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On giving up our 'Spin' for Lent
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on March 23, 2014

KGL+
Sermon
Christ Church Andover
Lent 3, Year A
March 23, 2014

Click for the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sigh, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

This morning I’m going to tell you about our guestroom. Growing up in tiny New York City apartments and then spending most of my young adult life in Boston, an extra room with no purpose other than to house folks who had traveled to see you, was a novelty as well as a fantasy. It seemed superfluous and unnecessary at times. But when Chris and I moved to Reading a few years ago, that came true. A whole guestroom just for us! No more futon, no more inflatable mattress, but a real live room that could be gussied up and shown off to visitors with a casual, “Oh yes, we have a guestroom. Feel free to stay over anytime!”

Not much time elapsed though, before it quickly entered into ‘that state’. You know what I’m talking about. That state when you keep the door closed ostensibly to be a good steward of the heating bill, but truly because you can’t bear to show it to other people. It is the room we do not open when we take guests on the obligatory house tour. Along with guest towels and light reading on the bedside table, it is now home to far, far more. Boxes of papers; luggage unreturned to the closet; winter or summer clothing storage depending on the season; that unused workout equipment which pride or guilt or laziness won’t let us move back to the basement. Books in piles, and saved wrapping paper/ cards/ you name it from Christmas. Our guestroom is the epitome of unrealized plans and goals, the imagined recipient of a Saturday morning spring cleaning attack. It is the place where- and I speak for myself and not Chris- I hide the stuff I don’t want to be reminded of or see, because it would then bring up those very unrealized dreams.

“Go, call your husband and come back.” Bold words for someone who knows that the woman he is speaking to has a storied past. Even bolder is the admission of the woman at the well: “I have no husband”. True words for sure, but not the entire truth just yet. Jesus presses on, pointing towards the rest of the story behind her words. She has no husband now; she has had five; she is living with a man who is not her husband at this point. For a community who almost stoned a woman for just one count of adultery, this situation doesn’t seem so removed. This is, by all standards, a sinful woman.

Jesus then offers the woman living water. However, he asks for something from her first.

This Lent, we have been invited to walk in the wilderness of our Spirit; to tentatively take our first steps of faith while we were still in the dark. Today in scripture, God asks us to reveal ourselves- all of ourselves—in order to fully to receive the living water promised to us in Jesus Christ.

It seems an easy thing to do. Our media and culture are saturated with the influence of tell-all books and websites and posts and blogs, as well as the reality tv show confessional—that private room with a camera where reality stars share their most private feelings about nearly anything with the rest of the world. It is about the spin in these stories: the PR aspects of telling all while also molding the image you wish to portray to the world. We all do our own mini-version of that spin on a day to day basis in our own ways. It might be dressing in a certain way to portray oneself in the light that they wish to be seen. Spending unsustainable amounts of money to continue the image of a lifestyle no longer actually possible. Choosing which stories to tell to your friends. Choosing which stories to tell to God.

The woman at the well is no stranger to this type of spin. Given her situation, she has probably received a few judgmental words in her lifetime. She chooses her words. She does not lie. But she does not offer up the entire truth. To a fellow sojourner who found themselves thirsty and simply looking for a drink, that might not have been so bad. But to the Son of God, the Christ, who has offered her the water of life, sustenance and his presence, it seems that offering up the whole truth, even the parts of which she was ashamed, was necessary to the end.

In this story, Jesus reminds me of someone who would look at my closed guestroom door and ask, “What’s in there?” To which I might reply, “Oh nothing, just a small guestroom. It’s pretty cold in there, we rarely use it. Let’s move on to the kitchen!” And Jesus might then say, “If it is truly rarely used, then we should take a look—maybe warm it up a bit!” And we would open it. And all that stuff of mislaid plans and goals and discipline would be there, lying about haphazardly, open and available for him- for me-- for all-- to see.

God does not want our ‘spin’ on our own lives. Not our best practices or our version of how we wish we had lived or the decisions we should have made. God asks us to own up to everything and will even be bold enough to suggest that there are omissions and gaps in the stories we tell him. It is in that process of telling—we might say, confessing—that we can open ourselves to grace beyond any grace we could imagine. We spin our stories—whether of life or faith or success—to impress a certain version of ourselves on others. We create our own image of ourselves to protect whatever might lurk below that we find unappealing; shameful; weak. We would rather hide what brings us shame than bring it up to others, and at times we include God—in who’s image we are created in—in that list.

Jesus offers Living Water to those who seek it. Living water is something that does not dry up; it springs up where it will and wends its way, picking up all that it encounters and brings it along with it. No stagnant pond where scum occludes the top, or where the depths run dark and murky from sitting still for so long, it offers transparency and vitality. Living water moves and from its very energy makes paths where it can run, deepening formerly hidden crevices and filling them with life. The woman asks for this water from Jesus—perhaps not for the most pious of reasons (“so I won’t have to keep coming here to draw water”, she reasons), but it is offered to her nonetheless. Then Jesus “tells her everything she has ever done”, and loves her in spite of all of it. To encounter the living water, we must first bring up and offer to God all that brings us death of some sort in our lives; all that we obscure and stagnate. We do this because that Living Water is not a miracle pill, no acai juice to drink, but a way to become more Christ-like. Jesus tells the woman that the water of life offers not just satiation for the moment, but makes in them a well that will never run dry—they themselves become a font of life for others. In our own confession to God and to ourselves, we acknowledge that nothing is too far from God’s grace and mercy. In fact her confession brings the entire town out to meet, listen and become followers of Christ.

We sojourn to a place of isolation in Lent. We walk into the unknown wilderness, where we encounter all that is unfamiliar and possibly treacherous, and unavoidably lonely. We then encounter the darkness, the faltering and fumbling with too little light, and cautiously step our way towards that faith, as Nicodemus did when seeking out Jesus by night in last week’s gospel. And today, we see that ray of dawn begin to shine through. It offers not only hope, but a way to see our surroundings—indeed ourselves, in a new light—that offers us a chance to reveal our fullest selves—sinfulness and loveliness and all—to God. We needed to search, to yearn, to thirst for that Living Water to know that that is what will truly satiate our soul. Not the spin. Not the ideal. Just an open door to a clutter-filled guestroom that needs some loving, and gentle, attention.

A few years ago, a priest told me about her experience during a PreConfirmation retreat at the Barbara C. Harris Camp. She had come to the retreat with about 13 of her confirmation students, and had stayed in a cabin with 8 8th grade girls and another chaperone. We had had phone conversations before the retreat about how she might get her kids to want to ‘give up’ a Friday night for a church event, and she had worked long and hard to get the parents to get on board with this trip. The next morning, she came up to me and told me that she had had the most profound experience with the girls. The night before, after Compline and the endless bedtime primping rituals of the girls, they had all climbed into their bunks and said good night, and turned off the light. After a moment in the dark, a small voice said, “Shouldn’t we pray or something now?” And in the dark of the cabin, all ten of them voiced their prayers to each other—some were concerns for friends or family; some were fears; some talked about challenges, others about a particularly good moment that week. The dark of the wilderness offered them a place to be themselves—not the curated fronts they wished to project. Their priest looked at me at breakfast Saturday morning, and said, “All we had to do was to take them away from the usual, bring them to the woods, turn off the lights, and then watch what God had in store for them and us.”

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” He is. And he loves us anyways.

AMEN.

Last Published: July 8, 2014 10:02 AM