REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Saw That There Was More

GlobeScripture Passage:  John 4: 7-26

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.”

Do you remember that time when you realized that it was not all about you?  Do you remember that time when you realized that God was not just planted in your home sanctuary waiting for you to enter?  Do you remember the time when you realized that there was, oh, so much more?  There is some point in all of our faith journeys when we realize that the road we are following and the understandings of faith that we hold are not all there is to God.  It happens to all of us as we begin to see that God’s reach is far beyond where we are standing, even greater than the distance that we could possibly traverse or, for that matter, even imagine traversing.  As our journey winds toward Jerusalem, we remember that day when we realized that there was something more.

It’s probably a good thing that the disciples didn’t seem to be around for Jesus’ indiscretions.  They probably would have felt the need to pull him back into what was expected of him, what was expected of all of them.  After all, he was supposedly the Messiah.  This was surely going to be a big ugly black mark on Jesus’ Messiah resume’!  Here he was, not just breaking one big rule, but at least three!  First of all, he approaches, unescorted, and speaks to a woman.  Well see, this was just wrong.  After all, anything could happen!  (After all, there were writings in the Talmud that contended that speaking to a woman would ultimately lead to unchastity–or even worse!) Then, secondly, Jesus speaks to this woman that apparently, for whatever reason, did not have the best reputation. Now, in all probability, this woman was probably just a victim of some form of Levirite marriage process gone terribly bad, where she had been handed in marriage from relative to relative as her husbands died, leaving her penniless and out of options.  But we have to obey the rules, right?  Even if they make no sense!  And, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, here Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan, the so-called “enemy”, one who thought differently and believed differently and worshipped differently than the standard fare of proper society.   And Jesus, in pure Jesus fashion, did not just speak to her but actually engaged her in conversation, engaged her in spiritual and theological dialogue.  (I think Jesus may possibly have been a big talker!) Yeah, good thing the disciples weren’t there to see THAT!

But, really, who made those rules?  I mean, they weren’t bad rules.  They were made to keep the faithful, to insure the identity of people of faith.  On the surface, that doesn’t sound all bad.  After all, this faith journey is hard enough, right?  But, oh, think what you would miss.  The truth is, this story is about more than Jesus breaking rules.  The boundaries of the first century understanding of God and God’s children are crashing down at this moment.  We have grown accustomed to The Gospel being a story of encounters–encounters with God, encounters with each other, encounters with those that believe the way we believe, that can encourage us on our journey.  But in this story, all those pre-set notions of what encounter means begin to fail.  Jesus enters a new phase of the journey.

Up until this point, Jesus’ encounters have been pretty ethno-centric. But, here, the Gospel begins to spread to other ethnicities and other peoples. It begins to include an encounter with the world.  In this story, we finally realize that there is more than what we know, more than that to which we have become accustomed, more than what we can really imagine.  This was the point when we encountered a Savior that was not just ours, a Messiah that did not come just to release us from our tightly-held little world, a God who is created all there is and called it good.  Think back to this moment when you realized that Jesus was indeed the Savior of the World.

This is something that we so easily forget.  Our social language turns to self-preservation, to making ourselves great, and we forget that the needs of the world our ours.  We forget that if we have a voice, we are called to speak out for others.  We forget that if we have a heart, we are called to care what happens even to those that we do not know.  Because just because we do not know them does not mean that they are not our family, that they are not part of us.  The pictures are hard.  We’d rather turn and go back to our comfortable lives and hope and pray that terrorism and tyranny and thoughtlessness never touches our borders.  But the problem is that these pictures are ours.

I posted this before the United States sent 59 Tomahawk missiles to Syria in retaliation, or to prove a point, or just to exercise muscle.  Now, honestly, I would like to say that I’m a pacifist.  I think it’s the right thing.  I think it’s the Gospel thing.  I think it’s what Jesus would have done.  I think it’s the God thing.  But I’ve also walked through Auschwitz.  Surely, we need to do SOMETHING.  So, I guess we did.  I pray that no one was hurt.  I pray that it doesn’t go farther.  But I also pray that we will PAY ATTENTION to others’ needs.

