15th March 2020
By the Revd Roy Lowes
Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42
Warning, before the end of this sermon I might mention toilet paper, like warning about scenes that viewers might find disturbing or flashing lights.
These readings and coronavirus are about things that are fundamental. Jesus pushes down beneath our divisions to our common humanity much as does the coronavirus!! He pushed down to such things as that we die, are often vulnerable and in wilderness situations.
For much of our life though we rather play that down. Consciously and unconsciously. We don't fully realise how old we have got, imagine we can do what we could when much younger, distract ourselves by plans or Soaps or addiction to food, drink, keeping up with the joneses, reading Hello magazine, catching up on Hollywood gossip or whatever.......
Often these distractions involve us as people, communities or nations in feeling ourselves better than others. The way we do things is best, Our family, our nation, our religion, our political party, the part of the country we came from, our church, our football team etc. etc. This embeds in human society a certain rivalry which becomes exposed in times of stress. And stress comes when we face the fundamental vulnerability of our lives.
The Hebrews in the wilderness who have been given freedom become quarrelsome and distrustful of the leaders who have brought them that very freedom. They are fearful. They don't like not having even the familiarity of slaves where at least they had food and water - here in the desolate wilderness faced with the forceful reality of the frailty of their human lives they become quarrelsome.
As we face the outbreak of coronavirus let us hope that quarrelsomeness does not break out amongst us - though panic buying already has(!) - but there is always that danger. For we are frightened! It is said that the financial markets are driven by greed or fear. At the minute they are being driven by fear.
But our readings remind us that it is often in these existential situations that something vital and essential in our lives can be touched. In the story of the Samaritan woman we note these things:
1. Jesus is in need, He is thirst
2. He does not let the sort of human distractions with tribal loyalty, hierarchy, group loyalty, community rivalry intervene. This is a woman, a Samaritan and sinner. He is a rabbi and Jew and a man. It is not that he dares to speak to her. He acts as on a level with her. He asks for her help. His needs and his valuing of her as a person eradicates the normal social rivalries.
3. If anything positive can come out of this coronavirus it might be that common need and vulnerability across all human societies,nations, cultures, sexes, races falls away in face of common humanities' predicament.
4. And the story is full of honesty. The woman tells the truth and is not fearful of it. This is who she is. She admits he is a Jew and even sees some priority in Jerusalem over the Samaritan temple but Jesus actually says they will all become nothing! All religion is just a structure trying to get us to live in honesty, facing our frailty and daring to love through it.
And in the wilderness the water is found. The place in Sinai where they meet God later on is the place where despite its appearance, they find water.
Whilst this virus is a worrying and real threat, such a moment as this, like wars and other disasters, whilst never welcome, has the capacity to reset our values and priorities. Like the end of the last two world wars (which made society resolve that they be the wars that ended all wars and for nations to be united to work for peace in the 'United Nations') might this virus, like the climate change emergency, help us to work together better. To understand more forcefully our vulnerable humanity and work for the better good of all rather than building our rival empires. Might it help us build financial markets not just working on fear or greed!
Already in is forcing us to reduce carbon emissions in a way that before the coronavirus we were not willing to do.....
A real problem humans have is not so much how to cope with disasters but how to stay in touch with the lessons of disasters when things are going alright!!
Part of the lesson of our readings is that it points us away from things we commonly rely on. The structures of our faiths (Jesus the Jew, the woman a Samaritan) the evidence we seek for things (get God to make water appear) and rather points as Jesus says to live in spirit and truth.
He speaks with her as a person (that she is a Samaritan is irrelevant) and as if there was some interior self that is the source of our 'well' being! He praises her honesty. He says religion itself (Samaria and Jerusalem) will be irrelevant. What matters is spirit and truth. It's about internal (food) resource. It's authentic life that they recognise. Jesus is the new Jacob renewing his people. But it is a foreign, female, frayed, unmarried so not legally partnered person who sees better than even the wise Jew, Nicodemus who he had recently met. And through her a new community is born.
Jesus applauds the woman's connection with the fundamental matters of life including death and frailty, with a real honesty all the time.
The word fundament of course has two meanings! It means the essential basic principle note or issue. But it can also refer to the human body, to our posteriors! Which brings me to the toilet roll matter! Like the Hebrews in the wilderness panicking over water (which is an essential matter) - we are now panicking over toilet rolls. Both are important of course.
But the panic might indicate that we are not in times of quiet and peace as in touch with the truth of ourselves and our lives, the reassurances in our inner selves and spirituality, the truth of our existence - as we ought to be. Let us hope not only that our governments help us to cope with this disaster as well as possible but that those who come through it are better at living more by spirit and truth.
March 15th, 2020