Scripture Reading - John 4:5-30
John 4:5-30 (The Message)
He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
But before we dive in to the text for this morning, look for a moment at the image on the front of your bulletins. It’s a picture depicting seaglass collected from a beach in Seaham Hall, a small town on the coast of the North Sea in the UK. The reason there’s such an abundant supply of seaglass - especially rarer colors like yellow, aqua, blue, and red - is because until 1921, Seaham had the largest bottleworks factory in England. It is no longer in business - but the company housed there - Londonderry Bottleworks, at the time would produce 20,000 handblown bottles every day. The practice was that at the end of the day, any discarded and waste glass was dumped into the North Sea - and so much of the sea glass that winds up on the beach is over one hundred years old.
Each bit of seaglass that is found has a story. Sometimes there are unique markings offering clues as to what it might have belonged to. Sometimes the glass is very old and it takes time and care and attention to find the truth behind it.
There is a power to truth-telling - to claiming and telling one’s own story as a path to healing. We see this in our Scripture reading for this morning and the story of Jesus’s conversation with a Samaritan woman. It’s a story that’s so familiar that upon hearing this text, it immediately brings to mind many assumptions about what’s going on - some of which are true, and some of which aren’t there in the story.
First is that Jesus is in Samaria, and that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along - which is true. There were irreconcilable differences between Jews and Samaritans - particularly in how they were supposed to worship God - and also because over their history, Samaritans - who shared the same ancestry as Jews - had intermarried with Gentiles, which Jews considered a violation of the law. However, as Jesus and his disciples pass through this village - the Jewish Jesus and his friends are the outsiders here; this is the Samaritan woman’s home turf - she is less of an outsider in this community than Jesus is.
Secondly - we often assume that this woman has a salacious past - she has had five husbands and the man she currently lives with isn’t number six. Because of this, she’s branded as a prostitute or a seductress, shunned by her community for her immorality. We think she’s out by the well in during the hottest part of the day because she wants to draw water when no one else would be around and thus avoid the derisive looks others.
However, there is no mention of this in the story. Jesus doesn’t condemn her for the situation she is in, nor is there any mention of sin or forgiveness. There is actually a long list of reasons she could have found herself in this predicament - she could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced (which amounted to the same thing for a woman in the ancient world). It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that this could have happened to her five times. As far as living with a man she wasn’t married to - this wasn’t necessarily an unsanctioned situation - women in this culture had to be dependant on someone - in most cases a man - in order to survive. There were also situations where she would be obligated to act as a wife to a man - to produce an heir or some other situation - but not be technically considered married.
Her situation is unfortunate, to be sure. Heartbreaking and tragic, most likely. She’s a woman with no agency, dependent on others - someone that in the biblical text isn’t even worthy of a name…but not necessarily a sinner - at least in terms of her relationship history.
Taking this view of our woman at the well, we see the conversation between this woman and Jesus unfold in a slightly different way. It’s noontime. Jesus, tired and hungry, sits down by the well - and when she comes near to draw water for herself, Jesus asks her for a drink. She’s surprised by this...not because she’s wearing a scarlet letter, but because Jesus is a Jew asking a Samaritan for water from the well.
This request, however, opens up the conversation around living water - Jesus tells her - “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman doesn’t quite see it yet, and still thinks Jesus is talking about literal water, and points to the history of the well -- this well that was dug by their ancestor Jacob (an ancestor that the Jews share as well). Jesus, instead, points out the difference between the water in the well and the water he has to give: “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman, intrigued, indicates her desire for this water...still not quite getting it because she’s still thinking about literal water and not having to come back to this particular well again.
So to make it clear that Jesus isn’t talking about actual water and that he is something more than just a random traveler, he asks her to go get her husband. When she replies that she doesn’t have one, Jesus says, “you’re right” and reveals that he knows about her five husbands and current living situation.
Then - she gets it. The moment of revelation for her has come. Jesus has “seen” her - he knows her and her past - he knows her vulnerability and dependance. She realizes that even though he knows all this about her, he has still recognized her and spoken with her and offered her something of precious value...and that in Jesus’s eyes, she is, in fact, someone of worth and value - someone worth time and attention - someone worth the gift of life-giving water springing up inside of her.
