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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beloved

Lent 3, Yr A
John 4:5-42
3/23/14
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

They've called me:
Unclean
Samaritan
Married 5 times
Outsider
Worthless woman
Outcast
A burden
Cursed

I wish someone had called me by name.
Scripture's longest conversation with Jesus, and they couldn't even name me. No one knew who I really was, just The Woman at the Well.

Jesus didn't see you as
Unclean
A Samaritan
An outsider
Worthless
The wife of 5 men
An outcast
A burden
Cursed

Jesus saw you as
Thirsty and Longing
He saw you as Beloved, Child of God, the name each of us bears in his eyes.

     She came to the well in the midday heat and sun, not in the cool of the morning with all the other women; just that tells us something about the difficulty of her life on the very fringe of the community. She'd had 5 husbands and now was living with a man who wasn't her husband; given her culture, it's a reasonable guess that she'd been widowed repeatedly and passed along to a succession of male relatives, probably with no children, seen as an obligation rather than an individual. She lived in the shadow of the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans. She was, in the eyes of so many, a nobody.
    This man at the well was the very last person she expected to draw her into conversation. But once he did, once she realized that somehow he knew all about her, all her longing to be seen as somebody welled up and spilled over into amazement, into a deep satisfaction that couldn't be contained. She left behind the empty, heavy jars of her past and rushed forth to tell others of this man who knew her, who quenched her thirst with living water.
     Oh, what longing we have to be known. Truly, deeply, completely known. Not by the simple labels and assumptions that others put on us, or even by the ones we put on ourselves, but in all the complexity and contradictions of who we fully are, in the mix of our history and our hopes, in our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses...and, in that knowing, to be loved. But it's complicated. Who can we trust, and with whom will our truth not be safe? Who honestly wants to see beyond my surface, and if they do, how will they react? Do we even really believe that we are worth knowing, that we are beloved?
     Although we long to be known and loved, our fears of being so vulnerable to hurt and of being misunderstood cause us to hide our selves, to create all sorts of barriers and facades, to live with the anxiety of being "found out" or unmasked. What if, when the layers are peeled back, we aren't good enough, or worse still, all that's seen is...nobody? Better perhaps, we might imagine,  not to take that chance and instead keep the labels, keep the mask, let others think what they will, for better or worse. Even if, like the woman at the well, those labels isolate or denigrate us, even if they cause us to act as if we are less than beloved, even if they diminish the image of God within us. It can feel safer to hold onto our jars that are so quickly emptied, to stick with the way of being in the world that we already know.
     Today's gospel offers us the good news that no matter how we appear to the rest of the world, how we put up a front, how we've been labeled, Jesus always sees through and knows us fully...and he never, ever finds nobody inside, because God has created each of us as a uniquely beloved child of God. He sees the deep truth of our life and satisfies our longing as nothing and no one else can. And in so doing, he reveals the truth about himself, that he has come to love us for who we have been and as we are now, with a holy vision of what we're becoming.
     What a relief! This experience of being fully known, fully accepted, fully loved is so rare in our lives that I think most of us have to pause to imagine the gift it is. It's not part of our everyday experience...and yet it could be, because Jesus holds this understanding and love out to us all the time, inviting us to stand in his presence and drink deeply of his living water. All our labels are peeled away, all our pretenses dropped, all our past accepted, all our uniqueness lovingly revealed as we come to the One who alone can quench our thirst.
     But of course, the gospel never stops there; the good news is never just for any one of us. Imagine the courage, the excitement, the passion it took for this woman to leave behind at the well the old jugs that could only provide momentary satisfaction, and to run back refreshed to the very people who for so long had discounted her, to tell them what he had done for her, to invite them into the same experience.
     We're called to no less. As you leave today and pass by the font, I invite you to imagine leaving behind the jars of your past, the labels and masks and mistakes which have contained your life, and then to dip your fingers in the water that is the symbol of the new life we have in Jesus, of our being named and claimed as God's beloved. Let those waters quench your thirst, fill your longing, and refresh you to invite the world to come and see, to hear the voice of the one who knows each and every one of us, Beloved, Children of God.

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