Friday, March 28, 2014

"If Christ Asks Us to Love Him" (John 4:5-42)

Have you noticed that there is a new grocery store across the street to our north?  It’s called Luckys.  According to the newspaper it’s doing quite well---especially the meat department.  Luckys is best known for its bacon.  Yes, you heard me correctly, its bacon.

It’s not just any bacon.  It’s nitrate-free bacon.   That’s good news for persons who love the flavor of bacon because nitrates have been linked to cancer and migraine headaches.  Now you can have your bacon and eat it, too—in moderation.

I wish there was the same good news for chicken Mc Nuggets because I LOVE them—and the new habanera ranch sauce offered on the side. I am a trusting individual, and a visual individual, and when I see a picture of a chicken nugget I assume that it’s a piece of fried chicken.  However, when I dug a little deeper I discovered that there’s a lot of stuff going on in a chicken nugget and it’s NOT chicken.  Did you know, for example, that a McDonald's Chicken McNugget is 56% corn?

What else is in a McDonald's Chicken McNugget? Besides corn, and to a lesser extent, chicken, there are also thirty-eight ingredients that make up a chicken nugget  including two chemicals used to make silly putty.  These two ingredients stop the oil from rising to the surface of the chicken nugget, and they also cause disturbing physical symptoms including nausea and ringing in the ears.

As disheartening as it is sometimes to discover that our food supply is either contaminated, or even false, what worse is to keep eating food that deprives us of the minerals and vitamins and proteins to keep our body healthy OR to continue to ingest toxins, right?  Because what’s at stake?  It is our physical body and our over-all well being. 

As a human being, I understand that when it comes to my well-being that something else is at stake OTHER than my physical body and that something is relationships.  Not only are we physical beings, we are also social beings.  Tips to social health are a little more difficult to find than guidelines for maintaining my body, but they are around. 

My mother was a Dear Abby and a Dear Ann Landers fan.  These two newspaper columnists—twin sisters to be exact—took on the difficult questions of real persons such as “I suspect my spouse is having an affair, what should I do” and “My niece’s children are so disrespectful of my house when I invite the family over, and I’m tempted to quit inviting her.  However, if I don’t invite my niece and her children, my sister won’t come.  What should I do?”  Relationships with family and neighbors MATTER, and we’re often challenged by what’s in front of us.

Over the years I’ve turned to personality indicators to understand human relationships.  Some of my friends have turned to counselors.  How do you address the social you—the YOU that longs for a few significant relationships in your life in order to feel like the day is worth getting up for?  What’s at stake?  It is human interaction and our over-all well being.

Some years ago a pediatrician taught me that a good metaphor for the human being is that of a three legged stool, with the goal being balance.   All three legs equal in length.  I’ve named two of the three legs; physical and social.  Do you know what the third leg is?  The third leg is SOUL, or our spiritual leg.

Soul is a lot trickier to define but we’ve got to try because the soul is the topic of conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  We will get to that in a minute.

In his book CARE OF THE SOUL, author Thomas Moore writes, “Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination.  “Soul is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.  It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance.”

Let’s consider some examples of soul this morning.  Some years ago I was at the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC.  Every time I rounded a corner there was another glorious painting; Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Picasso.  Just last year I was at the Yellowstone Art Museum.  Every time I rounded a corner there was another lovely sculpture or evocative painting—and even a Monet! Since I have an art background I could have, if I had wanted to, focused on the technique or the history of the art, but I did not.  Instead the use of color and the scene or objects in front of me elicited a response from within—and I was overcome by their beauty—the wonder, you see, of it all.

I sometimes experience the same thing at a Mustang game.  Sure, there’s the physical experience of the game—especially the need for dinner and an iced tea.  And there’s also the social element—I look around to see if I know someone one so we can catch up.  But eventually the whole experience of the game of baseball—the players, the stats, the hand-squeezed lemonade, the persons cheering—hits me at a deeper level and I am simply amazed by the miracle of the game; the BIG picture of a simple night at the ballpark.  

I often will ponder, “Who or what is this that is so amazed?”   Who is the “I” behind the eye?
Some years ago when I was grieving, when life had lost all of its flavor and the sunrise and the sunset held not joy for me, I dared to share how I felt with a friend.  “Oh,” she said, “You’ve been cut.”  What an interesting comment.  If you had looked at my face, or my arm, or my leg, you would not have detected that anything was wrong—no blood, you know.  What she was talking about was my soul—that “thing” on the inside--my soul had been injured.  After that conversation I started saying to people, “My soul hurts” instead of “my heart hurts.”  My physical heart was still intact.  Something much, much deeper was not.