05Syria1-superJumbo
Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib Province, Syria (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Our Lenten journey is not just about preparing our neatly-constructed lives to be interrupted by the Cross.  This Lenten journey calls us to a broadening, a widening, of our minds and our lives.  On this journey, Jesus is gathering us to the Cross–all of us.  So think back to the point when you realized it was about something more, that Jesus was not just your personal Savior, but the One who came to set us free–free from our tightly-bound existence, free to become fully human in unity with all the world, all of God’s children, all of Creation.  The Cross means that we are called to realize not only that there is more than what we see, but that WE are indeed responsible for it–Tomahawks and all.

To belong to a community is to begin to be about more than myself. (Joan Chittister)

As our Lenten journey narrows toward the gates of Jerusalem, let it also be a journey that widens our minds and opens our hearts to all that God is and all that God desires for you.  Let our journey widen to include the world.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Widening Circles

"Circles in the Sand", by Pamela Silver, 2002

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26 (Lent 3A)

So he 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.”

In this season of Lent, we have already read several stories of journeying and movement from one place to another.  We have read of people that have all been called to something new.  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with the a UMW group on “Immigration and the Bible”.  It’s based on a book with that same name by Joan Maruskin that was published to be a 2013 UMW study (that’s United Methodist Women for you non-Methodists!).  Now, that “immigration” word is, for us, probably nothing less than a lightning bold word.  It is so politically charged nowadays that most of us shy away from it.  But the truth is, it is what the Bible is about.  The Bible is about movement.  It begins with God’s Spirit moving across the face of the earth and ends with a depiction of a city, a New Jerusalem, moving from heaven to earth.  And in between, we read stories of people continuing to be uprooted.  They move from one place to another seeking safety and sanctuary and we are continually given reminders of how we are called to welcome the stranger into our midst.  The Bible is a story of movement and a story of welcome.  And along the way, the call is not to build and prosper but to encounter each other and enter each other’s lives.

But each of us in this world works hard to preserve our perceived image of what that world should be—a world where our political views, our boundaries we have drawn, our wealth and possessions we hold, our standard of living and our understanding of who God is remain intact.  The problem is that our need to preserve ourselves usually gets in the way of our ability to connect with others, our ability to encounter the rest of God’s children.  Because if each of us is waiting for the other to respond in love first, then love will never be the response and the walls of hatred become stronger and more difficult to tear down.

Take the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead believed the Scriptures supported the worshipping of God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses, The Torah, as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.  These differences between the two peoples probably began as early as one thousand years before the birth of Christ and what started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So here is this woman depicted as a stranger, an outcast, a Samaritan.  And here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional and accepted Judaism.  First, he, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  In the Talmud, the rabbis warned that conversing with women would ultimately lead to unchastity.  In fact, Jose ben Johanan, of Jerusalem, who lived around 160 B.C., wrote, “He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna (or the destination of the wicked). ”  (Wow! That sounds pretty serious!) Secondly, Jesus speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  Now, in all probability, this woman was probably just a victim of some form of Levirite marriage gone bad, where she had been handed in marriage from relative to relative as her husbands died, leaving her penniless and out of options.  And, finally, Jesus speaks to the so-called “enemy”.  The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  The woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in darkness and had no way out of it.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class Samaritan woman who is not even given a name in our Scriptures becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because, you’ll notice, Jesus did not just ask her for a drink.  He engaged her in conversation about spiritual matters.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim and not even in whatever faith community you call “yours”, but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.  The Gospel is found in our encounter with each other.  Here, too, Jesus enters a new phase of his ministry.  Up until this point, Jesus’ encounters have been pretty ethno-centric.  But, here, the Gospel begins to spread to other ethnicities and other peoples.  It begins to include an encounter with the world.

For most of us, our problem is that we are always waiting for someone else to make the first move toward acceptance and reconciliation.  But Jesus did not wait.  Jesus stepped into encounter.  That is what we are called to do.  We are called to go forward on an unpaved road to meet the other. We are called to somehow reach through our prejudice and even our fears and take each other’s hand.  We are called to cross boundaries, rather than constructing them.  We are called to reach through our differences and find our common, shared humanity, all children of God, all made in the image of God.  That is the way that peace is found—one hand at a time.  And that is the way that we encounter Jesus Christ.

