March 19th, 2017

March 12th, 2017: Second Sunday of Lent

The Gift of God

by: Rev. Joanne Izzo

The one whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow when I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring THOU. Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing thou art. Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme worshipping with frail images of folk-lore dream…
C.S. Lewis “A Footnote to All Prayers

Come and meet the man! Generally when we want to introduce someone to people we know or close to us it is Not because they told us “everything we ever did,” ….Not unless we wanted to be featured on the six o’clock news. Generally that is the last person we want to introduce round to others and the first person we want to distance ourselves from. You know the feeling. The statement begins with “I knew you when…” Or “remember the time when…..” as you are suddenly turning beat red in the face confronted by a most embarrassing moment or things about which you feel shame. Most likely each one of us has even a little something we would prefer to forget for all eternity. And here she is being vulnerable to her home town peeps, who probably know some juicy bits. Five times married and working on number six she gathers the town and invites them to “Come and meet the man who just told me everything I ever did” and she is good with it! Either she has little to be ashamed of or Jesus broke through to a deeper level where shame about one’s past no longer mattered.
As I pondered the text afresh this past week I paused and thought how did do that I wonder? This is where back story and moving between the 1st and 21st century gives part of the answer so I will begin there.
Before the day of Ancestry.com or the next new thing 23and me, (I think one of them had a St. Patrick’s Day special to see how Irish you are), ancestry, lineage, heritage, tribe was how one defined who they belonged to. Among all the Children of Israel how they related to and made claims upon God. This was as important to the Jews of Judea and Galilee as it was to the Samaritans. It was clear, and is clear, it is concrete, it is traceable, and now thanks to Watson and Crick, scientifically demonstrable. It keeps things in nice orderly tidy boxes, and sets the boundaries and limits to where obligation lies to be neighborly, friendly or not. Although 23andme probably opens up more cans of worms than not from what I gather folks are learning their heritage is not what they thought it was, that is messy and means potentially everyone is neighbor, even a group you considered an enemy might be part of the family. But the visible concrete facts of science of all things visible and tangible that we can monitor see and prove is not the whole story, not by a long shot.
Jesus is travelling in the region of Samara. Samaritans were and remain a break-away group as defined by Israelites ancient and modern, who form the dominant culture. They did not and do not accept the oral Torah, the law as the Pharisees did. They did not and do not worship in Jerusalem. They did not and do not go beyond the five books of Moses. They did and do continue to this day and maintain their practices which include animal sacrifices offered on their own high place. They did and do expect a Messiah to direct them. As we gather from scripture and historical studies the Israelites at that time looked down their noses at the Samaritans, “the good” Samaritan is a sarcastic remark, a joke. The Israelites saw the Samaritans as not keeping ‘the laws and purity’, rather as having loose morals, low standards. It is the unfortunate story of us and them, we and other of power and dominance found within human society.
The Samaritans were to be avoided. They were just not observant enough, not pure enough, not right thinking enough. Now take a moment and feel free to plug in any Christian denomination in relation to Episcopalians; or more accurately how Christian denominations, including some of our Anglican brothers and sisters perceive Episcopalians. This is the 1st century version of what we do in church circles since the reformation 500 years ago. As one bishop puts it, “Every 500 years or so the church, our society our political structures have a garage sale and everything is up for grabs.” The tough ol’ bird we call the Holy Spirit is on the move, nothing can be taken for granted. Jesus marks the turning point in Israel of that garage sale and this text is very much about what happens when we let Jesus in for a conversation.
Jesus passes through Samaria a region that was and is sandwiched between Galilee to the North and Judea to the South. If you were not a Samaritan traveling through could be risky, you were vulnerable to attack by Samaritan gangs. Jesus elects to pass through and comes to rest by Jacob’s well. He is tired and thirsty. It is hot it is noon, and the disciples have gone to town to purchase food. He has no bucket to let down the well to draw water, so he waits.
He is God waiting at the well Jacob bequeathed to his favorite son Joseph. Here is a son of one of the twelve tribes of Israel waiting where other descendants of the twelve tribes lives –Samaria. Waiting in a place where the two communities in conflict would never meet: that is the place you find God.
A woman comes to draw water in the heat of the day, not generally the time when women draw water if they can help it. However, if you are a woman with a reputation, you will be isolated from the others, talked about as if you weren’t even there, treated less than; so going out at noon is what you do.
The Samaritan woman strikes me as a spunky woman who minces no words and pushes back a bit. She is no demure wall flower. Perhaps some of us might identify with her forthright and grounded attitude as the product of lessons learned from the school of hard knocks. She is a risk taker challenging this Jew who is willing to break the rules and talk to a woman, and drink water from her bucket. Her challenge to him is grounded in ancestry, who is in and who is out, and by customs ways of doing things, who is right and who is wrong. All of these things in the 1st and 21st century we still cling to with our image of Who we Believe God to be and What worship and rules God’s expects from us. She as we often do confuse God with the name brand institution of which she is member. Here’s the thing, here is how Jesus breaks down the barrier to get to what really matters; he remains faithful to the Larger tradition, offers a third way.
She is curious and Jesus draws up the curiosity from deep within her. Curiosity about what he is teaching. She is open to try something that could be better than she has been doing. He offers grace. Grace is the Gift of God. Grace to know it is not about what we do or our ancestry or anything visible, it is about an invisible relationship that can’t be proved, only manifested in how we live – through the invisible power of loving relationships.
Because of that connection, that personal encounter, she leaves her water jar and as radically as Peter and Andrew, James and John dropped their nets and goes back to town inviting everyone “Come and See a Man who told me everything I had ever done.” She wonders aloud: “He cannot be the Messiah can he?” Now it is her turn to create and draw up curiosity from deep in others. She is creating curiosity in them, just as Jesus created curiosity in her. Perhaps she is drawing up curiosity in your right now. The town came out to see and invited him to stay. Let’s do the same.
In the week to come be prepared for Jesus to show up just when you are doing something ordinary. Be prepared to put down whatever you are doing, be spunky, be curious; let him draw up curiosity from deep within you. Be in conversation with him. Be ready to change your mind. Then go and tell someone. Share the Gift of God, Grace manifest in Love.
The one whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow when I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring THOU.