Places I remember

Mar. 19, 2017

Ex. 17.1-7; Ro. 5.1-11; Jn 4.5-42

The times and places where we have stood nose to nose with God are holy places. It's common for pilgrims throughout history to have made "pilgrimages" to such sanctified places, but they're just ordinary places that have become extraordinary because of the presence of God infused in them. To visit and stand in such places is a coveted experience, but no human being could possibly visit all of them...there are far too many.

At Mt. Horeb, God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Even before Moses, the mountain had long been declared a place where God lived. And later in OT history out in the desert, Jacob marked the place where he wrestled with an angel by building a column of stones so as not to forget. And by remembering and marking it, he'd be able to come back and recall the wonder and awe of being nose to nose with God. It's how we discover who we are!

In holy place there's a lingering presence--long after the events that marked it as holy. It's as if what happened there stays there. It's like someone's signature perfume or cologne lingering in a room or on clothing...something remains. I remember my first experience of this...it wasn't in some exotic foreign place, but in a church where my Boy Scout troop met and we were playing hide and seek and although the church was supposed to be off-limits for hiding, when I went in that night seeking one of my compadr├ęs, instead I came nose to nose with God. Likewise, the narrow pathway of the Via Delarosa where Jesus struggled under the weight of his cross going to Calvary... it's as if the very stones themselves had soaked up the blood and the sweat that fell from his wounded body and they still remain, not just in memory, but in reality.

In the gospel story today, when Jesus met this Samaritan woman at the ancestral well of Jacob...it was already a place in history. Just as the water is still there in the well today, the remnants of this story, still remains for us as a source of inspiration and guidance.

We can tell from what the gospel story mentions that this woman had some history too...and it wasn't good! Whereas everyone else carried their water early in the day to avoid the heat and to participate in the ruckus gatherings of others doing the same, it was, no doubt, a time of chatter and cavorting among the assembled women...but there was this woman who was coming at noon...the hottest part of the day...to probably avoid running into the derision and judgment of others. This woman who had been in so many broken relationships is definitely a person with a lot of issues! She had no idea who she was...she was a person on the run. It reminds me of the very well known singer, movie actor, and big time star who went to see his mother in the nursing home. Even the mention of his name brought, "Oh, wow!" But when he met his mother's best friend at the nursing home...she didn't explode with admiration when introduced to him. He said, "Do you know who I am?" She looked befuddled so he repeated, "Mam, do you know who I am?" She very sheepishly said, "No, I'm sorry, I don't. But in here when we forget, we go to the nurse's station and they'll gladly tell you."

So, the woman at the well was surprised by the presence of a man, and one who even engaged her in conversation...she retreated into a game of hide and seek with Jesus by trying to divert the focus away from her (that is, why she was there at that uncomfortable hour). And so she threw out a popular debating point to change the subject...We all do the same thing, if there's something that we'd rather not talk about, we often bring up politics or religion. The antipathy between Samaritans and Jews went back to the time when the northern kingdom after King Solomon separated from the southern kingdom. And when the northern kingdom of Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians, from Jerusalem's viewpoint, it became polluted by the intermingling with all those Assyrian heathen. So, she brought up religion and politics and said, "Sir, I can tell that you are a prophet...where's the best place to worship? Here or in Jerusalem?" But her defenses were overwhelmed when she finally recognized that this was no common man like the men she'd known. She went out to tell the very people who'd put her down, "He told me everything I have ever done".

God was present in that holy place. That's what this woman experienced and it allowed her to come face to face with God and put her life in perspective. The medieval theologian Duns Scotus called these God experiences the discovery of..."thisness". They point to God. THIS is what happens when we came nose to nose with God. No matter what you deal with in your life...THIS encounter with God makes us realize the truth of St Paul's words in Romans today, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for" us. Just as God brought water from the rock when Moses struck it, and God met the troubled woman at the well, God says "THIS" is what it's about. We can come face to face with God and discover just how important we are...as God sanctifies us and helps us to see who we really are. AMEN.


The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS 03/19/17