Putting this study of “Immigration and the Bible” together, I began to see a new pattern emerge in the Scriptures—well, new for me as I read the Scriptures through a different lens.  The Biblical story is a story of God calling us to go forth and our drawing borders, walling ourselves off, protecting who we are and what we have.  God calls us to go and we draw borders.  God calls us to go and we construct gates.  God calls us to go and we build walls.  But we are called to encounter the stranger.  It is more than being welcoming.  It is more than letting them into our carefully-constructed lives.  It means entering their life and completely opening ours to them.  It means that they become us and we become them.  It means that we encounter each other.

We are in the middle of this season of Lent.  It IS the season of wandering, the season of the wilderness journey.  We always begin Lent with Jesus going into the wilderness, leaving what he knows, leaving the comforts of home.  And I think that part of the reason for that, is that we are called to be wanderers, aliens, and sojourners.  We do not stand in one place waiting for others to come to us.  The Christian journey is always moving us toward something, so we go the way that God calls us to go and along the way, we gather the children of God.  We encounter each other. As Jesus once said, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”  In other words, go and encounter each other because that is how you encounter Christ.

I live my life in ever-widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one but I give myself it it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower.  I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know:  am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song? (Rainer Maria Rilke)

We are almost one-third of the way through our Lenten journey.  At this point, where are you circles drawn?  Which ones need to be widened?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Waiting on the World to Change

 

Door near Bethany, Jerusalem
Door near Bethany, Jerusalem

Scripture Text:  Hebrews 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Imagine that you are at home one evening. You’ve just finished dinner and the dishwasher is humming with the satisfaction of a job well-done. All the leftovers are put away in the refrigerator. You have settled in for the evening—full stomach, warm house, a time of togetherness, the house locked up and the alarm is set. You look at the clock: 9:00—just in time to settle down to watch that recording of “The Good Wife” that you haven’t had time to watch. Just then, there is a knock on the door. Who in the world? You peer out through the peephole and see a man standing there—dirty, disheveled, unshaven, a far-away look in his eyes.  Hmmm!  Not sure what to do…maybe he will just go away.

 

After all, the world is a scary place.  You don’t know who this is.  And he was so dirty…really, really dirty…The man is dirty because he has traveled a great many miles on the open, dusty road. He is disheveled because he is tired. He has gone from house to house asking for help. Most people do not answer the door. He knows they’re at home. He can see the eyes through the peephole and hear them inside. But who can blame them? It’s been days since he’s had a chance to shave. He’s almost at the end of his rope. He’s worried and afraid and he’s sure it shows in his eyes. So he turns and heads back down the block toward the car that only made it this far. He has no idea what to do. He has no money left after the long trip—no money for gas, no money to fix the car, no money for food for him and his wife. And the time is almost here. The baby is coming. But there’s doesn’t seem to be room anywhere he goes.   Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus…

 

So, what ARE you expecting?  For what are you waiting?  For what are you preparing?  God comes in ways that we never expect.  God comes into those places where the needs are the greatest, where the hurt is the deepest, where the wilderness seems to close around us.  And there…there God comes.  While we are waiting on the world to change, God comes.  While we are wondering why someone doesn’t fix things, God comes.  While we are watching riots and marches, poverty and wars, and politicians arguing over who is in control and bemoaning the fact that the world seems to be coming apart, God comes.  On the darkest of nights, when the world is so loud we almost can’t stand it, God tiptoes in through the one door of our lives that we forgot to lock, forgot to decorate, perhaps forgot was even there, and is born in a stable and laid in a manger because there was no room.  While we are waiting for the world to change, God knocks on the door to our lives and shows us that it the change has already begun.  Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus…

 

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton)

 

FOR TODAY:  Through what door is God coming into your life?  What have you done to make room for God in your life?  Be the change that you are waiting to see.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

When We Saw That There Was More

GlobeScripture Passage:  John 4: 7-26

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.”

Do you remember that time when you realized that it was not all about you?  Do you remember that time when you realized that God was not just planted in your home sanctuary waiting for you to enter?  Do you remember the time when you realized that there was, oh, so much more?  There is some point in all of our faith journeys when we realize that the road we are following and the understandings of faith that we hold are not all there is to God.  It happens to all of us as we begin to see that God’s reach is far beyond where we are standing, even greater than the distance that we could possibly traverse or, for that matter, even imagine traversing.  As our journey winds toward Jerusalem, we remember that day when we realized that there was something more.

