Mar. 15, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Mar 15, 2020 in Lent, Sermons

The Third Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2020

When the congregation I served in Seattle was driven out of the church building by an earthquake, we moved to the parish hall and reminded ourselves “The church is not the building.” When I visited Haiti and saw the cathedral whose roof had just collapsed, the people gathered in song and worship outside the rubble and said, “The church is not the building.” And today, as we cannot safely worship together in this lovely space, we too must remember, the church is not the building; it’s the people! You are the body of Christ, a community gathered around Jesus life and ministry, even when we cannot be side by side. As awful as this pandemic is, God is with us in this new way and we can be transformed by love and courage and service in responding.

We just heard two scriptures about seeking after water; in Exodus God provides the water that quenches their physical thirst and lets them live, and in the Gospel of John Jesus speaks of the life-giving water he gives, which “will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Neither audience is expecting divinely given water or fog it to be life changing, and still it comes. Aren’t we in a similar context as we come to rely on washing our hands for those twenty seconds? We know it prevents the transmission of a virus which can be deadly, do we think of it as life-giving water from God? Last Sunday I remarked that saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the doxology took just about 20 seconds, and I’ve heard from a few of you that hand-washing has come to be a prayer ritual—a Lenten discipline even, and I think that’s beautiful.

We also notice that in both readings, God meets them where they are. The Israelites still bear the impact of recent slavery and liberation, and now as they trek through the desert wilderness their thirst causes them to fear. God hears Moses’ plea and provides the water that lets them live. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus is in Samaria, a place where his people do not readily go, and they certainly do not talk with Samaritan women, even less so a woman on her own. God finds us wherever we are. Think of the contrast between her and Nicodemus from last week’s reading; he came by night, he was an established Jewish leader, a man – with a name. She is unnamed, and drawing from the well in the heat of midday, likely because she is an outsider or spurned by others after five marriages and now living with a man she is not married to. However, it’s Nicodemus who struggles with Jesus’ invitation to think outside of his established religious ideas, and this woman who engages with Jesus, open-mindedly grasps what he offers, and more importantly, who he is. Jesus meets us, loves us, forgives us, right where we are, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

This socially questionable woman lets her heart be filled by what Jesus says, she not only thirsted after the water he described, her spirit seems to have drank from it, and she runs to tell anyone who will listen about what she has found and who he must be. She even leaves her jar behind, forgetting she came to draw water, she moves from her individual experience and concerns directly to those of her community. She shares this remarkable gift with the people of her city so animatedly that they all stop what they are doing in the middle of the day and go to see. They believed because of her words, and then came to him to believe for themselves. I wonder, if this happened to you or me, who would we run to tell?

Today think of the ways Jesus gives us that living water and how one can feel as if it will overflow our souls. Think of the way water touches us in baptism, or the restorative reminder of God’s hand in creation as you look out over a beautiful lake or feel the waves of the ocean lap at your feet. The spring of water bubbling up or cascading waterfall when you are in the wilderness – does it remind you of Moses striking the rock so God’s gift of water gushed out of the rock for the Israelites? Now remember those little droplets flung into the air landing on your face when the families of the newly baptized share those waters of baptism with the community. Each time you turn on the tap this week to drink or wash your hands, think of all of these ways we are given living water and give thanks, knowing God will continue to love us and bless us. As Jesus said, “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

In Meghan O’Rourke’s recent article in The Atlantic (Mar 12, 2020) she writes, “…we also live in a country stubbornly hung up on a damaging idea of self-reliance, a nation pathologically invested in the idea that we should all “just do it”—an attitude that challenges us to muscle through it—whatever it might be. We have no shared discourse for the idea that the hard thing to do, the truly challenging thing to do, might be to do less in order to help another. Or: to do nothing at all. To stay home.” I know it’s enormously challenging to stay home so much, to be isolated or feel out of touch literally and figuratively. We ache to see our parents, family, or friends who are at risk, but in that abstinence you might well be saving someone’s life — someone you care deeply about or someone you’ve never met.

This would normally sound like an individualistic concern, yet today it’s how we are caring for each other. It is this care that speaks of our life in community, that we will embrace the solitude of physical distance so that we might protect each other. Invite Christ into that solitude with you and ask how you can serve. Remember that it was Jesus who asked the woman for a cup of water to begin with, what might he ask you to do? O’Rourke points to how “Americans have allowed ourselves to believe that the self, rather than the community, must do all the healing. Covid-19 is a stark reminder that the community, rather than the self, may be the first line of protection. To be ill is to know our interconnectedness, but to be ill in America today is to be brought up against the pathology of a culture that denies this fact.” We need to advocate or vote keeping in mind those who will lose jobs, income, people without insurance or homes. Commend leaders who do. We are being given a chance to turn our fears into loving care.

I know we’d rather be sitting next to each other this morning, but I look out at these pews and they don’t look empty to me, instead of see all of you here in spirit, some in the exact places you always sit and we are even joined by some who have moved away! I pray for you and know you pray for St. Michael’s. Jesus told the woman, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is what we will do in the weeks ahead. We will get used to printing out our bulletins so we can sing and pray together even while apart. We can take a lesson from the younger generations who are so easy in connecting online, they who can feel intrinsically involved with each others’ lives in this way that today might feel very un-church-like to many of us. We will help those families who relied on school lunches by giving to the food bank or volunteering there. You can also use their website to donate specific foods through online purchasing. We will get more comfortable with making our pledges and offerings online or by mail because we care about what St. Michael’s mission and ministry is all about and we need to sustain our family of faith. We will learn to add loved ones to the prayers each week by emailing or texting names to me (425-394-3611 and email). We will grow bold enough share the email invitation to our service with a friend or family member so that they too can join you for Sunday worship—in real time no less! In short, we will continue to be the Body of Christ. We will continue to be the church.

Yes, we will learn all of these things because we must, and we will keep doing them even when we’re sick of it and our hands get chapped and the sanitizer runs out, when we’re frustrated by connecting only by phone and we want to run screaming from our confinement, —every time we make those small deliberate choices we are being faithful to God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Instead of weighing us down and casting us into an abyss of sadness, fear, and loneliness, we can know them as acts of charity and kindness to others, and reach to do more. Each act is an incremental step to renewal, hope, and healing, and ultimately to resurrection. For Jesus said, “The water that I will give will become in [you] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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