March 19, 2017 / IN THE ABSENCE - FASTING / Sara Wolbrecht / John 4:5-15 (The Message)
Last week – if you were here then you were a part of our conversation about the practice of wearing skin. Being in our bodies. We named and celebrated our bodies as good and sacred, and how our lived, embodied lives, including our sexuality, are not separate from our spiritual lives, but instead God invites us to be uncompromisingly whole people.
We each named two places in our bodies – first, a place in our bodies where we cry out for help, and then a place we celebrate and say thanks. And we wrote it on this body. Then we moved it here, and held those hard and good things about our body in light of all the expectations that are projected onto us, and how even and especially then – good is the flesh we live in.
And the text we looked at last week was from the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel, (John is my favorite of Jesus’ biographies because there are so many layers to what we read). And we heard a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, the well-known Jewish leader.
And today’s text is just a few verses later in John chapter 4, a passage known as the Samaritan woman at the well. As we get into this I invite you to hang on to your golden/brass fruit or other food item you acquired on the way in. And to hold it, be mindful of it, as we move through our time together today.
And I invite you to also be mindful of the text from last week – Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. There are ways that it is similar to today’s reading – we’ll name it later, but I wonder if you will pick up on it on your own.
Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. To give you a summary of story: Jesus and his disciples, on their way through the region of Samaria, Jesus finds himself alone at Jacob’s well (which is still there today) in the heat of the day, while the disciples head into town to get lunch. Along comes a woman - a Samaritan woman.
Three things we should know about this situation that are scandalous. First, good, pious, Jewish men (Jesus is one) do not spend time alone with women. Second, Jews don’t talk to – or have anything to do with – Samaritans. They’d especially not share a drinking vessel with them – and yet Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. And third – this woman is obviously trouble – or at the least a bad character. This well is where women would go to draw water – that’s normal. What’s not normal is that it would be done at noon. In the dessert, when the sun is the hottest (done at dawn or evening). But someone would come to the well to get water at noon if they did not want to be seen by the other women. If they wanted to avoid criticism – criticism for the immoral life they were living.
So at first read, this sounds like a nice conversation between Jesus and a woman. But there is – as always – so much more going on – and I wanted us to have that in our awareness. In this scene – Jesus is breaking all the rules. Again.
Their conversation starts with water – which we’ll read, and then we’ll stop. If we were to keep reading, Jesus reveals how he knows that she has had five husbands – and the man she is with is not her husband. (The disciples return and are shocked to see Jesus talking with her. And they try to force him to eat because surely he must be hungry). Jesus’ insight into who she is becomes a moment of transformation and belief for the Samaritan woman, as she leaves her water jug and goes to tell others that Jesus must be the Messiah. The town comes back with her to see, many come to also believe Jesus is the Messiah.
We hear the first portion of this larger story. As we do, I invite us to listen, picture it, with the painting, “Woman at the Well,” by contemporary Utah-based painter, J. Kirk Richards.
John 4:5-15 (The Message)
Jesus came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
Their conversation continues, but we stop here for today, to move into one piece for us to grab hold of. And it is this: did you hear how Jesus offers the Samaritan woman “living water.” “Living water” – sounds like a very Jesusy phrase, but is actually a regular phrase people used in Jesus’ world for what we call “running” water – water in a stream or river, rather than water in a pool or well, water that’s more likely to be fresh and clean than water that has been standing around. That’s living water.
But of course, we know that Jesus isn’t just talking about fresh water – he is using the phrase to convey deeper meaning. Which is similar to Jesus’ conversation with the powerful leader Nicodemus, from last week. Did you hear the resonance? How both Nicodemus and the woman at the well, both of them are a bit – lost. They don’t quite understand what Jesus is talking about. With Nicodemus, it was Jesus saying – hey, you need to be born again, born from above, and Nicodemus says, hey I can’t climb back into my mom’s body and be born a second time! And with the woman here, when Jesus says he has living water to offer her, she says – Um, yeah right, you didn’t even bring your own bucket. Nice try. In both conversations, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman miss the deeper meaning.
This is a conversation – between Jesus and a Samaritan woman – this is a conversation about water – but it’s also not about water. Jesus is using water to describe the kind of boundless, life-giving life that is available through him. And the thing is, for us, today, why this matters – is not only because we can hear Jesus speaking these words to us, too – but I think we have interactions with God all the time like this one. Where through the regular stuff of our lives – there are these invitations into something deeper within the regular stuff of our lives. Opportunities, where we can feel the heartbeat of God.
