Let us pray:
The church of Christ in every age,
Beset by change but spirit led,
Must change and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
A Deacon friend tells the story of doing street ministry in Seattle. In pairs, folks would wander skid row handing out blankets and sandwiches late into the night and early morning hours. DeaconTony spoke of meeting a man who was dirty and retching from too much drink. The stench was awful, but Tony, God love him approached the man anyway. He sat down on curb next to the man and waited until the man was finished being sick.
“I’m Tony,” he said, “I’m from the Episcopal Church.”
“What’s your name?”
The man began to sob. Tony waited while the man cried.
Finally looking up at Tony with tears in his eyes, the man said to my friend, “You are the first person that’s spoken to me weeks.”
I love the expression that’s come into our vernacular—I feel seen. It is so deeply powerful. I feel seen. How deeply wonderful it is to be seen.
One of the most wretched and lonely places of life is feeling invisible, unseen, unacknowledged.
I wonder beloved—have you known this reality of being suddenly or maybe always invisible—unseen? It is a lonely place to inhabit.
That is the place the Samaritan woman in our Gospel knew all too well. John is telling us some critical details about her today that we may not know so let’s unpack this story.
Women in the ancient world NEVER traveled alone to fetch water and they never went in the heat of noon to the well—much too hot and much too dangerous. Imagine if you will, meeting a woman walking down the sketchiest dark alley in Minneapolis at 3 am all by herself.
Yup. That dangerous. That’s what’s going on here when this woman comes alone to the well. Why is she choosing danger?
She’s damaged goods. Disposable. In the ancient world, women in marriage were chattel to be protected and all a man had to do was say 3 times out loud in public, I divorce you to be rid of her when he grew bored of her. Whenever people ask me about Jesus’ stance on divorce and how the church can be faithful to Christ, I tell them that Jesus was speaking out about the unjust ways that women were thrown away in his time.
So here she is unseen, a pariah. How long had it been since she was spoken to? Jesus sees her. She matters to him.
She feels seen. But that’s not enough.
This Samaritan woman is the first preacher of the good news about Jesus Christ. She’s emboldened to go back to her people, to be seen and known. She has agency. She matters.
We matter too. And yet beloved, we are unseen, invisible. WE this church of ours is unseen.
We sit tucked back on our safe little street in Stillwater waiting for people to come to us. Unseen. Unknown. Invisible.
And let’s just go ahead and name it: Christianity has so much awful baggage.
Street preachers storm Stillwater standing up on soapboxes preaching toxic theology that does not mirror the Jesus that we have come to know.
I wonder what it would mean for us to be seen in Stillwater—to bust out of this place emboldened to tell our stories and be seen.
We need to be seen beloved.
I long for the Episcopal Church of Ascension to be seen. Not just because I want more people here.
I want people to know that there is a gracious path within Christianity that is deeply rooted in ancient spiritual practices, embraces the fullest spectrum of human diversity, sees wonder, mystery, and questions as key to knowing the unknowable.
I want people to know about the beauty and deep connection to the earth that we celebrate in walking through the church calendar. I want people to know their sacredness AND to also have a place to acknowledge and name their limitations and disconnection—their sins.
I long to have conversations across all kinds of difference and divergence and find our common value around that altar where all our fed and come to know that they are the Body of Christ. I long for us to harrow hell. That’s the kingdom of God.
Being seen here is not enough.
We need to be SEEN out there, at the well, in downtown, giving away living water.
I want people to know that Salvation through Christ sets the whole universe free—not just a few select who know the magic words to get into heaven—as if! The Anglican/Episcopal way of life is a path that strives for a kind of unity that we desperately need right now in our deeply mistrusting, deeply divided nation. There is a barrier for people to walk through our doors. We are invisible pariahs due to the toxic theology that is often seen and known. We can no longer afford to be unseen, invisible and silent. We need to give away living water.
We need to be like the woman at the well—a pariah in her society that tells her story anyway and wants to be seen by others. I want ask you a challenging question.
I wonder beloved do you have an elevator speech for why you arehere? Why this place matters to you? We who are free to question need to answer this question: Why?
It matters. What’s your elevator speech?
From the depths of my soul beloved I am convinced that we are here because we feel SEEN. Loved. Accepted. We belong here. We are seen.
And that is not enough. Like the woman at the well, we are called to go and tell others—I am seen! Come and meet the community that knows me deeply. You can be seen too.
I wonder how will we be seen outside our doors?