March 23, 2014

Church of Peace, United Church of Christ

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

John 4: 5-42

To See and Be Seen and Proclaim

In the musical Rent[1] there’s a duet called “Tango Maureen” which is performed by Mark and Joanne, two characters who have in common the character Maureen. Mark is her ex and Joanne is her current partner, so you can imagine why Mark and Joanne are comparing notes. What is brilliant about this scene is the way these two express the dynamic of intimacy and distance through a tango. Their dance tells you more about their relationship with her than the actual information they share through the song lyrics. You get whisked into the rhythm so you can feel the pulsing tension in your own body.

Now their romantic drama is not our story this morning. Every time I hear the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman meeting at the well, I can’t help but hear the syncopated rhythm of the tango accompanying their encounter. Right from the beginning, why is Jesus hanging out at a well, the place where women gather — like a club where people come to see and be seen? And why does she come in the middle of the day when the other women won’t be there? It’s as though they’re both up to something.

The whole exchange is charged with tension —sexually, politically, socially. “How is it that you a Jew ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” “If you knew who was asking, he would give you living water.” Later Jesus calls her out on not having any husband. Without missing a beat, she fires back with a sophisticated  theological accusation: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but all of you say the place of worship is Jerusalem.” Can’t you just see these two pulling in close to each other with an impeccably-timed twirl, then pulling apart. Hear the sizzle and the clap.

Jesus tells her, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman says, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

Jesus replies, “I am.” Remember our God is called I am.

Their conversation gets progressively more intense and vulnerable, and it doesn’t turn into a fight; it doesn’t even get sleazy or lewd. What happens is Jesus begins to see her for who she really is. At the same time, she begins to recognize him. Neither of them is accustomed to being found out —their covers are blown. In spirit and in truth, they see each other, and extraordinarily they are seen, each of them. Unflinching and exposed, they face each other with the claim that goes, Look, here I am. Then maybe he drops her into a dip and she does a spin under his arm.

If you have ever tried to discern the will of God, I think you might understand this dance. Sometimes there are poignant moments of lightness and clarity. You feel yourself pull in close to the Lord, and your heel comes down on the cusp of the beat, and your very breath matches the breath of God…

And then there are times. You pray and pray, and all you can feel is the stressful space apart. You hear back silence, and you hold your breath. Like a dance, discernment is give and take —some part of it is yours to do, some part of it is up to God. And in all of it, we see the truth of God’s love and we get seen ourselves. Look, here I am.

It is a moment of intimacy and promise shared by the Samaritan woman and Jesus, and it is a moment I think we can understand. But then in our story, this happens! The disciples show up and they know they just walked in on something. You’d think she would turn and go home in shame, or you’d think Jesus would speak up and explain the situation. But these two have been changed by their encounter. So the woman does this. She goes back to the city from which she had been hiding and she says the three words that change everything: Come and see.

“Come and see” is a phrase uttered several times throughout the Fourth Gospel. Jesus says “Come and see” to his first disciples, and later when Lazarus dies and Jesus is weeping, the people tell him to come and see where they laid him. In every case, “Come and see” means more than “Over here, look at this thing I found!” In every case, “Come and see” is an invitation to begin a new relationship, the kind that will change your whole life and our whole world.

Notice the timing. “Come and see” is what gets said before everything is made clear. In our story, the woman doesn’t preach a sermon, she asks a question. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” We don’t see everything from our vantage point, I don’t know if we ever can. Yet, even here, before she is certain, before things are clear, already we learn to say the words that make all the difference. Come and see.

In just a few minutes, we will sit around the tables downstairs ready to see possibilities for Church of Peace to bring to life God’s vision in this community. Friends, I know how we work. I know it could be easy for us to dive into the work, to begin identifying action projects, naming examples, and making plans. Look, there are gifted strategic planners in our midst. Thank God.

But please remember. This is work that takes discernment; make your breathing match up with the rhythm of the Holy Spirit. In your conversation downstairs, if you feel that thrill that makes you feel like you’re dancing, rejoice in that; pay attention to that. If you need to actually get up and do some dancing, that is just fine too. All of our discernment could use more dancing.

In my own work of discernment, there are times when I find myself getting impatient and circling around the question: “God, what is your purpose for my life?” Maybe you know this prayer yourself. It is a question we can circle around for a long time, and it’s not the worst question in the world, but you know, it’s not the best one either.

It’s kind of like one of those optical brainteasers where you keep looking and looking, trying to spot the mistake or find the hidden image, but the harder you focus on the same spot, the less you really see. If you ever find yourself asking too hard, “What is my purpose!” you might try adding this prayer, “God, what is your dream for our world? How do we see with your relentless hope, with your concern for those in need?” Instead of the demand to show me what I want to see, we could pray that God’s vision will transform our vision.

This morning as we are discerning together, I invite you to remember the woman in our story whose life was changed by seeing our savior. Soon we will hear each of the fourteen proposals and together we’ll ask, How can Church of Peace put this into action? We might also try this. We might ask, “How do we see the presence of Christ in this?” Because when we answer this, I’m pretty sure we’ll see exactly what our church could do. Then oh my friends we cannot help it. We will go into the Longview neighborhood, and the Quad Cities, and beyond…  We will be a people who proclaim the words that keep changing the world: Come and see!

[1] Rent, written and directed by Jonathan Larson, 1994.

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