So this has been quite a week. It’s been a week of disruption. We’re still reeling from the announcements about COVID-19. I think that on Friday as I was sending a letter out and we were deciding what to do about services, the situation seemed to be changing every hour. It’s hard to keep up, it’s overwhelming. It was overwhelming for me, I was watching way too much news, I was going to my phone way too often, and of course it’s much more difficult for those who have been affected by the virus. We know that around the world, hundreds of thousands of people have caught this illness, and there have been thousands of deaths and so we take it seriously and our government and health authorities are taking it seriously, and our church is taking it seriously. That’s why there are 10 of us here this morning instead of our usual numbers, and most of us are watching on Facebook, and it’s just different.
I suppose for me personally to top all of that off, yesterday we had the election for Bishop in our diocese, and our Synod met and voted and there were five ballots and we elected Dean Shane Parker of the Cathedral as our new Bishop, and that’s a wonderful thing, Shane will be a wonderful Bishop. Some of you know that I stood for Bishop and was part of that process, and it was something, a lot of emotion going on, trying to figure out what to do about worship on Sunday morning, paying attention to the Synod and celebrating the election of Shane as our Bishop, refraining from handshakes and hugs and contact – it’s been a disruptive week.
One of the things that we need to be aware of and remember is that God works through disruptive events. Disruptive events actually provide God with the opportunity to change our lives. When everything is going along smoothly, the normal routine, life can stay the same. When things get disrupted - and that doesn’t mean that all the disruptions are good, some of the things we’re dealing with are really difficult - but when things get disrupted, God has a chance to enter our lives and be in relationship with us in new ways, and that can change us.
Some of you know the song Anthem by Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Today, we’re not worshiping here together. We didn’t ring the bells because we thought that might be confusing. But we are doing what we can. There is a crack in our communal life together this morning and yet light will get in. To be not worshiping together because of COVID-19, it causes us to ask the question ‘what does it mean to be church when we can’t worship together on a Sunday?’ What does that mean for our mid-week gatherings? What does that mean for our individual practice? What does that mean for using technologies to communicate? What does mean for reaching out to those who are in self-isolation, and buying them groceries? What does that mean for people who are afraid? How do we lessen people’s fear and anxiety? How do we hang together as church at a time when we’re practicing social distance and not actually hanging together physically in the way that we normally do?
That’s an opportunity for us to re-think what it means to be church. That’s an opportunity for us to be creative, and we’re trying to be a little bit creative this morning. It’s an opportunity to care for those who are vulnerable. So far we haven’t had too many people affected in Ottawa, in terms of actually having Covid-19, but there are a lot of people who are immune-compromised, who are elderly, who have respiratory diseases who are worried about it and may be self-isolating.
Care for one another. This is our opportunity to be church. In fact this is our time, this is why the church exists. The church exists for moments such as these, and even if we can’t worship together, we have the opportunity to be church.
Now it’s a bit ironic in our gospel reading this morning, the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, that at a time when we’re practicing social distancing, our gospel reading is about the exact opposite. It’s about an encounter. It’s about connection. It’s about deepening that connection, it’s about knowing and being known, it is fundamentally about relationship. And it does begin with social distancing. The woman comes to the well at noon, and that was an unusual thing to do because noon is the hottest time of day, and most people would have come to the well in the morning or in the evening.
I don’t know you’ve ever been in a country where people have to get water at the well, but it is a very social thing. It’s when people get together, it’s when the chatter happens, you catch up on people’s news. People come to the well and, there’s work to be done, but you come to meet other people and to be together. But this woman, for whatever reason, and we don’t really know the reason, it may be related to what we find out later, that she’s had five husbands – which doesn’t mean she was a bad woman, it means that men divorced her or husbands died, maybe it was because she couldn’t have children – we don’t know all that, but we do know that she was socially isolated. She came to the well at noon.
The gospel begins with social distancing, and then there is a disruptive event. Jesus happens to be at the well when she shows up, a man when she is a woman, a Jew when she is a Samaritan, and he says to her “Give me a drink” which he’s not supposed to do. It’s a disruptive event for this woman. How is she going to respond?
