Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jesus at the Well Jesus Under the Bridge

John 4:

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

Now when Jesus[a] learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[b] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[f] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

This week has been a veritable smorgasbord for pastors.
There is just so much I could talk about...
That missing plane? -- Could they please just find that plane?
The death of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps?
How Russia has taken over Crimea?
Mega-Church evangelical Mark Driscoll and accusations that he not only plagiarized his book but also bought up a bajillion copies so that it would soar to the top of the best sellers lists?
The billion dollar settlements for Toyota and GM recalls?
Or how Russell Crowe’s new movie, “Noah” has Christians all with their undies in a bundle?
Or maybe we should just marvel in amazement at Kevin Bacon’s reenactment of Footloose on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon...
Nope. Today, guys. Guys.
Guys... You’ll never guess what just happened to me. I met a guy who knew EVERYTHING about me! He knew that...
Sometimes I text in traffic. And he knew that when I was eight, I played “soap opera” with my cousin. And this guy knew that when I was ten I deliberately tore up my sister’s art work because I was so frickin’ mad that she’d copied me. And in college, I broke off a relationship via email. And he knew that once I picked up my son’s binkie from the floor of a McDonald’s and popped it right back into his mouth.
 And...he knew that I’ve taken my kids to McDonald’s...

He knew everything about me. Isn’t that...awesome?
And he could know everything about you, too. Doesn’t that just make you want to skip across the Birmingham Bridge and shout “hallelujah!” from atop its cables?  Doesn’t it just make you so excited? Doesn’t the idea of someone knowing everything about you make you want to share that person with everyone else?
Well, maybe not unless that just made everyone else look as sad and corrupt and flailing and sinful as you do...

I don’t know about you, but honestly, the idea of someone knowing EVERYTHING I have ever done doesn’t comfort me at all. In fact, it gives me the downright heebeegeebies. Like Santa, who “sees when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Or that crazy stalker song by Sting - “every breath you take, every move you make, every step you take...I’ll be watching you.”

So isn’t it weird? Isn’t it strange? This woman’s response as she leaves the vacant well in the heat of the day, to run and tell others the story of whom she has met? 

This woman who is -- a woman. This woman who has had five husbands and is living with another man. This woman who comes to the well alone, when the ritual of water-fetching was a daily communal event. This woman who is a Samaritan - a kind of Jewish/Gentile hybrid who was scorned by both races. Who comes at the heat of the day, when surely, most would be resting in the shade, not gathering to draw water from a deep well as the sun beats down upon their heads.

And Jesus asks her for water. For a drink.

Can you see what is really happening here?

This is the cultural equivalent of how some people might look at the transvestite cross-dresser who is addicted to heroin, turning tricks under the bridge because the local motel won’t let her in anymore. In today’s context, it’d be like Jesus came up to her at the 7/11 and asked for a drag of her cigarette, or a swig from her 40.

That’s the social equivalent of what’s going on in this text.

And Jesus tells her everything she has ever done:
You’ve lied. You’ve cheated. You’ve been hurt and taken advantage of. You slept with that man for forty bucks, and then smoked it down under the 10th Street Bridge. You’ve accepted the beatings from the jons because you thought you deserved it, and you’ve been so hungry that you’ve dug through the dumpsters behind the Giant Eagle for a few Twinkies and a half a bottle of red pop. You’ve gotten so high that you were shaken awake by a police officer on the sidewalk at three in the morning. You’ve spent so many nights in jail that you’ve lost count, and you know that your mom still wants you to come home, but you refuse.

How? How could hearing all of this be something OTHER than disparaging and berating?

I don’t know. All I know is that SOMEHOW Jesus tells this woman at the well all that she has ever done, and she leaves, seeking others with whom to share in her story. This lonely woman, in the heat of the day, scorned from society, used as a pawn in relationship after relationship, runs back into the city and invites all she encounters to “Come and see a man who told [her] everything [she] had ever done.” And many Samaritans end up believing because of her story.

And so they go to find out for themselves. And then they meet Jesus. And they are known by Jesus. And then they believe. They believe because of their own encounter with this man who knows everything they have ever done.

Now this is really important:
It’s not because Jesus is a mindreader or a clairvoyant or a practicer of magical arts that this woman’s life is changed.
If someone came up to me and rattled off all the bad things I had done, even if it had somehow happened supernaturally, I certainly wouldn’t leave amazed. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone else to know that there was someone out there who knew how very much I’ve screwed up. And I definitely wouldn’t want those who have berated me, who have abandoned me, who have isolated and castigated me to find out that there is a guy out there who knows exactly all of the bad things I have done.

