Life-changing Water

 

Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 95 | Romans 5:1-11 | John 4:5-42

We know this Jesus showing up at the well, exhausted and parched, completely willing to take a shortcut. This human Jesus has dusty feet, sand and sweat in his eyes, hair, and beard, and the weight of the world heavy on his heart. It had to be a relief for the disciples to offer to run into town to find some food. “No, you go ahead. I’ll just wait here for you.” Haven’t we all said that, hoping for a bit of rest?

The woman at the well- acrylic, mix media- David Bondt, 2016

We know this woman at the well. She’s outcast but proud. Eloquent and intelligent. She knows her place in the margins of society and has crafted her armor well to handle the torment . . . the persistent sexism, discrimination, and oppression.

And we know the expected social script. Then as now, the script would have them ignore one another, pass each other by without interaction or engagement and look the other way. Jesus would rest. She would get her water–transactions complete without complication.

But Jesus has a way of complicating things.

He’s always writing a new script. Before we even know why, Jesus knows that this woman’s heart has been broken and a fortress built around it to protect her vulnerability. Before we even know that there’s a harvest ripe and ready, Jesus knows that this woman has the potential to sound the call that now is the time for the world to be turned upside down, for the world as we know it to give way, for all we’ve ever hoped for to be manifest. He knows the potential in each of us, and the necessity for each and every one of us to experience His transformational love so that we, too, can turn the world upside down.

In his commentary on The Gospel of John, William Barclay says,

“There are two revelations in Christianity: the revelation of God and the revelation of ourselves. We never really see ourselves until we see ourselves in the presence of Christ; and then we are appalled at the sight.”

Maybe this is one reason we get this reading of the woman at the well in the midst of Lent. How long can we carry on with our defenses up? It’s not that hard to do if we play along with society’s script, maintaining propriety and expectations. The majority of our society isn’t observing a holy Lent. The majority isn’t turning away from self-sufficiency, giving intentional thought toward dependency upon God. But we’ve already taken that precarious step out of the rut. When we got our crosses on Ash Wednesday, we reoriented ourselves, opening our awareness to seek with our heart, mind, and soul where God is in our lives. It’s a heart- and gut-wrenching revelation when we see that God isn’t manifest fully in our lives because of who we are. We are “appalled” because the truth is that we inhibit God from being revealed by the choices we make, but it’s our next step after our self-revelation that makes all the difference.

Our woman at the well carries herself in the heat of day to draw water. She responds to Jesus when he speaks to her; she even banters with him, gets a little sarcastic. As soon as Jesus indicates he knows the pain beneath her facade, the exchange becomes serious. Whereas the woman acted as if she had nothing more to lose, Jesus seemingly peels back her armor and holds a mirror to show her the wounds left by five husbands. Maybe they had died; maybe they had beaten her; maybe they had used her and left her. Maybe the man she was with now was nothing more to her than shelter and protection. His eyes see her as the wounded woman she is, as only the two of them fully know. By seeing her as a wounded child of God, Jesus reminds her of her humanity, her value and worth, the shreds of which she had to box up and stow away because to hold it close to the surface served as a reminder of her constant pain and put on display her vulnerability, her need for care and love and healing. Under that blazing noonday sun and in the clear gaze of Jesus, the woman discovers herself as God sees her. She stays with Jesus long enough to let her heart and mind open to the Truth before her, the Truth that is as available as the water from the well but even more abundant, more pure, and available to all–no well or bucket required for the living water Christ offers.

Barclay also says that “Christianity begins with a sense of sin. It begins with the sudden realization that life as we are living it will not do. We awake to ourselves and we awake to our need of God.”

Our sense of sin, however we express it, is us living our lives turned away from God, in a sense, leaving a stone covering the well of living water. The longer we leave it covered, the longer it accumulates layers of debris and excuses and rationalizations. The longer we let ourselves go without tasting the fresh, living water, the more we normalize our thirst and allow ourselves to be falsely satisfied with stagnant substitutes. The longer we go without sharing the truths behind our hurts and fears, the longer we isolate ourselves from everyone else lest they, too, inflict more wounds. In our pain and fear, we pile more dirt over the mound that we’re fairly certain is a deep dark hole we should be afraid of . . . because we’ve forgotten what living water is, what life it gives, and from whence it comes. We must remember the importance of sharing our stories so we don’t forget what is True.

Our greatest revelation and discovery is that

Jesus is who He is for us all.

It is Jesus’ immeasurably powerful love that strips away the layers of guilt and shame until He sees the naked truth of the sinners we have been because we projected our selfish judgment onto God. We feel awful for what we’ve done, and rather than turn with penitent hearts to God, we run away, ashamed and afraid. Who but Jesus can seen us in our brokenness and say, “I know. Come to me. See for yourself that you are forgiven.” It’s that transformative experience of grace, of mercy, of forgiveness, of unconditional love that blasts away a lifetime of wrongdoing so that the living water can spring forth and rejuvenate our parched souls.

Jesus had to go through Samaria, and he sat by the well because he was tired. And everything he did was according to God’s will. Touching one life at a time was the way in which to reach thousands. Only when we’ve experienced God’s grace can we bear witness to God’s power. We don’t evangelize by shoving our experience of Christ’s salvation into another person’s heart or by pounding Bible verses into another person’s head. We reveal to them our personal transformation. The Samaritan woman who had gone out of her way not to encroach upon others in the town now goes running into their midst, proclaiming to all to “come and see!” the one who knew her heart, the one who very well could be the Messiah. What a vivid image of evangelism.

How are we like the woman at the well? Where were we when Jesus broke down our defenses, and we realized that we couldn’t do this thing called life on our own any more? Maybe it was a definitive moment in our life, and like a born-again Christian in prison, we can testify to giving everything to God in complete surrender. But maybe our life fully lived in Christ is a slowly dawning revelation. Maybe our life of faith has given way more and more to the realization of the grandeur of God in all of Creation, and each day takes us deeper into our existing relationships, where it’s more about God’s will than our will.

Because it is more about God’s will than our will.

As Christians, we sign up to proclaim the transformative love of Christ for all the world. We sign up to stay woke, and when we fall asleep or fall into ignorance or complacency, we get back up again however many times it takes. It’s uncomfortable when our world gets turned upside down, when revelations give us new or renewed responsibilities, and when we are to be the Body of Christ in the world. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or tired. Sit. Have a rest. Drink up that living water, and then go tell the story about how it changed your life.

 

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Jesus Was Amazed

1 Kings 18:20-39 | Psalm 96 | Galatians 1:1-12 | Luke 7:1-10

It occurs to me that to get our attention these days, things are either all or nothing, really bad or really good. The news tends toward the overly dramatic, creating sound bytes or headlines that grab our attention or get our adrenaline pumping. How often do we think or say “That’s horrible!” or “That’s amazing!” Perhaps like me, you’ve become a little numb to all the drama, especially when it’s mostly horrible. Maybe we’ve forgotten what it’s like or how to be amazed.

If we sort the information we receive into buckets we label either horrible or amazing, our “horrible” bucket is overflowing. Thanks to our ability to communicate instantly worldwide and distribute information nearly as quickly, we can know about almost anything anywhere, especially if it’s tragic. In the car in the mornings, I sometimes brace myself to listen to Morning Edition on NPR. I listen to the most recent bombings, conflicts, debates, crashes, market reports, and research–all in the matter of a few minutes. This past week there was a report released from the World Health Organization that in the past two years there have been 1,000 deaths in the Doctors Without Borders organization, 60% of which were intentional attacks on the medical facilities themselves. This statistic strikes particularly hard because we realize that the victims are medical professionals there to help the defenseless in the tumultuous and under-served regions…or are the defenseless themselves.

With this report lingering in my consciousness, I was looking forward in our church calendar, looking up readings in our lectionary for this next weekend’s Women’s Institute. We have lesser feasts that honor not only saints but also martyrs, those who have died in defense of the faith. Thursday and Friday this next week we commemorate martyrs of the church, people whose lives were cut short by others who were threatened by the faithful and their work, their mission to spread the gospel.

The way our minds work and make associations, I found myself making a connection between the victims of violence–those associated with Doctors Without Borders–and their desire to serve and heal those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to care. The techs, nurses, doctors, and others knew the risks of their assignment and went forth bravely, much like the fallen soldiers we remember on Monday. In this moment of connection, I get a sense of the courage, purpose, and determination that exists in the willingness to face whatever may come because there is something good at stake. There is liberty to defend. There is an orphaned child to be nursed in hope. There are traumatized men and women who need to be reminded that there is a future worth defending not just with military might but also with compassion. That good is worth our very life.

This connection, this bit of insight, doesn’t make the news less horrible, but it does allow me to contribute something unsaid yet understood toward the amazing side of things. The services contributed by Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations, let alone the services offered by our military are often, I’m sorry to say, taken for granted . . . until we meet someone or hear a story that reminds us how much is at stake when they commit to serve, especially in dangerous territory. Their willingness to serve, even to death, is truly amazing and worthy of every remembrance we can offer.

