A Sermon for Series A 3rd Sunday in Lent 2017 “Box or No Box?”


Old Testament Lesson  Exodus 17:1-7

Second Lesson  Romans 5:1-8

Gospel Lesson  John 4:5-26 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [John 4:5-26]

Has anyone ever told you to do more with less?  That kind of talk usually occurs after an independent study’s been done at your place of employment, and the independent auditors (who haven’t got a clue what you need to get the job done) come to the conclusion that you can get the job done with fewer people; and save some money in the process.  The bottom line is that you’re expected to do more than what you used to do because, although the workload hasn’t changed, there are less people around to do it.

When you hear someone say you’ve got to do more with less, stand by to hear the next worn out cliché that almost always follows: think outside of the box.  That’s what people who have no idea how to get the job done say to people who’re tasked with getting the job done, after you’ve explained why you can’t do the job in the way they’ve outlined it and you’ve asked them for suggestions.

But, I’ve never heard that phrase applied to understanding scripture, and I’ve never heard it applied to understanding Lutheran doctrine.  After all, we Lutherans insist on ‘sola scriptura,’ scripture alone.  Scripture interprets itself, and thinking outside of scripture is verboten, unacceptable, insupportable.

But, what if thinking outside of the box didn’t refer to thinking outside of scripture, but rather thinking about the assumptions we made every time we opened scripture to read it?  We need to think outside of the box; because too often, we approach scripture with our own unscriptural vision of who God is and who he isn’t.  In other words, we put God in a box.

We put God in a box because it makes life more convenient for us; at least we think it does.  If we convince ourselves that we know God well enough to define him, or if we at least allow ourselves to define him, then we can customize him and work around the things in his holy Word that make life difficult for us, the things that stop us from doing what we want … especially when what we want is something we know is wrong.

And, if we allow ourselves to limit God, to put God in a box that we define for ourselves, then we get to be like God.  We get to decide what’s good and evil.  When we put God in a box, our lives look a whole lot brighter to us.  We can sit in the darkness, maybe even slide deeper into the darkness, and tell ourselves the darkness isn’t dark at all.  We can walk away from his light and tell ourselves it’s OK.  We can tell ourselves we don’t even need his light because we have all the light we need inside ourselves.

Having God in a box definitely makes life easier for us.  With God in a box, we get along better with the world.  The world doesn’t like the absoluteness of our God and when we follow God, the world doesn’t like us much either.  They call us intolerant when we say Jesus is the only way to the Father.  They call us narrow-minded when we say all other gods are false.  They call us simple-minded when we say the Bible is the inspired inerrant Word of God; every word of it.

But, with God in a box, we can indulge in more of what the world has to offer.  We can convince ourselves that God didn’t really mean everything he said in Holy Scripture.  We can say that it doesn’t apply to us in our day; and suddenly, our sin filled lives simply become alternative lifestyles; the greed we once felt guilty about suddenly becomes recast as good and healthy ambition; the anger we had toward our family or friends suddenly becomes righteous and acceptable; our compulsive over-indulgence suddenly becomes highly focused objectivity.

But, the truth is, when we put God in a box, it’s only happening in our minds.  God doesn’t fit in anybody’s box.  There’s no box that can hold him; no human definition that can define him, and he shows us that by continually operating outside the box.

God sent his Son for sinners, not for the self-righteous who lived their lives as if they didn’t need a Savior.  Just look at our gospel lesson today: Jesus – a Jew – a male Jew – talking to a Samaritan, and not just any Samaritan – a woman Samaritan; and not just any woman Samaritan, but a Samaritan woman who had five former husbands and was living outside of wedlock with a sixth man!

Jesus came to those who were cast out of the world; the blind, the deaf, the lame; people who the world said were living through the consequences of their sins.  Jesus came to lepers, those who were no longer allowed in society, but were sent away to die as their flesh rotted from their bones.  He came to these people the world look down on and he healed them!  Talk about out of the box!

And is it thinking inside the box to give up your life for your enemies?  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did; God’s only Son going to the cross … willingly …to pay for the sins of all mankind with his own sinless body and blood.

Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, when he stopped in Sychar.  He was on his way to the cross where he was crucified in the place of the woman he talked to at the well, in the place of his disciples, in the place of the Sanhedrin who demanded his crucifixion, and in the place of you and me whose sins ultimately nailed him to his cross.

Jesus had come to keep his Father’s promises.  God always keeps his promises, even when they’re promises given to a people who reject him.  In our world, promises are kept … as long as it’s not too hard to keep them; as long as the promise is a two way proposition and the one being promised keeps up his end of the deal; as long as it’s not too painful … physically, financially, or even spiritually; but, without any expectation of receiving something in return, God sacrificed his Son to keep his promise, and Jesus sacrificed himself, to keep his Father’s promise.  Who can explain a God who does that?

The world rebels against the indefinability of God.  Being indefinable is unacceptable to the world because our reason doesn’t like what it can’t explain, in detail.  Our reason wants things put neatly into files, into boxes … and God never fits in our box.

That’s why we need to think outside of the box.  In our Baptism we became children of God.  We’re his and we should live as he would have us live.  We’re his … no more thirsting for the physical, the tangible.  We’re his … now we thirst for the eternal.  Now we thirst for the living waters that only Jesus can provide.  The more of this living water we receive from him, the more of it there is to flow out of us and into the world around us; into our neighbors through our sharing of the gospel and our sharing of His love as the Word of God is heard and the kingdom grows through the working of his Spirit.

When we let God out of the box, we become springs of living water ourselves, bringing the living water of the gospel with us wherever he places us; in our communities, in our homes, wherever we’re sent.  How’s that for out of the box?

The world’s tells us we’ll find success by defining our own way, by making our own rules, by keeping God in a box.  But, that’s not only foolish, it’s impossible.  When we put God in a box, do you really think he’s in there?  People can say it.  People can define it, but saying it over and over again doesn’t make it true.

Our God is always outside of the box because he’s never been in the box. … and neither should we be.  Be bold, be confident, not because you yourself have so much to boast about, but because you belong to Christ and you boast in him.  Let him take you out of the box and once and for all you’ll be rid of the box you’ve put him in.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle