The Woman at the Well – Sermon

“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.  She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?'” (John 4:28-29)  “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them…  And many more believed because of his word.” (John 4:39-41)

Last weekend, Jordan and I went to the mountains outside of Hendersonville; there’s a cabin up there that we love to stay in with our dog, Ben, and the land and air up there rejuvenate us.  The first time we went there was back when we lived in Durham, before we even got Ben.  We’d never been to Western North Carolina before, and for spring break decided to try something new; we visited St. John’s in the Wilderness in Flat Rock, and Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s mountain home, and what has become my favorite antique store in the world–Jane Asher Antiques.  I didn’t know that we’d ever go back–what a glorious realization last summer when we moved to Columbia that we were hardly two hours away from that dear place!  We were so excited to go back, and to bring our dog, Ben, to camp and hike and “see” the sights with us.

What are places, or people, or events in your life that you think of being eager to share with others?

I remember when we were planning our wedding, I thrilled at the thought of my friends from my Upstate New York internship meeting Jordan’s family from North Dakota.  My dear friend Dan, from high school, who I hadn’t seen in years, would drive up form South Carolina; my friends from summer camp in Ohio would be the ushers.  We were so excited to invite all these people from different moments in our lives to be together at the same time.

Are there any places in your life or memory that you love so much that you want to share them with others?  Are you a sort of evangelist for a particular resort or city or restaurant?  Is there somewhere that you’ve got to go to eat every time you visit Charleston, or New York?

The Samaritan woman in our Gospel lesson today had an experience like that when she met Jesus.  There at the well in the heat of the day, though she’d expected to be alone–that’s why she went when she did–there was someone else sitting there, and she joined him in conversation.  It didn’t take long for her to realize that he was not the standard-issue man-sitting-next-to-a-well.  Though it’s a long Gospel passage (John 4:5-42), theirs is a relatively short conversation, and yet it completely changed the course of this woman’s life.  After talking with Jesus, even though she didn’t quite understand everything he said–I don’t understand everything Jesus has said to us, either–she was so taken that she went back to her town and told everyone that they had to come and meet this guy.

She witnessed to them.  She had encountered Jesus, she had been changed by this personal encounter, and so she went and told others about it, about Jesus.  She wanted others to experience the same thing that she had–the freedom, the peace, the joy, the honesty that she knew through this God-man, she hoped for everyone to taste the same transforming water that had quenched her thirst.

Just like Jordan and I were eager for our dog Ben to experience the waterfalls, hiking, and beautiful nature of Western North Carolina, this woman knew that meeting Jesus would change each person’s life, and she didn’t want them to miss out on it.  Just like Jordan and I were excited to bring together all the wonderful people we knew from various parts of our lives to meet each other and enjoy each other at the wedding, this woman told others about this person, Jesus, whom she’d met, and brought them to him, so they could meet him themselves.

Jesus is here, my friends.  That is why we come here every Sunday.  If Jesus isn’t here, there’s no reason for you to come.  If God is not present and transforming in this place, there is no reason for you to show up.  But if God is here, if God reveals himself to you through your quiet prayer, or through the bread and wine, or through the music, or preaching, or teaching, or through each other, then why not tell someone about it?  If your life has been changed, transformed, made new and different by God in Jesus Christ, I challenge you, tell others to “Come and see.”  We are promised that the harvest is plentiful and that many more will believe because of God’s Word.

Amen.

Finding Jesus, or just Seeing Things?

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Last month, Jesus bought me a latte.  A few days ago, I saw Jesus’ eyes.

Did you know that Jesus is still around?  Or is it that my brain turns certain moments over in my head, and soon enough, something clicks in my environment, and poof! out pops a fictitious “God moment”?

Surely, in this, the 21st century, someone with a degree from a top-tier institution wouldn’t be so superstitious and mentally weak as to believe that there’s some kind of mysterious power at work in this big old universe.

A cynical but seeking friend of mine, when I told him about the latte (read on for the story), said, “Ah ha!  So, who’s to say whether it’s God or not, but you were out there, making yourself available, putting yourself in the position to encounter something.  You weren’t forcing ‘God”s hand, or demanding something of the universe, but you didn’t sit at home alone, praying for a miracle and refusing to move either.”

On my birthday this year, I had a very early meeting.  My husband was out of town, and I was pulling especially long hours working on a big surprise (reno project) in his absence.  I was a little bit down the super early, cloudy morning as I drove to work, feeling like I didn’t quite have enough community in this place yet to really enjoy my birthday (how like little children we remain!).  Praying Complaining in my car, I said, “Couldn’t you send me a birthday gift?  You’re supposed to be my comfort and Rock.  I want a gift.  Let me know you’re there.”  (this is nothing like Gideon and the fleece, or Moses and the burning bush–those were people with REAL questions and REAL doubts)  I stopped by my favorite coffee shop on my way downtown, and the owner asked me what brought me there so early; I told him about the early meeting and bribing myself with a latte for my birthday.  He insisted that the coffee be on the house.  When I got back to my car, I shed a tear.  Maybe it was Jesus, maybe it was just small town Southern Hospitality, but I knew that this really was a community in which I was beginning to belong, and that God hadn’t left me alone.

And as for last week, and Jesus’ eyes: on a retreat, we were invited to enter into the narratives of Holy Week in a new way–we read and reread John’s passion stories, and listened to creative writings telling the same story from another perspective.  Good Friday was told from the perspective of a guard, and in his reflection, he returned again and again to Jesus’ eyes–when Jesus had first looked at him on Palm Sunday, during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, again as the guard kept the people from Jesus while they marched slowly through the city on Friday, toward Golgatha, and finally, when the guard offers Jesus sour wine, the last action taken from the cross, in John’s Gospel.  I found myself envying the guard–he looked into God’s eyes.  He got to see Jesus.  Can you imagine?  I thought, “I want to see Jesus.  I want to look into Jesus’ eyes.  They say that eyes are the window of the soul; what would it have been like to look at God?”  A large part of my work is visiting–and I’ve been working on being more present during these visits, listening more closely to my parishioners in between the lines, and trying to hear how God might be guiding them.  I visited someone last week, and as they held my hand and looked deep into my eyes, I knew I was seeing a glimpse of what Jesus’ eyes looked like.

Is this all just hooey?  An overactive imagination attuned to its environment, making up connections in a desperate attempt to create a Higher Power?  Could be.  I can’t prove that it isn’t.  What I do know is that there’s a lot more to life than meets the eye.  People can indeed surprise you–in good ways and in bad ways–and sometimes things happen that are just a little bit outside the realm of explanation.  Maybe these little witnesses from the last few weeks of my everyday life aren’t from a divine source, but one can’t conclusively rule it out, either.

We’ve lost of a lot of wonder in our modern lives. Controlling our use of time with electric lights, medicines, and machinery makes us less attuned to the mystical moments that happen to us and through us every day.  Things like human love will always have a bit of mystery to them, as do myriad other aspects of our existence, if we let ourselves wonder and let ourselves let go of the illusion that we can control every eventuality with the power of our intellect (it didn’t go so well last time around, see Genesis 11).

Let some mystery sneak into your life this Lent, this spring.  As the world starts to come alive again, marvel at the miracle of life and growth, the wonder of learning something that doesn’t come from a book and on which you won’t be tested.  Maybe make a bit of room and pay a bit of attention to how God might be sneaking around the corners of your life, calling to you.