John 4:5-30 and Thirst by Mary Oliver
Thank you for connecting this morning however you were able, for our first experiment in worshiping creatively, separately but still together. Perhaps we should begin by thanking our corporate overlords Facebook and Google for creating these platforms that feel essential in a time like this. We had planned to use technology to share who we are more broadly this year, but sometimes the Universe speeds up our pace.
Thank you for your grace with this beautiful and imperfect experiment allowing us to remain connected in a time when we really need it most. As many of you know, I like to start my sermons each week with a prayer that many call the preacher’s prayer. It comes from Psalm 19:14. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
We are in a wilderness time- that’s the message I shared a few weeks ago and it really truly feels like that now. While Christians are in the wilderness season of Lent, we are officially in a wilderness time in modern life too. In the biblical sense, this means we have entered a time of struggle, a time where we will be tested, a time where will be asked to summon something beyond what we thought we were capable of.
A wilderness time is a season to build new capacities and to call upon powers that have remained dormant because they weren’t needed when things were easier and more certain.
Our congregation’s theme for Lent this year is Heightening Our Senses: how can we tune our ears, our eyes, our hearts, all of our senses to tune in and connect to Spirit?
It feels funny to focus on connecting, now that we are in a moment when all we seem to hear about is distancing- from large groups and in general from one another. Social distancing as you know is a phrase that epidemiologists use to refer to the intentional effort to reduce close contact between people in order to stymie community transmission of COVID-19. And I suspect that it is a phrase that many of us will never forget.
In a moment when we have technology that connects us endlessly, socially, virtually, remotely, right now we are being asked to keep our distance.
We are in a public health emergency, with both a supply shock and fear creating shortages of needed supplies in some places. And now we have a plunge of stocks and futures as industries that were propped up on a false sense of security and debt begin to fail. And we know these failures will be passed on to those whose backs are already burdened. We are living with the consequences of severe inequality, which is creating a health disaster and an economic disaster, all during an election and a Census year.
Not long ago the world looked one way and now normal has changed. Everything seems different- canceled classes and events, important things delayed…in some areas, indefinitely. Many of our schedules have been cleared of places to show up, but then that empty space got filled with fear. Hospital visits can’t be made, trainings, celebrations put off, our homebound seniors and sages now afraid, our children going without school and wondering about their tomorrows. Angst, financial stress, genuine concern in a country where access to healthcare is determined by class. Mortality salience and worry are driving weird behavior. How do we hold all of this? While some of us still work? While some of us still build the world we want? While we all keep our social distance?
I have never been a Pastor through a pandemic before and I don’t have a lot of answers. But here are some ways that I think will get us through this.
1. Living into the truth that we are in this together.
We are an interdependent, interconnected web of existence and we were always bound together, but right now we see that our health as individuals is intimately tied to what others are capable of doing.
2. Those of us who can, are called to cross categories of comfort to help and to heal.
There are all kinds of ways to read the incredible story you heard from the Gospel of John. Some make it about Jesus’ nature. And not surprisingly many others make it about how all of the ways the Samaritan woman has fallen short. But I think a big part of this teaching is about living the truth that we are in this together for real and we are called to cross categories of culture, class, religion and more to help someone whose health and hope is on the line.
Jesus has the power and the position, but he can’t get the water from the well without her help- a woman, from the wrong town, married too many times, foolishly out on her own. He crosses chasms of culture and gender where even a nameless woman with heavy baggage is seen and heard and known. And she is as one commentator put it, a “religious, social and political outsider” which means she crosses categories of class and history herself. Jesus and the woman each have to take the bridge to meet one another.
Modern life as we have arranged it, creates illusions of separateness, but the truth is that we still need one another to thrive; we need help quenching our thirst. And I think it is no accident that the one presented as powerless is the one who actually has the power to give water. Jesus status won’t help him now, instead it is only in surrendering to the truth of togetherness, to the truth that he needs her that his thirst is quenched.
This time of distance is showing us how much we need our connection, how much we need one another.
Things are so out of the ordinary that maybe we can let this be a time to reset? Let this be a time to start anew and to promise ourselves, one another and the world our love. Miracles can happen because suddenly there is space for them. The previously schedule programming has been canceled so why not plan something new? I love these words from Unitarian Universalist Minister Kay Unger about this time we are in, “What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath—the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down. And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch. Promise this world your love--for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.”
Beloved of God, “who knows what will finally happen” but know this: we are in this together. And if you can, in this moment, we are called to cross categories of comfort, to move over chasms of culture and class, to bridge canyons of religious and political differences, to help and to heal. Be kind boldly. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. Know that our lives are in one another’s hands.
May it be so.