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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
The Third Sunday in Lent - Year A
Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-20, Psalm 32, Romans 5.12-19, Matthew 4.1-11
'Anything Can Happen At A Well'
"The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." In Nicholas Evans' popular novel The Horse Whisperer Annie Graves travels across a continent with her daughter Grace and Grace's severely traumatized horse Pilgrim in a desperate attempt to convince a Montana rancher named Tom Booker to help them; for a friend has told her that Booker is one of that elite group of people with the ability to heal injured horses. They could see into the creature's soul and soothe the wounds they found there. Often they were seen as witches and perhaps they were. Some wrought their magic with the bleached bones of toads, plucked from moonlit streams. Others, it was said, could with but a glance root the hooves of a working team to the earth they plowed.... For secrets uttered softly into pricked and troubled ears, these men were known as Whisperers. In addition to the challenge of calming Pilgrim, who has been severely injured in a gruesome riding accident, Booker soon discovers that he has two human souls to heal as well. Grace has blocked out all memory of the terrible accident in which her dearest friend was killed and she herself has lost a leg. Crippled for life, she turns her fear and anger inward, blocking anyone's attempt to help her get on with life. Her mother, Annie, a high-rolling advertizing executive, has alienated herself from both her husband and daughter for years and is suddenly forced to come face to face with what she has sacrificed because of her career. Grace's physical and emotional injury following the accident is but a shadow of Annie's inner alienation from herself. Annie has lost the ability both to give and receive human affection. It is a story about a woman in search of healing for a wounded animal and her daughter who ends up finding herself healed in ways she was neither looking for nor expecting. + This week's gospel story does something that few other gospel passages do: it tells us how wounds and divisions, especially ones that are longstanding, get healed. Jesus is a healer in this week's story but in ways that are not obvious at first glance. On one level, of course, Jesus heals someone in a way she is not expecting. It's the story about a Samaritan woman who comes to a well to get water. She is minding her own business, doing the laborious work that women did in those days. She knows her place, is suspicious of the obviously Jewish man who is perched on the well as she approaches it in the heat of the day; and she is understandably taken aback when he not only speaks to her but asks for her help. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." She is a Samaritan. He is a Jew. She is a woman. He is a man. It is a highly public place. Jesus, as usual, is "inviting trouble" in his typical unconventional attitude and behaviour. He should not be speaking to a woman in the first place, let alone a member of a tribe of Israel long-despised by the Jewish people. It is all disorienting, dislodging, confusing and wonderful - right from the start. People we think we have all figured out don't act that way; and things we never expect to happen do. When you are dealing with Jesus, says John, expect the unexpected. It is hard to tell what is going on in the conversation between Jesus and this woman, with every word giving you the feeling that it might mean something more than it seems. But something happens in the encounter. When it starts out, they are perfect strangers. When it ends up, the woman is so excited that she wants everyone to know about the man whom she has just met. Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" She leaves behind what brought her to this moment in the first place because she finds something for which she did not realize she was searching - someone who meets her at a level of her being that no one else has before. And, once she has been met, she feels found. Or, is it that she has found part of herself that has gone missing? The clue is in what happens next; because, by the end of the passage, it is not just a woman who is excited about Jesus but a whole town full of Samaritans. So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." A whole town full of people have found themselves. Found that they "belong" after all. Found that, in spite of a centuries' old hatred between two peoples, what matters is that their worth before God is incontrovertible. And all because of a conversation that got started at a well and a man who actually saw people and who helped them see themselves. In this week's gospel Jesus puts people in touch with the experience of a love that embraces them at a level deeper than thought and action. When that happens, they find something that was broken inside them coming alive again, something that was lost in them suddenly found. And when that is our experience the exterior dimensions of our lives get changed too. The need for all the old suspicions, all the old rivalries and all the old fears just doesn't seem to matter anymore. People have come into "their souls" again, which is a place where not only each one of us individually but all of us collectively need to be. + Because "soul" gets lost; or, put more succinctly, we "lose soul" both individually and communally. Anthropologists have long described a condition called "loss of soul". It is the experience in which a person is "out" of himself, unable to "find" either the outer connections that keep him in communion with others or the inner ones that keep him rooted in himself. A person who loses her soul is unable to take her place in society, to engage in its rituals, to feel one with its traditions. They are dead to her; and she to them. Until a person "regains" his soul he is not really and wholly human - which is why, when this happened to primitive people, it was said a person was possessed or bewitched or ill - because, without his soul, a person had lost touch with all that energized him and humanized him. People who lost their souls often died because of it both inwardly and outwardly because to be cut off from that central experience of being "one" with oneself was a "terminal" disease. The worst loneliness of all. One day in Burgholzli, the famous institute in Zurich where the words "schizophrenia" and "complex" were born, I watched a woman being interviewed. She sat in a wheelchair because she was elderly and feeble. She said that she was dead for she had lost her heart. The psychiatrist asked her to place her hand over her breast to feel her heart beating: it must still be there if she could feel its beat. "That," she said, "is not my real heart." She and the psychiatrist looked at each other. There was nothing more to say. Like the primitive who has lost his soul, she had lost the loving courageous connection to life - and that is the real heart, not the ticker which can as well pulsate isolated in a glass bottle. - James Hillman, Insearch: Psychology and Religion Like the family in The Horse Whisperer, the Samaritan woman in this week's gospel, the primitive and the woman in that hospital, we can and do lose our souls. We lose them whenever we no longer see the connection between who we are and the love that longs only to enfold us in its embrace. Jesus, both in his message and his intimate encounters with others, helped people re-establish that deep connection with themselves where both God and healing are found. He consistently cut through the clear and common sense regulations that people established in order to determine who was worthy and unworthy. By bluntly declaring to the woman at the well that she was worthy to receive the life he came to give he was also declaring that all were worthy to stoop and drink of that life-giving stream. And you, my friend, may not have come to this particular "well" today looking for anything more than the ordinary drink you expected to find; but, if you are not careful, He who knows the hidden mysteries and labyrinthine ways of the heart may just ask you for a drink. If He does, give Him what He asks. Give whatever it is you have to give - to bring up, to haul up, if necessary out of the deepest depths of your soul, including those darkest places you have hidden even from yourself. For, in giving Him that, which is all He asks, you will feel coming to life in you a gladness you never thought possible and the joy of knowing a love that flows freely to all who simply want to receive it. For the One who meets us here and everywhere we care to find Him is the One who simply wants to give us from that life-giving stream. + Exodus 17:1-7 - The people of Israel are on the move and once again there are problems. Caught between the promise of a land of their own and the fulfillment of that promise, they lose heart and faith, proving that "wilderness" is as much a state of mind as anything else. They put Moses' feet to the fire once again for convincing them to leave Egypt in the first place. When God finally shows up in the story, the people interestingly discover what they need right underneath them. 1. What does the story say about "where" God sometimes leads us? 2. When has God's leading led you into places that were dangerously "dry"? 3. Where and how did you "find" what you needed to continue the journey? Romans 5:1-11 - In a text in keeping with the Lenten theme, Paul acknowledges what we all know and experience: suffering is part and parcel not only of the human condition but of what it means to be a Christian. At one level the text is coldly realistic. At a deeper level, Paul attempts to strengthen his readers by pointing out how suffering "endured in faith" strengthens us and gives us a peace that comes from an intimate knowledge of God's love. 1. In what ways is Paul asking us to do more than "keep a stiff upper lip"? 2. How has suffering transformed you into something different and better? 3. What broken pieces of your life in particular has Christ "reconciled"? John 4:5-42 - From what we know of Jesus the ancient schism between Israel and Samaria would have struck his Jewish heart as all wrong. In this week's passage, John provides us with a remarkable story of healing that starts out as a personal encounter and ends up as a communal event. Jesus is presented as a reconciler of ancient enemies and all because of what happens in an encounter at a well. 1. In your own words, what do you think happened between Jesus and the woman? 2. Why is this so important about how long-standing feuds get healed? 3. In what ways does your ministry reflect this kind of healing initiative? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "So the problem of finding the soul again burns as perhaps no other issue. The location of God, the meaning of love, the role of the pastoral counsellor in the community, and all the rest are derivative issues. He who has lost his soul will be finding God anywhere, up above and down below, in here and out there; he will cling to every straw of love blown past his doorway as he stands waiting for a sign." - James Hillman 1. How true is this a reflection of the dilemma facing many people today? 2. In what ways does your church assist people in finding their souls? A PRAYER FOR THE SAINTS - Intrusive Savior, visit us this day not merely in the mind's knowing and the heart's feeling but in our soul's own sense that somehow we are "meant", that that love You are is calling us, choosing us, embracing us and filling us with a peace we cannot find on our own and can only possess both with You and with one another. Amen. HYMN: I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (Voices United 626)
copyright - Barry Robinson 2002, 2005 page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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