I’ve shared with you in the past about my faith journey. I don’t want to repeat myself but, as I was working on the sermon for this week, my journey came to mind as being relevant, so I’m going to do a quick review of it.
I was born into a Presbyterian church-going family. My parents were very involved with the local Presbyterian church as elders, deacons, worship leaders at the local psychiatric home, and youth group leaders. However, when I was seven years old, my father had a crisis of faith and stopped attending church. I still attended with my mother and grandmother, at times, but a regular church life disappeared for me at that time.
As a young adult, I moved to New York City and soon discovered that I was creating in my own life some of the negative dynamics I had learned growing up. Every family has its challenges and mine is no exception. I kept trying to make things better for myself and those I loved, but I kept failing. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t make a difference for myself or the people I loved who were suffering. In despair, I called a friend, and she suggested I go to Al-Anon meetings.
She suggested Al-Anon meetings because my boyfriend at the time was a cocaine addict. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get him to recover. It was awful. In addition, one of my friends was severely anorexic. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get her to recover. It was awful. Al-Anon is a 12-step program for people who are in relationships with alcoholics, but the steps can be applied to any situation in which we have no control over others. I had come to the conclusion that I had no control over these two people, and so was in despair.
Having nowhere else to turn, I listened to my friend and started attending meetings. Slowly, my eyes, ears, heart, mind, and soul were opened to a new reality. I found at the meetings a community of people in situations just like me who were willing to love and support me even though my life and I were a mess. I discovered spiritual truths in the 12 steps that enabled me to see that life didn’t have to be the way I thought it had to be. In short, I had an epiphany: a Magi-following-the-star, top-of-the-mountain, Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus epiphany!
My epiphany? Well, I had been taught that reality was three-dimensional: It had height, depth, and length, like a box. The 12 steps, however, taught me that there was a fourth dimension: the spiritual dimension! Instead of being a finite closed box, reality was an infinite open box! The finite box of our world opened into the infinite spiritual dimension through a relationship with God! Whoa! This epiphany changed everything! I didn’t have to stay stuck with “life as I knew it!” I could let God into my life and live life as God knows it: a life of endless possibilities, with no dead ends or closed doors. “For nothing [is] impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).
Think about the magnitude of this realization. I had spent my life crawling around in the same closed box. I knew every nook and cranny, every corner, and every wall. There was no way to get around that box that I hadn’t explored. “Let me try this: same box. Okay, let me try this: same box. Wait, what if I do that same thing again; maybe the result will be different: same box.” No matter what I did, the box and I stayed the same: same dimensions, same patterns, same behavior, same dynamics. Do you know the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. According to that definition, I was behaving insanelys.
Once, however, I was in a spiritual environment – the 12 steps of Al-Anon – the Spirit began to work on me. I crawled around in my closed box for a while even while attending meetings. Eventually, however, the Spirit moved me to push against the lid of that box. “Come on, Amy, are you sure this box is closed? You know, you might be wrong about that three-dimensional reality thing. Just push against that closed lid and see what happens.” Well, lo and behold, it turns out the box was only closed because I hadn’t opened it! Once that box was open, the glory of the Lord shone around and – babam! – my life opened up to a new dimension: the spiritual dimension!
I remember literally walking around New York City with this new awareness, feeling the presence of God around me. I was like someone who had been blind but could now see.
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found.
Was blind but now I see.”
I have lived that beloved hymn, and I didn’t even realize it until I was writing this sermon. Grace: the gift that keeps on giving. I’m receiving its gifts even now.
Al-Anon saved my life. It allowed me to be born again, although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I later learned that the 12 steps were written by a Christian and were based on Christian spiritual principles, which were based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what we refer to as the gospel, the good news. At that point, my journey with Jesus began. Who was Jesus? Who was Jesus to me? I began to ask questions and discover answers.
Which brings me to the Samaritan woman at the well. She, too, was living in a closed box: men don’t speak to women they don’t know; Jews don’t speak to Samaritans; God is worshiped on a particular mountain; water is a liquid material that quenches your physical thirst; the messiah is coming but has not come, yet; I have sinned by having many husbands and non-husbands and cannot be forgiven. She woke up that morning with life as she knew it, but she would go home that evening with life as God knows it: a life of endless possibilities, with no dead ends or closed doors. “For nothing [is] impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). She went to bed that night proclaiming, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He is the messiah!” Her life would never be the same. The closed box had been opened and the glory of the Lord had shone around. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
We are changed when we encounter Jesus. Not only are we changed: reality is changed. The old, three-dimensional rules no longer apply. We now live in a four-dimensional world! Where before there was a “no,” now there is a “maybe” or, even, a “yes!” Jesus meets us where we are and works with us to move forward, past the false barriers and boundaries in our lives. In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, he says:
- You may think your body is thirsty for material water but, in truth, your soul is thirsty for spiritual water: the living water I can give to you.
- Even though you’re a Samaritan woman and I’m a Jewish man, we can converse. The cultural rules against a man talking to a woman and a Jew talking to a Samaritan are false barriers. People set up many false barriers between genders, races, religions, nations, and so on. However, the reality is that “[t]here is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in [me]” (Gal. 3:28).
- You have had five husbands and now live with a man who is not your husband, but you are never separated from God, even when your society tells you that you are. For “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in [me]” (Rom. 8:38-39). Your behavior is an outward sign of an inward condition. What in you needs to be healed so that you are at peace with yourself and do not need to seek peace in relationships? I am the Messiah. Ask me to heal you, for I invite all who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to me and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28).
- Samaritans say true worship takes place on this mountain and Jews say true worship
- You are waiting for the Messiah to come, but he is here and it is I. Wait no longer; I have come. “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15). Live as if it is here!
The Samaritan woman encountered Jesus and received the living water that he offers to all who encounter him. The question we have to ask ourselves when considering this Bible passage is: Where in our lives are we boxed in and living according to three-dimensional rules? In what areas and in what ways have we put the lid on the box and shut God out? Are we living according to false barriers and boundaries that keep us from living as if the kingdom of God is at hand? Are our spirits dying of thirst for the living water?
Take a moment and ask Jesus to reveal these areas to you. SILENCE FOR PRAYER TO JESUS. Now, take a moment and ask Jesus to heal you in these areas. SILENCE FOR PRAYER TO JESUS. Now, take a moment and thank Jesus for the healing he will bring. SILENCE FOR PRAYER TO JESUS.
As we continue to drink of the living water, not only are the lids removed from our boxes, but the walls, also, come down, and we are surrounded by the glory of the Lord shining in, around, and through our lives. Truly, then, we become the light of the world that Jesus desires us to be (Mt 5:14), glorifying God as we spread love, hope, and peace to all who need them. Thank God that we have come to know the fourth dimension and encountered Jesus. It makes all the difference, both here on Earth and in heaven. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, March 19, 2017, the Third Sunday in Lent.