Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
“But I’m a creep.
I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here ….”
So sings one of the alternative rock anthems of my youth, a song called “Creep,”
by the massively successful but never quite mainstream band Radiohead.
“I don’t belong here,” they sing.
How do we determine who belongs anywhere?
How do we determine who does not belong?
And more – what does it say about a generation, my generation, Generation X,
when one of its defining songs laments not belonging here … or anywhere?
Yesterday I ran a race. A long race. A 26.2 mile race.
And I have to tell you – I’m not sure I belonged there.
And I especially wasn’t sure about belonging there while running uphill
somewhere around mile 23.
Of the thousands of runners who signed up for the half marathon and the marathon,
most were much more experienced than I was.
Most were much more fit than I was.
Most, let’s admit it, had bodies that just plain looked much better than mine.
Of the 3989 people pre-registered for the marathon,
only 166 signed up for the “overweight” race classes.
For the men they call us the Clydesdales, and for the women they’re called the Athenas.
Yes, these are real race classes …
I didn’t really have any business running this race.
I’m not sure I belonged there.
My childhood home was in a white, middle class neighborhood just outside of Philadelphia,
not unlike Arlington, in fact.
Just a mile or so from my house,
City Line Avenue formed a border between my neighborhood and West Philadelphia.
When African Americans would drive through the township,
the all-white police force would get on the radio and, in code,
signal to other officers that a black man was driving through.
This was in the 1980s.
These drivers would be followed through the township,
and sometimes stopped for no other reason than being black.
“They” didn’t belong there.
Last weekend the youth went on a trip to an event called “Shekinah,”
which is a gathering of Lutheran youth from around the DC area.
It was a fun weekend of making new friends and spending time with old friends;
of praying and playing, sharing Bible study and worship in new ways,
of singing songs and knocking on walls to the cute girls in the room next door.
Upon driving home, one of our kids told me,
“Pastor Chris, don’t tell my parents that I had a good time. They might make me go again.”
I suspect that this kid didn’t feel like he belonged on a church trip …
But, of course, he did belong.
Who belongs? Who belongs here? Who belongs anywhere?
Today’s Gospel is a study in belonging.
Jesus, a Jew, finds himself in Sychar, a Samaritan town,
where he meets a woman at a well, and asks her for a drink.
But the problem is that Jesus doesn’t belong there.
St John, who wrote down today’s Gospel,
plays out this question of belonging
through the way he records the woman’s comments in verses 9 and 20,
and also his own editorial comment at the end of verse 9.
In short, Jews and Samaritans did not mix.
They did not live together. They did not break bread together.
They did not respect each other.
They didn’t belong together … or so they told themselves.
Today’s Gospel takes place entirely within that framework –
St John himself presents the story in this way,
and we can’t avoid it.
Two people who don’t belong together are there, together,
talking at the well.
And Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh,
by nature of his divinity doesn’t really belong on earth
hanging out with us sinful, broken, unclean, and certainly not divine people.
But he’s here anyway, here at the well,
crossing all kinds of lines that define social propriety
for men and women, Jews and Samaritans.
He’s crossing these lines to reveal himself
as the font of living water for Jews and Samaritans alike, indeed, for all people …
And in so doing Jesus re-defines what it means to belong.
You see, the Samaritan woman engages in a wonderful back-and-forth banter with Jesus,
ultimately pushing Jesus on the question of where to worship,
the defining point of contention between Jews and Samaritans.
And this is very important,
because I’m going to suggest that worship is an experience of belonging
– to a community and to a God.
And if worship is an experience in belonging,
then this question about where to worship is ultimately a question about belonging,
her question at the well is a question about who belongs to who,
and about the God to whom we belong.
It is in his response to this question about worship
that we understand belonging in the eyes of God –
the where of worship, a construct that ultimately divides,
is not central to our identity as people who belong to God.
