The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”  John 4:19-21

There is an axiom in business, “don’t reinvent the wheel”.  It means we need to learn some things from those who came before us so we don’t squander our resources solving problems that have already been solved.  Of course, we also have a countervailing axiom that we deride as the nadir of imagination and progress, “we’ve always done it that way.”

Knowing when to accept the “received wisdom” and when to cast aside old inefficiency can be a tough call.  In our text for today, Jesus is addressing the Samaritan Woman at the Well, who asks Him about a then-current conflict, where to worship.  The Samaritan fathers said it had to be on Mount Gerizim and the Jewish fathers held for Jerusalem as the only appropriate place.  Jesus’ answer is really, “neither”.

An important clue for us in this text is that both the Samaritan Woman and Jesus refer to “father” as their authority.  (Even in the Greek Bible it is just a different grammatical form of the same word, “father”.)  But the two references are talking about two very different fathers.

We also have to deal with conflicting advice, just like whether to “reinvent the wheel” or do things “the way we have always done them”.  But one lesson we can take away from Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan Woman is that we should never confuse our fathers with God.  His ideas supersede our conflicted human advice.  He has a better way.  He has the only way.

When you have to make hard decisions, including who in your life to listen to, be sure to seek the counsel of God Almighty.  He may have a plan and a word for you that obviates the whole complex issue.  In fact, it is probably a good idea to seek Him first, then you can avoid the whole dilemma and get straight on to following Him in spirit and in truth.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  Nehemiah 1:1-3

It is political season in the US.  Mid-term elections, in which over half the legislative branch of the national government is up for grabs, are being held today.  Border security, foreign terror cells, and state-sponsored cyber threats have become central campaign rhetoric.  One wonders if Fortress Americana is fortified after all.

Consider the Hebrews of Nehemiah’s day.  Decades before, thousands had been carried off into exile.  They were compelled to relocate to a foreign empire, learn a new language, obey new laws, and eat new foods.  They had to fit into a new, and almost certainly hostile, social, economic, and political world.  It must have been pretty tough to be a Hebrew in Susa.

But some lucky few had escaped the exile.  Either by being overlooked or by luck they were allowed to remain in their homeland.  They were free to worship their God.  They were free to speak their own language, remain in their own homes, cultivate their own fields, and keep their social customs intact.  It wasn’t all easy being under the occupation of a foreign power but, you have to think, those who escaped the exile were the lucky ones.

But somehow, those who remained in Jerusalem were the ones in distress.  It is those who were force marched to a foreign land who had the wherewithal to come to the city’s rescue.  How could that be?  How were the ones dragged off in chains the safe ones and those who were allowed to remain untouched the vulnerable ones?

The answer is in Jeremiah 29.  It turns out the Lord said He would be with those in exile but would send a sword against those who remained in Jerusalem.

There is at least one clear lesson for us.  There is no safe place for us under heaven but where the Lord has called us to be.  Don’t think by moving from red to blue state, or vice versa, or from this country to that, that you will gain security for you and yours.  It is better to be in exile with the Lord than to be in the Holy City without Him.  At this and all times, let’s put our trust in God Almighty, and in the good plan He has for us, wherever it might take us.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-3

The feeling of being stuck in a place you don’t belong is a particularly lousy feeling.  I know a young fellow who told me his story of attending an introductory meeting for a student organization.  He walked in the room, realized he was the only male student there, turned on his heel and took off.  He all but ran out the door.  Two things he knew.  One, he didn’t belong there.  Two, he wanted to get out the fastest way possible.

Some people live that feeling, all day every day.  They feel like they don’t belong in their workplace, or on their campus, or even in their own family.  Some people don’t know if there is a place for them, anywhere.  I think a lot of us had that experience at one time or another, particularly in our teenage years.

Making a place for those without one is incredible ministry.  My wife is extremely good at it.  She has made a place at our table, literally and figuratively, for some who did not have a place.  They shared all the love of our family.  For however long they were there, they belonged with us.

Workplace diversity, at its best, accomplishes the same thing.  It creates space for people who are so different they may not have a place of their own.  A good manager can create an organization where people of different colors and genders and backgrounds and abilities can all be a celebrated part of the group.  They can all belong.  They can all have a place.

Ultimately, Jesus is preparing a perfect place for us, a place where we are safe and valued, a place we will belong forever.  When you and I create a place for someone who doesn’t have one, we bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  We make His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Whether it is at the conference table or the dinner table, be a place-maker.  You will be doing the very work of Christ.

A Mournful Celebration

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  1Thessalonians 4:13-14