She realizes, then, that he is a prophet...and in this new light, she risks going to the core question of what has divided her people from the Jews for centuries and what divides her as a woman of Samaria, from him, a Jew. The answer opens up a whole new way of being in the world - not just a pathway for healing the rift between Jews and Samaritans, but a pathway for each person to be in new relationship with God.
Jesus tells her that “the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter….It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. ... That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. ... Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.””
The woman eventually leaves the well to tell everyone in the village about her encounter with Jesus - about this life-giving water she had received...and because of her story, because of how she came to understand that her own worth relied on nothing but this God-given well of living water within her - many others came to that same knowledge for themselves. Her own story - her past - became clear as it came into contact with the life-giving water Jesus had offered her -- that her own belovedness as a child of God didn’t stand on whether she was Jewish or a Samaritan, a man or a woman, married or not, but simply on being herself before God - worthy just because - and that her worship of God was to come out of that authentic place of being loved - not out of duty or obligation or regulation...but out of her spirit...her true self...out of adoration. It was a moment of healing for her that lead to healing for the whole village.
When we look at a piece of sea glass, it has a frosty finish that clears and shines when it comes into contact with water.
What might become clear for us as we claim our stories and when our brokenness is met with living water - as when the Samaritan woman understood her story through her encounter with Jesus?
What part of our history - our stories - may we discover to be in need of healing when we experience the life-giving water that Jesus offers us?
What truths come to light when we see ourselves as a beloved child of God?
There is immense power and healing in coming face to face with our stories - particularly in the ways it allows us to notice God’s presence with us throughout our lives - even before we were aware of it. There’s a reason that people who have had traumatic experiences are encouraged to talk about it as a means of healing, or why people in recovery attend 12-step meetings to tell their stories, or why in the early part of the Methodist movement, testimony was so important because being able to own your stuff and name and share the ways God was working in your life helped you grow - both as a person and in your relationship with Christ.
We all have a story - and we all have parts of our story that we aren’t proud of...parts of our story that continue to wound us...and the main question isn’t “how can we hide our brokenness” so that we can feel like we have it all together, so that we can feel acceptable -- the question is “how can we share our stories - put our brokenness - in the service of others?” How can our stories be a source of healing to others?
The Samaritan woman - her story was well known in the village...and Jesus used that story to tell her the truth about herself as a child of God...even though she wasn’t a Jew...even though she wasn’t married...even though in her life she had seen plenty of heartbreak...and she used that story to let others in her village know about the love and power of Jesus and what life-giving water he could give them.
I’m going to invite us into a few moments of reflection…
Consider your story for a moment - in all its beauty and in all its brokenness...in all the places you still feel wounded...in all the places where you have experienced healing...and consider your story in light of God’s life-giving water...the well springs within you that never runs dry...what truths about you become clear? ...Think about these things for a minute...
As we sing our next hymn together, come forward as you are moved to do so to pick up a piece of seaglass and place it in the jar of water….as a sign of your willingness to claim your story in light of the living water Jesus offers to each of us...as a sign of your belovedness as a child of God - in all areas of your life, even the places that are yet in need of healing. Let us remain seated as we sing together, Water, River, Spirit, Grace, number 2253 in the black hymnal.
Water, River, Spirit, Grace,
sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced
in sculpting me in sculpting me.
*Hymn - Water, River, Spirit, Grace (FWS 2253)
Let us pray. (http://sacredise.com/prayers/type/intercession/around-the-well/, adapted)
We gather around the well of your grace, O God,
As those who thirst for friendship and love;
May we find here the living water of community and connectedness;
We gather around the well of your life, O God,
As those who thirst for joy and safety;
May we find here the living water of playfulness and protection;
We gather around the well of your mercy, O God,
as those who thirst for wholeness and peace;
May we find here the living water of comfort, healing and welcome;
We gather around the well of your presence, O God,
as those who thirst for meaning and connection;
May we find here the living water of service and worship;
May the life we have found in you,
be the gift we share
with all who hunger and thirst,
with all who are outcast and rejected,
with all who have too little or too much,
with all who are wounded or ashamed,
and, through us, may this corner of the world overflow
with you living water.
In Jesus’ Name
Scripture Reading - Psalm 56
Psalm 56 (New Revised Standard Version)
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
2 my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, 3 when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?
5 All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They stir up strife, they lurk,
they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
7 so repay them for their crime;
in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
8 You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will retreat
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?