I had a prof when I was at seminary, and he used to say to us that the really important question when you’re talking about your relationship with God is not ‘is it good or bad’ it’s whether it’s static or dynamic. Is it passive or is stuff happening? And dynamic is better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re angry with God, whether you’re fighting with God, you’re upset with God, whatever it is, dynamic is better. It’s better to be dealing with stuff that matters, it’s better to be dealing with the hard stuff because when your relationship with God is dynamic, when it’s active, when stuff is happening, when there’s a back and forth there, change is happening. And change is life-giving.
This story of Jesus and the woman at the well is a dynamic encounter. Stuff happens. There’s back and forth. He talks, she talks, they go to places of pain, they ask the questions of the day. She eventually runs back to her village, tells everybody, they all come, and it says at the end that there were many Samaritans from the village and they recognize Jesus as the saviour of the world. That’s stuff happening, all as a result of that initial disruption: ‘give me a drink’. It’s an active, dynamic relationship.
Last week we talked about Nicodemus. Nicodemus was the exact opposite. He was the establishment guy, he was a man, a Jew, a person of privilege. He came to Jesus at night, not the middle of the day. Kind of in quiet, in hiding, secretly. Nicodemus doesn’t ask a question, he tells Jesus something. Jesus tries to go deeper with him, but did you notice that in last week’s gospel reading, Nicodemus, he actually just disappears. By the end of last week’s gospel, third chapter of John, you don’t know if Nicodemus is still there or not. He’s gone, he disappeared.
Today is different. This woman, who has none of the privilege that Nicodemus had, who does not have the right to speak and pronounce that Nicodemus had, she engages. She sticks with it. She asks her questions. She deepens. She enters into relationship.
Jesus says ‘give me a drink’. Think about it – what were her options? She could have just ignored him. I suppose she could have run away. Most likely she could have just given him a drink without saying a word. That would have been passive. Static. Not engaging in a relationship. But instead, what does she do? She says to him “how is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” She speaks her truth. You folks have been ostracizing me and marginalizing me for my whole life, and telling me I’m the enemy and the adversary, you’ve been telling me my place is in the home, how is it that you’re asking me for a drink?
And he deepens, he says, it’s not just about water, everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, the water that I give will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. And she goes with him in the deepening, she says “I want that. What are you talking about? Give me that water. But how is that, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?” There’s engagement here.
Then Jesus goes to her place of deepest pain and vulnerability. “Bring your husband”
“I have no husband”
“You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now is not your husband” - probably her husband died, and her husband’s brother had to take her into his house so that she wouldn’t starve, because women had no independent source of income.
That’s got to be a place of pain and loss and regret. Jesus goes there. He goes to our places of pain and loss and regret, and he’s ok there, Jesus is willing to deepen our relationship. And so is she. She says, “I see that you’re a prophet.” And so I’m going to ask the question that’s really been bugging me, because the Jews say that we have to worship on this mountain, and we worship on that mountain and if you’re a prophet then what’s up with all that?
And he says, “all of that’s going to pass away. God wants people who are going to worship him in spirit and truth.”
Question by question, answer by answer, it deepens. And this woman who began the day alone, social distancing, self-isolating, coming to the well at noon, all of a sudden is in this deep relationship where she is known. Jesus knows who she is, and she knows who Jesus is. He starts out as a Jew, and then he becomes sir, and then a prophet, and then she talks about the Messiah coming, and he says “I am”, and then the very last line of the gospel is that they all recognize that this is the saviour of the world.
To me, if you want an image of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be a person of faith, what it means to have a relationship with God, this encounter is the most beautiful example in all of scripture of what it looks like to be in relationship with Jesus, to know God and to be known by God, to connect and deepen and be transformed and then to become a disciple and to be saved. It’s all here.
This is our faith. This is life-giving.
Homily: Yr A Lent 3, March 15 2020, St. Albans
Reading: John 4.5-42
Image by Momo Go, Creative Commons