Sunday, March 15, 2020

3 Lent

March 15, 2020

John 4.5-42 

+ Well, there is no escaping the fact that we are now living in a very unique time. Few of us who are alive today have ever had to endure living though a pandemic.

I remember my grandmother talking about living through the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, as well as few other smaller outbreaks of disease earlier in 1914 and later in the 1920s.

The fact that we are here, the fact that we are bracing for this strange common experience, is difficult for all of us.

We are all living with anxiety.

We are living with a certain amount of fear.

We are concerned not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones, for our friends.

I have been concerned for each of you. I have listened to your fears, your concerns, and your anxieties.  And I have struggled to figure out what we do and how we deal with this crisis, while at the same time not giving in fear and defeat.

I posted this note on Facebook this week, which garnered a bit of interest:

What I have been doing is keep up on the latest, most valid information, while trying to ignore the more sensationalist information.

I have been listening to doctors and scientists.

I have tried to make the best decisions regarding St. Stephen’s, trying to keep everyone safe physically, emotionally and spiritually.

And I will continue to take precautions that protect us, even if those decisions are unpopular.  And if you have issues with any decisions I make during this time, I hope you will forgive me and understand that I, along with the Wardens and Vestry, are trying to make the best decisions we can while navigating uncharted waters.

And I have been praying hard. Because, I do believe in the power of prayer.  And I have seen, many times in my own life, the positive effects of prayer.  I have been praying for a quick resolve to this pandemic. I have been praying for each of you and for protection for you. I have been praying for wisdom in how to proceed. And I have been praying that we can still meet, still worship together, still celebrate the life-living sacrament of Holy Communion, because I think these are important in times like this.

How long we will able to do this, I do not know.  Churches are temporarily closing for the safety of its members.  And we may have to as well.

And I have been trying hard to calm myself, to rest in the calm, cool Presence of God, to trust in God.

Again and again, as I study scripture and move deeper and deeper into my relationship with God, I realize that God still does speak to us. And one of those most commons things God says to us, over and over again, throughout Scripture and throughout our own lives is,

“Do not fear.”

“Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid.

We are loved by our God.

God is close.

God is near.

Even in our reading from Romans this morning, we hear this:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand

It’s amazing how such a simple Scripture such as that sustains.

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This peace is a peace that is stronger than pandemics and the fear and chaos that surrounds pandemics. It is this peace we find ourselves clinging to in times like this. It is this peace in which we dwell while storms rage around us.

And in our Gospel reading for today, we find this encounter with Jesus and the woman at the well.  In this encounter we hear Jesus talk about water and thirst, and the thirst for a water that is more than just physical water.

We understand this.  We too find ourselves thirsting.  We do thirst for knowledge, we thirst for health, we thirst for peace and calmness of mind in the midst of chaos. And we definitely thirst for spiritual truth.  And I think that’s very close to what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.

When Jesus sits with the woman at the well, he offers not only her that water of life—he offers it to us as well.  And we, in turn, like her, must “with open hand” give it “to those who thirst.”

To truly understand the meaning of water here, though we have to gently remind ourselves of the land in which this story is taking place.  Palestine was and is a dry and arid land. And in Jesus’ day, water was not as accessible as we take for granted these days.  It came from wells that sometimes weren’t in close proximity to one’s home.  There was certainly no in-door plumbing.  The water that came from those wells was not the clean and filtered water we enjoy now, that we drink from fancy bottles.  They didn’t have refrigeration, they wouldn’t have understood what an ice cube was—so often the water they drank was lukewarm at best.

And sometimes it was polluted.  People got sick and died from drinking it.  Jesus understood and lived in a society that really feared illness. They too experienced epidemics and pandemics.

But despite all of that, water was essential.  One died without water in that arid land. Water meant life.  In that world, people truly understood thirst.  They thirsted truly for water.

