St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
(online because of Coronavirus closing)
“Fear is a Disease”
(This title is taken from Howard Thurman's Jesus & the Disinherited)
Collect: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 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?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Good morning. This is coming at a strange time in our lives. Last Tuesday for our Lenten Study we looked at a chapter from our book that was entitled simply “Fear.” And Fear is something we all have in our lives, whether we avoid it, ignore it, or get sucked right in. Someone sent me a fortune cookie slogan they received one time, “Fear is the darkroom where negatives are exposed.” For those who grew up in the digital camera age, you may not get the joke.
But fear is, has been, and always will be with us. Especially in days like these. Even today, there is a famous line from Shakespeare, “Beware the Ides of March!” Here it is, the Ides of March, and we have fear aplenty.
The woman who came to the well was fearful. We can see that from a couple of things. Why is she coming at the heat of the day to do hard, sweaty work? Many speculate that she was a pariah, someone looked down on, shamed. Shame is a fear of the judgment of others. She avoided shame by not having to deal with anybody, alone, at noon, she comes to fetch her water.
I see her fear coming out in her cynicism. She is almost snotty with Jesus in her early responses. George Carlin said, “Inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.” Young, naive, hopeful, life became something that used this woman here at the well. She went from relationship to relationship looking for whatever it was that was missing. Security. Love. Survival. We do not know. We cannot. And most likely, the decision was not hers, but the abusive men in her life. But Fear is there, fear from shame, fear from dashed dreams. It is there.
And Jesus meets her where she is, and reframes her situation and in doing so redeems her life. This fearful cynic becomes the first Samaritan evangelist that we hear of. She found Living Water, and offered to all that she knew this hope she found. Thanks be to God.
I have hope from a lot of things. I have hope in the leadership that our Diocese has taken to love the most vulnerable during this time of fear. They recognize that it will get worse before it gets better. That is the nature of epidemics. Which is why waiting was the most dangerous choice. Leaders, true leaders do what needs to be done, no matter how hard it is. I am thankful for the clergy of Ashland. We are working with one another. We have had several conference calls to make sure that TOGETHER we are working toward the health and safety of our JOINT PARISH. Ashland is our parish in the Episcopal sense, but from the God’s Eye view, we collectively are the Body of Christ in this part of Hanover County. This is OUR PARISH. And I have never seen such a healthy and positive approach to ministry as I am finding as we work together. Again, thanks be to God! I have hope that we can drastically SLOW the spread, and we can isolate those that have come into contact with the virus so that our dearly beloved vulnerable brothers and sisters can be protected.
Like many of you, I have been reading a lot online about what to do, and what not to do. One piece of advice stood out, and made it simple. Act as if you were infected, and behave like you did not want to infect anybody else. Easiest rule of thumb on how to know what to do.
Life will bring us all kinds of things that bring and cause fear. This is just another one. But as FDR said at his first inauguration: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear is the enemy. I find it no accident that the first thing out of most angelic mouths is, “Fear Not!” Jesus even started that way a few times when he did something extra-miraculous.
One of the best responses to fear is do something. Do anything. Go for a walk. Pray. Call a friend. Check on a neighbor (from a distance). Sitting and fretting is the breeding ground of the Disease of Fear. And as our reading in our Lenten Study showed us, to me pretty definitively, Fear is a Disease. Just as viral as the Coronavirus, if not more so.
God’s timing is amazing. The lectionary is a gift. Today’s collect could not be more appropriate for our times. We prayed, and maybe we should keep praying this prayer during this pause in our societal dealings. I remind you of the Collect:
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
Like Jesus taught us, the inner life and the outer life are BOTH imperatives. And these days we are, and should be, more focused for a time on the outer, our physical selves. But we are also in the season of Lent. This is where we focused on the deep and important soul work to prepare ourselves for the Easter celebrations. I joked with my kids when the Bishop instructed us to cease from public gatherings and worship that the Bishop just told us to give up Church for Lent. It was the joke of a moment. But maybe this is God’s way of commissioning us to do the work in the world. Perhaps by email, phone, or text, but we have been taken out of our normal routines so we can share Christ’s Love when the whole world seems to be coming down around us. It is not, and if we are feeling that way, God’s Love trumps those feelings. And as you go out, spend time feeding your soul. Read your Bible. Do Morning, Noon, or Evening Prayer. If you don’t know how, the instructions are in the small italicized print, the rubrics. If you do not have a prayer book, bcponline.org has it all right there. dailyoffice.app is another great resource that does all the page-flipping for me. I use it nearly every day.
Friends, we are still the Body of Christ. St. James the Less is the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in the parish of Ashland, and we band with our Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic brothers and sisters to do the work of Christ here in our part of the world, to the glory of God. So STAY OUT to Love and Serve the Lord. Be safe. Fear not. And pray and care for those who need it most. Amen.