3 Lent: Called By God, By Name, To Be Subversive

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

Hanging like a ripe peach
over our left shoulder,
there is always a word with our name on it
waiting to be heard.

Let’s just take a moment and listen.

I like to remind us now and again,
to remind myself actually,
that there is a word
planted in the soil of this moment
for each one of us.

Maybe you already heard it getting ready today,
or driving here
or maybe it is nesting in the music somewhere,
or found in a nook or cranny
of those weird readings from Exodus and John.

It may be hanging like a spider
from the Affirmation Faith,
or in the candle lighting at prayer.
I don’t know where your word will be,
I think I may have heard mine
but I am still listening.

Wherever it is,
there is a word with your name on it
waiting here for you to take
and hold
and feast on.

But sometimes
it is impossible
for us to listen.

in listening,
it is impossible to hear.

we are entirely too thirsty
for listening or hearing.

There are times
when our thirst is so great
we simply cannot hear anything around us
because we don’t have enough
of what we need or want
and so we simply do not hear.

This is how it works.
If we do not have our basic needs met –
the essentials of food,
and safety –
it is hard to hear the quietness of God.
Not impossible,
just very difficult.

If we do not have security –
a sense of wellness in the moment
and a reasonable prospect of safety tomorrow –
it is very difficult
for us to hear the quietness of God.
Not impossible,
just very difficult.

If we do not have community –
that matrix of connection
in which we feel cared about,
loved, and loving toward others –
then it is very difficult to hear the quietness of God.
Not impossible,
just very difficult.

If we do not have our essential needs met,
and a reasonable sense of security,
and the relationships of love we need,
then we will be focused
on our thirst –
the yearning for what is required to live,
and to live well.

The thirst
will get very loud,
and it will begin to absorb
all of our attention.
And then
when that happens,
it is very difficult to hear the quietness of God.

This is as true for communities,
like congregations,
as it is for individuals
like you and me.
and isolation
are very loud…very loud.

Ah, but once we slake our thirst,
and once our hunger has been dulled,
and when our security has been addressed,
and love has been shared –
then we can begin to hear.

When our hearing is opened up,
then we will know we have been called –
by name.

You do not need to take my word for it
because there is plenty of biblical chatter about it,
but there is at least one thing
that everyone here
in this sanctuary
– everyone –
has been called by God,
by name, to do.

Everyone here
has been called by God
by name,
to do at least this one thing.

Listen for it, it’s coming.

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman
is about the one thing
that every one of us here
has been called
by God
by name, to do.

Hear it comes…Cross boundaries.
You and I
have been called by God,
by name,
to bust barriers.
We are to tear open the veil between us.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.
Every one of us,
by God,
by name.

There is a lot in that story that is troubling
because our buddy Jesus
has some warts showing.
Like the fact that Jews did not speak to,

or have any contact whatsoever with Samaritans –
in the same way that today,
many Israelis and Palestinians seem to hate one another.

The hatred between Samaritans and Judeans
had historic roots going back a thousand years
before Jesus and the woman at the well.

And so while it is counter to anything
we were ever taught about Jesus,
we can be pretty sure he had prejudices.

How do I know that?
Because we say he was fully human,
and prejudice is embedded in the human package.
No human being is without prejudice and bigotry.
So as we witness those boundaries and barriers
between Judeans and Samaritans
we can imagine Jesus was not immune.

So, for example,
Judean men did not speak to
or make contact with,
unknown or unrelated women.
The separation between sexes
was practiced for centuries before Jesus was born,
and he would have been steeped in it.
It was part of the religious purity system
that had political and economic consequences
as well as social ones.

So an important teacher
did not discuss matters of faith with a women
because of the rigid caste system
based on gender.
Nor would a public figure like Jesus
associate with someone, male or female,
who would tarnish his reputation
in that intricately laced social system
based upon honor and shame.

In Jesus’ world,
a female adulterer could be stoned to death.
The man who slept with another man’s wife
could be convicted of theft
and sued for enormous compensation.
A public figure had to be careful
about what people would say,
and the rumors that could get started,
and the dire social, economic, political, and religious
consequences that flowed from even small infractions.

All of that social hazard and anxiety
was founded in an intense and pervasive mysogyny
that was breathed in and out
in the cultural oxigen of the day.
Knowing Jesus was raised in it,
subject to it,
and could not have escaped being corrupted by it,
we should be all the more amazed
by what he did and taught.

Jesus lived in a time and a place
that assumed slavery;
that considered wives as a category of property;
that judged people outside of one’s own religion
to be physically, morally and spiritual dirty;
that treated children with violence;
that practiced the most severe segregation
based upon religion, gender, age, ethnicity, and class.

Raised and saturated in the bigotry
and bitter divisions of his day,
it is all the more striking
that Jesus practiced an alternative.

It should give us pause
to consider that we moderns or post-moderns,
who think of ourselves as so well educated and civilized,
so diverse and enlightened,
rarely, if ever, share food in community with the level
of hospitality and diversity at the table Jesus hosted.

Having been raised in a world of
unapologetic prejudice,
intense bigotries,
and structural classism
that makes our divisions look merciful,

Jesus somehow transcended all of that
and created something new.
But even more important,
he promised that we could create something new too.
Not only did he promise that,
he called upon us to do it.

Here is the secret of that story
about a Galilean man and a Samaritan woman
who meet for the first time at a well:

Human beings are plagued forever
and always
by fear,
and all the other shadows of the soul
that hide from the light within us.
Jesus did not expect or demand
that we get rid of all that ails us.

Rather, and instead,
he called upon us to cross boundaries,
bust through barriers,
and extend the love of God
one encounter at a time.
We can’t wait for a day without prejudice,
fear, or animosity;
we need to cross the boundaries today,
just like we are
filled with all that junk inside.

On the day that we were baptized,
we are told that once we have met
those basic needs
that demand so much of our attention,
we are then expected
to break down barriers
and cross boundaries
and encounter the love of God
with people from whom the world around us
keeps us segregated.

If we are to be church,
the spiritual descendants of Jesus
and the Woman at the well,
then we need to practice
daily barrier-busting
and the crossing of prejudice-induced boundaries.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

In our churches, this one,
we need to build doorways
and reveal entrances
that are emotionally and spiritually big enough
to gather all people who seek to enter.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

We need to practice conversation
with those people against whom we hold judgments.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

We need to practice encountering people
whose sub-culture we have an aversion to.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

We need to practice
associating with people
our parents and our ministers
told us not to play with because of their prejudices.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

In short,
to be Jesus-followers,
we simply have to be subversive.

We have to be engaged
in religious, social, political, and economic subversion
of the forces of segregation and isolation
so that they begin to crumble.
That is our ministry –
that is what we are called to do.

And that by the way, is what it means
to practice radical hospitality
instead of just the old, polite, friendly kind.

We do not need to wait
for some big global strategy or event,
we can do it one encounter at a time.

In fact, we are called
by God
by name,
to practice the alternative Jesus gave us
to the segregated isolation
in which so many of us choose to live,
and that so many more are forced to live in.

It is in the act of subverting our divisions
that God will suddenly be present
and make things happen.

This I know deep in the bones of my experience.
If ever there is a time when it feels like
God has fled the scene,
and that our thirst is so loud
we cannot hear
the quietness of God,
if we then cross a boundary
or bust a barrier
or extend the love of God
to someone on the other side,
it will change us
right then and right there.
Then we will suddenly know,
then we will suddenly hear,
then we will suddenly see,
that God is present
and in love with us.