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

Whose Deeds and Dreams Were One

We live in a society that separates.  So much of our language is based more on notions of “either / or” rather than “and”.  We talk about either “this” political party or “that” political party, either “conservatives” or “liberals”.  We talk about either “this” way of doing religion or “that” way of doing religion (and I guess, that, too, is somewhat loosely based on “conservatives” or “liberals”).  We talk about either the “haves” or the “have-nots”, the “legals” or the “illegals”, the “rich” or the “poor”.  And through it all, we talk about the “secular” and the “sacred”, the “things of this world” and “the things of God”, the “human” and the “Divine”.

And, yet, we are told that Jesus came into our midst, both human and divine.  There was no separation; rather there was a gathering of all into the Kingdom of God.  This holy gathering is a new creation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  And, yet, we are determined to keep it apart.  We are determined to separate ourselves from each other, compartmentalizing our lives and drawing boundaries through our world, through our neighborhoods, and even through ourselves.

God does not call us to be someone that we are not.  We are human, always and forever human.  But until humanity becomes human unity, we are lost.  And so we search for something that we know God can show us.  We search for an eternity or a heaven or whatever you want to call it “out there” when our eternity waits for us here.  God came into our midst, both human and Divine, that the two might come together, that what we do and who we are will join.

Ever Sunday morning, we profess that we believe in the holy catholic church.  We are professing that we believe and indeed that we desire unity, a universal church not created out of sameness or conformity but out of love and respect for each other and for every part of the world around us.  Both diversity and unity live together in this new Creation.  It is a place of “both-and” rather than “either-or”.  It means being part of a world that strives to live in unity.  But it also means recognizing that sometimes we’ll have to live with a little bit of tension as we try to work differences through.  I am clear, though, that even in the midst of those tensions, God is there, walare called to king us through it.  God doesn’t cram anything down our throats and I don’t think we’re supposed to do that to other people either.  William Sloan Coffin claimed that “diversity may be both the hardest thing to live with and the most dangerous thing to be without.”  I think he was right.  Because you see, that diversity is part of this new Creation.  It is part of what is calling us to grow and change and become more like Christ with each step we take.  And when we allow ourselves the opportunity to experience and share our diversity and perhaps even learn from it a little, we gain an experience of God that is unlike anything that we could have gained on our own.

In this Season of Lent, we are called to recognize those things in our lives that are not Christlike, that are not the way that God calls us to be.  It is our calling to reflect on those things that make us less than human.  Jesus walked this earth as a human to show us how to be human, to show us how to bring together who we are with what God calls us to be.

Dear Jesus, in whose life I see all that I would, but fail to be,
let thy clear light forever shine, to shame and guide this life of mine.
Though what I dream and what I do in my weak days are always two,
help me, oppressed by things undone, O thou whose deeds and dreams were one!

John Hunter, 1889, The United Methodist Hymnal, # 468
So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, identify those areas of your life that are divided, and give up that division.  How can you reconcile those things in your life into a more perfect and holy union? 
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

Sorry, this is actually the post that should have happened yesterday, so I guess you’ll get two today!

LENT 5A: Reintegration

Lectionary Text:  Romans 8: 6-11
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Romans 8 is said to have been Paul’s greatest work, a masterpiece within a masterpiece.  We’re all familiar with it.  We’ve prayed it, sung it, and heard it read at funerals.  It’s a shame that many of us might be reading it completely wrong.  I mean, where in the world did we get the idea that the “flesh” was completely bad?  For Paul, the “body” or the “flesh” was probably closer to neutral than bad, more lifeless than life-taking.  The point is, though, that it cannot exist alone.  Paul actually had a “big picture” view of what life holds.  His contention is not that there is some sort of ongoing war between the flesh and the Spirit but rather that the flesh, the body, needs the Spirit to breathe life into it, to breathe the very essence of God into its being, making it holy and wholly what it should be. Paul is not preaching segregation but, rather re-integration, unity, a return to the way it should have been all along.

On the other side, Paul never claims that the Spirit can exist alone.  I mean, really, what good would the notion of some sort of disembodied Spirit really do us?  Do you think that the essence of God really wants to just float around us, disengaged from who we are and what we do?  If that were the case, I’m thinking that the whole idea of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, Emmanuel, God WITH us would have been completely unnecessary.  The whole point is that life is breathed into the ordinary, even the mundane, so that it becomes holy and sacred, so that it becomes life?

But unity is a hard thing to accomplish and an even harder thing to hold together (no, that one is not meant to be a pun).  I remember when our church got its new website.  There was a committee, there were numerous meetings, there were months of working on this big change.  When we finally went “live” on the internet, it was beautiful.  Everyone commented on it.  We actually won an award.  But it took several weeks for someone to finally mention to us that the homepage of our website actually said “St. Paul’s Untied Methodist Church”.  As I said, it is hard to stay united!

So why is it easier or more comfortable for us to categorize things, to draw a dividing line between darkness and light, between body and Spirit, between bad and good, between “religious” and “spiritual”, between “them” and “us”, between death and life?  Do we think that’s more validating for us and the way we think and the way we live?  Oh come now!  Paul is claiming that God’s Spirit has the capability of crossing that line, of bringing the two together, infused by the breath of God.  It is a spirituality that lives incarnate in this world, even this world.  Incarnation, God with Us, is about reintegration.  It is flesh infused with spirit and spirit embodied in flesh.  That, my friends, is life.

So, for this Lenten season, let’s get it together!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli     

Supermoon

Today’s moon is being called a Supermoon, an astronomical phenomena when the moon will be closer to the earth (nearly 17,000 miles closer than average) than it will be for another twenty years.  The scientific term for this occurrence is perigee-sygygy.  Perigee is Greek word essentially meaning orbit and sygygy (also with some Greek roots) implies unity that comes through alignment. 

“Unity that comes through alignment”–what a great image for this Lenten season, a season of realigning one’s priorities, one’s thoughts, indeed one’s very life with God.  But most people probably have in their minds right now that God is the metaphorical moon moving closer to us as we work toward completion of this realignment process, as if what we are doing is somehow successfully pulling a wandering God back toward us.  No, that’s not it.  We are the ones that tend to wander, that tend to sometimes move so far away that it is difficult to see God.  God is not static or unmoving but God is not running away.  God is inviting us to move as God moves, a sort of orbital dance, if you will.  Maybe, then, Lent is about our becoming a Supermoon, moving closer than we ever have, close enough to be part of that sygygy, part of the dance, part of that unity that comes through alignment.

So in this Lenten season, be a Supermoon!