Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church

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Clergy Corner

Coming to Belief - Lent 3 Sermon

  • The Rev. Grady "Buddy" Crawford
  • Apr 06, 2020
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Do you ever hear a song on the radio and a phrase in the lyrics connects with where you are or something you’ve been thinking about? This has been happening to me for several weeks. This particular singer’s voice is sultry and raspy like Adele. Since I switch back and forth from Public Radio to B98.5 I don’t hear the song very often. And when I did hear it, I would forget to look at my dashboard to learn the name of the artist or the title of the song.

One night at home I decided to google a few of the phrases I remembered – “voices that say I’m not enough” and “I will never measure up.” As soon as I hit the enter key the artist’s name appeared – Lauren Daigle, who is an Emmy Award winning singer/writer. Her first song debuted here in Atlanta at Northpoint Community Church – it turns out she is a Christian Pop singer. Beneath her name appeared a YouTube clip – and I was astonished to see that it had been viewed more than 141 million times. I’m increasing that number as I keep listening to her sing these words:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I'm not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know.

You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don't belong, (oh) You say that I am Yours
And I believe, I believe

Daigle’s song is about self-doubt, failure, worth and identity, all that we face at different seasons of our lives.

The gospel today features one of the misunderstood characters in the bible – the Samaritan woman at the well. Millions of Christians today will hear about her encounter with Jesus. Unfortunately, many will also hear preachers paint a picture of her as a woman with an unreputable past, she is immoral at best, or worse a prostitute. They will tell her story through a narrow, misogynistic lens as commentators have done for hundreds of years. And I am grateful that the words of Lauren Daigle’s song help me reimagine this encounter with Jesus and the unnamed woman of Samaria.

Jesus has left Jerusalem and is traveling through Samaria to Galilee. Samaritans share the same ancestors as the Jews, they use the same scriptures, customs and rituals, even though they are their despised, distant cousins. The enmity between the two has existed for a very long time. Three hundred years before Jesus the people of Samaria built a shrine on Mount Gerizim. A place of worship that competed with the established Temple in Jerusalem. And although that shrine had been destroyed, Samaritans continued to be viewed with contempt by their Jewish neighbors.

Jesus arrives at the town of Sychar, weary from his travels he sits down by the well, as the disciples go in search for food. A woman arrives to draw water from the well and seeing her Jesus asks for a drink, catching her off guard. She knows all the social distinctions of her culture – Jews and Samaritans never share anything in common – including drinking vessels. And men and women don’t interact. As a woman she knows her place and her limitations, she is viewed as less in every way imaginable – she is invisible. Disregarding these cultural norms, Jesus asks her for a drink. He sees her, he engages with her, and it stirs up a curiosity that allows her to set side her doubts and fears and to name the disparity. “How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

In the conversation that follow Jesus offers her living water…which only confuses the woman more. How is Jesus going to obtain this “living” water - he has no pail or rope and the well is deep? Whatever he is willing to share she wants it – “Give me this water, she says, so that I will never be thirsty again.” As the conversation continues Jesus invites her to call her husband to share in the gift. When she replies that she has no husband, Jesus agrees, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

It’s this sentence that is the cause of the destructive narratives about this woman. But nothing in the encounter leads us to a negative interpretation. John doesn’t indicate she has done anything wrong. Throughout the entire encounter, Jesus never uses the word sin or asks her to repent. A generous approach to the text, allows us to wonder if she has been widowed or abandoned or divorced – or all three. These are heartbreaking possibilities she might have endured five times. In an age when living to be 45-50 was exceptional many women might easily bury several husbands. Or maybe the practice of levirate marriage, where a woman is passed to a deceased husband’s brothers until she bears an heir for the family name is at play. There are many different interpretations that do not leave this woman in disgrace and shame. Her narrative may be tragic rather than scandalous.  

As Jesus names the misfortune of her life the woman perceives that he is a prophet. This strange man sitting by the well has recognized her, spoken with her and seen her life – dependent on a male to protect and provide for her existence. Now Jesus is offering her something of enduring worth – living water. She is no longer invisible and worth-less, she is seen and valued. In the gospel of John “seeing” is a crucial component of encountering Jesus that leads to belief. Initially, she sees him as a prophet. And emboldened by his compassion, she asks a theological question – the central reason that divides and separates Jews and Samaritans – where is the proper place to worship God? His response is so startling that she leaves her water jar and runs off to tell everyone in her community that the messiah has come. She is beginning to believe in him and in herself. This story is not about sin or morality – it is a story about identity – about belief – about community.

Why do you think so many Christians – preachers or otherwise – want to see the worst in this woman? It seems that misogyny cannot be the only thing at play here. According to all four Gospel Writers women were the primary supporters of Jesus’ ministry. Women stood beneath the cross as Jesus was dying and the disciples had fled in fear. Women were at the tomb to care for his body and became the first to proclaim his resurrection. So, it is not just about gender.         

Maybe this woman’s character is challenged because too many Christians want to make our religion mainly about morality rather than about receiving a new identity. This story is not about sin and forgiveness, about immorality and repentance. It is a story about coming to belief. It is about a woman’s transformation as she moves from seeing Jesus as a foreigner, to a prophet, to messiah. And as she does, she finds her identity – she is a woman of dignity and worth. Because Jesus sees her, and she sees Jesus, she becomes the first person in the gospel of John to share the good news of Jesus with others.

This story is not about failures, but about the power of love to bring transformation – and of humanity’s ability to not only receive love, but to find identity and purpose because we are loved.

Lauren Daigle’s song is about the human condition…we all know what it is like to be misunderstood, to live with self-doubt, of being inadequate, living with fear or failure. Jesus comes to see us in all of our brokenness…and seeing us gives us the ability to believe that we can be more – more than all of the sum of our highs and our lows…that we are invaluable, because we are loved.

This Lent let us dig deeper into our identity as disciples – knowing that we are seen and that we see Jesus all around us – in our community, in the scriptures, in the sacraments and in our prayers. As followers of Jesus let’s not give into fear. Let us lift each other up – to be Jesus’ presence in a time of fear. This is our identity and purpose. Always remembering that we are beloved.

You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don't belong, You say that I am Yours
And I believe, I believe

Amen