12 My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
This past week was the first time this year I was able to get out to the beach. Ben and Michael were away for the day, and the dog needed a walk, so I leashed her up to her long line and off we went. Of course, I do what I always do when I walk along the beach - which is look for interesting bits of rock and seaglass to add to my collection. I used to just stuff my findings into my pockets, but I’ve started to take a bag with me as I gather together interesting shapes, textures, and colors.
Now I’ve heard that if you live on Chebeague long enough, you’ll start to amass such a collection that beachcombing doesn’t necessarily hold the same appeal after a while - maybe that’ll be true for me but probably not, because ever since I was a little girl at the beach by the house where I grew up, I collected bits of rock and shells and seaglass, and somewhere I still have a jar of beach treasures I found as a kid.
I think of beachcombing as an adventure - you never know what you are going to find - if you will find that elusive bit of blue glass - or something even rarer...perhaps a bit of beach pottery with the design still showing...or a heart shaped rock. Even green or brown or white pieces still prove to be an exciting find - gathered up and marveled at. Each piece was once lost - undiscovered, forgotten, buried under sand or cast out far at sea - but is now found, gathered, saved, and treasured.
In the same way, God searches for, finds, and gathers us up - saves us. One of my favorite ideas in the Wesleyan tradition is that of prevenient grace - God’s grace that works in our life before we are even aware of who God is. It is the idea that it is God’s action in our lives that draws us into deeper relationship - not our own initiative - and that it is God who gathers us together into the Body of Christ, where the lost is found and healing is possible.
The psalm we read this morning points to this offer of hope and healing and the idea that God accounts for us and delivers us. The psalm is one of the ones we know was written by David, at a time when he was fleeing for his life and ran in the heart of enemy territory to escape King Saul - to the city of Gath which was controlled by the Philistines...and was Goliath’s hometown. Not exactly the safest place for David to be - recalling that David had defeated Goliath, the Philistine’s champion, with a stone and a sling. The psalm is David’s prayer to God when he is literally cut off from his people, surrounded by enemies, threatened by all sides - and yet knows that God will still deliver him - save him - from the hands of his foes.
The image that stands out to me from the psalm is from verse 8, where David says to God, “You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?” The image on the front of our bulletins this morning is from Elaine Heath, former dean of Duke Divinity School, who currently is working on a project called the Garden at Spring Forest - a place of rest and renewal and intentional Christian community. Members work on the farm and are committed to the ministry of hospitality, prayer, and justice.
As they were working on their land, they found an area in the forest where someone decades ago had dumped many bottles and jars. Instead of getting rid of them, they cleaned up the area, washed what could be salvaged, and created the arrangement you see on the cover as a reminder of this verse. Elaine Heath writes, “The bottle in this passage refers to ancient funerary bottles in which mourners would collect tears. God mourns with us in our losses and pain, noting every tear and grieving with us. The lights in our arrangement represent divine presence with us in our grief.”
She continues to share that later during the year, her community will create a Tear Bottle trail as a type of prayer labyrinth designed for lament, incorporating these jars as part of that display.
God accounts for our tears - guards and gathers them for safekeeping - and delivers and saves us...for David concludes his prayer with: “You have delivered my soul from death and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.”
God provides a safe place for healing and restoration - gathers us together into the body of Christ - because God sees each of us - God has brought each of us here - God keeps account of each of our tears and struggles and heartbreaks - and God brings us into community together as a safe place for healing, for mending what is broken - gathering us together as a beachcomber gathers glass and treasures to create something beautiful out of the brokenness.
And yet, even as we praise God for the safety we have found in God, as we praise God for the blessing of community - we know that there are so many in this world who are not safe...whose tears God may notice...but go unnoticed by so many because of the cycles of violence, hurt, and harm perpetuated by the powers and principalities of this world....until crisis comes. We saw that in heartbreaking detail this week with the two mass shootings in Mosques in Chistchurch, New Zealand, and the ways that white supremacy has been globalized and exported. There was also a school shooting in Brazil this past week, where two young men killed seven students at a K-12 school - in an attempt to imitate the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. The violence we see and the rhetoric of hate - and its increasing acceptance in our American culture - has as global impact.
