Our congregation, pastors, and staff write devotionals to help us experience the seasons of Lent (before Easter) and Advent (before Christmas) more fully. They are posted below with the most recent on top and do not post until the season begins.

April 8 | Week 5

Week 5
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Monday, April 8

Prepared by Steve Madaris

READ John 4:1-42
Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria raises many questions for us to consider. Some of these questions require an understanding of the culture in Jesus’ day. Women were expected to collect the water needed for the day, but would not go to the well in the middle of the day. That is unless they were social outcasts. The assumption, therefore, has usually been that the Samaritan woman had a bad reputation. This issue is not critical to understanding the passage, however.

It is also noteworthy that the Greek word used in the parenthetical, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (verse 9), is a reference to the dietary laws and included a prohibition against the two cultures sharing dishes and utensils with the other, let alone food and drink. Since Jesus did not have a bucket, the Samaritan woman’s surprise at Jesus’ request is understandable. Here is a Jewish man not only talking to a woman who was a Samaritan, but asking for her to give Him a drink from her bucket.

On a surface level, this entire interaction is scandalous, flaunting many cultural norms. More critically, however, their conversation (the longest exchange between Jesus and another individual recorded in the gospels) was clearly held on two levels. The woman thought that Jesus was referring to potable water when He talked of “living water.” She understood Jesus’ request for her to “call your husband” to refer to her legal status, which apparently was single. She was focused on temporal things. He was concerned with eternal matters. Throughout their conversation, the woman expresses confusion and Jesus offers clarity.

The same is true of Jesus’ interaction with His disciples in verse 27 and following. At the beginning of the story, we are told that the disciples “had gone to the city to buy food” (verse 3). They return from purchasing food as requested by Jesus, but He doesn’t eat despite their encouragement. The disciples are confused, but Jesus responds to their preoccupation with His physical needs by explaining the satisfaction received by ministering to the spiritual needs of the Samaritans. Even those who came to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony were confused about the source of their conversion. Clarity came in the two days that Jesus and His disciples stayed in the town, sharing life and meals, and hearing the call to salvation for themselves.

This story (as with every story in the Gospel) is ultimately about the movement from confusion to clarity. God revealed Himself to every person or group of people who encountered Jesus and challenged them to change and be transformed. This week, be open to the Spirit moving you from confusion to clarity.

Read this passage in The Voice translation. You can access this through Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com) What insights do you gain from this translation that were less explicitly stated in the NRSV? How do these insights change or reinforce your understanding of the story? In particular, compare the translations of verses 21–24 about worshipping “in spirit and truth.”

The poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The distance between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north is about 120 miles, approximately the same as the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. In between was Samaria. The Jewish people had created routes designed to intentionally avoid travelling through Samaria. This would be like going through Riverside in order to avoid Orange County to get to San Diego. John writes that Jesus “had” to pass through Sychar (verse 4). Additionally, He was sitting by himself at the well at noon—in the heat of the day—and without a bucket to draw water from the well. The journey’s itinerary appears intentional. Have you every chosen a longer route to your destination on purpose? What prompted that choice? What were the consequences of taking a longer way? Ask God to lead you “in His paths” in order to be available to do His will, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

 “Jacob’s Well” is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Genesis 33:18-20 describes the purchase of the land where the well was dug. (Read these verses.) According to John’s record in these verses, the well was located in Sychar, a city to be avoided because contact with Samaritans would make Jews ritually unclean. Using imaginative reading of John 4, put yourself in the story. With whom do you identify: one of Jesus’ disciples, the Samaritans who lived in the town, or perhaps the Samaritan woman herself? What are the sights, sounds and smells you experience? Where are you observing the interaction from? How did God meet you? Most importantly, what is God saying to you through your imaginative reading of this passage?
Open the link https://tinyurl.com/belairpres-lent2019 and listen to the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary’s interpretation of this story. (Note: The album will continue if you do not stop after this track.) How does this song compare to John’s account? In particular, consider the irony of her challenge “And You don’t know everything I’ve ever done!” and her final exclamation “This man must be a prophet!” Jesus neither condemns the Samaritan woman for trying to hide the whole truth nor embarrass her in front of others. Instead He simply accepts the truth that she has spoken while confronting its shortcomings. Are there places in your life where you try to hide the whole truth from God and from yourself? Ask God to let you experience release and freedom like that which allows the Samaritan woman to share her experience of Jesus with other townspeople.

In Matthew 16:13–20 Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” After Peter responds that He is the Christ, Jesus says that this knowledge came from God and orders him not to tell anyone that He is the Messiah. In His trial before Pilate, Jesus responds to Pilate, the Roman governor, by saying that others have said that He was “King of the Jews”. Even Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews is not given a direct answer to his implied question about Jesus’ identity. The Samaritan woman, however, is told unequivocally “I am He” when she asks about the Messiah (verse 26). This is the first “I am” statement in John’s gospel. She is also the first person to whom Jesus overtly reveals Himself. In part, this is because she is not one of His followers, and therefore possibly biased. She also is not a political or religious leader who might try to misinterpret or misuse the revelation. Spend some time reflecting on instances when God has explicitly revealed Himself to you. Thank Him for those experiences and for how He as met you in your life. Then, be bold in your prayer and ask God to be obvious in revealing Himself to you.