Speaking of the blessed future of God’s Kingdom, which we already see now in Jesus,
Jesus says that we will worship God not on the mountain at Sychar nor in Jerusalem,
neither in the precise manner of the Samaritans nor strictly in the manner of the Jews
nor, by extension, in any of the other narrow boxes of faith and worship
we’ve constructed for ourselves over the centuries …
But instead, ultimately, we will worship God in spirit and truth.
The worship that God desires is done in spirit and truth,
which are accessible and given to all people
without geographic or ethnic or religious boundaries …
This, then, redraws the map of religious faith and of human community.
Indeed, in these words Jesus redefines basic notions of belonging – to God and to each other.
In his response to the woman at the well,
Jesus invites her to drink of a living water that is freely given,
without restraint, to all who thirst.
All who thirst now belong, no matter where they stand or who their ancestors were …
Belonging, now, is a function of thirst.
Jesus, the living water,
found himself among a thirsty people, and so he stayed there. For two days.
He belonged there with them, and they with him.
Samaritans and Jews. Together.
Thirsty people and living water. Together.
God in flesh, and God’s people. Together.
The theme of this sermon is belonging,
because questions of belonging, I believe, are front-and-center in this story, and
because I believe that questions of belonging are front-and-center today
in our church and society, as well.
We’re a fractured society, and we’re a fractured church.
We all lock our doors and don’t know our neighbors
and spend more time online than on the porch talking with neighbors.
We split into micro groups, into affinity groups
of people who share our same thoughts and perspectives and beliefs,
and we don’t often venture to reach beyond those comfortable, familiar boundaries.
Even in our congregation, our various groups –
from the Sunday School families to the seniors to the choir to the circl
who all do great things that contribute to our shared ministry,
nonetheless often operate like silos, rather than an integrated whole.
And within the broader church,
we Lutherans here at 6201 Washington Blvd
hardly know a soul down at the Episcopal Church in Westover,
at 1132 N Ivanhoe Street …
Yet the Lutherans and the Episcopalians are in full communion.
We share so much in terms of our teachings and our liturgy
and the ways in which we live into and express the Gospel,
and yet, we’re practically strangers to each other,
in our own neighborhood, in our own faith …
In church as well as in society, we don’t know each other,
we don’t feel that we belong to each other.
And this is not just what I see – it’s what I hear you all saying.
Many of you tell me how you feel that our church is disconnected
along age and interest groups,
or that you’re struggling with the seemingly petty issues
that often divide churches and congregations and, as a result,
sometimes causes distress to your families
when it comes time for family baptisms, funerals, or weddings.
Some of you tell me that you want to cross boundaries of social or economic lines,
in love for and fellowship with others,
so that we might live more faithfully in the way God would have us live,
but you’re not quite sure how to do it …
Why not? Because we don’t feel that we belong to each other.
I don’t belong here, the song sings.
They don’t belong here, the cop in my hometown says.
We don’t belong together, is what we ultimately come to believe.
But we do belong together, dear sisters and brothers.
We belong together, not just we who are under this roof this morning,
but especially we belong to those who are not under this roof.
We belong to those who are in bed right now,
those who are working at Starbucks right now
those who are in other churches right now,
those who are suffering right now,
those who are dying right now,
those who are quite different than us in creed and deed,
we belong to them.
We belong to them, because we all belong to Jesus,
the whole stinkin’ world belongs to our Lord!
Them and us, belonging,
creating no longer a “them and us,” and an “us and them,”
but creating one type of people – thirsty people.
We are all thirsty people, and there is one source of living water – our Lord Jesus.
May we here who are thirsty come to the table and drink of the cup,
seeking solidarity with all others who are thirsty –
thirsty for God, thirsty for justice, thirsty for peace, thirsty for happiness,
thirsty for an abundant life, or thirsty simply for an adequate life …
May we who are thirsty seek solidarity with all who are thirsty,
because we all belong together. And we all belong to God,
who pours out for all a living water.