I invite you to find your heartbeat again. Last week we named, celebrated how our bodies are a place where we can experience the heartbeat of God. And today, we name how that carries into our lived experience with the stuff of our lives. The stuff of our lives – water, bread, our phones, our homes, our clothes – can point us to God.
And there is so much to say about that, but for today, the conversation we need to have about how God meets us in our stuff, is actually in naming how God meets us when our stuff is absent. When we actually choose to be without water and find ourselves thirsty. Or choosing to be hungry. When we’re not consuming something. In that space that is made in us when we choose to be without the stuff, we enter into a place where it’s about water, but it’s also not about water. How, it’s about how hungry we feel – but it’s also not about how hungry we feel. Something happens in the space we allow, that silence, that hunger, that thirst – there is something for us to find in the ceasing.
Which is why on our Lenten journey of prayer, today and this week’s practice is fasting. Do you consider fasting to be a practice of prayer? Have you ever fasted from food? Fasted from something else? Fasting is most often described as the practice of skipping meals. Not eating.
And today we invite each other into the practice of fasting. So the question you, and only you can answer – and that you are invited to ask today is, what might it look like for you to fast this week? Hold that question as I fill out the picture a little more as what that might look like. I really appreciate how Justin breaks it down. Justin, in today’s practice in our Lenten book (first part), p.46.
So the first possible consideration – what day might you give up a meal, or coffee, or not eat until dinner time – and use that time (when you would be eating) for prayer and reflection AND give away the money you saved to folks who need it. That’s a series of possible scenarios.
The second consideration is this – (more P. 46). So another way to fast is to give up something else that you consume – to turn off the TV or Netflix with intention. To log off social media. To turn off the ringer on your phone. To not check email every 10 minutes.
Of these two questions, I think the key to answering the question of fasting this week is to pay attention to what we consume. To consume, means, by definition: to eat, drink, ingest, buy, use. We are “consumers” in so many ways. We do consume food, water, coffee, beer – so much that our body needs to flourish – the vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber. And we take into our body, we consume so many other things – music, visual art, sports we play or watch, what we read, what we watch, what we buy, we acquire. We digest things – in many ways. What comes to mind for you – what are the things you regularly consume?
It is in these places of consumption, that we can make room to experience the heartbeat of God. And here’s why. Justin, in our reading for today, shares a fabulous reflection about rolls of toilet paper. And what he says – and you’ll have to read it to get the full story – what he says that breaks this whole thing open, is this, p. 45.
(Read from book) “Skipping meals may seem only loosely associated with the practical, daily occurrences of life. But I have found that voluntarily and regularly removing a comfort from my life readies my heart to make more urgent, everyday sacrifices when they are called for.
…Prayer and fasting can seem divorced from normal life, but the posture I learn to live in, particularly as I voluntarily give up my own comforts, prepare me to give myself away when the time comes to do so.” P. 45
And that’s it, right? The posture of voluntarily giving up our own comfort, prepares us for, builds the muscle memory for giving ourselves away when the time comes to do so. It readies our heart. It is a practice, that gets us ready.
What is a comfort you could give up for a while this week? This is ultimately a question of sacrifice – what will you choose to fast from this week for the sake of practicing the posture of sacrifice?
We’ve said it here at Salt House that we want to be a school for learning how to love. And until today, until wrestling through what to cover today about fasting – I had never put together how fasting actually teaches me how to live with greater sacrifice – which means living with greater love.
Which means – it is in the very place of sacrifice in our lives, that we hear the consistent, rhythmic, resounding heartbeat of God. Because fasting is about food, but it is also not about food. It’s about logging off social media, but it’s also not about logging off. In our discomfort, Jesus invites us into the heartbeat and life of God.
As you sit, considering what commitment to make this week, I invite you to continue holding your golden piece of food you acquired on your way in (we’ll get to those again in a moment), hold it as we turn to our song of response. We typically sing now, after the sermon, making room to listen for God, to pray, to sing. So as the band comes back up, as a practice of fasting, we’ll use these next five minutes for silence, for fasting from song. Because – to be silent can be really hard and uncomfortable for many of us – and a great way to begin the practice of sacrifice. Let’s pray.