Sermon by Jeff Marema and Jonathan Neufeld.
Thank you Jeff – it is my privilege to come alongside the story of ‘thirst’ in your life, and offer up a few brief responses to your story.
Last week Weldon suggested, that every human being has a need, a place in their mind, body and spirit for God – a place we will seek to fill, whether it is God whom we embrace or not. That the multi-faceted addictions that we all have in our lives: like alcohol, religion, shopping or food – is idolatry, our compulsive attempt to quench a thirst Living Water alone longs to satisfy. I think your story reminds us of this challenge from Weldon and invites our further reflection on addiction and idolatry.
Thank you Jeff – also – for how your story enlightens the gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
You suggested that no one, no matter the circumstances or reasons why one ends up in poverty and without housing, should feel themselves to be a waste, cast-off, or scourge of the earth. You also suggested that the welcome, love and grace you have experienced amidst your circumstances – reminded you that you are a child of God.
Hearing that suggestion from you – led me to some reflections from David Lose on this scripture. The mention that the woman had had 5 husbands, and was now with a 6th man – has led many preachers to suggest her to be promiscuous. “But there are multiple possibilities for her story that could equally have been true: She could have been widowed, or have been abandoned, or divorced. She could them have been living with someone that she was dependent on – like having been taken into her deceased brother’s family – as was the tradition of those days. There are many possibilities to invite our thinking that this woman’s story is more tragic than scandalous. Jesus at no point invites repentance, or speaks to her of sin at all.” Jesus’ approach is not one of finding fault, declaring blame – but rather acknowledging the tragedy of vulnerability, inconsistent care, loss, life-altering change that she has been through time and again. If this had led her to self loathing and self-hatred – I can hear Jesus, like you Jeff – say to her ‘you are a child of God’.
-often times when one of friends ends up in prison – I write letters to remind them who they are. Consumer society and the justice system want to name people…criminal, consumer, addict, homeless…which is never who we are, but rather a state of being. Who we are is God’s children, creative and beautiful.
Jeff, you words also remind us of the healing energy, the resistance to oppression passion, and honesty which is knowing, and being known. Jeff – what you did with us today was speaking truth as you know it, and inviting a community to ‘see’ you. Just as the woman said to Jesus – that she saw that he was a prophet, she also was ‘seen’ by someone that knew everything she had done. They became known to one another in the conversation. Folks in the community have heard me on this subject more than they care to, I am sure – but again I say – that secrecy is that which addiction’s food – it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is in large part the power that has been known in the AA movement, the invitation to step outside of the shrouded home of addiction, and to say your piece, tell your story – so she leaves her jar and runs to her neighbors – declaring ‘come and meet the man who knew my story’. The scripture says that many people believed in Jesus, not because he healed the sick, or fed the multitude- but because of her testimony ‘that Jesus told her everything she had ever done’.
Jeff – you have stepped up and put your story out there, a story of tragedy and triumph. Maybe you feel some joy or excitement in having done that, but it some ways your story was already out there. In that, unlike the majority of people in this sanctuary, you for some time didn’t have a house to hide out in and shield others from seeing you. Yet you have shown us a way of being a redeemed community, in that you demonstrated the possibility of transformation that can happen in human relationships – when life in its completeness – is on the table. Our hope and possibility for being a recovery community is in large part found in this scary and hopeful practice of exchanging our stories.
Finally Jeff – your testimony – also brings to mind for the bridges that can be constructed between groups that don’t easily know how to live with each other. Thomas Boomershine reminds us that “Jews were afraid of the Samaritans because there was constant battle going on between them: raids, conflict, people being assaulted when they came through Samaria. Talking with a Samaritan woman was a major violation of the law for a Jewish man. Men did not speak to women in public and especially not to Samaritan women. There were sexual connotations as well as the crossing of ethnic and political barriers. There is a whole lot going on in this conversation.” We know this – we know the social distance that economics, ethnicity, gender, sexuality – create in our world. And yet part of the outcome of taking in living water, is the necessity of bridging those chasms of oppression, ambivalence, avoidance, trauma, hurt – created by personal, public, systemic and societal addiction.
Perhaps some of you have picked up the book we suggested the congregation read during lent, Gabor Mate’s “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”. In it he describes addiction as the compulsive pursuit of an experience or item, regardless of the harmful consequences. One of the implications of this definition is the assumption that we all know what the negative consequences of addiction are, personally and as a society, we see the wreckage. Considering how knowledge is worshipped as the answer to everything that ails us, knowledge alone – in the case of addiction – will not create change. If the knowledge of global impacts of sweat shop labor were enough, we would have put those companies out of business by not shopping there. If knowledge of the nutritional void of fast food were enough – McDonald’s would have gone bankrupt years ago. The knowledge that 50% our tax dollars are being used to bomb and destroy the economies and lives of God’s children at home and abroad – we would have ended the practice of lobbying in American politics – knowledge alone changes nothing – but it can help us realize is just how parched we really are – in need of a living water that follows knowing with walking, that steps over chasms of human separation in order to see and be seen for who we really are. Rev. Rich Lang wrote in the latest Real Change “Rebuilding a country that has been privatized, with its people commodified, will require decades and generations of struggle, and conflict. In other words, the time of sitting on a fence, frozen because you’re trying to listen to all sides as if they are all equally valid is rapidly fading. The time of choice, of decision, of actions rooted in faith (not certainty) is coming, whether you like it or not, whether you are ready for it, or not.”
Thank you Jeff for in your own way, reminding us of the broad stream of God’s mission of recovery that we are a part of, and the very personal and local ways that transformation can be seen, experienced and known.