It’s probably a good thing that the disciples didn’t seem to be around for Jesus’ indiscretions.  They probably would have felt the need to pull him back into what was expected of him, what was expected of all of them.  After all, he was supposedly the Messiah.  This was surely going to be a big black mark on Jesus’ Messiah resume’!  Here he was, not just breaking one big rule, but at least three!  First of all, he approaches, unescorted, and speaks to a woman.  Well see, this was just wrong.  After all, anything could happen!  (After all, there were writings in the Talmud that contended that speaking to a woman would ultimately lead to unchastity–or even worse!) Then, secondly, Jesus speaks to this woman that apparently, for whatever reason, did not have the best reputation. Now, in all probability, this woman was probably just a victim of some form of Levirite marriage process gone terribly bad, where she had been handed in marriage from relative to relative as her husbands died, leaving her penniless and out of options.  But we have to obey the rules, right?  And, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, here Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan, the so-called “enemy”, one who thought differently and believed differently and worshipped differently than the standard fare of proper society.   And Jesus, in pure Jesus fashion, did not just speak to her but actually engaged her in conversation, engaged her in spiritual and theological dialogue.  (I think Jesus may possibly have been a big talker!) Yeah, good thing the disciples weren’t there to see THAT!

But, really, who made those rules?  I mean, they weren’t bad rules.  They were made to keep the faithful, to insure the identity of people of faith.  On the surface, that doesn’t sound all bad.  After all, this faith journey is hard enough, right?  But, oh, think what you would miss.  The truth is, this story is about more than Jesus breaking rules.  The boundaries of the first century understanding of God and God’s children are crashing down at this moment.  We have grown accustomed to The Gospel being a story of encounters–encounters with God, encounters with each other, encounters with those that believe the way we believe, that can encourage us on our journey.  But in this story, all those pre-set notions of what encounter means begin to fail.  Jesus enters a new phase of the journey.

Up until this point, Jesus’ encounters have been pretty ethno-centric. But, here, the Gospel begins to spread to other ethnicities and other peoples. It begins to include an encounter with the world.  In this story, we finally realize that there is more than what we know, more than that to which we have become accustomed, more than what we can really imagine.  This was the point when we encountered a Savior that was not just ours, a Messiah that did not come just to release us from our tightly-held little world, a God who is created all there is and called it good.  Think back to this moment when you realized that Jesus was indeed the Savior of the World.  Our Lenten journey is not just about preparing our neatly-constructed lives to be interrupted by the Cross.  This Lenten journey calls us to a broadening, a widening, of our minds and our lives.  On this journey, Jesus is gathering us to the Cross–all of us.  So think back to the point when you realized it was about something more, that Jesus was not just your personal Savior, but the One who came to set us free–free from our tightly-bound existence, free to become fully human in unity with all the world, all of God’s children, all of Creation.   

To belong to a community is to begin to be about more than myself. (Joan Chittister)

As our Lenten journey narrows toward the gates of Jerusalem, let it also be a journey that widens our minds and opens our hearts to all that God is and all that God desires for you.  Let our journey widen to include the world.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Widening Circles

"Circles in the Sand", by Pamela Silver, 2002
“Circles in the Sand”, by Pamela Silver, 2002

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26 (Lent 3A)

So he 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.”

In this season of Lent, we have already read several stories of journeying and movement from one place to another.  We have read of people that have all been called to something new.  Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with the Tuesday UMW Circle on “Immigration and the Bible”.  It’s based on a book with that same name by Joan Maruskin that was published to be a 2013 UMW study.  Now, that “immigration” word is, for us, probably nothing less than a lightning bold word.  It is so politically charged nowadays that most of us shy away from it.  But the truth is, it is what the Bible is about.  The Bible is about movement.  It begins with God’s Spirit moving across the face of the earth and ends with a depiction of a city, a New Jerusalem, moving from heaven to earth.  And in between, we read stories of people continuing to be uprooted.  They move from one place to another seeking safety and sanctuary and we are continually given reminders of how we are called to welcome the stranger into our midst.  The Bible is a story of movement and a story of welcome.  And along the way, the call is not to build and prosper but to encounter each other and enter each other’s lives.

