March 19, 2017
Embracing Space for Grace
Exodus 17.1-7 | John 4.5-42
SLIDE 36 | SERMON TITLE
OPENING | Messy Church, Messy Leaders
Imagine a mess. A little chaos.
What makes a mess in your world?
Where are you feeling a little chaos?
In the landscape of the Spirit,
this messy chaos is imagined to be like the wilderness.
It’s a place undefined and constantly shifting.
It is a place of vulnerability
where life can feel like it is threatened.
Life’s nourishment seems to be scarce,
and home appears to be far away.
And so we find ourselves often mumbling and grumbling.
This woman from the region of Samaria
came to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day.
She came alone at that deserted time of the day
because her life among the villagers
was like a wilderness.
Because of her “alternative lifestyle,”
as we say today,
she would have been rejected
and ridiculed by those in her village.
Sometimes relationships with others can be like a wilderness, can’t they?
This weekend I had the privilege of enjoying
a friend of mine in Sheboygan play the role of “Big Mama”
in Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
I don’t know if you remember that drama,
but, at the very least, it is a tale of a family wilderness.
They may all be together in a big house,
but home is so very far away.
So what happened to that woman,
as she approached the well?
As she saw this stranger sitting by the well,
perhaps she thought that the wilderness
would be even more threatening today.
And it wasn’t just any stranger, but a Jewish stranger.
No doubt, one of those who condemned her and all Samaritans
as godless, corrupt aliens.
But as we heard, that is not what happened.
Instead of condemnation, the Gospel of John
opens an amazing story for us.
It is a story about Jesus creating a space for grace,
or in the language of John
a spring of living water,
right in the middle of a wilderness wasteland.
In their conversation,
the woman reveals that her own life
has been quite a wasteland of broken relationships.
So how does Jesus respond to this woman’s wilderness?
Again, Jesus doesn’t condemn the woman.
Jesus doesn’t even offer her advice.
Strangely in our world of technique and technology,
Jesus doesn’t see her life
as a problem for him to solve.
What does Jesus do? He continues the conversation with the woman.
Together the go deeper, way down deep into the well of life.
The conversation opens the woman’s soul
to a new energy for life,
like a spring water bubbling up
refreshing the wilderness.
In this story, this rejected woman
was embraced in a gracious conversation about real life.
This embrace by the Spirit created a space for grace.
“This Spirit comes onto parched ground
so that life may grow and become green.” (Jürgen Moltmann)
EMERGING | Jesus is a Model of One Leading in the Spirit.
As the Gospel of John tells this story,
Jesus is modeling the Spirit,
the life-giving flow of energy embracing that woman,
and eventually embracing that woman’s entire neighborhood.
I’m not sure what you think of when you think about
the role of leadership in a community of faith.
What do you imagine when you hear the word “Pastor”?
In this story, the Gospel of John is giving to us
a powerful way to image leadership that sets people free.
What does Jesus do?
Well, as I hear the story,
Jesus begins by asking questions
that opens conversations that matter…
Jesus then listens and responds
as deep conversations emerge
and open a space for the Spirit of grace.
Jesus also does that with his closest followers
who seem to be completely astounded
by this strange conversation of Jesus and the woman.
Jesus questions them
so that they also continue to go deeper
and to tap into the Source of Life.
A church consultant named Gil Rendle
that I’ve been listening to for my Interim Ministry training
would call this kind of leadership…
divergent, disorderly, chaotic and messy.
In this way of leading,
we don’t control or organize or tell people what to do precisely.
Instead, because of our divergent human experiences,
–in John like the divergence
between the woman, Jesus followers, and the villagers–
Jesus created open conversations
where all of the differing truths
could be spoken openly and honestly.
And in the listening and speaking, a new story,
a life-giving story of the Spirit
begins to emerge right
in the middle of what had been a threatening wilderness.
I observed this kind of leadership several years ago
in a most unlikely place.
I was attending the Wild Goose Festival
just outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
This is a week-long festival of learning, music, and the arts.
That year the focus was on welcoming all people,
and especially LGBTQ people.
I had been sitting in workshops on that particular day… all day…
so I was really tired at the end of all those sessions.
That evening, the closing session was a concert of music
with country singer Ty Herndon
and a group of four women country-singers
named “Timothy’s Gift”.
Since I was already tired and country music isn’t my favorite,
I arrived late to the concert.
Being late to the concert,
all of the front and center places were taken,
so I had to sit way in the side wings of the space.
In fact, I could see what was happening better back stage
than I could see what was happening on stage.
Ty Herndon was performing as I found my place.
And then he told some of his journey of faith.
He had gone through some a long time of wilderness,
wondering if God loved him,
or if he was really condemned and hated by God,
as so many Christians had told him.
Thankfully, he had people in his life
who helped him to
experience a space of God’s mercy and grace.
Ty had quite an amazing story
to tell up there in the spotlights.
After Ty finished, then the group Timothy’s Child came to the stage.
They sang several songs
and then told about their ministry
in the wilderness among prisoners.
But since I could see backstage better than up front,
as these four women were talking,
I noticed all kinds of activity backstage.
Apparently several of the women in Timothy’s Gift
were mothers of young children.
And all these children were running around backstage,
creating chaos among all the expensive sound equipment.
Even more, they were trying to get onstage to be with their mothers.
So they were keeping everyone busy outside the spotlights.
All that backstage messiness made me smile.
As I watched this messiness unfold,
I noticed that Ty Herndon was also there backstage.
he was one of the people that were trying
to keep the children calm
while their mothers talked and sang.
And so I watched this for the rest of the time,
and I was struck by how humbly
Ty was playing with the children, caring for them,
and sitting with them so that their mothers could perform.
It came to me, outside the spotlight,
unseen by the crowds,
how humbly such a star musician
was acting and serving others,
the little ones, with care.
Now it seems to me that Ty Herndon gave me a glimpse
of leading within the messiness of life,
and even the chaos of being church today.
He was simply sitting with the children.
He was engaged in a conversation with the children.
He met their energy with a life-giving energy of the Spirit,
while their mothers engaged in other conversations.
In that moment, I saw multiple spaces of grace open up…
not only on stage, and behind stage, but in the stage of my own heart.
Here is one of the songs that Ty sang that evening.
For me, it gets to the heart of facing the wilderness in our own lives,
and embracing space for life-giving grace
to emerge from within that chaotic wilderness.
SLIDE 38 | “Lies I told Myself” by Ty Herndon…
SLIDE 39 | VIDEO
Again, The Spirit embraces us in the lies of our wilderness
and opens a space for grace to grow.
WE can imagine Jesus as a model who leads us as
a divergent and messy learning community.
Perhaps we will dare to engage such deep, life-giving conversations.
From then that growing space,
we may discover new vitality and energy for life
that also overflows to others in their own wilderness.
As we respond, perhaps a blessing will become
a good companion for us as we move within our wilderness,
and dare to embrace a space for grace.
I want to close with this blessing,
a blessing for us in our wilderness wanderings,
“Beloved is Where we Begin”
by Jan Richardson: Jan Richardson Circle of Grace (pp. 96-98)
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
without hearing who you are:
Beloved, named by the One
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from hunger or thirst,
from the scorching of sun
or the fall
of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name: