A homily by the Rev. AJ Buckley at Prince of Peace, Salem, on March 19, 2017. Originally posted on https://revsrajbuckley.wordpress.com/
I understand the psalmist when they plead that we not “harden our hearts as our forebears did in the wilderness.”
I understand the woman at the well who says to Jesus, but “Sir, the well is deep and you have no bucket.”
In these cries, I hear the cries of the people at women’s marches, and the fears and worries of people on social media, and in my own life. Because it’s so easy to find our fleshy hearts covered over with stone when we fear. It’s so easy to wonder “Is the Lord among us or not?” when we fear. It’s so easy to see the task as monumental and feeling as if we lack that means to accomplish it, like the woman who stated, “Sir, the well is deep and you have no bucket.”
The things that fill the well can feel endless. People without water. People without food. People without homes. Animals endangered and going extinct. Pollution. Global Climate Change. LGBTQ rights. Women’s rights. Raising the minimum wage. Rising costs and plummeting wages and jobs. Peace in Syria. Peace in Israel. Being able to walk down the street holding hands with the one you love no matter what. Bullying and mental illness. Abuse and addiction. Feeling lost and abandoned. Feeling not “enough.” All these things and more. The well seems to be getting deeper and deeper and it’s understandable to feel like, here we are, standing there with no bucket, and a whole lot of thirst.
Thirst for change, thirst for justice, thirst for love to win the day, thirst for peace, thirst for equality. Our thirst grows, and there’s that fearful part of us that wonders, “Is the Lord among us or not?” There’s that fearful part of us that if we don’t speak about it, slowly hardens our hearts.
It can be especially hard for the marginalized to feel they’ve got no voice like the woman at the well. One of the, in modern parlance, “nasty women.” And a foreigner at that; they shouldn’t even have been talking to each other with her being a Samaritan and Jesus being a Jew. And most people when they see this passage will see this woman as a whore, a prostitute, that she did something wrong in order to have had five husbands. The judgment all falls on her, wrongly so. We don’t know her story, we just know that when Jesus sees her, sees all of her, he loves her and welcomes her. Nevertheless, she, like Elizabeth Warren, in the Senate, persisted. When Jesus sees all of you, the parts that you may try to keep secret because of shame or fear that if others only knew, if they knew then they would not love you…..you are loved, you are cherished. It is the hiding of these things that causes our heart to harden, and fear to win the day. My Lenten practice this year has been to post everyday with a #livingconfessionally post. Each day I post something that I struggle with, that I’ve hidden in the past, to create community, so that others know they’re not alone, and are no longer isolated and struggling alone. It’s been terrifying, difficult, and beautiful. Sometimes to hear a “me, too” means the world of difference. I thought the well was too deep, and I didn’t think I had the bucket, but it turns out there is no well too deep if we work together, if we’re no longer isolated, if we figure it out as a community. There is no well too deep when we have Jesus. The well often still feels too deep. I often struggle not having a bucket. My heart threatens to harden and my soul wants to cry out “Is the Lord among us or not?” And, sure enough, the answer somehow comes back yes. Maybe in ways I hadn’t imagined. Maybe in ways that don’t leave me feeling more hopeful or less exhausted or less scared. I think Rebecca Solnit puts it beautifully well in her book, “Hope in the Dark”: “I say all this because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”
This is what couldn’t be taken from the woman at the well. Hope.
This is what the psalmist held on to with dear life. Hope.
This is what the Israelites held onto in the desert, when they were scared and tired, and thirsty and wondering if their freedom was all for naught. Hope.
I’ve been pondering how different the church might be if instead of responding “oh, well, we couldn’t possibly…” To “we’re scared but we’re with you.” What would our life look like, if we dropped our bucket with abandon, and ran to tell others about the story of Jesus, about the Good News of the Gospel. Not because it’s easy, for the gospel certainly isn’t easy, but because hope can spring from its fruits. Maybe because the future needs people willing to risk, even when they’re scared, to have courage, even when they’d rather run and let someone else deal with it.
Because we’re it.
We are the light to the world that’s sometimes dark and terrifying.
We are the living water to a world that’s thirsty.
We are bread to a world that’s hungry.
Next time we’re faced with a challenge in our lives, might we throw our buckets to the ground with abandon, and say “we’re scared, but we’re with you.”