Sunday, March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent
It was very difficult to pause long enough this week – to center my mind – and feel grounded enough in my spirit in order to write a relevant sermon. Do I focus on the issue on everyone’s mind or try and offer hope in a time of global pandemic? Like few other times in my ministry, the distractions have been a near constant demand for my attention as new information was given through a barrage of emails, in addition to conversations with colleagues, church officials, members and staff, all the while prayers were offered and discernment made leading to decisions that affect the lives of so many with regard to the COVID-19 virus. The biggest problem is that no one really knows the best course of action as we move cautiously forward. There are so many unknowns and so many opinions.
We have certainly faced moments like this in our lives before. We will certainly come face-to-face with issues of this (and possibly larger) magnitude in the future. But none of that matters right now. What matters most at this moment is what is right before us.
It’s easy to get paralyzed in fear and take no action whatsoever – a kind of “bury your head in the sand” approach. It’s also tempting to make rash decisions, supposed quick fixes in hopes of putting the fire out. Neither of which seem prudent or responsible. It is important, I think, to hold all of this at bay for a moment. To listen to the words of the Psalmist who reminds us to “Be still – and know the abiding presence of God.” To that end, I want us to turn to the scripture lesson chosen for this Sunday – the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It might give us some insight as we move forward. I invite you to walk through it with me.
You may remember last week’s lesson – the story of Jesus’ mid-night conversation with Nicodemus. It’s a story that couldn’t be more different than the one you just heard. In fact, biblical scholars believe these two lessons were intentionally placed back-to-back in John’s gospel in order to demonstrate an important contrast. Consider the differences:
Name (man) status
Comes to Jesus at mid-night
Educated Jewish teacher
No name given (woman) no status at all
Meets Jesus at mid-day
Nobody – divorced – “living in sin”
The comparison is striking, but the results of their respective conversations are even more telling. We are led to believe that Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’ teaching and left apparently not having received what he came for. We know that that changes as the story unfolds because Nicodemus later comes to Jesus’ defense when he is tried before Pilate. We also know that it was Nicodemus who assisted Joseph of Arimathea in taking Jesus’ to his grave. But in his initial encounter – he seems to walk away unfulfilled and dejected.
The experience of the Samaritan woman is very different. Jesus’ conversation with her was one of affirmation, intimacy, an intentional engagement as he first requests a drink of cool water to quench his thirst having walked from the Judean countryside to Galilee by way of Samaria.
When talking to Nicodemus, Jesus appears to be in a position of authority, but when conversing with the Samaritan woman, Jesus demonstrates humility through his humanity – that is his very human need for water. It’s in his honesty – his humanity – that Jesus opens the door to a much deeper conversation as the woman is given permission to be her TRUE self with this man she barely knows.
As she begins to recognize this man as a prophet, she takes the conversation even deeper. Was it to trick Jesus or did she really want to know? She asks, “So you’re a prophet. Well, tell me this, our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship – right? So, who is right?
Jesus’ response was not one I would have expected, and I doubt she did either. He said something like, “You know, it really doesn’t matter where you worship. The time is coming, in fact it already has, when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
“It’s who you are and the way you live your life that counts before God. Your worship – your life – must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. And that can only happen when you are simply and honestly being yourself before God and one another.
You see, I’m convinced, what Jesus was doing with this woman was to demonstrate precisely how we ought to live in relationship with each other – and perhaps now more than ever. It’s being honest with our-selves AND honest with one another that we grow and deepen individually AND with one another. It’s how we ought to come to God in worship and how we ought to approach one another in our pursuit of truth. It’s how we ought to live our lives each and every day – whether here or in our homes, or anywhere.
When the current health crisis subsides, members and friends of Keawala’i Congregational Church will be invited to sit with me and explore some important questions as we pursue our collective truth together. Our conversation will not be so lofty as to decide where is the best place to worship God, but it will involve how you WANT to worship God in the future – including taking a good look in the mirror in order to really see ourselves. Who are we today? Where do we see ourselves in the next year, five years, ten years and beyond? And, what kind of leader are we seeking to help us move in that direction?
It’s kind of like asking what are our current thirsts? Those thirsts may contain your fears, hopes, and dreams, as well as some nagging questions – ones that may or may not be immediately answered. Those can be stimulating and revealing conversations, but they will only begin to scratch our pursuit of truth if we are honest with ourselves AND with one another. And when we have those kinds of meaningful conversations, and we know that have touched the truth of who we are, whose we are, and who we aspire to be – then the response will be very stimulating, possibly eye-opening, and ought to ignite a course of action.
Take a look at what happened to the unnamed Samaritan woman after her conversation with Jesus. When she experienced the depth of what it means to be completely honest – her true self – in relationship with Jesus, she discovered her own way of being born anew. The writer of John said, “She left her water pot and ran back to the village.” Knowing full well that women in that day did not teach, nor were they inclined to tell others what to do with their lives. Nevertheless, she called out to them, “Come and see this man who knows everything!”
She had pursued and found her way to the truth – her truth – and now wanted others to share in that same joy.
You see, whether we are discussing our response to COVID-19, or our understanding of what it means to offer hospitality to those in need. Whether we are seeking our way to a grace-filled life, or prayerfully discerning who God is calling to lead this wonderful congregation into the future, the first step is to be honest, and open, to be humble, fully human with each other as we open our hearts to one another in the pursuit of truth – God’s guidance for our lives.
The days ahead will not be easy ones. There are difficult decisions that lie ahead on so many issues. But we will be heading in the right direction if our primary goal is to pursue the truth and to share the gifts we have been given to those in need. I am certain God seeks that spirit within us and among us in order to guide us on God’s path.