Scripture Passages: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; John 4:5-52
Story: Exodus 17:1-7 Water from a Rock
Here is an old story. A man walking for days across a desert came to a pump for a well. Beside the pump was a jar of water and a sign that said, “There is lots of good water in this well. First prime the pump with the water in the jar.” The water in the jar was the only water for many miles in every direction. What should he do?
Trust supports all we do as followers of Jesus. Trust makes it possible to risk for his work in this world. Trust that we will have enough when we need it opens the door to giving what we have. Trust in Jesus that God’s love is for everyone challenges us to also love everyone: love for the person in another country we will never likely meet; love for our annoying neighbour; love for our relative who hurt us terribly in the past; love for the leader who violates all of our values and behaves unjustly.
Once we have the trust, we are able to move on to self-giving love. I know that Moses did not really want to lead his people out of slavery, and the story about water from a rock at Rephidim was a sign of his resentment of his responsibility. When thirsty people came to him out of fear for the lives of themselves and their animals, he gets angry and complains to God about how they are such whiners, and his fear that they might kill him. I would have hoped his response, instead of complaining to God about their behaviour, would have gone to God instead saying something like, “Houston, we have a problem. However I know you can show me a way through it. I await your instructions.” His attitude is often seen today in leaders. Political leaders whine about others being whiners when they are expressing genuine needs and fears.
Some church leaders whine about complaints from ordinary members as they express their fears and their hurts. People seeking power over seem to have difficulty hearing and accepting the concerns of others that they don’t share. This was a problem for the disciples who had trouble understanding what Jesus was really about.
The story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well challenges us to resist putting boundaries around for whom we use our power. Jesus understood his power as coming from God, and that God’s love was for everyone. Jews despised Samaritans even more than they hated the Romans. A woman who had been married 5 times and was living with a 6th man was about as far down the social ladder as you could go.
Jesus treated the woman as an equal, and this was one of the most precious gifts he could give to her. His words would have transformed her status in her community, and that was another great gift. In his conversation with her, he continually used his power for her benefit. Many of the stories about his healing acts were about people at the bottom of the social ladder, people judged by many others to have been bad people because of their afflictions.
His story challenges us to be intentional about our use of power for others. We are not expected to help everyone: Peter healed a man at the temple whom Jesus must have passed many times. But we are asked to not let anything about a person prevent us from using our power for that person. The United Church has taken stands for aboriginal peoples, LGBT people, immigrants and refugees, prisoners, and the homeless. Our reluctance to use our power for another person is a measure of the distance that exists between us and God, a distance that we have created, and one that God wants us to shorten.
This does not mean we have to be nice to everyone. There is a person who tries to make a living begging from churches and others, and often harasses individual church people. His activities indicate he has serious personal issues, and being nice to him would not help him find healing. There are many other people that we can decide to help on a path towards healing that does not involve giving them what they want. There are political leaders I see as causing harm to others. Loving those leaders may mean working hard to elect someone else so their abuse of power can be ended, and a doorway to being a better human being is opened wider.
Using power for others needs time and patient listening to see what is helpful. Loneliness matters more than obesity as a factor for premature death, and we are creating a society where increasing numbers of people are lonely and isolated. One factor is the creation of groups for people with particular issues: singles clubs, groups and events for people with challenges like mental illness or divorce or death of a partner or child. When someone with a particular challenge goes to an event for people with their challenge, they can become identified by that challenge, and some will stay away. Breaking down barriers of isolation needs events where isolated people freely join with people who are not isolated. Churches are places where everyone can be welcomed for themselves, not for their situation. We have been experimenting with different kinds of events as well where I hope the inclusion of everyone is part of the event. Games night this Friday, the Family Fun Nights, and our next Coffee House in May are examples. We have Wayne’s Lenten Shakespeare series as another example. For the next 2 months, I will experiment with Westbrook Wendy’s Wednesday no-host late lunches at 1 pm on Wednesdays.
The United Church’s participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is using our power for healing of the relationships between aboriginal people and the rest of society. These shawls and blankets are one physical sign of that power at work, but we also have the Healing Fund and many other initiatives working for healing.
How do we decide how to use our power for good in this world? One phrase I remember from seminary is to “Be 4 the 1 before you.” That being takes whatever form is appropriate.
When we act in a Spirit of genuine love, in a Spirit of being willing to give of ourselves for the well-being of others, we have access to enormous, surprising power from God. We are called to use that power unconditionally, and in that unconditional love, we will reveal to ourselves and others the presence of God within us.
We are about to celebrate the sacrament of Communion. This sacrament, given for everyone at great cost, reminds us of the open love of God, the trust shown by Jesus, and opens a way for God’s love to touch each of us in a real way.
May the Spirit help each of us grow in our ability to let the power of God’s love flow through us without conditions. May we trust enough to use the water in the jar to prime the pump. Amen.