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Mar 15, 2020

With Us (beings at 38:35)

With Us (beings at 38:35)

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: March 2020

Category: Lent

Audio of 2nd scripture, John 4:5-15, followed by the sermon begins at 28:35.

John 4:5-15

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7A 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.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.”  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD


With Us

          What a strange reality in which we have found ourselves.  Some, I’m sure, feel all of this response to the coronavirus is an overreaction.  Others, I know, are quite scared, if not for themselves, then for others, for the most vulnerable.  Many, I would guess, feel as though they’re just along for the ride on someone else’s journey.  And, we are all witness to a good bit of bickering and agitation.  I wonder how you’re doing.  I wonder if you have had the chance to give voice to whatever you’re feeling about all of this.  Sometimes we get so busy adapting or resisting, that we forget to listen to what something in us wants to say.  I hope you find a constructive way of giving it voice, tapping into what the need is beyond what the voice is trying to express – to be connected, not to be respected or trusted, to be safe. 

Particularly for a culture that so values individuals and choice, it is disorienting to have one’s options reduced for the sake of the whole.  I went through a range of emotions when we considered how we should modify church life for the time being.  I really had a hard time getting my heard around suspending in-person worship.  This morning our church on the edge of beautiful Richardson Bay sits virtually empty.  I miss you and I know you miss one another.  This feels like unchartered territory.

          If you think about it, however, history is filled with moments in which Christians, like other religions, weren’t able to practice as openly and freely as we usually do here.  Whether for persecution or being spread out geographically, Christians have always found a way to keep the movement going.  Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits described his early community as a communitas ad dispersionem, “community in dispersion.”  I remember hearing a nun once speak about smuggling Bibles into parts of the world where the church was suppressed.  These sacred stories of ours needed to be handed down, literally.  House churches have been powerful vehicles for transmitting the faith, and often needed to be done in secret; we don’t even have to worry about that.  Just last year we had home communions on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week.  We know how to do this.  Farther back, the desert mothers and fathers showed what contemplative spirituality could look like in isolation, out in the wilderness.  We all know outside is one of the safest places to be.  We can mine them, these our elders, for treasures of living as a communitas ad dispersionem.  We are already developing resources to help you from afar.  Parish Associate Ted Scott has developed a home worship guide.

          We can always return to the old stories.  The ones our people have been telling and retelling for thousands of years, to remind us where we came from, where we fit in this giant cosmos, and how those who came before us wrestled with God, and faith, life, and struggle like war, and famine, and…sickness.  Today’s Older Testament reading tells the story of the ancestors setting out in uncertain territory, becoming understandably anxious about where they’re going and whether this direction makes sense?  They had been freed from slavery, but now were sojourning in the desert wilderness, and they had begun to miss the dependability of even their own captivity.  They bring their complaints to Moses who delivers them to God.  God tells Moses to gather the elders, go on ahead, and strike the rock with his staff water for the people to drink would come forth.  He did, and it did, and they did.  “He called the place Massah and Meribah,” meaning trial and contention, “because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

          When we hear this story, we tend to layer the people’s behavior with judgment.  They didn’t have faith.  They were wrong to question God, but that’s not what it says here.  The people are not being irrational.  We are told, there was no water, so they speak up, “did you bring us out of Egypt,” they ask Moses, Egypt, which means the narrow place, where they were slaves, “to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3).  Yes, Moses gets agitated.  A leader gets stressed when his or her people complain or doubt the direction set out. God, however, just gives Moses direction on what to do, how to provide for the people.  It was right to seek the greater Creativity.  What seemed impossible one moment becomes reality in the next, water from rock.   