Unless. Unless, somehow, I was changed by the encounter. Unless, I was somehow made more whole by the interaction and by the telling of my own story.
Jesus tells her everything she had ever done. And she leaves -- whole, renewed, hopeful, ready to re-enter a society that has been harsh and abusive and judgmental.

A friend of mine was homeless in New Orleans for about three months. And he said that the most difficult thing about the whole experience wasn’t the pangs of hunger in his stomach, it wasn’t the leaking tarp during the summer rains, or even the humiliation of standing in the soup lines; it was that people stopped looking him in the eye as he walked down the street.

I think that Jesus has looked at this woman in the eye - when no one else would.
I think that he has told her her story in a way that she had never heard it before.

I think that Jesus asks her for something. He needs her. He needs water.
And she has a pitcher.
She has something to give him.

She has something for Jesus - something he needs - something she doesn’t have to be ashamed of.

I think that Jesus was thirsty, and needed water. And he needed her to get it for him. 

I think that Jesus needed her, just as she is, full of mistakes and missteps and failures and stubbornness.  Just as she is, a victim of her society, kicked around from one man to the next, judged by her community, forced to come to the well alone during the heat of the day.

She has been both - victim and perpetrator; she has been screwed and has screwed up.
And here is Jesus. In the heat of the day. Asking her for a drink. Being thirsty with this woman.
See, he knows we’re all thirsty. And he won’t let us be thirsty alone.
He’s there and he is thirsty, too.

He is thirsty for his children to become whole again. Thirsty for them to feel love. Thirsty for this woman to know that she is so much more than the sum of her husbands.

Jesus thirsts for us. Just as we are. And that’s what makes all the difference.

She leaves Jesus as a whole person. “He knew everything I had ever done - and he loved me anyway!” “He knew all the ways I screwed up and hurt others and was hurt by others. He knew all about my bruises and scars and mental illness and addictions and self doubt and he still looked me in the eye.” “He asked me for a drink.”

Jesus says, “The Father seeks such as these to worship him” - Such as these - the adulterers and the isolated and the meth-heads and the perfectionists and the asshole bankers and the pastors of bigoted abusive “churches,” -- and the victims of those bigoted abusive churches.
“The Father seeks such as these.”
The Father seeks the transvestites and the abandoned and the orphaned and the doubters and the plagiarizers and the CEOs of billion dollar car companies.
The Father seeks the hungry and the thirsty and the abandoned. The motley crew of homeless and businesspeople and college students and exhausted parents who sit in creaky chairs in a former bar on the South Side of a once dying mill town.

“He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”
Can he?

Come see a man who told me everything I had ever done. And still looked me in the eye. Still asked me for water.

He can’t be the Messiah, can he?
Can he?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dinosaur Pee and Daffodils in the Snow: Wherein I talk about the human Barbie and quote two atheists on Ash Wednesday.

 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
5:20bwe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
     “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
          and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything

Genesis 2
"In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"

Picture a line of kids crossing a cold parking lot.
Their shoes are untied.
Their coats unbuttoned.
Girls in their plaid jumpers.
Boys in navy blue pants with the knees reinforced.
We were on our way from our grade school, single file, to Christ The King Catholic Church across what seemed to be a never ending parking lot.
Rows of second and third graders off to get ashes on their heads.
Off to remember how sinful they are.
Off to be told that they are gonna die.

Growing up, Ash Wednesday was the worst.
No meat all day.
The beginning of the “giving up of stuff”
And having to wear those ashes on your forehead all day, worried that you’d be silently judged for rubbing the oil and the ash off on your sleeve before the day was officially over.

And I mean really, second graders. Those sinful second graders. It’s about time we knew how awful we were...

So often we think Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a time when we think about how awful we are.

We think about how sinful we are and how much we need to repent --“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and all that business.

And sure. Maybe that’s true. And even some second graders can be pretty nasty. But, I’m sorry to disappoint. This is not going to be another sin sermon.

