March 19, 2017

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Exodus 17:1-7 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42
Henry Nouwen was a Catholic Priest and theologian. I read the book “The Wounded Healer more than 30 years ago after a Karen Wendt Kezwick shared a quote from that book. I will end my sermon today with that quote. But I am starting my sermon with another quote from that book:
“One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words: “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people. But the minister did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him, and asked, “What have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said: “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.” While versions of this story are very old, it seems the most modern of tales. Like that minister, who might have recognized the Messiah if he had raised his eyes from his Bible to look into the youth’s eyes, we are challenged to look into the eyes of the young men and women of today, who are running away from our cruel ways. Perhaps that will be enough to prevent us from handing them over to the enemy and enable us to lead them out of their hidden places into the middle of their people where they can redeem us from our fears.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
If there is one thing that God has confronted me with over the last several years is that we: the people in the church today: just can’t seem to get it right. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I feel the church is without hope, or that I think that the church is obsolete. If I stood in front of the congregation and said that, I think I could quickly be run out of town. I don’t think one can be called as a pastor and think that the church is hopeless or obsolete. I don’t even think that this particular church is totally off track. If I thought that, having been here for nearly 8 years full-time and 4 years before that part-time, I think I would have to take the blame for that. But as a whole, I think the Christian church over all is missing the boat way too often. I think that we have become people of the Bible, in whatever way I, or the preacher I am closest too interprets it, and we forget to look up in order to see the Savior in front of us. I think that this may be why I struggle so much with “Topical” Bible Studies and am so grateful for the Bible Study we do on Thursday evening (except during Lent and Advent). We are reading the Bible, really one verse at a time and wrestling with it. I want us to stop opening the Bible and flipping back and forth to find the verses to support what we believe and start hearing the words of scripture as we look up out into the world.
We hear that the world is becoming more secular; that people are turning away from God, but I don’t think that is the case. A survey I read recently said that the number of people who believe in God really hasn’t changed over the years, but the number of people going to church is dropping drastically, especially when you are talking about the mainline denominations. So if people in general believe in God, why are they literally running the other way when it comes to church? Henry Nouwen was being prophetic when he made shared this story. People are turning their back on the church because the church can’t seem to look up enough to Savior in front of them.
In today’s lessons, we are confronted with the reality of how God, throughout the Old Testament, and through Jesus Christ and later the Apostles, touched the lives of people and gave love and grace to a world that was so undeserving.
Moses had his hands full. Lifted up as one of THE icons of faith for all generations, this dude had his hands full, and, more than once wanted to throw in the towel with these Israelites. In this morning’s first lesson, these ingrates that God freed from slavery are wanting water. They are wandering in the desert and they need water. Not an unreasonable request. It isn’t even the asking for water that is the problem. It is the demanding and the whining. These folks do it every time they are uncomfortable. Moses is ready to give up. But not God. When these ingrates are at their worst, God comes. God loves them in spite of themselves and brings forth water from stones. After seeing the awesome power of God through the plagues and being freed from slavery, one would think these people would fall to their knees and say, we trust what is ahead, but NOOOOOO. These folks are never satisfied and God comes to them AS THEY ARE and loves them.
Jesus never does what he is supposed to do. Jesus never seems to follow the path that the leaders of faith had set out for the Messiah. The religious leaders had it all planned how the Messiah would come and give them their rightful place in life, and Jesus does none of that. There were people you could associate with and people you WOULD NEVER associate with, and Jesus ignores the rules all together. Not only does Jesus not try to avoid the sinners and the unclean people of the world, Jesus goes right to that place where the unclean and unworthy people are. Jesus doesn’t wait for the people to come to him, Jesus goes and finds them.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus gets it all wrong. At least according to society and custom. Jews and Samaritans are not to mix. Jews would take a much longer trip to go around Sychar and avoid encountering Samaritan people, but not Jesus. Was Jesus just too lazy to take the approved road? NO, of course not. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he walked into the town in the middle of the day and went to THAT well. There he encountered not just a Samaritan, but a Samaritan WOMAN. That is double trouble. Jesus came to that forbidden place specifically to encounter that forbidden person. NO ONE went to the well in the middle of the day unless they wanted to avoid being seen by anyone. It was too hot. But, it was a great time to get what you needed without having to explain yourself to anyone. Trust me, this woman was not excited when she walked up to the well and saw someone sitting there. Her only thought was likely “Well this man won’t talk to me because he is a Jew, and I am a woman he does not know. I’ll get in and out and be on my way”. NOPE. Jesus is funny like that. I think he finds great joy in surprising people in ways that make them a bit uncomfortable. This woman had to be surprised first that he would even talk to her. But second, that he would not condemn her for who she was. Instead, Jesus offers her life. Jesus offers her grace. By telling this woman all that he knew about her; the things she would have put in the “ugly things in my life” category, wasn’t to condemn her, but to let her know he was fully aware who she was and he chose to come to talk to her precisely for that reason. He chose to come and give love and forgiveness and grace, not judgement. Jesus didn’t throw scripture verses at her. Jesus didn’t make her feel less than. Jesus CAME TO HER AND GAVE HER GRACE!
