Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Another Great Homily for Lent

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Here is a great homily written by an UMC pastor, Ryan Parker.

From Wounded & Wandering in the Wilderness... to Washed with Living Water
.by Ryan Parker on Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 5:25pm.Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A (March 27, 2011)

Here we are in Lent, which begins in the desert and in a garden, and here we are today in a desert and at a well.

We westerners are used to water, clean water, being everywhere.  We have tap water fit-to-drink.  We have so much water we chlorinate it and fill big holes in our backyard with it so we can swim around.  We have clean water everywhere.  But for folks that live in the desert, well, getting clean water isn’t so easy.  Getting ANY water isn’t so easy.  And without water there is no life.  Without water, nothing grows.  With no vegetation, there are no animals, and certainly no humans.  We’re practically made of water.

And without water, we would all die.

That’s what the Israelites are facing in today’s passage from Exodus.[1]  They have been following Moses out of slavery in Egypt, and they are starting to get grumpy.  Slavery sure wasn’t any fun, but at least in Egypt they had houses to live in.  Being a slave is no kind of life, especially when the squalid conditions caused many infants to die, and the ones that didn’t die were killed by Pharaoh’s henchmen, but at least in Egypt there was plenty of water.

“What good is the promised land if we die before we get there?  Moses, where are you taking us?  Where is this God you’re talking about?  The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night is neat and all, but couldn’t your God just warp us to the Promised Land or something?  It’s hot out here.  We’re thirsty!”  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

But the people had a point.  Without water, we will all die.

So God provides water for the people.

I think we are a lot like the Israelites.  This is Lent.  We’re on a “Lenten journey.”  We are supposed to be thinking about what it means to be “out in the wilderness,” out in the desert with Jesus.  Being tempted.  Hungry, weary, worn.

Lent is a time to remember  that this is always how things are.  At least in part.  By that I mean that we are always, in a sense, “out in the desert.”  We are the Israelites, being led to the Promised Land.  We have renounced a life of slavery (to sin) and have been made into a people.  We Christians have been called from far off and grafted onto this root of Jesse, Israel, and here we are on our journey together through life.

And we get hot.  We get worn down.  We get weary.  And we complain.  And we wonder where God is.  It seems that all we can see is the sand, and rocks, and lack of shade.  Our throats are parched.  And we thirst for the presence of God.

We get so wrapped up in thinking about all those supposed good things that we’ve left behind, that we can barely think about where we’re going.  We forget that we’re not just supposed to be growing older, but growing in our relationship with God.

So we’re in the wilderness.  But there’s a Rock there.  A fountain of water, and life, and strength, ready to nourish all of those cracked, and weary, and worn places in our lives.  But it’s up to us to take a drink.

That’s one way of understanding what happens with the woman at the well.[2]

We’re a lot like this woman also.  She’s a Samaritan.  A half-breed.  She doesn’t really fit in anywhere.  She’s not Jewish enough for the Jews, and she’s too Jewish for everyone else.  And she’s a woman.  She’s not supposed to be out in the middle of the day talking with men.  I mean, it’s the middle of the day; she’s not supposed to be out at all.

It’s hot out.  The sun is at its highest.  The daylight is at its brightest.  And here’s this woman, at the well, and Jesus is about to flood a light on all her dirty little secrets.

Jesus knows what kind of woman he’s talking to.  She’s not just a Samaritan, she’s had five husbands.  And the man that she’s with right now doesn’t even respect her enough to marry her.  She’s been used and abused, and made a few mistakes of her own, and here Jesus is talking with her.

Jesus accepts her.  Jesus knows all about this woman and he accepts her for who she is.

And she gets excited.  I mean, REALLY excited.  She leaves her water jar and runs back to town and starts telling EVERYBODY!  “I just met this prophet, okay, and he’s amazing.  He knows everything about me, and I swear I’ve never seen him before.   Yes, I mean EVERYTHING.  He knows about, you know, that stuff, and he didn’t care.  He talked with me!  He asked me to give him some water.  He asked ME to give him some water.  He asked me to drink with him!  He asked me to spend time fellowshipping with him, right there, in front of everybody, in the middle of town, in the middle of the day.  You’ve GOT to come see him.”

And, so, the people left.  They left the city, they followed this woman and came out to see him.  All these Samaritans, all these people who didn’t really fit in anywhere, came out to Jesus and believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.

And what was her “testimony?”  Did this woman talk about how Jesus had told her about heaven and hell?  No.  He didn’t have to.  She was living in a hell of shame and guilt and regret.  She was a scorned woman among Samaritans—an already scorned people.  And here, this man, this Messiah, spoke to her about all that she had done, and rather than casting hellfire upon her, Jesus offers her “living water.”

