Lent 3 - Pastor Peg Otte -March 15-2020

On Thirst and Water and a Virus Whose Name We’re Sick of Hearing Already

                          John 4:5-42 (3LentA)                              March 15, 2020            Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala

Pastor Peg Otte

 

The readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020, are:  First reading: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Second reading: Romans 5:1-11; Gospel reading: John 4:5-42

 

Grace, Mercy, and Peace are yours from our Triune God. Amen

That jar. The entire reason she brought it to the well was to have water to drink. Instead, she met Jesus and by the end of the encounter with him that empty jar was left on the dry dusty ground. Actually, she never even got a sip, but by the end she was oddly filled and refreshed in a way she hadn’t been in a very long time. The deep thirst was gone.

The truth is, she’d had this deep thirst inside her for some time. A thirst that simply refused to be quenched. The dryness had been with her for a long time, nothing could quite reach her parched places that I can easily imagine looked a lot like grief and fear and isolation and shame. The kind of stuff that leaves a person’s soul dry and lifeless and dusty. And that we know as parched places, too.

So, Jesus meets her at this well and strikes up a conversation and in what sounds like coming completely out of the blue he asks her to go and get her husband. She says, ‘I have no husband’ and he shoots back, ‘I know. You’ve had 5 and the one you’re with isn’t your husband.’ Now, I want to point out that in this very long conversation with her Jesus has nothing to say about sin. Doesn’t demand repentance. There is no shade being thrown on her character or actions and if I read or hear one more sermon or commentary that suggests otherwise it’ll be one too many. What we do know from this is that she has been in 5 marriages that have been ended by death or divorce, and as we also know, both have their own sets of grief and vulnerability, rejection and dislocation, isolation, shame, fear. True enough now, even more intensely true then.

So what Jesus found there at the well that day was a woman whose soul was dry, whose spirit was dusty. She was there in the middle of the day, a time when nobody goes. Nobody goes in the heat. Nobody goes alone. So we start to pick up on the signs of rejection. We get a glimpse of some kind of  fear or shame. There’s a sense of terrible isolation. She is just really alone.

What happened between her and Jesus changed her. Somehow, after that encounter she went running back to town with her spirit not just kind of refreshed and dampened, but with life splashing inside. What had been dry and lifeless was now plump and hydrated with life. Her thirst quenched with Jesus’ living water. And the thing that did it?...Well, did you notice what she told her neighbors? When she got back home she excitedly she spilled out the story on them: ‘there is a man who knows everything I ever did.’

You see what happened there, don’t you? Jesus had cut right to the heart of the dryness. He made clear that he really knew her—absolutely. He whole story. All the sorrow, grief, joy, fear. The tragedies, the celebrations. He knew her intimately. The beautiful and the desperately hidden parts. And that’s rare enough. Even more rare—he loved her. Accepted her fully. And she drank deeply of his life-giving truth.

Jesus knew her and loved her. And when she got to town—the place where they didn’t really care to know her, never really entered into the pain she felt, never really accepted her—she was so full of that water that it spilled out of her and soaked the whole town with it. So much so that the townfolk had to go looking for themselves for its source. See, turns out that they had some dusty souls, too. Turns out they had the burning human thirst to be known deeply and to be loved for who they were. They were parched for being known. Loved totally. Accepted just as they were.

There’s another thirst that’s been on my mind this week, and probably on yours as well, about needing something to quench the fear that’s coming and is among us about the Coronavirus. There’s a thirst for certainty and control, perhaps, or maybe just an intense longing for the way things were “back then”—a week ago. When we could gather without fear. When we could hug someone or even shake hands as a sign of peace. When we could make a statement without having to add, “at least for now.” When we could listen to news for 5 seconds without hearing words like “COVID”  and “social distancing”—which, can I just say, makes me want to pull my hair out, because what we’re needing in this time is physical distancing and social connection. But there ya go….

I’m thirsting for stability and safety the way it was when I was not so deeply worried about elder members of my family and this faith community, and the economy and all of the people all over the place. And God knows that. And about this age when the contagion of untruth goes unchecked, where loyalties and accusations trump Christian compassion, when keeping up appearances seems more important than caring for vulnerable people, where community is continually frayed by careless actors. I’m really thirsting for empathy and compassion. The expression of dignity for comity, for self-giving love that shares broadly. Oh God, do I need a drink. A giant tumbler full of cooling grace, mutual love, shared sacrifice and consolation. And God knows that.

Those are some of the thirsts of the moment. Desires that well up within us, that carry an almost visceral power. They are the deep needs of the present that we can also bring to Jesus, trusting him to rehydrate our souls with the living water that he was talking about at Jacob’s well.

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There remains, of course, that basic deep thirst that the woman at the well had, that we all have and that is to be known, deeply. And to be loved and accepted by that person who knows us.

You know how water seeks the lowest point, right? Those were the places that this living water of Jesus sought out. Her grief and fear, her uncertainty and isolation, her vulnerability and loss of place, the things she formerly couldn’t bring herself to talk about, much less admit to. That’s where this living water of Jesus flowed, from him who knew her fully and in complete love. And in the truth about her as well as his love, renew and refresh, to bring her life now and to everlasting.

And actually, we crave it, too. It’s a basic human, holy need, to be known and fully loved, to find that thirst finally quenched. To have that living water do its seeking to soak us to and at our depths. It’s the stuff of life. It’s exactly what Jesus offered. And what he offers us now, today, always. I pray you will drink fully, and in so doing, go on to soak the souls of those around you. God knows we always, always need it.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.  

 
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