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Woven Together: Living Water

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I would like you to consider what might seem, on the surface, like an impossible possibility: Weaving with water.

It is much easier for me to imagine weaving with ribbons, thread, or yarn. These things are solid. Easy to grab onto.

But weaving with water? That seems impossible. Unless, of course, we are talking about the upcoming frozen tundra and ice of our Wisconsin Winters, water is something that as we start to weave runs right through our loom and splashes onto the floor. Water needs some sort of contain to hold it. A bucket. A jar. A body. Our bodies. Water. Living.

Reading today’s bible passage, how are we to understand this Living Water Jesus talks about? How do we recognize, and grasp onto, encounters with the Holy? What is solid about… what do we hold onto… in the interconnectedness of our beings? I with you, you with me, God with us, with our community—bound to the earth and all the things around us? 

I can understand weaving, and threads intertwining. I can envision God’ holy, diverse Tapestry of Love. But Living Water? Just how do we grasp the flowing give and take of what we get, what we give… and what we receive?

It is here that we pause and witness this Jesus—hot, tired, and sweaty. A wandering rabbi and healer sitting on the ground, in the dust, alongside a well in the heat of the midday desert sun. It is from there that he stands up as the unnamed woman trudges along with her water-jar on her head. It is there that Jesus says, “Give me a drink.”

Wait. What? What was her response? Had she seen Jesus as she walked up to the well? Or had she been lost in her own thoughts? Or was she surprised by the sudden appearance of a stranger? Had her heart to raced with fear? Had she kept her eyes down as she approached, trying to avoid a conversation? Or, had she been resigned to the fact that as a woman, and as a Samaritan, this foreign man would be so full of disdain for her that he would not engage?

Jesus spoke. To her. What? This was an unexpected, impossible possibility.

I can tell you that this story, this conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, is the reason that I am a pastor today. I have shared with you bits and pieces of my own call story. How I had this specific call moment, and how for years I was all too like the prophet Jonah (of Jonah and the whale)—sensing God’s poking and prodding in my life to serve the church—but running every direction away from becoming a pastor.

What was God thinking? For most of my adult life (OK, all of it) I had not been very “church.” I loved engaging with various faith traditions and worship services, but I didn’t belong anywhere. When this God Stuff popped up in my life, I sought out a range of options… pretty much anything other than Christianity. I must admit that there were parts of the New Testament that I questioned to no end. Yet God and this restlessness stirring in my soul caused me to do something. So, I checked out Reformed Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, and Zen Buddhism. I worshiped. I learned. I appreciated. But yet… there was this push and pull by the Holy to… To connect with Jesus.

Resigned to figuring out where this God Stuff was leading, I once again stumbled across the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Suddenly, deeply, the narrative spoke to me. In many ways, I was this woman. OK, so maybe not the “many husbands” part, but that to me is not the point of the story. It was this encounter, this conversation, that should not be.

Jesus should not have been talking to her. Culture, religion, patriarchy, all meant that Jesus should have avoided her. And Jesus… God… should not have been talking to me. I mean, really God. I was not church. I was definitely “spiritual… but not religious.” I asked (and still ask) a lot of questions. All. Of. The. Time. And yet in this story, Jesus stopped—to talk to me.

Suddenly I realized that Jesus was OK with me asking questions. He proved it by talking to this woman at the well that he should not have been talking to. Discussing the theology of Living Water. The Divine Spirit flowing through all things. All of us. Meeting me where I was at in my faith journey. It was OK that I was uncertain. It was OK to question those parts of the Bible that didn’t sit well in my lived experiences and who God is for me.

Maybe THIS is how water gets woven. Maybe it is these transformational moments, in which we don’t just receive water… but accept the water. The Spirit poured out in our midst.

Belden Lane writes that, “Our problem is that we’ve bought into a dualistic worldview that strictly distinguishes human rationality from the rest of an embodied creation. This dual way of thinking cuts against the conviction of indigenous peoples—and the biblical traditions as well—that creation is a seamless whole. All of it is sacred…”1

All of it is sacred. And Jesus is OK with it. OK with you. OK with me. OK with our faithfulness and our questions. Our joys and imperfections. Jesus meets us in those places where our well has run dry. THAT is where we connect. Come and see.

There is a tendency to hang onto our rational self and the way of our corporate, consumer driven world. We like to measure things. We like to measure our interconnectedness, but how do we do that? In the institutional Church over the past 70+ years, we have used numbers to define how we are “living.”  We count the numbers of members, the number of pledges, the numbers of people in worship. These are all measurements—but just exactly what do those numbers measure? How do they (or do they) measure the spiritual health of a congregation?

The Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the President and Minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC), encourages us to move away from using membership numbers, attendance, and financial giving as our standards. Instead, he advocates measuring “touches.” Not physical touches, but how many people do we “touch” with our ministries, our showing up, each week? Over the course of the year? Each year, the UCC sends our church an annual report to fill out. Yes, it asks for membership and attendance information, but it also asks for: How many people were INSIDE your church building… for activities other than worship? Think committee meetings, bible study, youth activities, Music Makers, the Bell Choir, pastoral care visits, the Fitchburg clergy prayer group which met here, and people who stopped int to drop off items for the upcoming Silent Auction.

And then, how many people did members and friends of the church “touch” through service and advocacy OUTSIDE of the building? This past week, over 25 people from Memorial took part in the CROP, the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund “touched” 2 people in need of rental assistance, our FaceBook prayers, events, and ministries reached nearly 400 people, others helped out at the Good Neighbors Personal Essentials Pantry, and on Friday evening I showed up with other faith leaders at Temple Beth El for their Shabbat service to remember the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania a year ago. I am certain that many of you showed up in other places in our community as well.

Touching lives. THIS is how Living Water is measured. THIS is how we impact each other. Impact lives.

And THIS is how water gets woven. Through the transformational moments, those relational encounters in which we don’t just receive Living Water… but accept the water… and share the water. When we take God’s Good News out and beyond worship, beyond the numbers, and into the world saying, “Come and see.”

THIS is how the Spirit is poured out in our midst.

I love that our theme for this year’s stewardship campaign does just that: It offers us another way to “measure” this church’s impact on our community.

Because of you, this church changes lives… through music, children, local outreach, and social justice advocacy.

So what about those “touches”? How has this church “touched,” or blessed you in the past week? Would you be open to sharing your story?

People in worship had an opportunity to respond. One person talked about the UCC’s ministry at Lakeland University and the impact Lakeland has on lives. Another shared how Memorial’s food ministry to their family over the past week had been appreciated in a challenging time in their lives. Someone else noted that when asked to help with a ministry this week, it was “nice to feel needed.”

This beloved, is God’s Living water, poured out for all. These are the ways in which we come together, and creation understood as a seamless whole. Woven together. All of it sacred.

It is because of you that God’s impossible vision for creation becomes possible.

It is because of you, that this church changes lives.

You, each and every one of you, is an important thread in this faith community.

And to that I say, Amen.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on John 4:1-19 offered October 27, 2019

[1] Lane, Belden C. The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019. 21.