These are the events that make headlines, but there is so much that never makes it to the news - the fear that many minorities live with every day - particularly African Americans - of being harmed for the color of their skin, or that Muslims and Jewish people deal with because of the way they worship. There are the domestic violence disputes that wound spirits and bodies, people who are shunned by family and friends because of who they love or who they are, people who are lost to their addiction, children and families fleeing violence who have no place in to call home, people who live in places torn by war and conflict - there are so many who are not safe -- and God sees and accounts for each and every tear and longs for this world to become a place of peace and healing and wholeness for each and every person….each and every community...for the whole entire world.
God calls us as a church to be a place of safety and healing - this is part of why our congregation has undertaken the process of discernment around becoming a Reconciling congregation to make clear our embrace and welcome of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and their families - because so many churches have not been safe places for them. It’s part of the reason we’re drafting a welcome statement that states that we will be a place for all people - welcoming those who come through our doors to create a safe harbor of healing - a community that can shelter and restore us before we are sent out into the world to offer that same sense of welcome - shelter - and healing - to those around us. My prayer for us as we take this Lenten journey together is that our own healing will not only be for us personally, but that will lead us toward communal and global healing as we live more fully into being the Body of Christ, a place of “safekeeping”, a safe space for all.
Our next song together will offer an opportunity for prayer and reflection - Sanctuary - the word literally means a place of refuge and safety - and as we sing it together, consider the people in this world who do not live in safety - either physical safety or emotional safety….and as you think of those people, come forward and place a piece of seaglass into the jars up front here as a way of being in prayer for them...as a reminder of the ways God gathers their tears and heartbreak into bottles...and as a reminder of how we are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to be agents of God’s healing love and grace...a living sanctuary.
Let us remain seated as we sing together….and as we sing, come forward as you are led to do so to offer your prayers for those people who need God’s hope, love, and safety in this world.
*Hymn - Sanctuary (FWS 2164)
Lord, prepare us as your people - gathered together as the body of your son Jesus in the world - to offer safety and sanctuary to those we meet. Work in and through us to be agents of your healing love, both in transforming our hearts and in working for the transformation of our communities so that your kingdom may be made real among us and in our world. We pray this in the name of your son Jesus, Amen.
Scripture Reading - Psalm 139
Psalm 139 (The Message)
139 1-6 God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too--
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful--
I can’t take it all in!
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute--
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them--
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!--
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!
23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong--
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
When we lived in Haverhill, there was this wonderful gallery that sold art from all over the world. I don’t remember the name of the store even though it was a place we visited several times a year - it has since closed - but I remember Margot who owned the shop. She traveled everywhere and formed relationships with artists, sculptors, craftspeople - and would purchase their goods to bring to her shop to sell. Some of my favorite work was done by an Israeli artist who works in ceramics and one year for our anniversary, Ben purchased some bowls and a plate that I had had my eye on for forever. I loved the colors and the design - they were definitely items that - as organizing consultant Marie Kondo would say - sparked joy. Whenever I looked at them.
We’d bring these bowls out whenever we had dinner parties or large gatherings - and one day, a couple years ago - it might have even been during my clumsy phase when I was pregnant with Michael - I went to put the bowl away and it slipped out of my hand and broke on the counter into two neat pieces.
Easy enough to fix - so I put it away in a drawer until I had the time and energy to fix it...but it became one of those little projects that I just never got around to, until one day, I was looking for something in the drawer and I pulled the drawer out too far and...everything came spilling out, including the bowl, now split into several pieces - and now most likely beyond repair.
I’ve kept it wondering - should I try to fix it? It seems like I could glue it back together, but for a big missing piece out of the top. Or - is it time to let it go - offer it to the mercy of the winds and waves and beachcombers, and hope that a precious fragment or two might make its way back to me as a momento?
We begin this season of Lent with this worship series called Holy Vessels: God’s Healing and Wholeness, using the image and journey of seaglass as a metaphor for understanding our own journey with God. We here in the West, when we think about Lent and this season of “penance”, we often associate it with suffering. Deprivation. Denying ourselves as a way of turning away from what is wrong and turning more fully toward what is right, turning more fully toward God.
However, in the Eastern Orthodox church, penance is less about suffering and more about restoration and reconciliation - allowing God to heal what has been hurt and broken within us. It is about preparing to live an Easter life - a life where death has no hold over us.
Each of us has been created as a precious vessel of God’s love. Uniquely gifted, infinitely valued, fashioned and treasured by God. And yet - each of us has experienced hurt and brokenness in our lives -- some of us have had the pieces of our lives shatter on the floor in one big traumatic event...some of us have had experienced the hurts and pains of hundreds of small chips flaking from our souls. Some of us have felt it all.