Living water.

Without water there is no life.  And without the living water of God’s spirit in our lives, we have no spiritual life.  Without the living water of God’s spirit we might as well be dead.  Dead in our guilt, and shame, and fallenness.

But God doesn’t leave us there.  Not only does God offer us “new birth,” but God offers us life in the spirit.  Through Jesus we have always available the living water of God’s spirit to wash and renew us again and again.  Through God’s spirit we grow in our relationship with God and begin to worship God more and more “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Jesus looked out around him, sitting in the sun in the heat of the day, and saw not desert but a harvest.  Beautiful.  Bountiful, lush, green.  Jesus saw a garden.  “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting” (John 4:35).

Jesus is speaking to the disciples about their responsibility to be caretakers of HIS crop—not unlike the language Paul uses for himself and other pastors in the letter to the Corinthians.

But I think this story is about all of us.

I am more and more convinced that we are, each of us, like this Samaritan woman.  We are like Adam & Eve in our fallenness.  We are like Nicodemus in our opportunity to meet Jesus in the darkness and dead of our night and be “born again.”  But we are also like this woman who is astonished to find herself being greeted by Jesus in the noonday sun.

Jesus isn’t just interested in “saving” this woman from some punishment in the hereafter.  Jesus is interested in growing this woman up in God’s garden.  Jesus lays bare the secrets of her heart.  One at a time he says, “I know all about that.”  He knows about her past.  About her failed relationships.  About her broken marriages.  About her bad decisions.  She says, “He told me everything I have ever done” (John 4:39).

But Jesus is no revival preacher.  Jesus doesn’t point a finger at her and threaten her with hell. She’s been living in it.  She’s been wandering in the desert of life for some time now.  Trying to keep this and that secret.  Hoping that no one will find out and bring her shame.  But Jesus knows everything.  [Who knows what else they spoke about.  What acknowledgments were made with this or that glance.]

Jesus knows everything about this woman. And he tells her.   And he loves her all the same.  And he offers her living water, to wash her again and again.  ///

This is the way God looks at each one of us.  Tenderly.  Openly.  Honestly.

This story is a picture of how God’s grace works in our lives.  Too often, the part of us that is like the disciples is scandalized that Jesus is speaking to that part of us that is like the Samaritan woman.  The churchy part of us wants to keep up with appearances.[3]  That part of us that is like the disciples would rather keep locked away that part of us that is like the Samaritan woman, the part with a past.

Oh, sure, I’m saved, but I don’t dare bring this issue to Jesus.  I don’t dare show Jesus my wounds, my mistakes, my brokenness.  I don’t dare let Jesus in on the dirty little secrets in my life.  I don’t dare let Jesus speak with all of me.

I know this is true for me.

Sometimes I’d rather be out in the wilderness, wandering and hungry, than ask Jesus for living water to wash my wounds.  Sometimes I’d rather be in bondage in Egypt than allow Jesus to wash and water all the little broken nooks and crannies in my life.

But the thing is, Jesus already knows all about me.  All of me.  And he loves all that I am.  And God’s love is big enough to handle even all of the mistakes I’ve made.  And all of the deepest, most intimate, most vulnerable parts of myself.

It’s my job to allow the living water of God’s spirit to wash and renew me again and again.

What does this look like?

I see myself living this story as I meet with my reflection group in the hospital, and as I go to counseling sessions with my therapist.  In this soul work, I am bringing things to light that others, or I myself, have decided are the dirty, shameful parts, maybe things I’ve done, or shamed moments of the past, or the parts of me that just don’t “dress up” as well.

It’s sometimes—often—difficult work, but as it occurs, rather than being damned for what I discover I’ve hidden, I realize that God knows anyway.  And God can handle it.

“I know about that.”  Jesus says.  “And I love you still.  I know about that too.  And I’ve already forgiven you.  Be washed.  Drink deep.  Be renewed.  Grow into relationship with me.”

That’s one way of talking about “sanctification” or “going on to perfection” or “moving on to entire salvation.”

It’s realizing that God already knows everything about me.  And as I bring it out into the light of the noonday sun, he looks at me with love and says again and again, “I love you.  Drink deep.  This water is for you.”  Amen.

[1] Exodus 17:1-7

[2] John 4:5-42

[3] The disciples are astonished that Jesus is speaking with a woman because men just didn’t speak with women one-on-one like that, without others around, unless they were interested in pursuing a relationship.



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