Another bit of news recently was something of a different nature, something that immediately came across as amazing: the laughing Chewbacca mom video that went viral on Facebook, watched by more than 151 million people. If you’re among the few that haven’t seen the video, I can tell you that it’s a phone video of a mom in her van in a Kohl’s parking lot. The mom wants to show off her birthday gift to her friends. She makes clear the gift is for herself and not her kids and then reveals her plastic Star Wars Chewbacca mask. The mask has this great feature that when you open your mouth or lower your jaw, it makes the Wookie talking sound. That doesn’t seem all that amazing, but what happens is that the woman gets tickled when she sees herself in the mask and hears the Wookie-speak. She laughs and laughs. Belly-shaking, tear-producing laughter. When she finally removes the mask, she wipes away her laughing tears and tells her viewers, “Have an incredible day; it’s the simple joys,” as she ends the recording laughing some more.

Her name is Candace, a mom squeezing in time to do something for herself before she picks up her kids from school. What’s amazing is that in just over a week, millions of people have laughed with her. For almost four minutes, they tasted her simple joy and were able to pause for a moment and delight in life. Not surprisingly, that’s something Candace intended. She also happens to be a worship leader and church volunteer in Texas and gives all thanks to God for the joy in her life. Maybe that’s what people tasted and shared so readily–so hungry are we for the amazingly good and joyful in life. Have we forgotten how simple it is to be joyful?

A willingness to serve and a joyful heart are undoubtedly significant ingredients in creating the amazing. With the upcoming music festival, I’m sure many will be amazed. Musicians pour their hearts and souls into hours of practice and rehearsal and attention to all the details that make for a memorable performance. (I’m sure Lynn might add that there’s sometimes blood, sweat, and tears, too.) I was listening to an interview with cellist Yo-Yo Ma the other day, and he shared that in his understanding of life, our role as humans is to participate fully, to show up and ask, “What can I do to help?” Because we often don’t know the answer, we’re in a vulnerable position. If we mean it, we’re asking selflessly, for a purpose greater than ourselves. If we mean it, we ask humbly because we’re not trying to prove anything. Yo-Yo Ma says later in the interview that we’re just showing that what we do makes us all better. Having an outlook that chooses joy and embodies hospitality, Yo-Yo Ma makes incredible music whether he plays solo or with others, music that inspires awe and wonder. That’s what he does to participate fully, to the benefit of us all.

A doctor’s service, a mother’s infectious laugh, a musician’s talent–however simple or profound–they are all amazing in their connection with others. Their dedication and joy reveals the beauty of what is readily available to us all when we reach beyond ourselves.

One man selflessly, vulnerably, and humbly sought out another’s help to heal his slave. Rather than ignore the slave or chalk it up as another tally in a list of horrible events, he recalled someone different, someone with power similar to but even greater than his own. For a moment he might have wondered, but so certain was the centurion in Jesus’ might and power, that he asked Jesus only to speak his word, and the centurion knew that it would be done.

Yet it was Jesus who was amazed.

To amaze someone doesn’t only mean to be surprised. It can mean to be filled with wonder. In our gospel today, the most amazing thing is not that the slave was healed–at a distance, even without a verbal command that we know of, as awesome as that is. What was most amazing–enough to amaze the Son of God–was the faith of one to come forward, respectfully and humbly, to petition on behalf of his slave. The faith of the centurion, one presumed to be an enemy to the Jews, amazed Jesus. Maybe in that moment when Jesus recognized the faith of the centurion, the truth of his heart, he recognized the opening of the hearts of those whom had previously seemed closed to following His way. Maybe Jesus was both surprised at the man’s turn toward God and filled with wonder at what it meant for the future of the God’s kingdom.

How often do we amaze the Divine?

How often do we move forward in the defense of our faith, in the defense of the good, for the benefit of our neighbor, a stranger, or our enemy? How often does our delight in God erupt as joy so as to transcend all barriers and kindle light and life and love where there had been an abundance of death and fear? My guess is that it happens way more often than we realize because we are preoccupied with protecting ourselves from what is horrible in this world. Being Christian, we didn’t sign up for a safe and easy way of life, nor did we sign up to be ignorant and oblivious. We signed up to follow Jesus, and today Jesus shows us that we are to be amazed–amazed at unexpected realizations, simple joys, beauty abundant, and the power of our faith in Christ. And all thanks be to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we also signed up to be amazing.

 

 

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