. Worship, too, can leave us wounded and hurting. Instead of joy and celebration, some worship falls heavy on guilt and shame. Worship can leave us feeling inadequate, unwanted, excluded. The scars and pain linger. Have we not known those who, having heard nothing but fire and brimstone as children, cannot feel deeply the love of God?

The Samaritan woman raises the question about whether worship should be at Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem. A temple had stood near Mt. Gerizim, close to Shechem, since the fourth century B.C. As a high mountain, it was considered by the people of the northern Hebrew kingdom a point where heaven and earth met. The temple in Jerusalem, initially built by Solomon and restored after the people’s return from exile, represented to the Judeans of the southern Hebrew kingdom the very presence of God.

If Jesus knew so much, perhaps Jesus could clarify where one should properly worship God. Jesus does indeed clarify about worship. True worship occurs in the heart. True worship is in spirit and in truth. Worship flows from the heart in gratitude to God. We should not focus on location, but on what happens within us. Does worship flow from within us? How does worship feed our spirits? How does worship connect us to God? Worship in spirit and in truth can take place in so-called high church or in informal settings.

Understanding Jesus’ Identity

The story itself points to an important aspect of worship. Worship heals our hurts, and worship breaks down barriers. In John’s gospel, every character has layers of meaning. We should see each person as an individual character, with feelings and insight about coming to believe in Jesus as the Christ. The characters in John represent something more as well. We understand Nicodemus as a real person, with real fears about coming to Jesus, and real questions. Nicodemus also represents the Pharisees. We understand the Samaritan woman as a real woman. She cried real tears over her five marriages. She also represents the Samaritans. In the minds of the Jews of that day, the Samaritans had practiced idolatry by worshiping false gods. They did not hear the command not to worship other gods. “So these nations worshiped the LORD, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children’s children continue to do as their ancestors did.” The woman in the story teaches us that Jesus cares about our broken relationships and about the ways worship has hurt us.

The woman who began by mocking Jesus, comparing him to Jacob, came to understand Jesus’ true identity. Jesus met her where she was. She expected a messiah who fulfilled the promise of a prophet like Moses, not a new King David. The woman, who had come to the well in the middle of the day alone, went back into the village to share the identity of Jesus with others.

Worship That Heals

We want worship that heals our hurts, wherever they may come from. Part of that healing comes from knowing that God understands us and loves us anyway. We want worship that breaks down barriers. We want to break down barriers even if others feel the shock of the disciples that Jesus spoke to a woman. We want worship that breaks down the barriers between liberals and conservatives, and between Democrats and Republicans. We want worship that breaks barriers between cultures and languages, between economic classes and social strata. We want worship that unites us and shows us our common humanity. We want worship that brings out our potential for ministry. We want worship that brings a deeper understanding of Jesus. We want worship that connects us to our tradition, but also pushes us into new territory. We want worship that gives us new strength and joy, bringing us closer to God. We want worship that nourishes us like a drink from a well, that cleanses us like a bath and that refreshes us like a dip in a pool.

May we open ourselves to people looking for true worship. May we open ourselves to those who seek healing. May we open ourselves to those who have experienced hurtful relationships and hurtful worship. May we open ourselves to those who worship in a different way from our way. May we open ourselves to those who come for no other reason than that they feel thirsty, even if they are not quite sure what they are thirst for.