John 4: 5-42 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Romans 5: 1-11 March 19, 2017
“… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”
Prayer: O holy God, would you please pour your Holy Spirit upon us today that we may discern your presence for our faith and the lives we live in faith. Amen.
One summerlong time ago, early on in my ministry, I had just arrived home from directing a week long high school summer MADD Camp. After arriving home, I spent most of that afternoon re-thinking and remembering the events of the week in my head. Processing. Debriefing. Mostly done quietly. Any questions I was asked by my wife and kids were answered with short replies: Yes. No. Fine. Maybe. Uh-huh.I was in my own little world—until finally my wife finally said to me, “Hey! You’re here, but you’re not here!” Immediately, I saw the problem. I was away for a week, and now that I was home, I wasn’t engaged in quality time with her or the kids. I was home, but I wasn’t present. She was absolutely right. I had to re-focus.
Spending quality time, as described by Dr. Gary Chapman,1 means making a conscious decision to be focused on making time with a loved one, or loved ones. It means being together without distractions. No TV, no cell phone, no text messaging, no Facebook, or the Internet. Nothing work-related. No lost in thought in your own little world. Quality time means spending time genuinely with your loved ones in meaningful ways for the purposes of communicating the love you have in your heart for that person or persons.
Spending quality time can also mean doing things together based on interest and willingness, like going out on dates, going to concerts, shopping, even doing projects around the house, or out in the community or at church, but doing it together. The sky’s the limit based on interest and desire.
And, another form of spending quality time is having quality conversations with each other. To speak together from the heart, being willing to be vulnerable as you share what’s going on in your life, or how your day went, or what you experienced during the movie, etc. or whatever.
Being. Doing. Speaking. These are dialects of the same love language of quality time that communicates love to another person.
Psychiatrist William Glasser, whose books were key resources for me as I wrote my dissertation, describes how each of us has what he calls a “Quality World.”2In that quality world are, among other things, all the people who are in the most significant relationships with us. Most often the people in our quality worlds are our parents, siblings, spouses, partners, our coworkers, sometimes our best friends, and sometimes other people who may be close to us.
At this point during our season of Lent we are invited and encouraged consciously and deliberately to put God in our quality world and spend quality time with God. What a powerful way of communicating our love to God! It means being with God, without distractions. Sometimes that means being in the silence and observing and listening and experiencing. Quieting our minds. That’s a way of being present with God and spending quality time with the Holy One.
Doing things with God might mean reading the Bible, taking time to come to church to worship, volunteering, seeking justice in God’s name. Doing what you can, trust God to do what you cannot. Doing things with God is spending quality time with God and communicates your love for our Creator.
Speaking to God in prayer communicates our love for God and spends quality time with God. Prayers of praise and thanksgiving, petition and confession, prayers of intercession and blessings. Being and speaking with God in prayer means giving God our undivided attention for a little. Those are spiritual disciplines we are encouraged to practice during Lent.
Cautionary note—many of us like to pray at a certain time during the day. We, myself included, can get in the habit of regulatory prayer. Some pray at night. Some pray around the dinner table. I pray at
the start of the day. The danger is that habitual prayer can lose the characteristic of‘spending quality time with God because we can grow in love with our habit and not with God. I mean we might sit down, read our devotional booklet, but did we really zero in on God? Did we really communicate our love to God? Did we really nurture our relationship with God?
The good thing with spending quality time with God is that our hope deepens in us because, as Paul says, God’s love is poured into our hearts. And I start to wonder what that means. How does our hope deepen with God’s love poured in?
One place where our hope deepens I think is how we let love influence and guide as Christians. A loving people. A people who spend quality time with one another, both here at church, but also out there in the mission and ministry that we do. God’s extravagant love is poured into our church—that is why the cross is in the middle of our sanctuary today. We spend quality time with God and each other here. So the cross of God’s extravagant love comes out of the middle of who we are as Christians, as God’s people, as sharers of God’s extravagant love.
I also wonder if we have growing hope that the love in our hearts might change our perspective on things? Maybe with loving hearts influencing our decisions, we might have hope that our world might just be in a better place societally? Culturally? Politically?
Some might say that love has no place in these areas. But, I disagree. God shared extravagant love with us. Jesus told us to love one another. The least we can do, it seems to me, is to spend quality time with God to help us discern how we may let love influence our decisions.
A little while back, when we were responding to the Harrisburg Islamic Center with letters of love and encouragement, at just about the same time, in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations was looking for a larger space for its offices, and after a series of threats, hate mail, and hostile phone calls, it was looking for a safer space, as well. Well, hats off to Bethany Lutheran Church which discerned that they should welcome Islamic chapter to use space in their building. Bethany has a history of supporting advocacy groups who struggle with injustice being done (Century Marks, “Welcoming Place,” Christian Century, Mar. 1, 2017. pg. 8). Perhaps quality time with God helped Bethany Lutheran Church people discern what it means to share God’s love extravagantly and un-prohibitively. They stretched beyond cultural boundaries making their world a better place.
Jesus spent much quality time with God, so much so that he discerned that some of the boundaries of his day were prohibitive of God’s extravagant love being shown. This is clear as he reached across the boundaries with the woman at the well. The cultural boundaries that would have prevented him from talking to her were 1) that she was a woman, and viewed as a lesser-class citizen, 2) she was a Samaritan, an outsider to Judaism, and 3) she was a person who had many husbands, and she wasn’t married to the man she was with at the time she met Jesus. And, Jesus dared to talk to her?
Yes, because he discerned that God’s love and peace and grace and glory are for all people. This grace, this living water is applied to everyone—woman and man, friend and foe, Jew and Gentile, and in our world, Christian and Muslim, even American and Syrian. God’s power to save is all-encompassing, and by comparison, sin’s impact is finite and temporary. Grace abounds. Before we can do anything to earn our salvation, God’s grace saves us. Christ redeems us and gives us extravagant love before we ever can deserve it. In my mind, those are powerful reasons to spend quality time with God.
On our Lenten journeys, I encourage us to practice communicating God’s extravagant love that has been poured into our hearts. And, among the very best ways to do that is to spend quality time with God. Being with God, doing things with God, and speaking with God. Thanks be to God. Amen.