Have you heard of the Ukrainian model Valeria Lukyanova - the so-called “Human Barbie Doll”?  She has undergone extensive plastic surgery in order to look like Barbie - She’s had surgery to widen her eyes, put in breast implants, make her waist an interminable 20 whole inches. And if you look up images of her on the internet, you really wonder if she is real or a Sims character. She doesn’t look like she is made of flesh and sinew and bone and dust, but of plastic. She has recently joined a movement called the “Breatharians.” In recent weeks, she claims to ‘have not been hungry at all.’ And she hopes ‘it’s the final stage before I can subsist on air and light alone.’
Everywhere we go we are told that we are not enough. We are told that with just a quick swipe of our plastic we, too, can become...plastic.  Get this wrinkle cream. Get those designer jeans. Get these collagen lip implants. And this doesn’t just affect the women any more. The pressure is on the men, too. (Think of John Travolta at the Oscars...)

And it’s not just about our bodies, either. We spend our whole lives trying to escape death, decay, and our own humanity. If we get enough money, or have enough security, or live in the right house or have the right job, we, too, can escape our humanness. We, too, can live plastic lives with a “green plastic watering can / for a fake chinese rubber plant / in the fake plastic earth / that [we] bought from a rubber man...”

But did you know that this morning, you took a shower, or poured milk in your cheerios, or brushed your teeth with dinosaur pee? No, seriously. It’s true. The water that has been here for billions of years is still the same water we have now. Your latte once passed through the kidneys of a tyrannosaurus rex...

And that dirt you’re washing off your carrots was once a woolly mammoth.

And the carbon dioxide you are exhaling right now - that is going to feed that tree out there, which will someday tear cracks in the sidewalk, and then one day die, and rot and    become food for earthworms, or maybe a home for carpenter ants. 

This isn’t just hippy shit. It’s science. And it’s faith.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Maybe that’s not the sin we should fear. Maybe it’s the trying to be plastic that we should be repenting for.

We are about 60% water -- 60% a combination of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms.
We are about 18% carbon.

In fact, 99% of the mass of our bodies consist of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, calcium and phosphorus.

We are the stuff of the earth. The stuff God calls good.

And yet a lack of access to clean water is our greatest health crisis in the world today.

And yet, it takes up to 500 years to make 1 inch of topsoil
And 1/2 of the world’s topsoil has disappeared in the last 150 years

We are all connected
And it is so fragile.

We are made of water and soil
Dinosaur pee and worm poop

So often we think that that is where our sin comes from. From the carbon and water and dust and ashes that form our sinews and bones.

But we - our very humanness - is the stuff of stars.

We are quite literally star stuff.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Clouds of dust and gas formed the stars. Those same six elements - matter that is neither created nor destroyed - is what was swirling around in balls of gas and ash that became the stars and everything that is in the universe.

Carl Sagan famously told us that “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

And Neil Degrass Tyson basically repeats him, urging us to “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

God breathes into that dust and humanity forms. God’s spirit, God’s ruach in Hebrew, which also means breath, wind, was hovering over the waters at the very beginning of creation. It is God’s breath, God’s spirit, that brings all this ash and dust and soil and dinosaur pee to life.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. And it’s when we try not to be that we fall short of the glory of God.
When we try to defy the very dust that lies ready to receive the breath of God, when we try to exist only on independence and sovereignty and control and reject the bonding of atoms or relationships or community, that’s when we fall short of the glory of God.

This dust is good. This dust is so good that God became that dust.

Without the breath of God, we are the soot that grows cancerous in the miner’s lungs and the exhaust from the diesel trucks that cloud our skylines, and the acid rain that shrivels the crops and burns the sidewalks.

But with the breath of God, we are stars, and lattes, and rain forests, and communities and the 1/2 inch of topsoil that nourishes the corn that will feed the hungry child in Syria and the Vishanite Shaman in India.

You are the daffodil bulb that is struggling to unfold with the snow all around you.

We are a mixture and a mess.  We do both - breathe in and breathe out the breath of God.

But today, let us try to breathe in a little more God. Let us welcome in a little more of the stuff that connects us to each other.

With that in mind, I think that it’s good that as a second grader I froze my legs as I wandered across the parking lot to remember that I’m dust, and to dust I will return.

This morning I thought, “no, it’s not morbid to anoint my 9 month old with ashes. It’s good. It is so good.”
He is dust. And to dust he will return. Full of the breath of the living God.

You are dust. And to dust you will return.

We are all going to die.
You will die.
I am going to die.

But will I go contributing to that one inch of topsoil, or will I go as that layer of soot that covers the buildings and clouds Shanghai’s city streets?

Probably a little bit of both.

But God has come, has become the stuff of stars, just like us, and through God’s own humanity, God is always molding us, changing us, urging us to be more human, more real, more humus, more daffodils in the snow.
Full of the breath of the living God.

You are the stuff of stars, and to the stuff of stars you will return.

Thanks be to God.