Last week, our family attended the wedding of a dear niece in Denver. I loved many things about the day, about the gathering and about the service. But what stands out for me above all else – and what I cherish – is no one saw this wedding coming. The bride and groom met on New Year’s 2017, started seeing each other in February and were engaged last summer and married just over a year after they started dating. For my generation, that’s not fast; for the generation of our children, it’s warp speed. Often when these cousins gather from around the country, they ask, “who will get engaged next (there are 13 of them)?” At the most recent gathering before this engagement, no one would have guessed that niece would be next. Not her parents, her siblings, or her closest cousins. She not only wasn’t dating, she really hadn’t ever dated seriously.
In a life of predictability – I loved that we were all surprised, saw something new in this person we’ve known for 30 years.
For the season Lent, we are exploring various encounters women had with Jesus in the Gospels. As we do so, women in our congregation will be adding their voices to the mix. You may have noticed we are singing songs by or about women.
However, as as we move through the season, you are invited to look for new insights and new avenues of spiritual exploration – in the biblical story of course – but even more so in your own journey of faith. Because many of the stories will be familiar – we’ll be tempted to reside in old or familiar interpretations. Might we together look for new insights, new angles, new possibilities?
This story of the Samaritan woman at the well is among the more known stories. Samaria and Judea were adjacent Israelite kingdoms. While they were both Semitic people, descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, they had been at odds with each other for centuries and Jews normally didn’t speak to Samaritans. Certainly Jewish men didn’t speak to Samaritan women. So, from the get go, there’s something odd about this story. At high noon, Jesus arrives at a well in Samaria (you needed to go through Samaria to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem and asks a woman drawing water for a drink of water.
As our planning group of 10-12 women began talking about various stories – both Margaret Jankowski and Sara Roberts spoke up to say this story touched them in personal ways. I invited them to consider sharing those reflections today in worship. We’ll watch a clip in just a minute that was filmed earlier this week. I invite you to listen carefully as Sara shares what it was like to be unwanted; and as Margaret ponders the power not just of Jesus, but the woman as she responds to Jesus’ question but also responds with her own inquiries of himJ
Something Sara said that was edited out of the clip was that the experience of reflecting on this story made her want to explore more stories. Stories – wherever they come from – can be some of the most powerful ways of learning. What I loved in listening to Margaret and Sara was seeing how the same story touched them in unique ways. For each of them – a detail or movement in the biblical encounter connected with a part of their story.
Our invitation in response to the encounter and these two women is to ask – how does this speak to my life of faith? My walk with God?
Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book, “The Wisdom Jesus” – describes the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman as an occasion of mutual boldness. Jesus sees something compelling in the woman, and she acts with courage to respond and keep asking her own questions. Margaret called this the Samaritan woman’s ‘divine yes.’ A willingness to step into a new way of being, to see in this holy encounter a chance to live more boldly, more passionately, more lovingly in the world.
It is a good story to share as we begin this Lenten journey. As God sees us – in whatever form that takes – and as we experience being seen – we are strengthened to live with more compassion, clarity, courage and possibility.
Some of us experience this recognition in mystical, personal encounters with the Divine.
Some of us experience this in powerful, poignant encounters with God’s people (as Sara shared).
Bruno Barnhart, former prior of the Benedictine Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur – writes about this story: (this experience has the potential) to awaken that which lies at the core of the woman’s being. In the words of Psalm 36, ‘in Your light we see light. Jesus Christ standing before the Samaritan woman becomes the mirror in which she sees not only the face of God but her own true face.” (p.12)
This powerful story reminds us – in this moment in history – that every encounter with the divine in our life gives us a glimpse of All that is Grace, and in doing so, shows us who we are with clarity, power and purpose.
Such a seeing, and being seen, is our wellspring.
When have you had such divine encounters? With the Holy One? With other people? In the midst of a busy situation or dynamic among groups of people?
Prayer following sermon (by Sara Hagen)
Let us pray.
Living God, who knows us and loves us,
Help us to recognize you as we encounter you at the well,
At the water cooler
God of grace, whose original blessing follows us all of our days,
Help us to be vulnerable and to be seen,
To explore the mystery and wonder of your love.
God of refugees and outcasts,
Help us to share your radical generosity with others,
To welcome everyone in your sanctuary.
God of welcoming,
Help us to prepare our hearts for your son,
In this season of waiting and introspection.
Loving God, who continues to surprise us,
Help us to remember that we are wonderfully made,
Connected to you and to each other.