- March 19, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for March 19, 2017 (Lent 3, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; John 4:5-42
Title: He Told Me Everything I Have Ever Done
“Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done’” (John 4:51).
My friends, how do our memories affect the experience of God’s grace in our lives?
Today’s readings all involve the memory of hardships in the past. We begin with the book of Exodus after the deliverance of the Hebrews from the clutches of Pharaoh.
This memory of the tribes wandering in the desert and thirsting for water was foundational to Jesus and the Jewish people, much like the memory of the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock is foundational to our corporate memory.
But this story serves as a cautionary tale. It tells those who listen to be careful, since faith can be fragile, and trust can evaporate and erode all too quickly.
Some of the ancient Rabbis explain that this complaining of the Israelites is like a child being carried on her father’s shoulders on a long journey. After a long while, the child sees another traveler coming along and sleepily asks, “Have you seen my father?”
The people forgot about the goodness displayed in the past and in their midst. They complained and argued.
Today’s Psalm is a meditation on that same memory from hundreds of years later. The voice of the Lord speaks and says, “They put me to the test, * though they had seen my works.” (Psalm 95:9, BCP).
And the Lord speaks with a Samaritan woman who had a very complicated history. Please note, however, that she is never described as sinful or unclean. We have no idea WHY she was married five times. And for her to live with a man who was not her husband did not actually violate any rule of the Torah.
But anyone who has lost five spouses – for whatever reason! – is guaranteed to have a litany of painful memories from a troubled past.
The Gospel text suggests that Jesus knew about all of her experiences, and that he healed her from the pain of her past. “He told me everything I have ever done.”
During this season of Lent, we are working on the idea of forgiveness and how to realistically forgive everyone. Not as an exceptional outcome of much struggle and hardship. But actually forgiving others as a simple matter of course, as the ordinary way of life for those who walk in the way of Jesus.
When we talk about forgiveness, we are going deep into the realm of memory, in particular of painful and difficult memories.
So I want you to take a moment right now and go to the well of your memories and haul up the most painful episode of your life.
Go ahead and bring it up to the surface of your consciousness. Let it sit there for a moment. Look at it. Consider this memory.
What does it feel like? If it is still painful and raw and vicious, like it just might jump up and bite you, then I want to suggest that you and the Lord still have some work to do together.
On March 10, we commemorated the death of Harriet Tubman. Most of you have heard me sing her praises before. Let me tell you about one more aspect of her life which marks her as a true icon of God.
When Harriet was young, she was a house slave whose job it was to hold a big white baby all day long. She was known as Minty as a child and she explained later that the baby was so big, and she so little, that all she could do was sit down on the floor with the baby in her lap all day long.
One day when she was 7 years old, she was standing by the kitchen table, waiting silently for the misses to finish feeding the baby and hand him over, when the misses and the master got into a big fight. The misses had a terrible temper and she launched into her husband with vigor.
All that Minty could do was to stand there without moving or making a sound while this fight dragged on. EXCEPT that there was a bowl of gleaming white sugarcubes on the table about a foot in front of her face.
She was 7 years old, standing there bored to tears, and staring at sugarcubes which she had never tasted in her life. But, boy, she sure wanted to taste one! And so, while the misses was yelling away, she just reached out and grabbed one little cube – just one – just to see what sugar was like.
I bet you know what happened. Of course, the misses happened to turn around at that very moment, and little Minty was caught in the act. The misses walked right over to a cabinet and grabbed her rawhide whip to give the girl a beating, but little Minty jumped and ran out the door as fast as she could!
And she ran as far as she could, until she found a pig pen with a huge mother sow in it and a bunch of piglets. And she jumped in and hid behind that pig. For 3 days she laid there in the mud, fighting with the piglets for little scraps of food.
Until she was so hungry and tired and sore, she did not know what else to do but go back. Remember, she was only 7 years old! So little Minty walked back to the house knowing full well what awaited her.
But it wasn’t the misses who gave her the beating. It was the master and it WAS vicious. Until the day she died, Harriet carried the scars of it on her back and her neck.
But what is amazing, what is truly Holy Spirit-inspired, is how Harriet carried that memory within her. When she spoke of it as an old woman, referring to the misses and the master who beat her, she said: “They couldn’t help it. They didn’t know no better. It’s the way they was brought up” (Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People by Sarah Bradford, p.95).
Can you believe it? No bitterness, no resentment, no desire for revenge – even though it could be argued that she had every right.
Instead, for Harriet, this memory gave her strength to do better, to make the world better, to help others know a better way.
How can we do this as well? When we have painful memories that still grip us, how do we move from being stuck as a victim, moving beyond simply being a survivor, and become one who now thrives and grows and becomes more?
I will let Rob Voyle speak next weekend about practical strategies to move in this direction. Today, let’s focus our attention on the living water that the Lord promises to those who ask for it.
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
By definition, living water is flowing water, moving water. It is not stagnant. It is water that remains connected to its source. It has NOT been cut off or separated.
In the Hebrew scriptures, God is referred to as the fountain of living water. In Hebrew, this is mayim chayim. Life water. Living water.
By the way, Jewish tradition has always stated that a mikveh, a ritual cleansing bath, must always use living water.
And the early church continued this same custom. Baptism was always to be done in living water, moving water, whenever possible.
Living water is water that flows because it remains connected to its source. Living water moves forward. It’s energized!
The Gospel of John explains that the Holy Spirit IS the living water promised by Jesus. And the Holy Spirit IS the energy of God, the divine energy that brings all things to life.
When we are caught up and carried in the flow of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for us to stay chained by painful memories.
We move forward because of the Spirit’s energy within us! With the Holy Spirit, we remain always shaped by our memories, but never controlled by them. Never dominated by them.
Jesus said, “The [living] water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:11).
So how do our memories affect the experience of God’s grace in our lives? Without question, these things are difficult and they keep many people chained and stuck in an experience of the past.
But there IS another way! When we allowe ourselves to be caught up in the flow of the Holy Spirit, THEN we know that we have hope for a beautiful future with God!
My friends, will you allow the Holy Spirit to gush up within you and to carry you forward into a life that is good and beautiful and eternal?
The offer is there! Will you take it? Amen.