I would never tell you not to read your Bible. I think Bishop Mike might come back her sooner than you expect and drag me away if I told you to NOT read the Bible. BUT……. We have to stop READING the Bible and start living it.
As parents we do all that we can to protect our children from the dangers of this world. That is so true today that it is hard to find a neighborhood where the kids are outside after dark playing games like Hide and Seek, or our favorite, Green Ghost, or any other sort of thing. We are afraid to let our kids ride their bikes to the pool for fear they may be abducted. It is our job to keep our kids safe. But we are a society that lives in fear. Not only do we do what we can to keep our kids safe, we are afraid as grown-ups as well. We are afraid of people who worship differently than us. We are afraid of people who look different than us. We are afraid to travel and we are afraid to go into certain neighborhoods. Is there a reason to be afraid. Sometimes. But God calls us to a life not of fear but a life of faith.
Consider the very places you don’t want to go. Consider the parts of town that you avoid. Consider the types of establishments you avoid. If we are going to really see the Savior; if we are really going to live as the Savior taught us through His life and death; then those are the places we should be. The very people that make you uncomfortable are the people you should be sitting down with and having a refreshing beverage and simply sharing life with. Listen to them. Jesus did. Hear their hurts and offer comfort. Judgement isn’t a part of our work. Judgment was not a part of Jesus work. The only people Jesus Judges were the ones who lived in the confines of the RULES. The ones who knew the book but didn’t know the Savior. Those folks Jesus threw the book at. But the folks outside, that were hated and feared; those folks Jesus sought out and simply loved.
I’d like to tell you that living this way you will always be safe. But I can’t tell you that. I would like to tell you that if you are living the life Christ calls us to you will be rewarded in the ways of this world, but I can’t tell you that either. If you want the promise of a safe and comfortable life, Discipleship may not be in your future. Look at what it cost Jesus to love the unloved and seek out the lost. Consider what it cost for the disciples to live out their calling. Most were killed for their faith. I can’t promise you safety and wealth and an ease of life. It would be easier to tell you that life will be hard and unfair if you live as a disciple. It could cost you your very life. I once told Pastor John Hunsucker happy birthday. He told me yea it was alright he guessed. It then told him “It is better than the alternative”. His reply was “Not if we really believe what we preach”. I had nothing. He is right. What we fear most; dying, is really only the beginning when it comes to our life of faith and salvation. So really what is there to fear?
As baptized children of God we are claimed and marked with the cross of Christ. We are promised love and grace and forgiveness. But we are called to discipleship. We are called not to sit in the pews but to be on our feet or walkers or wheelchairs or however we get around, and go out into the world crying for the love and grace of Jesus. We are called to the scary and dark places of the world to sit and have loving conversations with people. We are called to listen and to love. Reading your Bible is great food for your soul, but you won’t truly see the savior until you look up into the eyes of the world. There may not be a verse for what you encounter in those moments. But God will be there. If you love them, God will be there. I can tell you, there is nothing like looking at someone who expects you to judge them. The fear, or defensiveness in their eyes and in their posture are unmistakable. When you share love and compassion, that all changes. Tensions are eased and grace is found. God came to his grumbling, ungrateful people in the desert. Jesus came to the hurting woman at the well. And God meets the hurting people of this world when God’s people get up and go, and share the love of Jesus Christ without judgement.
Henry Nouwen wrote about an encounter with a former student:
“I have no problems this time, no questions to ask you. I do not need counsel or advice, but I simply want to celebrate some time with you,” the former student said.
We sat on the ground facing each other and talked a little about what life had been for us in the last year, about our work, our common friends, and about the restlessness of our hearts. Then slowly as the minutes passed we became silent.
The silence went on for some time, then the young man said:
“It is good to be here.”
“Yes, it is good to be together again,” I replied.
And then a “deep peace filled the empty space between us …”
The man said hesitantly, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.”
“It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me,” Nouwen replied.
“Yes,” the young man said, “He indeed is in our midst.”
Then the former student spoke the words which entered my soul as the most healing words I had heard in many years, ‘From now on, wherever you go, or wherever I go, all the ground between us is holy ground.’
And when he left I knew that he had revealed to me what community really means.
I pray that in the week ahead you truly feel the presence of Christ in your relationships. I pray you bring the presence of Christ to someone who is thirsty for love and grace and forgiveness. And when you do, you will know that you are walking on Holy Ground.