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Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent 03/15/20

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent March 15, 2020 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays

Crises bring out the best and the worst in us. Recently I preached about the appalling racism that the current health crisis brought out, and more recently, people have been hoarding cleaning supplies and basic necessities — not just out of fear, but also in some cases to resell the items at inflated prices. And I’m upset about that too, in part because I didn’t think of it first. But I can’t get too upset, because like a lot of other people in positions of responsibility I had to spend a lot of time last week improvising responses to a fast-changing situation, based on incomplete and sometimes contradictory information, while realizing there are no good options, and anything I decide will bring criticism and second-guessing — especially from myself.
Under these circumstances, it would be easy to fall into denial, overreaction, selfishness, paralysis, or panic, and I try not to judge people who do, or who make different decisions than I did, or than I would have made in their place. But the situation is not entirely negative. As is often noted, a crisis also often contains opportunity.

Today’s Gospel story is a series of crises, at least in the sense of the original Greek word krisis, which means “decision.” The characters are forced to make decisions they might not have contemplated, and though there are moments of great tension, wonderful things come out of them. A strange man approaching and talking to a woman was itself a moment of crisis in that culture, and to her credit, the Samaritan woman chooses to engage with Jesus, and despite her narrow, literal interpretation of his words, she holds her own and challenges him. Perhaps this strength of character is why she becomes one of the earliest evangelists, alerting her community that the Messiah could be in their midst.

Speaking of “their midst,” her decision to reach out to her community is all the more impressive when you realize she must have been unpopular. That’s implied by the fact that she went to the well at noon, despite being neither a mad dog nor an Englishman. The heat of the day kept everyone away. We don’t know exactly why she was unpopular, but if she “had five husbands, and the one [she has] now is not [her] husband,” one could venture a guess. So it’s no wonder she was practicing some social distancing.
Another surprise is the fact that Jesus’s disciples kept their mouths shut and didn’t embarrass themselves for once. Truly astonishing, though, is that the community from which she had been alienated accepted her words, followed her lead, went to see Jesus, and asked him to stay with them. For Samaritans to show a Jew such hospitality would have been unthinkable, so deep was the animosity between the two. But choices made in a crisis made this miraculous grace possible, choices driven by faith, hope, and charity, rather than judgment, fear, and greed.
For us, the present moment is an opportunity to choose virtue. The truth is that all moments contain this opportunity, but a crisis can raise our awareness of the opportunity. The best way to begin, I think, is to give thanks for what’s most important in our lives: our relationships with God and with other people — and to choose to invest in those relationships. I spent much of the last few days checking up on individual family, friends, and parishioners, and thinking about what our circumstances mean for our collective life. And you learn a bit when you do that. One thing you learn is that people really value this community.
When our bishop issued his second directive on Thursday afternoon, I had little time to consider how we would implement it before I had to come here to lead Evensong, but I knew there was no way around his urging people over 60 to stay home even from church, nor any way around my breaking the news to our choir in person. And while they took it well, it felt like learning someone we loved had died. The experience of asking some of our most faithful members to stay away, even temporarily, yielded in all of us a sense of grief which revealed what a profound blessing the life of our Church is to those who participate in it.
All crises end. We don’t know how the current crisis will play out, but we do know that humanity and Christianity have survived far worse. So it seems safe to say that while the crisis of the moment is concerning and is already taking a toll, we will get through this. We will be OK in the end. I hope and pray that all of us will choose to spend the depths of this crisis practicing Christian virtues as faithfully as we can, and that we will reach the other side with a renewed appreciation of the value of our relationships of God and one another. In short, I pray we will follow the example of the Samaritan woman. None of us is a pariah like she was, so if we show even half of her courage in pursuing relationships, especially by telling others how we encountered Jesus during a time when we expected to be alone, we should have every expectation of experiencing miraculous grace firsthand.

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