March 19, 2017 “ 3 Lent A
Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
¦the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
I walked into the back of the nave late one Wednesday afternoon a year or two ago to find Candice leading a Communion Enrichment class for 1st and 2nd graders. It looked like a good opportunity to play a little trick on them. I got one of our microphones and turned up the volume pretty loud and stood way in the back and said in as deep and powerful voice as I could muster: This is the Lord. Candice of course recognized my voice and looked up and saw me way back there so when one of the children asked, Is that really God?, she was ready with the answer, No, he just thinks he is.
There is but one God scripture tells us in various ways. And it is not me, it is not you. Our collect today reminds us that we are not God, that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, and, while we don’t consciously really believe we are God, one of our main problems in life is that it is hard for us to accept ourselves as dependent on God’s help. We try so hard to make our own way, justify ourselves, separate ourselves from others, prove our value and worth, have some control, fill that hole inside us. It’s hard for us to accept our place as children of God. It’s hard for us to accept God’s unconditional love for us. It might be even harder for us to accept God’s unconditional love for others. We’re all beloved children of God, all of us loved so generously by God, but that gift is so illogical that it throws us off. Surely God must love those who do good better than those who do evil. When we fail to recognize God’s love for us it is because we think we’re not good enough. When we fail to recognize God’s love for others it is because we think they’re not good enough. We’re more comfortable dividing the world into Us versus Them. We’re the good guys; they’re the bad guys. It’s an empty and dualistic way of living, focusing so much on who is right and who is wrong. The whole point of our lessons today is that we’re all wrong but we’re all children of God.
We’re all wrong and yet we are all loved. When you can’t admit you might be wrong, you’re not accepting your limitations. To admit I might be wrong is to see myself as a child, as someone dependent on something bigger than me. We don’t like that and so we justify ourselves, we rationalize, we divide the world into good and bad and pretend so hard that we are good that we actually begin to believe it, though deep down inside something keeps gnawing at us and so we pretend harder until our little worlds collapse. When we are trying so hard to convince ourselves and others that we are right, the love of God is illusive. Love is a gift but if you think it has to be earned you don’t see it, you don’t have it. When we understand that we just might be wrong, the love of God flows into our hearts and we are more loving toward others and ourselves.
Last week we read about Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who came secretly to Jesus because he sensed Jesus had something important for him to learn. Nicodemus was someone who had kept himself pure and separated himself from those the world saw as inferior so as to be closer to God. He had spent his whole life trying to be good. Yet something was missing. Jesus tells him what that something is. You have to be born anew, born from above. Today’s gospel lesson carries that a little further.
Jesus is in Samaria and meets a woman at Jacob’s well. I’m not sure there is a modern analogy to the split between Jews and Samaritans but we may be closer to experiencing that than any other time in my life. During the Civil War our country was deeply divided; there was an Us vs. Them mentality. I think that division was also operative during and right after Reconstruction. It’s back again. For the last ten years we’ve divided into two groups and there’s plenty of animosity. Take our Liberal/Conservative split and ramp it up and you get a feel for the Jew/Samaritan split. It was a regional divide and a religious/political divide. The Jews saw themselves clearly as right and the Samaritans as wrong. But Jesus both exposes that as fraudulent and works to heal the division.
It’s a long passage, the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anyone in fact, and in some ways it all goes to show that the Pharisees have it wrong. Jesus spends time with a Samaritan, unheard of at the time. And the fact that she’s a woman tops it off. Jesus honors someone the Pharisees would only recognize with hatred. Jesus accepts her and extends the love of God to her. So the story is told against the Pharisees and their closed up little world of right and wrong. It’s not about doing good; it’s about being born anew, opening our hearts to the gift of love.
But notice, in a passage that basically says the Pharisees have it wrong, Jesus is not saying the Samaritan woman has it right. He’s saying she too needs the love of God. He tells her that she can keep going to the well but that won’t truly quench her thirst. There is more she is seeking. She must open herself to that love.
The passage might reach its high point in the little interchange about the two temples. The woman says to Jesus that her ancestors used to worship on this mountain where they are, referring to the Samaritan temple that for years was in competition with the temple in Jerusalem. The woman falls into the right vs. wrong, good vs. evil trap when she thinks Jesus is saying that the temple in Jerusalem is the only true temple. Jesus says neither temple is true. Only God is true.
We keep looking for the well that will quench our thirsts. God is the only well that truly gives us what we want. We keep looking for the temple that is right, the formula or the way of thinking that will make us right. Our way is the right way, the only right way.
Jesus knocks that down and builds brand new hope. Jesus is the new well, the new temple. My way is not the right way. My side is not the right side. We’re all a little off. And we’re all included in the kingdom. There is but one God and it is not me, it is not you. God comes to the world in Christ Jesus not to condemn half of us but to save all of us.