And so we have this issue of water in a story in which Jesus confronts this woman—who is obviously and truly thirsty.  Thirsty for water, yes, but—as we learn—she is obviously thirsty also for more.  She is thirsty as well for love, for security, for stability, all of which she does not have.

She is a woman who is dealing with some real anxiety in her life.  

Now, we have to be fair to her.  For a woman to be without a man in her day would have meant that she would be without security, without a home, without anything.  A woman at that time was defined by the men in her life—her husband or father or son.  And so, widowed as many times as she was, she was desperate to find some reason and purpose in her life through the men in her life.

She is thirsty.  Thirsty for the water she is drawing from the well and thirsty for more than life has given her.

In a sense, we can find much to relate to in this woman. We too are thirsty people. We too are living in fear, especially right now. Or we are living in denial of what is happening around us. We are living with this sense of unknown about what is going to happen.  We too really are thirsty.

In this strange, surreal collective moment in which we live, we are longing for peace and health and calmness.  We find that we will never be quenched until we drink of that cool, clean water which will fill us where we need to be filled.

That cool, clean Water is of course our knowledge that we are truly loved by our God.  That knowledge of God’s love is the Water of which we drink to be truly filled.  It is the Water that will become in us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

What better image to take with us in this strange, uncertain time?

As we journey through the weird, collective desert in which people are reacting with fear and panic,  what better image can we cling to?  We, collectively, are that woman at the well—we are parched and we feel alone, uncertain of our future.

In many ways, this experience is very much like a big, collective Lent. We are finding ourselves—our fractured, shattered, uncertain, frightened, insecure selves—struggling, coming to this well, expecting something…some quenching to this anxiety.  

Last week, I talked about Passive Diminishments. Well, we are right in one, big huge, passive Diminishment. We are in a situation, we cannot avoid, we cannot escape, but that we must simply endure as best we can, while doing everything we can to avoid illness.

In Jesus, we find that calmness we are longing for.  At this life-giving Eucharist we celebrate together, we find consolation.  Here too our thirst is quenched in the God we find here at this altar.   Like the Samaritan woman, we approach the well of this altar, weighed down heavily by our fear.  

But, like her, we are able to leave the well of this altar different people.  We walk away from this altar transformed people—a person made whole.  We walk away no longer thirsty people.  We walk away remade into saints.

So, as we journey together through this very bizarre and strange time, through this uncharted territory none of us has walked before, and as we approach Easter and the Living Water that pours forth from the tomb of Easter, let us do so without fear, without anxiety.

Before I close today, I want to make mention of Bishop Barbara Harris, who died yesterday morning.

Bishop Harris was described by my friend Fr. Tim Schenck as a “fierce, prophetic,
Bishop Barbara Harris
chain-smoking, foul-mouthed witness for social justice.”

(I LOVE that description!)

She was also the first woman ordained a Bishop in the Anglican Communion.

I, for one, am deeply grateful for all Bishop Harris did and was. This world is just a bit darker than it was, since her presence left it.

But, Fr. Tim shared a quote from her that speaks loudly to all of today in our particular situation.  Bishop Harris once said,

“We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”

Yes, it may seem right now like a prolonged, seemingly unending Good Friday. But we are Easter people. We carry Easter within us, even in these dark times.  That bright shining light of Easter is alive within each of us.

So, no matter how dark it may seem, no matter how frightening it feels at times, we have to remind ourselves that that eternal, life-affirming Easter is alive in each of us.  And as Easter people, we need to remember again and again what our God tells us:

do not fear.”

Do not fear.

Our God loves us.


God loves you.

Each of  you.

Fully and completely and uniquely.

Cling to that love.

Hold that love close to you in this time.

Let that love be your shield against fear and anxiety.

God loves you.

That is our living water right now.

All we have to do is say, “Give me some of that water.”

And it will be given to us.

And those of us who drink of that water will never again be thirsty.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

Thank you so much, Jamie. I hang on these words and your commentary. And I trust them. Thank you for your strong, Spirit-led leadership.