Message From Sunday March 19th by Reverend Vossen
Wisdom from a Cactus
Reflections on Titus
When my husband and I were newly married, we were given a cactus, which we named Maurice. I had never owned a plant, but the cactus-giver assured me that it would be easy. I carefully avoided novice mistakes, like forgetting to water it, not giving it enough sunlight or allowing the neighborhood strays to claim it as their territory. I still killed Maurice. When I lamented that I was somehow less nurturing than a desert, my husband gently voiced a problem I had overlooked. While I had avoided doing the wrong things, I had failed to do some of the right things—researching how much water the cactus needed, bringing it inside during heavy rains, fertilizing the soil and repotting it periodically.
As Christians, we often measure spiritual growth by how successful we are at avoiding sin. Our testimonies proclaim how life with Christ has helped us eliminate sin—from drug use and immorality to cursing and anger issues. Our tales often end there. However, my failure with Maurice serves as an example that it takes more than avoiding sin to grow and thrive in faith.
In his letter to Titus, Paul writes:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11–14).
Twice in this passage we find negative and positive actions paired: God’s grace trains us in both renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions (negative) and in living self-controlled, upright and godly lives (positive); Jesus redeems us from lawlessness (negative) and into purity and good works (positive). Jesus saves us from sin, into godliness.
Often, we diligently avoid outward sins—and rightfully so. Sin leads to death and estranges us from God. But how often do we actively seek godly lives and good works? While we avoid sin with our mouths through gossip, lying or unkind words, we are slow to speak encouragement or to voice gratitude.
Such failures are subtle. As “good Christians,” we understand and abide by clear rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t commit adultery.” But commands for goodness, generosity and service seem subjective. Satisfied that we have shunned the evil deeds, we might even give ourselves more leeway when it comes to doing good works—quietly setting them aside as we fill ourselves with the pride of being saint-like.
In Titus 2:1, Paul commands Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” listing examples like self-controlled speech and temperance to or reverence and kindness. Before instructing Titus on positive or negative actions, he gives the purpose of the good works: “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). Our godliness gives credence and attractiveness to doctrine. Conversely, a life of sin skews doctrine and maligns God’s nature.
Paul’s words offer hope. God’s grace trains—a word that brings marathon runners and body builders to mind (Titus 2:12). While training is slow, hard work that requires practice and perseverance, it makes a weak body strong. And just as an athlete would not prepare for an event without a trainer, we are not expected to live upright lives on our own. Paul declares that Jesus Christ is the one who purifies us for these good works. The grace that gave us new life also trains and sustains us through the hard work of godliness.
Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Sept–Oct ‘12
17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Jesus was struck with the rod of Moses—the curse of the law—and from Him flowed water to satisfy our spiritual thirst. As the old hymn says:
Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its wrath and power.
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,e can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receivingf wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Jesus Returns to Galilee
43 When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee 44 (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). 45 When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.
• This is where Abram first came when he arrived into Canaan from Babylonia. (Genesis 12:6)
• This is where God first appeared to Abram in Canaan, and renewed the promise of giving the land to him and his descendants. (Genesis 12:7)
• This is where Abram built an altar and called upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8)
• This is where Jacob came safely when he returned with his wives and children from his sojourn with Laban. (Genesis 33:18)
• This is where Jacob bought a piece of land from a Canaanite named Hamor, for 100 pieces of silver (Genesis 33:19)
• This is where Jacob built an altar to the Lord, and called it El Elohe Israel (Genesis 33:20) This established the connection between Jacob and what became known as Jacob’s well there in Sychar.
• Sychar (Shechem) was also the place where Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was raped—and the sons of Jacob massacred the men of the city in retaliation. (Genesis 34)
• This is where the bones of Joseph were eventually buried when they were carried up from Egypt (Joshua 24:32)
• This is where Joshua made a covenant with Israel, renewing their commitment to the God of Israel and proclaiming, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24)
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink”: Jesus drew the woman into conversation, making her curious about several things:
• He made her curious about the things of God (If you knew the gift of God)
• He made her curious about who Jesus is (who it is who says to you)
• He made her curious about what He could give her (He would have given you living water).
Although the Samaritan woman appears only once, her importance is evident in her continuity with other characters. Some examples are: She led the townspeople to Jesus like the Baptist led two of his disciples to follow him (1:35–38). Her identification of Jesus as “prophet” is repeated by a Galilean and Judean crowd who were fed on the hillside (6:1–14). Unlike the disciples, she was not afraid to ask Jesus questions (4:4–42).
However, the woman symbolizes more. Her marginal status compared with Judeans, Galileans, and even her own townspeople is transformed because of her deep commitment as a disciple to Jesus. She represents the invitation of Jesus to each person regardless of status. Nicodemus, her foil, had a secure status yet lacked the imagination and daring to reconsider traditional viewpoints.
Breaking through the barrier of silence (forbidden by tradition in Jewish and Samaritan as well as male/female relationships outside the home) was the woman’s first step toward liberation. Keeping silence, not expected by tradition, was the rabbi’s first step toward stagnation. Inviting persons to freedom by contrasting relationships with Jesus in the Gospel is one challenge for preachers.
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Reverend Patrick Vossen,