Dear Siblings in Christ:
Monday mornings are when I usually start reading the lectionary text for the coming Sunday. The text includes one of my favorite passages in the Gospel of John (4:5-27). Its the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well and the conversation that happened there. Three things struck me this week.
The first and second were somewhat unique to this moment in time. As Jesus and this woman met in this spiritually intimate moment, I thought about social distancing and handwashing. We’re talking about it so much these days that it’s become the lens for almost every interaction. Recognizing that this was my first thought about this story was odd but the good news is that the message is getting through. At the same time, the idea of clean and unclean was an intended part of this story. As opposed to concerns about germs, the concern of the day was about those who – in the religious, social, and political mix of that time and place – were considered unclean; so unclean that there was societal distancing as well as purification rituals in place after interacting with someone from an unclean class. In today’s story, Jesus was asking for water from a woman, who was a Samaritan, and who was in some sort of societally unsanctioned relationship and yet there was Jesus. He asked her for water and was in conversation with her. He refused to stigmatize her and see her gender, country of origin, class, or sexuality as a barrier to building a relationship. These are days when many of those who are necessarily having to socially distance themselves may feel socially stigmatized, too. Relatedly, tomorrow at noon (and every Wednesday at noon for a while) all PNC folks involved in pastoral care in any ministry setting are welcome to be part of a conversation about pastoral care considerations during an outbreak. You can use your computer to participate by video or audio using https://meetings.ringcentral.com/j/8278690536 or you can call in using number 0773-231-9226 and ID 827 869 0536 .
The 2nd piece that stood out was this line from John 4:19-20 (NRSV):
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship (God) neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
In order to do what we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of us have made the decision to set aside in-person worship for a while and use other means to worship together. We had our first call for worship planners yesterday to talk about last Sunday’s experience and share ideas. We’ll be doing this every Monday at 1 pm for a while and, if you’re part of worship planning at your church, you can use the same information listed above to call into that meeting, too. What I expected was to hear how hard it was to do worship this way and some grief about how this means of worshipping together was a step down from in-person worship experiences. That’s not what I heard, at all. By the grace of God, the skills of worship leaders, and the faithfulness of those who ventured to worship in this way, it is clear that this was an overall positive experience. Many of those churches that had the means to see the numbers of folks participating in worship this way actually saw a higher number of people participating than would on an average Sunday! There were lessons to be learned and the folks on the call were generous with their experience and advice but I came away from the conversation extremely hopeful and inspired. We’re going to be different on the other side of all of this but we’re going to make it through.
The final piece that struck me was simply this question; Who saw all this and wrote it down in the first place? Sure, we could get into a wonderfully spiraling and twirling intellectual and scholarly conversation about this but for me, this wasn’t about the answer as much as it was the question itself. If Jesus didn’t tell the story, did the woman? Were there some folks lingering nearby to hear how this conversation might go?
There is a lot we do for and with one another that will be unseen and will be unknown. That doesn’t mean its unimportant. This unwitnessed or peripherally witnessed story is one of the most important and most quoted stories in the Gospels specifically because of its intimacy and its message. For many of us, it confirms the message we heard in the celebration of our faith whether that happened in middle of a rollicking revival or the still, small voice whispering to our hearts. It is that voice that says, “You are loved. You are needed. You are enough.”
As we all go through the new kind of work that these days require, may we continue to hear that voice.
“You are loved. You are needed. You are enough.”
——–Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev
Rev. Mike Denton
Conference Minister of
Pacific Northwest Conference of
The United Church of Christ