April 1 | Week 4

Week 4
Jesus Walks on Water
Monday, April 1

Prepared by Care Crawford

READ Mathew 21: 13–17
It is not lost on me that today is April First, April Fool’s day: a day to play verbal pranks or offer a trick with the chorus, “April Fools!” to follow.

Have you heard the expression, “be a fool for Christ” ? What kind of fool are you?

Some might read this story from Matthew’s Gospel and think Peter a fool! Nothing made sense about him stepping out of a boat in the middle of the sea, with a storm a brew. And yet, Peter listened to the invitation of Jesus, and out of his love for Him, he walked on water…until!

Read the Scripture again here, from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
“As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. ‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror.
But Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.’
Peter, suddenly bold, said, ‘Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.’
He said, ‘Come ahead.’
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me!’
Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, ‘Faint-heart, what got into you?’
The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!’”
A few things strike me. One is that Jesus knew His need, and took into His own practice, a spiritual discipline. He went away, the practice of solitude, and on His own in silence with His father, He prayed. Simply here, Jesus models something very important for us. What are the rhythms of your life for your own journey to be with Jesus? What are you spiritual practices?

I am also struck with the words of Jesus “courage, it is Me. Don’t be afraid.” Like the messengers of angels who came to Mary and others in the Christmas story, we hear throughout the Scriptures the words, “Don’t be afraid” For Peter the circumstances around him, the boat, the storm, the sea makes it seem obvious that fear might overtake him. Yet Jesus invites Peter to come. He invites him to step out of what is comfortable and safe, to journey into something extraordinary and new. How does the Lord do that for you today? What is your response? Against all odds, Peter knew what author and Pastor John Ortberg titles one of his books, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat!”

You may wonder today how to hear God’s voice speaking specifically to you. You may wonder even with the law of gravity, how Peter walked on water. And we can see what happens when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus. He begins to go down.

How are your eyes fixed on Jesus in the circumstances of your life right now? Can you trust His personal invitation to you “take courage, take to heart COME!”?

That invitation, to come, to come to Jesus for rest, and renewal, for hope and new beginnings, is ever before us. How will you respond?

Each day for the rest of this week I have placed a poem and a question for your consideration on this text.

A Word from Jesus calms the sea,
The stormy wind controls;
And gives repose and liberty
To tempest-tossed souls.

To Peter on the waves he came,
And gave him instant peace;
Thus he to me revealed his name,
And bid my sorrows cease.

Then filled with wonder, joy and love,
Peter’s request was mine;
Lord, call me down, I long to prove
That I am wholly thine.

Unmoved at all I have to meet
On life’s tempestuous sea;
Hard, shall be easy; bitter, sweet,
So I may follow thee.

He heard and smiled, and bid me try,
I eagerly obeyed;
But when from him I turned my eye,
How was my soul dismayed!

The storm increased on every side,
I felt my spirit shrink;
And soon, with Peter, loud I cried,
Lord, save me, or I sink.

Kindly he caught me by the hand,
And said, Why dost thou fear?
Since thou art come at my command,
And I am always near.

Upon my promise rest thy hope,
And keep my love in view;
I stand engaged to hold thee up,
And guide thee safely through.
John Newton (24 July 1725–21 December 1807 / London, England)

What do you fear? Can you name your fears? Can you bring them to God in prayer?

Walking on water!
Wind in my face
Gold as the sun fades
Brown as rock
Leather skinned.

Looking up
Water sprays
Beams moan
As the water splash.

The storm approaches
No fear to appear
Many a storm
Face to face.

I see the face
Straining to see
Imagination to calm
A storm to face.

On the wave
This is not real
Not only a face
But a man to appear.

Shock and fear
Color drains from my face
Grabbing the rope
Frozen to stare.

Be still and come
Walk! He spoke
Yes my Lord
Walking on water.

But …. Lord
Sink to the deep
Grabbed to safety
The Storm struck.

Be still He said
Silence at last
Who is this Man
Walking on Water.

Truly He must be
Yes, He is the One
Definitely the Savior
Save me from unbelief.

Louis Foure
Think about your life and “storms” you have faced along the way. What has helped you through them? Who has been with you in the midst of them?

Walking on Water

Confidence is momentary, never permanent.
Get out of the boat.
Just do it.

Time for me to walk
on waves that reach out and back,
dip down and rush up.
Self talk builds sea legs, but
one word or look can weaken knees.
Fear washes over me and
drenches me in sweat.
First steps are always unsure.
Self-assurance, like the sea, cannot be controlled.
No guarantees.
But there is no end without a beginning.
Carolynn J. Scully ©2016

Rough Translations

Hope nonetheless.
Hope despite.
Hope regardless.
Hope still.
Hope where we had ceased to hope.
Hope amid what threatens hope.
Hope with those who feed our hope.
Hope beyond what we had hoped.
Hope that draws us past our limits.
Hope that defies expectations.
Hope that questions what we have known.
Hope that makes a way where there is none.
Hope that takes us past our fear.
Hope that calls us into life.
Hope that holds us beyond death.
Hope that blesses those to come.

Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace

What is hope? For what do you hope? Where have you lost hope? How is Peter’s story a story of hope?