Sermon–March 23, 2014

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Lent 3—Year A

March 23, 2014

William Bradbury

 Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

Romans 5:1-11 
John 4:5-42

 Last week’s encounter with Nicodemus the insider starts at night. Today’s story with an outsider begins at noon.  Jesus sitting by the well of Jacob is tired and thirsty—in need.

A nameless Samaritan woman arrives to draw water for her family. She has a “past” as we say in the South, which is why she shows up in the heat of the day to avoid being pecked to death by the women who draw water when it is cooler.

A Jewish Rabbi should have nothing to do with this person—she’s the wrong race, sex, and religion—she’s invisible, like a woman living on the streets.

Jesus has a decision to make. He’s been trained by his culture and religion to avoid this kind of woman, yet an inner voice tells him to connect with just such people who have endured the abuse of their community for so long she has internalized the abuse,  so that even when she is alone she hears an accusing inner voice.

We know this voice. Sometimes we even think God wants us to savage ourselves for being such failures: perhaps if I attack myself hard enough and long enough I will finally be set free.

We’ve all had this kind of encounter where our inner split becomes visible.

Reminds me of the first time I started working with an AIDS support group in North Carolina back in the early 1990s. I was sitting in on a group run by a Roman Catholic priest so I would know what to do with the group I was starting. As we introduced ourselves a big tin of popcorn was passed around. As it got closer to me my rational mind told me there was no danger in sticking my hand into the same tin as these sick men. My gut, however, told me this could be a dangerous thing to do. I heard an inner voice say, “Maybe you won’t catch AIDS but you could get some other virus they are carrying, or at least some social impurity that will stain your soul.” I heard another inner voice say, “You are supposed to love these people—eat the popcorn.”

 We all have this split in us. A human person has been described as a 12 year old riding an elephant (see Jonathan Haidt The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. The child may be logical and rational, setting goals and following ideals. The elephant, representing our unconscious animal nature, will sometimes do what the child says, but there are times when the elephant gets angry or hungry or afraid and ignores the child’s direction and does whatever it wants, while the child hangs on for dear life. Both the child and the elephant are driven by fear.

 Jesus, like Sherlock Holmes, figures all this out as the woman approaches and he decides to engage her. What Jesus offers to this woman is a relationship with a man who is not split inside because both his inner child and elephant are grounded in God.

So he offers the woman—not a magical waving of a divine wand, but an encounter that creates in her the beginning of hope, the hope for healing, for salvation.

We could analyze what Jesus says to the woman and tease out how those words about worship in spirit and truth begin to heal her.

But I don’t think that goes deep enough to get to the heart of this healing encounter.

I believe it is Jesus’ self-offering that makes the woman feel something she’s never felt before. She feels an acceptance that is not based on what she can give to a man. This acceptance is of who she really is, her painful past included.

 Those commentators who say there is a sexual charge in this encounter are surely right. See Gray Temple’s The Molten Soul

But this isn’t the unhealed and destructive flirting between a needy man and a needy woman looking for salvation in all the wrong places, rather it is a connection with a safe and accepting man who is more interested in her healing than in his own needs.

And I believe Jesus is refreshed by this woman’s honesty. He enjoys her company and that joy enhances her feeling of acceptance:

 Jesus sees her as his sister in God. She has never experienced this before and it is profoundly healing.

 “He told me everything I ever did” she says as if this were a good thing!!!!

This is the judgment which takes her life seriously. He doesn’t blow it off as unimportant, but names it. Yes, this is your life.

But this judgment is just the front end of the healing. Beneath everything you’ve done and had done to you, beneath your broken self-image and the image others have of you there is your wholeness in God.

She begins to see herself through Jesus’ eyes and heart.

 She experiences what Paul says in Romans today:  “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ lived and died for us.”

 This nameless woman, standing in for everyone who is overwhelmed by life, isn’t saved by an intellectual assent to the messiah-ship of Jesus. She is saved because the heart of God revealed in Jesus is for us.

In his presence she believes that even she might be included in the phrase “for us”.

We’ll say it in a few moments in the Nicene Creed: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”

Christ is for us. He doesn’t include us because we’ve gotten our life cleaned up, made our confession, and become a church worker. He includes us because it is God’s will.

Christ includes you because it is God’s will.

Spending time with Jesus makes it real—which is why we worship, pray, and pay attention to his presence in every person and in every moment.

His God-groundedness of mind and body, consciousness and unconsciousness, rational and non-rational, reaches into our lives beneath the fear and also anchors us in the affection and mercy of God.

 This is the rock of ages cleft for us—the chaos of our inner split bounces off this Rock like waves in the ocean. There is suffering when we run amok, of course, but nothing can separate us from the Rock of our salvation, our New Being in Christ, birthed in the waters of baptism. See Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics Volume #21, page 89, for a beautiful account of this image of our true being in Christ

 This is who we are—whether we believe it or not. But when we do believe and act on who we are in Christ we, like the woman at the well, experience the possibility of new life.

Paul says: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”

 Even though her faith is not complete yet–“could this be the Christ?” she questions–she becomes an evangelist.

But notice her message is not, “come to my church because we have great worship, wonderful music, loving fellowship, and lots of outreach.

No, she says, come to my church because at All Saints I experience Christ’s acceptance and healing, through the worship, music, fellowship and working with the poor.

Her neighbors come to see for themselves and after two day with Jesus their faith comes alive as they experience the same acceptance as the woman.

Since Christ is for us, why wouldn’t we also spend time with Jesus?