The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge
Lent 3A 2014
March 23, 2014
Listen to this…Sermon 2014.03.23 EHB
“Give us water to drink”cried the Israelites. “Give me a drink”, said Jesus. These readings always make me feel thirsty and I do not like being thirsty. As I was sipping from a tall, cold glass of water on Friday thinking about this sermon, I decided to explore my thirst. And then I remembered.
It was a warm spring day in Lent. I was in high school driving my father’s car and I was thirsty. Lucky for me, I spotted a water bottle on the floor of my father’s car. And so at the next red light, I grabbed the bottle and took a drink. But the light changed before I could get the cap on and holding a open water bottle while at the same operating a gear stick was a recipe for disaster. I dropped the bottle and got water everywhere, all over the car. So I pulled the car off the road to pick up the bottle, and since there was a little bit of water left in the bottle, I resolved to finish it off. And then I saw the label. To my horror, the hand written label read, “Jordan River Water for Easter Vigil Baptisms.” Oh yeah, I was horrified as I realized that not only had I baptized my father’s VW bug with Jordan River water, I had nearly drunk what precious drops of it remained, nearly depriving the church’s newest converts from their chance to be baptized in the same water that had baptized Jesus!
I was thirsty that warm spring day. Apparently Jesus was too. Thirsty enough to ask for a drink from the hand of a strange woman. But she wasn’t just any woman. She was a Samaritan woman and an unmarried woman at that. It was a scandalous situation. First of all Jesus, by all conventions, should not have even spoken to a woman who was alone. And second, because she was a Samaritan, a half breed, she would have been ritually unclean. He should not have been willing to take anything from her hand, even a drink from a bucket of water. And to make it even more interesting, all of this took place at a well.
But it wasn’t just any well. It was Jacob’s well. Let us recall some of our Hebrew stories and remember that wells in the Old Testament were often the settings for romance. Jacob met Rachel at a well and fell in love with her on the spot. The servant of Isaac met Rebekah at a well and she would later be joined to Isaac in marriage. Moses met the daughters of Jethro at a well and one of them became his wife. “Love at the well” was a familiar theme in biblical stories.
And so it is interesting that this woman, a woman who has a history in failing in romance, should meet Jesus and learn something new about love. Jacob’s well becomes a setting for a life lesson on everlasting love–God’s love.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, we might say that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman a drink of God’s love. For him, it doesn’t matter that she is a Samaritan, a woman, an individual with a questionable record in marital fidelity. No, God’s love is simply offered without condition. Please note that this Gospel breaks all the stereotypes of gender, religion, ethnicity and ethics. God’s love was being offered by Jesus freely without condition. Now that’s really a scandalous situation.
But so is God’s unconditional love. Think of God’s love as living water. Then imagine your kitchen sink overflowing with water. The sink fills up then overflows, and water goes everywhere, filling every corner and every crack in the room. The water doesn’t ask, does the crack deserve the water, no it just spills and splashes, flowing indiscriminately, because that’s what water does. And that’s what God’s love does, too. God loves wastefully.
How refreshing this might be for any of you who grew up with different images or ideas about God’s love. You may have only been exposed to a judgmental God, a God who expected so much from you. You may not have heard the Good News that we find in the Johannine world view, in what read in John’s Gospels and Epistles.
During this season of Lent as we hear some of the wonderful stories in John’s Gospel–we hear that Christianity is about life and love. God is about abundant life and abundant love. Gosh. It’s a wonder that the church lets us read these stories during the season of Lent. They are more like Easter stories for me.
In the writings of John, sin is sickness, not guilt stemming from willful disobedience. Salvation, eternal life, grace is recognizing that Jesus came so that we might have life, that we might be touched by God’s amazing grace. John’s way of seeing God this way makes room for everyone to have an open encounter with the Light of Life which is to be found everywhere. In John’s Gospel, divinity overflows at weddings, changing water into wine. Seekers at night are given daylight’s insight. Those paralyzed by sin are forgiven and healed. Sick people, single people, Samaritans, sinners are all given life, not in the synagogue but in the new community of people gathered around the Word and memory of Jesus–the church. That’s John.
Now as Christianity developed, John’s theological world view was emphasized by Eastern Orthodox Churches, while the West always favored the synoptic Gospels, what some have called the Peter tradition. It is interesting to look at the art of both traditions. In the Western tradition you’ll see crucifixes, and an emphasis on humanity’s sinfulness and need for justification. The Eastern church favors icons, icons where the divine light shines through the human image, inviting us to see through them into the divine.
Not surprisingly, the desert mothers and fathers came out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and this theology of divine light and love trickled down into the Celtic theological stream, a stream from which I readily drink.
Now the predominant stream of Anglican thinking streams from John’s tradition. It emphasizes that we are God’s beloved. We are already born as saved, grace filled new creations. The Spirit of God which gushes like living water can be discovered in the core of our own humanity.
And so it is a not a matter of looking for salvation outside ourselves. It is not about having right beliefs or right answers. Even St. Paul in one of his better moments this morning writes, that “the love of God has been already poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit.” That is the Good News–an announcement that we are loved and at the core of our humanity, we are good.
This week I had a tiny revelation, an ah-ha moment. And it came from looking at the art of this congregation. Is it a suffering Jesus looking down from us on the cross? No it is an Eastern icon, the Risen and exalted Christ, who is also the logos, the Word who was with God in the beginning. The crosses on the chapel, and behind this altar are Celtic crosses. Wonderful.
This cannot be an accident. The heritage of this congregation flows from the tradition of John’s Gospel and Epistles, the proclamation of God’s lavish love, unbounded and indiscriminate Amazing Grace. The heritage of this congregation points to a Jesus in whom we see the incredible behavior of a God ignores the conventional stereotypes of sexism, racism, classicism, ageism.
Now it seems to me that this heritage offers us some clue for the next step of the journey. How are we offering the love of God to thirsty seekers?
How might we become known as a congregation where all are welcome to join us at Christ’s table? How might we tell people that our image of God is one based on acceptance and forgiveness, on streams of mercy never ending?
So let’s reflect and pray on that, knowing that at least one thing is true. We already have everything we need. I know, sometimes we don’t act like it. Sometimes, we are in the habit of living out of a spirit of scarcity rather than abundance. The truth of the matter is that we need to more fully experience what we already posses, streams of mercy never ending.
And speaking of streams of mercy never ending. I was terrified after having drunk and spilled the Jordan River water all over my Dad’s car, filling every dirty little crack. But he was kind of enough to say, that I had a saved him a trip to the car wash. But what about the Jordan River water needed for the Easter Vigil baptisms? This meant facing the altar guild. A trip see the stern Francis Wilson, altar guild directress was required. Let me just say that Francis didn’t often emulate God’s lavish love.
Yet when I showed her the almost empty plastic bottle–she was delighted. She took me to the sacristy and opened a cupboard to reveal several little plastic water bottles marked “Jordan River Water.” She muttered, “Honey, you’ve done me a favor, the last thing I need to store is one more damn bottle of Jordan River Water.”
And so it was that God’s amazing grace was enough to cover and indeed cleanse me of my mini disaster. It is a moment to which I often return, a place called the springs of salvation.
Where are your springs of salvation? This season of Lent is an opportunity to name and return to them. Re-discover those moments in time when you were well assured of God’s most lavish and wasteful love.
In prayer, in sacrament, in story, in spiritual friendship with others, in life, may we experience the never ending source of God’s living water, and may we be open to offering that to others. Amen.