But each of us in this world works hard to preserve our perceived image of what that world should be—a world where our political views, our boundaries we have drawn, our wealth and possessions we hold, our standard of living and our understanding of who God is remain intact.  The problem is that our need to preserve ourselves usually gets in the way of our ability to connect with others, our ability to encounter the rest of God’s children.  Because if each of us is waiting for the other to respond in love first, then love will never be the response and the walls of hatred become stronger and more difficult to tear down.        

Take the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead believed the Scriptures supported the worshipping of God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses, The Torah, as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.  These differences between the two peoples probably began as early as one thousand years before the birth of Christ and what started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So here is this woman depicted as a stranger, an outcast, a Samaritan.  And here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional and accepted Judaism.  First, he, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  In the Talmud, the rabbis warned that conversing with women would ultimately lead to unchastity.  In fact, Jose ben Johanan, of Jerusalem, who lived around 160 B.C., wrote, “He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna (or the destination of the wicked). ”  Secondly, Jesus speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  Now, in all probability, this woman was probably just a victim of some form of Levirite marriage gone bad, where she had been handed in marriage from relative to relative as her husbands died, leaving her penniless and out of options.  And, finally, Jesus speaks to the so-called “enemy”.  The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  The woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in darkness.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class Samaritan woman who is not even given a name in our Scriptures becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because, you’ll notice, Jesus did not just ask her for a drink.  He engaged her in conversation about spiritual matters.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.  The Gospel is found in our encounter with each other.  Here, too, Jesus enters a new phase of his ministry.  Up until this point, Jesus’ encounters have been pretty ethno-centric.  But, here, the Gospel begins to spread to other ethnicities and other peoples.  It begins to include an encounter with the world.

For most of us, our problem is that we are always waiting for someone else to make the first move toward acceptance and reconciliation.  But Jesus did not wait.  Jesus stepped into encounter.  That is what we are called to do.  We are called to go forward on an unpaved road to meet the other. We are called to somehow reach through our prejudice and even our fears and take each other’s hand.  We are called to cross boundaries, rather than constructing them.  We are called to reach through our differences and find our common, shared humanity, all children of God, all made in the image of God.  That is the way that peace is found—one hand at a time.  And that is the way that we encounter Jesus Christ.

Putting this study of “Immigration and the Bible” together, I began to see a new pattern emerge in the Scriptures—well, new for me as I read the Scriptures through a different lens.  The Biblical story is a story of God calling us to go forth and our drawing borders, walling ourselves off, protecting who we are and what we have.  God calls us to go and we draw borders.  God calls us to go and we construct gates.  God calls us to go and we build walls.  But we are called to encounter the stranger.  It is more than being welcoming.  It is more than letting them into our carefully-constructed lives.  It means entering their life and completely opening ours to them.  It means that they become us and we become them.  It means that we encounter each other.

We are in the middle of this season of Lent.  It IS the season of wandering, the season of the wilderness journey.  We always begin Lent with Jesus going into the wilderness, leaving what he knows, leaving the comforts of home.  And I think that part of the reason for that, is that we are called to be wanderers, aliens, and sojourners.  We do not stand in one place waiting for others to come to us.  The Christian journey is always moving us toward something, so we go the way that God calls us to go and along the way, we gather the children of God.  We encounter each other. As Jesus once said, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”  In other words, go and encounter each other because that is how you encounter Christ.

I live my life in ever-widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one but I give myself it it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower.  I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know:  am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song? (Rainer Maria Rilke)

We are more than one-third through our Lenten journey.  At this point, where are you circles drawn?  Which ones need to be widened?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Encounter

"Women at the Well", part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia
“Women at the Well”, part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)9The 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.)10Jesus 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.”11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but 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.”15The 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.”16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23But 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.24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

The journey has shifted.  No longer are Jesus’ words limited to those in his immediate circle.  He leaves the confines of what he knows and begins to turn to outsiders, those who tradition and cultural and societal norms have rejected. First on the list are the Samaritans.  The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So, here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional religion.  He, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  He speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  And he speaks to the enemy. The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  This woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in the shadows of humanity.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class woman who is a Samaritan becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.

