Today’s Scripture is about trust.
I wonder: Do we really trust God? Do we trust God with all the parts of our lives, the places where we experience anger and frustration, as well as places where we feel gratitude and delight?
I was pondering that question this week as I reflected on my visit to the Taize monastery in France a few years. When I arrived at this simple monastery, I was assigned a daily Bible study group. I was under thirty at the time so I was assigned to be with “the young people”, many who were in their late teens and early twenties and came from places like Germany, Poland and South America.
We met each day. Some wrestled with questions like do I want to become a Catholic priest or nun, others were trying to figure out what God was calling them to do in their everyday life and one of the guys was there just for fun.
Some shared from the heart; some shared nothing at all.
Were we trusting God with our lives? With the fullness of who we were and what we were facing? All I know is that the bells would toll three times a day and we would all have to stop what we were doing to go to church, to pray, to observe a period of silence and to sing Taize songs.
“Let all who are thirsty come; let all who wish receive, the water of life freely,” we would sing.
We would sing song about trust, no matter how we felt at that particular moment, and when we could not find our voice to sing, the music would rise around us, “Let all who are thirsty come.”
All of us invited. All of us and all parts of us.
How would we respond?
Daily Bible study came and went.
Some shared from the heart. Some shared nothing at all. Some were there just for fun.
Then Friday came.
The bells tolled, and hundreds of people poured into the church for the evening service.
The church was long with a small center space reserved for the monks. On the sides, the young people poured in, sitting on the floor.
That Friday night, in the center space reserved for the monks, there was a large wooden cross lying flat on the ground and all who were thirsty were invited to come.
Curious, I went forward.
People piled in front of me to approach the cross, a crowd filled the center space. People waited on their knees. So I too bent down on my knees. The singing continued. As the front people went up to the cross, they would bow their forehead onto the hard wood, the people behind them would scooch little closer on their knees.
There we were – maybe a hundred of us – all on our knees, moving closing to the cross inch by inch.
As we moved, I noticed that in front of me was the guy who had said nothing at all.
He was on his knees and a sense of solemnness conveyed through the tight knit of his shoulders. It suddenly struck me that all of us there – those I knew, those I did not – were carrying around this weight and in this one act, as we took to our knees and moved toward the cross, we were at last saying: Yes, God, yes God I trust you with my reluctance, with my anger, with my frustration, with my disappointment, and most of all, with my thirst.
“Let all who are thirsty come,” Jesus says.
So we came, trusting God with our thirst, bending our foreheads to the cool wood of the cross, saying to God, “Here I am.”
After I prayed at the cross, I made my way back to the floor where I had been seated and the Brothers came out and walked to the edges of the room, making themselves available for anyone who wanted to pray with them.
Shortly after, a guy –the guy who had come just for fun – passed by me on the way to the Brother who was in charge of the entire monastery, Brother Aloise. “Can I have a blessing?” He asked a bit hesitantly. Brother Aloise nodded yes and the young men tilted his head forward as Brother Aloise put his hand on him and blessed him.
Let all who are thirsty come. Let all who wish receive, the water of life freely.
This invitation to the thirsty is the same one that the Samaritan woman stumbles upon at the well. In the Scriptures, we do not learn this woman’s name, but the Orthodox Church has given her a name and a place among the saints – calling her Saint Photina, which means the Bringer of Light.
For this sermon, I will use that name, calling the woman at the well Photina.
Coming in sweltering heat of the mid-day sun, Photina knows what it was like to be thirsty.
Photina knows what it’s like to feel the blazing heat of the sun as she journeys to the well to quench her thirst. Photina knows what it’s like to come mid-day to the well because she has been ostracized from her community and cannot come in the cool of the morning like everyone else. Photina knows what it is like to bear witness to the injustice of society. Photina has had five husbands and is living now with someone who is not her spouse likely because she had five husbands die and now her husband’s closest male relative is refusing to marry her. Photina is not only grieving but facing an injustice that affects her ability to have her basic needs accounted for.
Photina knows what it’s like to be thirsty.
Jesus sees this in Photina and says, “Give me a drink.”
Photina is taken aback that Jesus sees her and talks to her, so she responds, “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”
Jesus reaches past traditional cultural and gender roles to address Photina as an equal. Jesus says, “You should be asking me for a drink. I can give you living water. For those who drink the water that I give them will never be thirsty; no, the water I give will become fountains within them, springing up to provide eternal life.
Photina responds, “Give me this water.”
Their conversation becomes a mutual exchange of trust.
Jesus tells her to fetch her husband, and Photina answers that she has none. When Jesus speaks of her current situations, Jesus stands in awe of what Photina carries rather than in judgment.
Jesus bears witness to what Photina has carried in the tight knot of her shoulders and the lilt of her voice and, in turn, Photina recognizes Jesus as a prophet. “Tell me,” she ventures, “Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
True worship, Jesus responds, is about relationship – to know and be known – in Spirit and in Truth. Trying to understand what Jesus is saying, Photina responds, “I know there is a Messiah who is coming who will tell us everything.”
Now, Jesus trusts Photina enough to say for the first time in the entire Gospel of John, yes, I am that Messiah.
The living water, Photina discovers, is right in front of her.
Let all who are thirsty come. Let all who wish receive the water of life freely,
Photina leaps up, as if scales have fallen from her eyes, for she can see herself and those around her clearly. As the love of God pours over her, she sees herself for who she really is: a child of the Divine. She sees her neighbors for who they really are, even when they make poor choices; they too are children of the Divine and in that moment of clarity Photina is restored: she’s restored to herself, restored to her God, restored to her community, because she remembers who and whose she is. Photina, bringer of light, jumps up, leaving her water jar behind because she has found the true source of hydration.
Her heart burning, Photina shouts: “Come and see! Come and see the one who embraces you with a love deeper than you can imagine. Come, see, experience and come away transformed!”
Suddenly the community sees clearly too; they sees Photina in the fullness of who she is – a child of God, a recipient of the living water who is now a conduit to the whole city. Photina has seen herself in the Love of Christ and now brings that love to others. That is how the kin-dom takes shape as we stand in awe of one another, of what each person carries in the tight knot of their shoulders, rather than in judgment.
Let all who are thirsty come. Let all who wish receive the water of life freely, from the wellspring of God’s love that never runs dry.
Let all who are thirsty come, whether you speak from the heart, whether you are searching for words, whether you are here just for fun.
Come, you are invited.
For God is like a mama hen, who gathers up all her children, and uses her wings to draw them close into her, until they are right there next to her heart.
For God is like a Brother at a monastery and he says to each person who asks, “You are loved. You are blessed. You are a child of God.”