          Something seems to be in the water in the gospel today too.  Jesus and his disciples, who often bear a correspondence to the ancient Israelites, are likewise on a journey.  The disciples have gone into the city, a city in foreign/enemy territory, to get food.  It’s Jesus, now, who is thirsty.  He is sitting by a well with no bucket (can you relate?).  He asks a local woman for a drink, and she quickly questions how someone could ask that of their enemy.  Jesus then speaks of having access to what he calls “living water,” which if taken in becomes a well of sorts, and everyone who drinks of it will never thirst.  The woman, in turn, asks for this living water (Jn. 4:7-15).

          Let’s start with the end, this woman’s courage, her forthrightness.  Asking is brave.  Like the Israelites, she asks for what she needs.  She recognizes she is worthy of this life-giving water, and she becomes a model of the feminine wisdom within each of us that knows what it takes to bear life, defying the lines that have been drawn around her or her people or between peoples.

          Then there is the strange water, water that ceases to be merely a substance; it becomes a source in and of itself.  So many people come to religion or spirituality in search of substance, a temporary fill, but that’s only the beginning.  When taken in, this water gives us the capacity to tap into the eternal and the infinite.  Without the feeling of infinite scarcity inside there is less impulse to behave in a way that actually fosters real scarcity for others in the here and now. Think of it as, oh I don’t know, hording toilet paper.  Jesus, like Moses, points out the nearness of the eternal, the infinite, the divine, and our capacity to tap into it.  Strike a rock, go to a well without and bucket, two unlikely approaches to getting water, but there you will find it.  Now, there’s a mystical lesson for you about the accessibility of God, one the church probably hasn’t had much interest in telling because it might put us out of business.  Or, it might change the way we do business, from making the case that we have the best water, to simply leading people to it flowing all around. 

          These are our stories, the stories of our ancestors, they have flowed down through the ages to sustain us.  Of course, there are things older than they.  In our house we love older things right now.  We love dinosaurs.  What forced transition?  I mean if you want to talk old, dinosaurs are a great place to start.  Dinosaurs are so old and lived for so long, it’s hard for us to get our heads around.  Did you that when dinosaurs lived so long ago that the when they did the earth was on the other side of the Milky Way?  They lived for so long—and this will blow your mind—less time separates us from Tyrannosaurs rex than separated Tyrannosaurs from Stegosaurus.  Stegosaurs lived a long long time ago.

          Do you know what else is interesting about dinosaurs beyond the claws and teeth?  They had the same water—they drank the same water, were rained on by the same water, bathed and waded in the same water.  The same water that gave them life is the same that Moses struck from the rock and Jesus found called forth from the well.  As long as there has been life here, there’s been water.  Is God with us or not?  That’s the profound question asked in Exodus?  As distant as we are from each other right now, the answer is as close as your nearest water source. 

We can take a little advantage of this new form today.  I don’t know where you are watching this, but I’m guessing it’s not 20 feet from water, so make your way over to the spigot or have someone bring it to you.  I’m not kidding, just turn up your volume.  If you are near children, let them go first.  Their enthusiasm will make the way wider…Now, touch the water.  Let it run over your hand.  Close your eyes.  Feel it, recognize it for what it is and from whom it actually comes.  When it rains, be reminded.  If you’re scared, let yourself cries and be reminded God is as close as your own tears.

Do you know what, I think this time is going to fuel a burst of innovation for the church, not to mention our wider communities.  In our part of the world, the church is in a state of historic decline and change.  Our ways of doing things hasn’t held people and so the Spirit has been pleading for new forms and new expressions.  I don’t think for a second God would order this that we might evolve, but given that it is upon us, evolve we will (I sound like Yoda).  We are being advised to remain six feet apart, and strangely that might lead us to figure out how from going six feet under.  Much of what we try during this time may fail, but some things might take hold and redefine our landscape of Christianity for generations to come.  And we can say that we were in the room—albeit alone in our own rooms with too much toilet paper—when it happened.

This isn’t new.  This isn’t unchartered.  We have been here before.  We just have to remember, to re-immerse ourselves, and to return to the fountain until we can safely come out and meet here again by the water’s edge.  Until then, God’s Peace.  Amen.