Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 27, 2011. Third Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

The Collect

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Do we really have no power in ourselves to help ourselves?   Then we’re in a big mess.

It’s in the DNA of most Americans to believe that God helps those who help themselves.

Are we to be God’s co-dependents, God depending on our complete resignation, we depending on God's taking care of all our business?  

Exodus 17:1-7

I have serious problems with this narrative.   It’s a close call as to who is less attractive in it, Moses?  Or God?

The people are thirsty.  What on earth is wrong with that?  That’s the way God plumbed the body.  Moses has been happy to have them honor him as their leader; why make a big deal out of an understandable expectation that leaders lead?

Jane Byrne famously won election as mayor of Chicago running against incumbent Michael Belandic who seemed incompetent in providing snow removal three months earlier, in January 1979. 

Taking care of basic community needs is part of the job description of the leader, and a part of the job description of a God worthy of recognition.   Yet God’s snit tops Moses’ snit when the people say they are thirsty.  

In his own defense, God says they liked it well enough when God gave Moses the power to lead them out of slavery.  What’s a little thing like being thirsty?!   

For their disrespect God punishes them by making them wander in the desert for 40 years, so that only their children will be free of the taint the parents have brought upon themselves merely by saying, We are thirsty!

With help from God, Moses puts on a great show of giving the people the water they asked for.  Photo-ops are not strictly a 21st century phenomenon.   Leaders have been putting their faces on commemorative plaques on public buildings for millennia.

Psalm 95

I prefer to read/say this psalm without including verses 8-11 – an explicit reference to today’s Exodus selection.  I hope that the adoration of God so well stated in the first seven verses is spontaneous and authentic, not just a way to placate the God of the Great Snit, the God who flips out if you get thirsty at an inconvenient time.
Romans 5:1-11

Saint’s God is almost unrecognizable in the God of the Great Snit portrayed in Exodus.   When the people were thirsty, the God of the Great Snit despised them.  Yet Saint’s God is most accommodating and patient when we might least expect it: 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 

John 4:5-42

How much poorer Christianity would be without this narrative!   I preached at the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention 1994 at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis.  I opened  saying, “Welcome to Samaria

I consider the woman at the well my spiritual ancestor.  Samaritans occupied much the same relationship to Jews in Jesus’ day as queers occupy in much of the Anglican Communion right now.

In 1974 a Florida bishop startled the House of Bishops when without warning he asked, “What do you do when you find a queer priest in your diocese?”    The House was less shocked with the notion there might be gay priests than they were that an Episcopal bishop would be so uncouth as to mention them publicly. 

The bishops did what they do often when confronting an explosive situation: they formed a task force.  And as if to prove they really were Episcopalians, they called it the “House of Bishops Task Force on Homophiles in the Ministry.”   Few besides Episcopalians, ever anxious to be delicate, talked that way about us in 1974.   Homophiles ?  Say what?   Give me a break!

I first learned of this group after I founded Integrity in October that year, with announcements in The Advocate and The Living Church.   It’s anyone guess as to which of these two publications members of the Task Force read, but I received an invitation to come to Washington in November to meet with them, that they might learn who this stranger was from Fort Valley, Georgia, a place none of them had previously heard of either.    

We met without fanfare or public notice in a quiet room at Epiphany, since Henry Bruel, the rector, was a member of the Task Force, as was Rt. Rev. John Walker (then Bishop Suffragan of Washington, later the ordinary).  Others included Rev. Canon Clinton Jones (pioneer regarding counseling lesbians, gays and the transgendered), Bishop David Richards (director of the Office of Pastoral Development, the place to which troublesome bishops are sent), Dr. George Benson, a psychiatrist in St. Louis, and a few others whose name now escape me).

Jesus’ assignation with the Samaritan woman at the well was sub rosa as well.   Respectable Jewish men did not hang out with Samaritan women.  Samaritan women knew they could cause less hassle if they washed clothes in the heat of the day.  

John’s narrative is high camp.  Knowing that she has no husband, Jesus asks about a husband any way.   When she replies she does not have one, he teases, “You have spoken truly, because you have had six husbands and the one with whom you are living right now is not one of them.”  Zap!

She teases right back trying to start a theological argument about where to worship God, either here in Samaria as her people teach or in Jerusalem where his people teach. 

Jesus does not take the bait.  Instead he shifts to a deeper level of candor.   Neither group is right.   That’s not the way we experience God.  God is not the private property of any religious community.  God can’t be owned or pinned down to our own expectations.  God is a spirit and we worship God in spirit and in truth.  We, all of us, are the ones with whom God seeks this relationship.

She is excited and tells everyone not “He told me all my sins” (which in a sense he had done), but “He told me everything I have ever done.” 

Unlike Moses or God in today’s passage from Exodus, Jesus cared more about her thirst than about her sin.  He offered her living water.

When Jesus’ disciples showed up, they, much like Jesus’ disciples today, did not like the company he kept, They said nothing but registered their shock silently.  After she left, they produced the fast food they had fetched and urged Jesus to eat.  

Jesus was annoyed:  "I have food to eat that you do not know about."

It is not surprising that Samaritans were Jesus’ first ‘success story.’  He had far better results with them than with the Israelites.

It is not surprising that the fastest growing church in India is The Church of South India, principally a  church of the Dalits, the untouchables.  To all untouchables Jesus speaks far more clearly and lovingly than do most of Jesus’ disciples.

+++Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, met with seven of us lgbt folks during the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim.  We each had 90 seconds to make our witness.  I reminded the archbishop that Jesus did not take on leadership in Samaritan Liberation, but Jesus did take many opportunities to bear witness to Israelites about how he had seen God at work through despised Samaritans.   “In the name of Jesus,” I said, “I charge you to do the same.”

Pray for +++Rowan.  Pray for me.  Pray for all Samaritans.

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