We live with brokenness. It is part of our reality as human beings - even as it is also true that God created us as whole beings and yearns to bring us once again back to wholeness - and holiness.
The beauty of Psalm 139 is that God sees us and knows us. God knows what is in our hearts, our minds, our spirits, our bodies down to the number of hairs on our head, knows our deepest inner longings and fears, is intimately familiar with what brings us joy, what gets us angry, what wounds we carry. There are no surprises - God’s presence surrounds us at every stage of our life, no matter if we are aware of it or not, no matter if we try to hide from God or not.
God knows every hairline fracture, every jagged edge, every missing shard, every chip and crack we carry - and God loves us...and desires to heal us.
The response of the psalmist to such utter intimate knowledge is one of trust - “Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong--
then guide me on the road to eternal life.”
Guide me on your healing path - bring me to that place of healing and wholeness and life in your love. That is the prayer of the psalmist - and it is our prayer as well.
You’ll find scattered around the sanctuary pieces of seaglass that are still in process - there are smooth edges and edges that are still unformed. Each piece of this seaglass began as something discarded. Thrown away. Carelessly discarded and forgotten and broken. A beer bottle. An old vase, no longer useful. A chipped plate. An empty jar. When we find ourselves up against the challenges in life - the loss of a job, the betrayal of a friend, the devastating diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the project that failed, the struggle with addiction or mental illness, facing our own insecurities and shortcomings - it can feel a lot like being broken apart and tossed to the side.
And yet - when pain comes and we feel discarded and worthless, when we feel lost and forgotten about - it’s not the end of the story. The glass began its journey as something thrown away, but as it found its way to the waters, tossed about by sand and sea, refined and worked and transformed by the wind and the waves - it becomes a mineral gem, something beautiful, sought after, and treasured. In the same way, when suffering comes, God can work in us and restore us, transforming those broken, jagged edges into places of beauty, and there is healing to be found in the God who searches us and gathers us up into communion and fellowship with one another - who brings us into love and forgiveness - who makes us whole again and who offers us the opportunity to turn toward new life….and we are reminded that in our beginning and in our ending and in all of our life - we belong to God.
We’re going to have a moment for silence and reflection, and I’d like you to prayerfully consider your own life. This Lent, as we journey with one another and with God, what are those fractured places in your life that need God’s healing? What are the jagged edges that God desires to restore? Where does God yearn to create beauty from your brokenness? Let’s take some time to silently name those places.
During our next hymn, you’re invited to come forward and take one of the pieces of seaglass on the table here and use a sharpie to write down a word or a phrase that represents where you’d like God to bring wholeness for you...and to place it on the altar as a way of offering your brokenness to God for healing. These pieces will stay here during the next five weeks in this space as a symbol that God holds all our hurt and pain and suffering together - and brings us wholeness. If you are moved to do so, you are also invited to spend time at the altar rail for prayer...to pray for God to work in you...to remind yourself that God knows you and loves you...to remember that the hurts and wounds we experience don’t mark the end of our story, but are part of our journey with the God who leads us to new life, who enables us to die to the parts of ourselves that prevent us from experiencing God’s love, and who reminds us that the things of death cannot hold us.
May we together turn toward life in God’s love, offering our brokenness to God for transformation and healing, as we stand and sing together “You Are Mine” number 2218 in the black hymnal.
*Hymn - You are Mine (FWS 2218)
Scripture Reading - Luke 9:28-43
Luke 9:28-43 (NRSV)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
*Hymn - Holy Ground (FWS 2272)
If I’m being completely honest this morning, when I first approached this text earlier this week, it was with a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism - not so much doubting that these events transpired or dismissing the glorious, miraculous nature with which Jesus was transformed before the disciples’ eyes or diminishing power displayed during the banishment of the evil spirits from the man’s young son...but more so wondering what in the world does this story have to tell us here today when the denomination this church belongs to was on the brink of transformation and not only fell short, but took a giant, massive step backward in its witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m not just talking about the vote to enact stricter, more punitive laws around clergy who stand up for our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers or those who identify as such seeking ordination. I’m also talking about the way in which the denomination handled that business together - a process full of political maneuvering, allegations of vote buying, dismissal of one another’s humanity - even after a full day of being in prayer together.
One bystander, an ordained United Methodist elder, shared his observation of General Conference on Facebook, writing these words:
It would seem that the famous observation of one of the leaders of the early church, Tertullian, has been reversed. In referring to Christians in the 3rd century, he said that pagans were baffled by the witness of the followers of Jesus: “See how they love one another,” they would say.
Now, in our modern day, in the wake of our General Conference, those outside the church are equally baffled by the witness of some of the followers of Jesus: “See how they hurt one another,” they must be saying.
Contrast this scene to the ones we have from scripture this morning - first where Jesus is depicted in all his glory, standing side by side with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures from Jewish history - representing the law and the prophets - dressed in brilliant white. Peter, James, and John, not knowing quite what to do with it all, but seeing that something important was going on and wanting to capture the moment, offered to erect tents - one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah - but before they could do anything, they hear a thunderous voice from the cloud proclaiming Jesus as God’s chosen one. And then they descend the mountain, amazed - if perplexed - by this display of God’s greatness….and again see Jesus in action with the healing of a boy tormented by demons - a boy, incidentally, that the disciples were unable to heal. The story ends with “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
All were astounded at the greatness of God.
Both stories reflect God’s greatness - God’s work - God’s movement and healing and glory. What happened in our texts wasn’t based on human maneuvering, wasn’t rooted in the disciples agendas or plans - even the healing of the boy wasn’t something the disciples could even accomplish on their own - it’s not about human work, our initiatives, our plans or machinations - but about the power of a God who acts and moves in ways beyond our understanding, that leave us astounded and amazed and that reminds us that God meets us at the limits of our own power and planning and does that which we cannot do...all so that it can be God who is glorified and made known.
God’s work and greatness - not our own.
This isn’t to say that God doesn’t give us hopes and dreams and visions to accomplish...but those hopes and dreams and visions aren’t for our own sake, but for the sake of building up God’s kingdom of peace and justice - for the sake of revealing God’s greatness in our lives and in the world - for the sake of God’s movement among us to establish a more loving, just, and hope-filled world.
And where the plans and hopes and dreams of many may have failed this week when it comes to a more inclusive United Methodist Church...where our own maneuverings may have compromised the witness of this denomination...where we wanted to build tents and shrines to the way things have been and how the church has operated for the past 50 years...the Holy Spirit picks up in those places we fail, and I believe that whatever comes next, we are in the middle of God birthing a new thing - a new transformation - something that God alone can accomplish provided with follow the movement of the Holy Spirit. We don’t know what that looks like - and we don’t know what the journey ahead will entail - birthing is a difficult process, filled with hard work, pain, and uncertainty - but one also of joy as new life takes shape and grows.
Here in this place, as we think about our island, our Chebeague community, and the witness of our church - it’s a reminder that our role isn’t one of grand schemes or brilliant plans for ministry - it’s about being faithful to the work of God in our midst and trusting that as we follow the Spirit’s lead, as we make God’s kingdom our priority, and as we trust in the power of Jesus to transform our hearts - God’s greatness will be revealed through us and the witness of our church will not be about how wonderful we are - but how great God is to do such things in and with and through us.
I do believe God is calling this community to commit to being a church that includes all people, particularly our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning sisters and brothers - and the reason such welcome needs to be explicit is because of the degree of harm that the church universal - including our very own denomination - has caused. I know that we all know in our hearts that this church is a welcoming place, but for those who have so often been excluded from so many churches, hearing those words of radical welcome makes a world of difference. As I mentioned in the letter I wrote earlier this week, our Administrative Council is in the process of planning a congregational vote later this spring on becoming a Reconciling Church, and we will have opportunities over the next few months for conversation and learning around what that means, both in practice and from a scriptural standpoint.
But that’s only one piece of what God is inviting us into. The greater journey is this one into deeper trust and faithfulness to Jesus - the journey that takes each one of us to the edge of what we know and what we can do and leaves us there - perhaps on the mountain top, perhaps in the places of our failings - leaves us there to meet the God who waits to reveal great things among us...who beckons us to be transformed by the depth of God’s love...and who is ready to do a new thing among us all.
This week - may we be moved by the transfigured Christ - amazed by the brilliance of his love and compelled to listen to his word - as we seek to follow the Holy Spirit and be the body of Christ for this community in this time and space, and to rely ever more fully on God’s work with us - so that all may be astounded by the greatness of God in this place. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.