Sermon – March 23, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Third Sunday in Lent
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” John 4:29
Please be seated.
I have talked before about the brief part of my social work career when I was a therapist. I provided individual therapy for people who had traumatic brain injuries or TBIs. For the most part, the people had been in rehab and were living independently; however, they often required support or some additional assistance in living with their injury.
One man, Doug, was in our program because of anger issues, a known result of TBIs. This man had tried to attack another man at work one day and the diagnosis was inability to control his anger due to his brain injury. However, over a period of time, I learned that this man was extremely sensitive to people. He could see people deeply. He had developed a very low tolerance for people who lied to him. He felt unsafe when someone was not authentic. He was afraid he would be harmed. What appeared to be unjustified aggression to others, was actually his way of protecting himself.
At the time I was doing this work in North Carolina, I was going through a difficult time in my life. I was grieving so many things, including the end of a marriage. One of the ways I expressed my grief was by tears and many mornings, I would have a good cry session before I left for work. No one at work ever seemed to notice, as I’d walk in with my cheery smile and “how are yous?”
One morning, Doug was my first client. He walked in my office, sat down, looked at me, and immediately said, “You’ve been crying.” Uh, Oh, what was I to do? I didn’t want him to start obsessing on what was causing me to cry. I was supposed to be professional and there were professional boundaries to uphold, after all. Yet, lying to him would destroy trust and he would feel unsafe. I told him the truth that I was crying and after a few minutes of him expressing sadness that I could be in distress, we were able to move on.
Have you had experiences like that? Experiences of being seen deeply? Of not being able to hide?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sees the Samaritan woman. In doing so, we have a model for how to treat ourselves and a model for the church and how we treat each other and our neighbors.
First of all, Jesus dares to speak to a woman and a Samaritan woman at that. This conversation between a man and a woman was usually not done. The Samaritans and Jews were at odds with each other over religious practices and had little love for each other. Jesus once again breaks the rules and focuses on relationship.
Secondly, the woman came alone to the well at noon, the hottest part of the day. While women usually drew water for their families, they often came earlier in the day, when it was cooler. In addition, they usually came together in a group. It appears that this woman was not respected by her community. She was an outcast. Jesus once again, breaks the societal barriers, caring about the relationship. He sees the woman as created by God, which is the most important thing.
Thirdly, Jesus does not condemn the woman. He knows why she is not the most respected person in the community – she had five husbands and now lives with a man who is not her husband. Jesus gives the woman the opportunity to be honest and authentic about her life, when he says in verse 16, “Go, call your husband and come back.” The woman could have left and not returned. She knew Jesus was a traveler and she could have never had another encounter with him again. She could have “pretended” she was an upstanding member of the community.
Isn’t that what so many of us do? We walk around with grieving souls, heavy in our burdens, yet tell so many that we meet that we are just fine. Even in our church community, being authentically who we are, is difficult. We’re not sure if we will be judged. We’re not sure if we will be shunned. We erroneously believe who we authentically are is not worthy of relationship.
Now, some of this is smart or necessary. We are human beings after all and we can be very cruel to each other. Discerning with whom to share the most intimate details of our life is prudent. However, don’t you agree that “putting on the face” is draining and tiring? Being able to be authentic is so freeing. That’s what our relationship with Jesus is all about. That’s one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world. . . to free us.
Jesus accepts the woman without judgment. He tells her she is worthy of the water that will quench all thirst. He does not shun her nor refuse to be in relationship with her. As a result, she is not locked in to the role she and her community have created for her. She is free to be different…to change.
That’s the paradox of being truly seen. . . acceptance of what is true allows us to examine that part of ourselves and to make changes if we’d like.
Jesus’ example of naming what is true, while not shunning nor cutting off the relationship, is the best example for how we treat each other and how our church community needs to be seen. And this behavior is evangelizing. Look what happens. The woman is amazed. While not the most respected member of her community, she gathers many in the town to come see this Jesus who truly saw her and knew her. And the people come and they ask Jesus to stay with them. While at first he is a curiosity, eventually, many believe he is the Messiah because of their encounter with him. And the story is preserved for us.
A quote from a book on forgiveness by Karyn Kedar is part of our Lenten meditation reading, Renew a Right Spirit Within Me booklet, today and speaks to the power of being seen…our call as a Christian community to be,
“…people who see you, really see you for who you are and who love you because of that. They know you perhaps better than you know yourself. When you are at your best they delight in you. When you lose your way, they hold up for you the vision of your higher self. When you look at them, you see in their eyes a mirror of who you are – and you like what you see. . . . They sustain all that is good in you and allow the divine purpose in your life to flow easily through you and your relationship with them. (Bridge to Forgiveness, Karyn Kedar, p. 83)
Strive for the authentic life and strive to be the evangelist who, like Jesus, deeply sees others.