When our physical body needs care, we go to a spa, or a physician, or even a nutritionist.

When our relationships need care, we go to workshop on personality types, and to marriage encounter weekends, and to counselors.

But when our soul needs care, where do we go?

In our scripture lesson today Jesus tells the woman fetching physical water at the well of Jacob, her ancestor, that in JESUS she meets the source of her spiritual sustenance.

Oh the conversation starts innocently enough.  Jesus is physically thirsty and approaches the Samaritan woman for a cup of cool water.  Obviously he doesn’t have any money.  The woman is curious because Jews and Samaritans are more inclined to express disdain for one another than kindness--citing religious differences.

But we already know that Jesus doesn’t buy into the world’s disdain for one another along any lines—gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.  Jesus DOESN’T discriminate.  He stays in character here in this story.
However, as the woman stays on the subject of the physical world as she knows it, the one where people are physically thirsty and physically married (sometimes more than once) and socially ostracized and socially organized as religious people who seek physical places to experience Divine Life such as a synagogue or a mountain—Jesus begins to draw her in on the subject of what she really needs as a spiritual person; a person with SOUL.

And what does she need? She needs a living friendship with our living God, the “living spring within” says Jesus, “pure Spirit.”  “Take the water I give,” Jesus says to her.  What Jesus is doing is inviting the woman to accept his friendship; his leadership.  Jesus is inviting the woman to love him.  It’s the most important invitation she will ever have.

It’s obvious to Jesus that the woman’s physical experiences haven’t delivered what she’s really thirsty for—someone who knows her which also means someone who can help her with her REAL strength and weaknesses and not simply the ones she THINKS she has; someone who loves her enough to not give up on her; someone who has her best interest at the core of their very being.  The other day I saw a coffee mug for clergy women.  It said, “Does this pulpit make my butt look big?”  Women are known to ask, “Does this dress make me look fat?”  A real friend would tell me the truth no matter what.  Jesus is like that.  He’ll let you in on a lot things you’d rather forget, such as your hard-headedness, and an imbalance between the rational you and the emotional you—and the number and quality of your relationships.  The goal is to give you life.

A mountain can’t do this and neither can a temple.

A marriage can’t do this.

A cup of water from a physical well can’t do this.

However, the source of our life CAN and DOES.

“Give God your undivided, un-distracted attention,” Jesus says to the woman, “Your whole self in devotion and you will, in turn, be whole or spiritually reconciled, or spiritually well.”

 In his book The Desert In The City, author Carlo Carretto tells the story about how he redirected his energy as a religious person from the HEAD, or knowledge, to the SOUL, or intimacy with God.

“I put a chair in a quiet place, and a Bible,” he says, “and sat there, listening, a little bit in the morning and a little bit in the evening.” Carretto was listening for the God he loved him spirit to spirit—the God who has his best interest at heart.

So often we think it is in God’s best interest that we spend time with God—which is what Jesus invites the woman to do. “That’s not true,” writes Carretto, “It is in our best interest to love God.”
I liken the experience of the living God to Mother Goose’s nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty”—we have one great fall after another, and God keeps putting us back together again.

Just like blueberries, real blueberries, release wonderful vitamins and minerals to the bloodstream, contributing to longevetity in the body…

Just like time with a counselor helps us sort through the traps in our relationships, contributing to meaningful friendships…

So does friendship with God expressed in a variety of ways, especially silence, and loving what God loves, contribute to peace and tenderness in the soul.  The goal, remember, is three even legs…

Did you notice the woman at the well left her water jug behind?  Why do you think that is?  Could it be because everything she needed to be spiritually healthy was on the inside?

Let us pray:  Loving God, if we have neglected our spiritual self, teach us again the joy of being creative—of observing, of moving paint across a canvas or capturing pattern on Instagram, of sitting quietly in your company, of celebrating the miracle of a baseball game.  Our souls are thirsty for your Divine Life within us.  Let us taste your holiness on the inside!  Amen. 

(This sermon is from the Reverend Dana Keener of Central Christian Church, Billings, Montana.)

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