Now, the woman does miss Jesus’ point.  She looks upon Jesus as some sort of miracle worker, rather than seeing that he offers a new way of being.  Even this story deals with suffering—the woman surely suffered.  Good grief, she was there by herself—couldn’t even face the crowd.  And Jesus—well Jesus was just thirsty.  “Give me a drink…I thirst.” We all have needs; we all have fears—that is the nature of our true humanity.  And maybe the story teaches us that from our need we will realize who God is.  Maybe, in fact, it is IN our very need that we find God, those times when we are unsure of ourselves and not quite so confident that we are heading the right direction in our lives.  So, this woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ true identity.  Maybe that’s our problem.  We are still looking for the Jesus that will make our lives easier rather than the one who will give us new life.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will affirm where we are rather than leading us to this new thing that God is doing.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will become our own personal Savior, our own private Messiah, rather than the Salvation and Life of the world.

Our faith journey is not just ours.  Contrary to what some may tell you, you are not carrying the sole responsibility for “getting it right”.  The journey, rather is made up of encounters with those that God places in our path.  At each turn, we grow, we change, our pathway broadens.  The procession to the Cross has already begun.  We are walking together, gathering others into our midst as we walk.  This is what Jesus did.  The journey to the Cross began long before the gates of Jerusalem at the end of the Palm Sunday Road.  The journey began “in the beginning”.  The journey weaved through a garden, into the lessons learn from the stories of an ark, and was there as its followers were carried into exile.  The journey held deliverance and led us up to a mountaintop.  It has held prophets’ voices and the wisdom of sages.  On it were two women named Naomi and Ruth who held each other through their trials.  It was the road for kings and judges and those who were trying to figure out why a life had fallen apart.  The journey turned into a small town outside of Jerusalem where life and clarity and salvation were born.  It returned us to the place of exile, which this time held deliverance.  The journey is one of water and wine and welcome for all.  This journey has taught us how to love and how to thirst.  It has shown us what it means to have faith and not need certainty.  It has taught us that questions are part of it all.

We are still gathering in.  And now it turns…one more mountain to climb and then the procession will enter Jerusalem.  But that is not the end; there is always more up ahead.  But we do not travel alone.  God has already gone before us and still walks with us to show the Way.  So, as our Lenten journey nears Jerusalem, remember from where you’ve come and remember what you have received from those that you have encountered on the way.  Remember who and whose you are.  Remember that you do not walk alone.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Station X: Stripped Naked

 

"Station 10", Peter Adams, 2012
“Station 10”, Peter Adams, 2012

Scripture Passage:  John 19: 23-25a

23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says, ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ 25And that is what the soldiers did.

This tenth station of the Via Dolorosa recalls that the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing and gambled for his robe near where Jesus was to be crucified.  Visitors can peer into a Latin chapel through a special window.  This station is disconcerting, to say the least.  Keep in mind that Jesus was Jewish and, as a Jew, had been taught that it was a disgrace to be seen naked.  This would have been the ultimate disgrace.  Jesus, stripped of his humanness and his very dignity, is being prepared for crucifixion.

Dignity is a strange thing.  We think of it as something that we humans can bestow or take away from each other at will.  And, yet, dignity by its very definition is described as innate.  It is a gift from God, a gift of our humanity, so removing it from another is essentially depriving them of something that has not only been given to them but is part of them.  So stripping Jesus of his garments was the way that his tormenters removed his dignity, the way that they made him something less than human, the way that they, in their minds, put him in some way beneath humanity, in some way less than themselves.

Sadly, there are ways that we continue to strip others of their dignity, ways that we over and over again strip humanity of the gifts that God has bestowed.  And it’s not limited to physical stripping, although we as a people are guilty of that over and over again as we allow that to happen to others.  Putting someone in a place of humiliation, a place where they can no longer be who they are called to be does the same thing.  Anytime that we become so convinced of our “rightness”, of our position of being above others, anytime that we misuse and abuse conceived power over others, anytime that we refuse to accept others because they are different than what we think they should be, we have again stripped the garments of Christ from our world.

And yet, Jesus was seemingly passive as the soldiers stripped away at his garments and bared his nakedness for all to see.  Maybe it was because he knew, he knew that he was being stripped of his humanness.  This is the turning point.  This is the way that one prepares oneself, by stripping away at the things that get in the way.  This is the final hour.  The cross is being prepared and Jesus along with it.

So on this Lenten journey, let us allow ourselves to be stripped of those things that get in the way, let us allow ourselves to be humbled that we might be open to receive the Divine into our lives.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli