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

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

Open Table

Lectionary Passage:  Mark 7: 24-37
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=213945074.

I love being a United Methodist.  I probably take what could be considered an almost unhealthy sense of pride in the fact that we believe in an open table, that we believe that the Feast of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is not “Methodist” but is instead an open table to which all are welcome.  It sounds good.  It makes us sound like a community in which one would want to be.

But this week’s Gospel reading begins to make us squirm a bit.  After all, we look to Jesus for this model of open invitation, for the depiction of compassion and mercy to which we all aspire.  And then we read this.  I mean, really, is he calling her a “dog”?  Now, with apologies to Maynard, my four-legged roommate, this was NOT a nice thing to say.  And yet, remember, Jesus understood his mission (in fact, EVERYONE understood his mission) as Messiah, the one promised to the chosen people.  Jesus’ mission was to the people of Israel.  There was nothing bad or closed-minded about that; that’s the way it was. So does that mean that this passage depicts a turning point, a veritable transformative moment for even Jesus?  Well, that’s bothersome.  After all, if Jesus needed transformation, where does that leave us?

Well, really, did we think that Jesus was just plunked down on this earth in ready-to-wear form?  After all, remember, he was human, “fully human” we are told.  Transformation is part of our humanity, being transformed is how we become fully human, fully made in the image of God.  It is how we become who we are supposed to be.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe Jesus was not pushing us at all here, but leading us out of the box that we have built, leading us to who God calls us to be.  Maybe Jesus was showing us that even well-meaning and well-constructed boxes are meant to come crashing down when the time is right.  And the time was right.  This was not a diminishment of Jesus’ power; it was an expansion.  At this moment, the mission began to move and God’s Kingdom began to spread beyond the tight shores of the Galilean Lake and into the Decapolis region.  The Kingdom of God was at hand!

God cannot be contained.  Perhaps this story was Jesus’ realization and affirmation of that very notion.  After all, if Jesus experienced transformation, we are called to do the same.  Once again, Jesus takes a cultural norm (actually several of them!) and turns them on their ear.  It was his awakening to a new reality.  And it was the impetus that pushed the morality police known as his Disciples right out of the box with him.  The walls crash down, the table is set, and all are invited.  Come and feast with your Lord!

But it’s still a hard Scripture.  I mean, really, who did this foreign nameless immigrant think she was?  She was the voice, a voice for all foreign nameless immigrants that dare to claim their crumb at the table, that dare to go where God calls.  You see, the table is really open–not merely to us but by us.  We are the inviters, the ones transformed by relationships with “them”.  What do you bring to the table?  And who do you invite to sit down with you and share the bread and drink the cup?  Who belongs in the Kingdom of God? The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ poured out for you. And you and you and you and you and you and you and you…..Well, you get the idea.  Did we think this was about us?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20, NRSV)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

On This Night

Scripture: John 13: 33-35
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

My Grandmother once told me that the very first time that she was about to leave to go out on a date, her father looked her in the eyes and simply said, “Remember who you are”. When my father left his home to go to college, he was sent away with those same words: “Remember who you are.” And even though I probably too eagerly jumped in my little yellow Toyota and headed off perhaps a little too fast for my parents to have a chance to actually say the words, I too began a new life with the same words echoing from my childhood: “Remember who you are.” It was engrained and embedded deep within my being.

Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. Sometimes in those moments when we feel that time is ending all too soon the only thing that we can say is to “remember who you are”.

That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.

That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?

But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.

This is the meal that shapes us. This is the meal that enables us to remember who we are. This is the meal that reminds us from where we came. This is the meal that lets us remember what Christ did for us. But this is also the meal, this holy sacrament, this retelling and remembrance into the core of our being that allows us to taste what is to come, to get a glimpse of what is holy and sacred and once again bring it into who we are.

Go forth and do this in remembrance of Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

ADVENT 3B: Anointed to This Messy Work

Some ramblings on this week’s Lectionary readings…

During Advent, the Lectionary invites us to read some familiar texts, texts that many of us could almost recite from memory. But if we think that it is just a repetition of the same things as last year, we are very mistaken. We are different; the world is different. And God calls us to walk a little bit farther in the journey, even if it’s only a tiny step closer than last year.

Isaiah 61: 1-11
So what does it mean to have the Spirit of the Lord upon me, to be anointed by the Lord, as the servant is here? This is a pretty tall order–to be sent to build up, raise up, and repair. After all, things were pretty much a mess. So we look to the servant to fix things, to make life well again. But, there, as early as verse 3, the pronouns begin to change. The single servant becomes a “they”, those who are fitted with a mantle of praise. A mantle is something that covers or envelops. In essence, that “anointing” to do the Lord’s work has been passed on and “they” have inherited the covenant. And all those who come after the servant–generations and generations of descendents–are the “they”. We are the “they”, those with the Spirit of the Lord upon us, those anointed, those sent to build up, raise up, and repair. This is a pretty tall order. After all, things are pretty much a mess. What are we waiting for? Yes, being anointed by God’s Spirit is messy work. It’s a good thing we don’t have to do it alone!

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
That’s what it says here…we are not alone! As it says at the beginning, there are those who labor among us; after all, remember, we are the COMMUNITY of faith. It is together that we build up, raise up, and repair. Here, we are admonished to be careful about not quenching the Spirit. For ourselves, that means to attend to our own spiritual life through prayer and thanksgiving and remembering who and whose we are. But I think this also warns us against quenching the Spirit of our fellow laborers. We are not all the same. We come from different pasts and we journey by way of different futures. It is the diversity within our community that anoints with God’s Spirit. And while it is sometimes much more comfortable to march in ranks of sameness, with our collective voices drowning out those who do not speak the way we do, that “rank and file” mentality makes is difficult for God to come into our midst. Because the God of peace is wanting to “sanctify us entirely”, our bodies, our minds, our souls, our community, the world. That is this building up, raising up, and repairing to which we are called. But how can we see that if we only open our eyes to our own needs and our own way of thinking?

John 1: 6-28
Whatever you have to say about John the Baptist (after all, it is hard for some of us to identify with a camel’s hair-wearing, locust-eating, loud-mouthed wilderness wanderer screaming at everyone to repent!), he took his job seriously. He understood that he was called by God to point to the light as well as that which is illuminated by the light. In other words, he did not get lost in rhetoric about Jesus as the light without realizing the purpose of the light itself. And that is probably what makes us so uncomfortable with John. We would rather the light be allowed to remain in our thinking depicted as a warm and comfortable place to be. We would rather live under the notion that Jesus’ light is just for us so that we can see our way to God. We would rather bask in its illumination without looking at what it now enables us to see in a different light. But, as our Lectionary readings imply today, it is not really about us! That light that came into the world came not only to show us where to go; it also came to show us what needs to be done. Remember, we are anointed, filled with God’s Spirit, now basking in the Light of Christ. And we can no longer close our eyes to what the light has shown us. We can no longer close our eyes to hunger and homelessness, to destruction and waste, to violence and war, or to exclusion of any of God’s laborers from the work to which they are called. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.

So, go and build up, raise up, and repair!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli