The Third Sunday in Lent
The Very Reverend Torey Lightcap

I would like for you to please do the following:
Gently, very gently, place a hand on your chest, or on your heart, or your stomach,
And just begin by checking in with yourself.
How do you feel? How does the world seem to you right now? …

Silly question: can you feel any tension?
Just for a moment, name the anxiety.

I have the sensation of a world that is wringing its hands –
The notion of a planet deeply concerned for its own well-being.
I have the vision of a network of global siblings who are frazzled at the edges,
Fearing they’re out of resources,
Sick with worry, worried sick, about getting sick.
There’s this sense to it all: “What are we going to do?”

Gently, name the anxiety:
… “Why is 20 seconds so long?”
… “Where did I leave that bottle of hand sanitizer?”
… “Am I touching my face right now? I think I just touched my face.
I should stop. But I can’t. But I should.”

Now, if you honestly look inside yourself and you don’t feel that same tension,
I would say that that’s worth telling others about, not to brag on,
But just to show people, perhaps, how your perspective is,
Where that sense of peace and clarity comes from.
For myself, after two decades of practicing some form of centering prayer,
Feeling grounded and rooted in God’s presence and will, out of a sense of listening,
I have a deep sense that at the bottom of every anxious situation, nevertheless,
God exists; God prevails; God has power to save;
God alone is mighty and wise and acts in ways both discernible and beyond comprehension.

Gently, very gently, think about Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness.
The lesson we have just heard. It’s hot, it’s dry. The people say, “Moses, give us water to drink.”
Moses says, “Why would you argue with me and test God in the process?”
The people respond, “Moses, why would you bring us all the way out here
Just to let us and families and our livelihood die ?”
And Moses, out of answers, turns to God, and says, “Lord, what am I supposed to do here?
The longer this goes on, the better the chances I might get killed!”
The Lord then provides a set of detailed instructions to Moses
By which, it seems safe to assume, the people are given water.
A rock becomes a tap. Water, great sign of life, sustenance to keep them going. Miraculous!

Part of what’s interesting about this is that the place isn’t given a name that translates as,
God Provides , or God Saves , or Water from Stone .
The name Moses gives to those places is Massah and Meribah,
Meaning, Test , and Quarrel ,
Which is an indication of the level of angst and nervousness that Moses and the people felt,
As Moses stared them down and took his fear to God,
And the people argued against him and amongst themselves, “Is the Lord here or not?’
The record of God’s saving deed on that day is encapsulated in a place name
That tells us something pretty important:
God was there, God was very present, God was mighty to save –
But the people were so anxious that all they could do was argue about it.

The Bible comprehends the truth of the human situation at a frankly stunning depth.
If we’re unwilling to really name what we’re feeling, God will just get Moses to do it for us.

The writer of the psalm seems to understand it, too:
This is an important moment out there in the wilderness, journeying four decades,
Thirsty for home and safety, ever orienting themselves toward a promised place and future.
The psalm says, “Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness,
At Meribah, and on that day at Massah.”
Don’t allow your hearts to calcify , the psalmist exhorts us.
Rather, keep your hearts supple. Stay open.
Do not let allow disquiet, apprehension, or mistrust to rule the day.

God shows us through the Bible not only this reflection of the depth of the situation,
But says further, Don’t let it get the best of you: your best is what the world needs right now.
“Harden not your hearts.” If you do , it seems to say, you might miss something really beautiful.
“The rock of our salvation,” bringing forth life.

Gently, very gently, remember Christ, a Samarian woman, a well, a hot day, a water jar.
The woman in the passage makes a wonderful verbal sparring partner with Jesus.
No wonder she becomes such an amazing evangelist for Jesus as the story unfolds.

She is quite adept at naming the anxiety she feels:
… “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
… You don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get your water?
Do you fancy yourself greater than Jacob?
… How can I go and call my husband if I don’t have one?

Then, the big question on her mind, and his response.
She points out that there are insurmountable differences between the two of them.
That it’s all very well to speak, but finally there is an unbridgeable chasm.
It occurs on the basis of religion:
She says, I’m supposed to worship here, you’re supposed to worship in Jerusalem.
I read it as almost a courtesy remark designed to cut the conversation down to its bare essentials.

But how many conversations throughout human discourse have been brought to their knees
By the use of this very same anxiety-producing logic, however well-meaning?
“We are different,” she says. “I belong here. You belong there.”
“These differences are productive,” she says, “on the basis of keeping order.”

This specific form of panic is the rationale we put on our fear of being seen by others.
We make it our motivation for retreating from relationships –
Relationships with God, self, and others.
We tell ourselves, “We can’t truly afford to be in relationship; the social cost is just too high.
Therefore we must retreat into what is already known and labeled.
Beyond this line you must not cross; you belong there, I belong here.”

If that sounds too abstract, may I offer the following as evidence
From our collective, recent history:
Drinking fountains, assigned seats on buses, balconies in movie theaters.

I don’t mean that she is racist;
I mean that the Bible understands the depth of the human condition,
And that the writer of the Gospel of John knows how people appeal to logic
On the basis of what they have learned as being reasonable.
I mean that it takes time and inconvenience to unlearn old habits.
The difference here is that she really is willing to do that.

Jesus says to the woman, Very soon, none of what you’re saying will matter.
It will be immaterial where we worship,
Because we won’t be worshiping protocol anymore;
We’ll be worshiping God in spirit and truth – in the fullness of the possible –
And that will happen from anywhere and everywhere.

He then says, quite plainly, The reason I’m able to explain this
Is because I’m the one who’s going to make it possible.

And that, it seems to me, is all she needs.
She leaves the water jar (a sure sign that she is to return)
And she goes into her village
And tells everyone she can find – This is it, this is the one we’re waiting for .
She is very clear and, as we read, highly effective.
This section ends with the people saying to the woman,
“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,
For we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

There are two ways to read that remark.
The first is as a kind of cutting retreat into their own comfort zone:
You know, You’ve got too much of a questionable past, so thanks for everything,
We’ve got it and be on your way.
The second is as a kind of thank-you:
Thank you for telling us about this man, Jesus, from Galilee.
Thank you for your insistence to bring us before him.
Thank you that through you , we are now bonded to him.

Gently, very gently, whatever your fears and doubts may be –
Name those anxieties, then overcome them.
Move through them rather than to them.

Think of what lay on the other side of that conversation between the woman and Christ,
About their seemingly insurmountable differences.
Think of the two glorious days when he stayed with the people of her village,
The things he must have taught them,
The meals and stories they must have shared.
All because he was clear about himself, and she was motivated to share his life with others.

Today, the world is in need of a healing.
I grew up in a home where God was often referred to as the Great Physician,
And I was encouraged to claim that,
And I now encourage you to do the same.
As I continued to evolve in faith beyond my youth,
I began to understand how true that name is.
Many of us have stories about just that sort of thing.

So today, we don’t just name what is troubling us:
We offer it up to God, in faith and assurance
That nothing is outside of God’s gracious love, care, and keeping.
We offer it up in faith that through Christ our commonalities are stronger than our differences.

And we pray that God’s power will be seen and known to the ends of the earth,
That God may be worshiped in spirit and truth, the fullness of the possible.