Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Is the LORD among us?"

“Is the LORD among us?”
Year A, Lent 3
St Thomas Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

When God breaks through, we rarely expect it.  It catches us unaware.  It catches us unprepared.  We find ourselves unworthy.  Yet, we find ourselves loved.  We find ourselves, to our great surprise, already loved and already acceptable of being loved by the Beloved.

The Samaritan woman of today’s tale, had been looking for love in all the wrong places.  Yet, in her own unique way, found it in her attempt to avoid the scorn.  As she slunk from the scorn to the well, she found acceptance.  She found she was already loved and already lovable.  

Sigmund Freud said that the greatest need in the human psyche is to be loved and capable of loving.  And in a fast dialogue bouncing from sexism to racism, from sinfulness to prophecy, we see Jesus and the woman here jumping from the ordinary to the extraordinary in a relatively short time.

She is so impressed and enamored with this potential Messiah, that she forgets the jar which initiated her midday walk and darts back to town to share the potential goodness-gracious-me news that this could be the One.  It truly could be the One.  Come and see, she says.

We climb up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need quickly.  The disciples had gone for food; Jesus had asked the woman for water.  Both were basic needs and in short order, by the fulfilling of a higher order need, Jesus is filled.

John 4:32 But Jesus said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about."

John 4:34 ..."My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

When our higher calling is met, everything else is a trifle.  Or, as Jesus put it, roughly, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s okaying-of-you and everything else will fall into place.”  Rough translation admitted.

God breaks through in amazing and remarkable ways, and most often when we least expect it.  Moses was worried about sheep when he saw a burning bush.  Saul, about to become St. Paul, was thinking of religious assassination when he was blinded by the light.  Isaiah was praying in the Temple.  Hannah was weeping for lack of a child in a shrine, when God promised her Samuel.  Abram was being hospitable, entertaining guests, and Sarai was laughing, when God broke through.  Jacob was dreaming when he saw the stairway to heaven.  A woman, a Samaritan woman, met God in a thirsty stranger.  We meet God when we meet God.  And we are blessed.

So what can we take away from today’s readings?  I find them cohesive, and encouraging.  Here goes:

Romans 5:5b-8 God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

God loves us.  There is nothing that we can do that would make us more lovable to God, and there is nothing that we have done, could do, or will do that could make us unlovable to God.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I love you just the way you are, God cries.  Do we hear?

Psalm 95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

So often we feel, too often we feel, that God is so very far from us.  We do not feel it, so we think it is not true.  Gravity is the same way.  It acts upon us so heavily that it feels non-existent.  We are steeped in it.  A fish might deny the theory of water.  A human might deny the theory of a loving God.  We do not have a perspective to see that we are bathed in it.  It is never far, and yet we so easily forget.

In the Exodus passage, in the trial of the desert, the people of God were crying out in thirst.  They so easily forgot the miraculous deliverance that had just led to their freedom.

3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."
5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.  7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

And that is the question I have to ask of myself today?  “Is the LORD among us or not?”  

If God is not here, I do not even want to think about it.  I have been an utter fool.  For years of work and study, I have been on a fool’s errand.  I have spoken lies and and taught and preached for naught.  Many of you could say the same thing.  Enough people out in the world would already agree.  But that is only if God is not here.

But what if God is here?  What if God is among us right here, right now?

If God is among us, what do we have to fear?

If God is among us, what sin can we let go of and finally be free?

If God is among us, what desperately dark situation in our community can be transformed?

If God is among us, who might we become?

If God is among us, why should St. Thomas doubt?  I will let you decide whether I mean this church or the saint.

If God is among us, how can we encourage our St. Thomas friends during this season of transition, that God is not done with us yet?  How can we encourage and strengthen them to be in on what God is preparing to be our next steps on this journey of faith?

If God is truly among us, can we help Richmond start to become a little more like heaven right now?

We can leave what we are doing like the jar at the well, and let our friends, our neighbors, even those that hate us know, that it doesn’t have to be the way it is any more.  We can be made new.  We can all be made new.

How can we be made new?  Through love.  We can meet people where they are, and not where we want them to be.  Jesus was sitting at Jacob’s Well when he asked a stranger for water, and he ended up quenching her deeper thirst.

How can we be made new?  Through letting go of judgement.  Jesus did not mince words, and honestly let the woman know what had happened with her and to her.  She knew it.  He let her know he knew it.  We cannot know inflection, but in my reading of this I hear honesty, not judgement.  I hear an assessment of the situation, not a critical analysis of her.

How can we be made new?  By being ready for the God who is already at work before we arrive.  Do you think Jesus staged this?  Having his disciples be away so that he could have this conversation with this woman who happened to be coming at that hour?  Or, was he open to be about God’s work whenever and wherever he happened to be?  I think the latter.  We can do the same.  God will open doors we cannot possibly imagine.  Will we be ready to humbly serve and boldly go?

One of my favorite professors in seminary had a wonderful definition of God.  God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  The heart of God, his center is wherever we find ourselves to be.  And the limit of God’s love?  It is nowhere to be found.  God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

So, is the LORD among us or not?  Don’t tell me your answer to that.  Show me.  And when you do, it will be a glorious sight to behold.  It will be like water gushing from a rock in a dry and barren land.  It will be a filling meal with out taking a single bite.  Is the LORD among us or not?

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Blessings, Rock