This has been a hard week for our sister congregation--the Congregation of St. Martin's. Last Sunday, the West Side Shelter closed for the season. People who had wintered there were disgorged to the streets and alleys of Albuquerque. Some headed for the hills. There, in the foothills just east of Tramway, one of our people was shot and mortally wounded. Tomorrow--Sunday--at 6:00 p.m. there will be a peaceful demonstration at 1st and Central. I plan to be there. I plan to stand with those who feel deep pain and fear and anger and despair. It's my encounters with people who live on the margins that bring me to this point.
You and I, we have shared the Gospel story for almost three years. You probably have guessed that it's through the lens of scripture that I see the world. I work out my understanding of the world we share one sermon at a time. Here is the sermon I will be preaching from the shelter floor but at the Congregation of St. Francis. I offer it to you in confidence that you already know the transformations that occur when one steps out into the margins of our world.
In the arid, barren landscape in the highlands north of Jerusalem and south of Galilee, amidst rock outcroppings, scrubby trees, and grasses-a landscape not unlike the land west of the escarpment here in Albuquerque, a landscape not unlike the foothills east of Tramway-there lies a well dug deep into the earth, a well drawing the bubbling, gurgling, clean cool water that runs deep below the arid surface of the land. They call that well Jacob's well for it's found on land Jacob was said to have given his son Joseph.
For centuries, millenia really, folks have come to draw water from that well. For centuries, millenia really, folks have talked about the life-giving properties that water holds. No wonder the stranger stopped to linger there. No wonder he waited for someone to appear with a bucket to draw water from the well. No wonder he rested his back against the cool stones surrounding that old beloved well.
Then a woman approaches the well. "What's she doing here," the stranger might well have wondered to himself. "What's she doing here in the heat of the midday sun?" Recovering from his surprise at encountering her there, he asks her for a cup that he might drink.
It's now her turn to be surprised-a stranger, a man, a Jew asking her a Samaritan woman for cup from which to drink. No wonder she asks him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" It's scandalous they're even talking to one another. And yet not only does he ask for water, he also offers her a better more enduring water-the kind of water that will really quench her thirst for good.
She says to him, "Sir, give me this water...." and that's just what he does. Right then and there. But look at how he does it. He meets her whereshe is. He sees her as she is. He loves her into being more. Not by changing the material conditions of her life. Those remain the same. Her history doesn't change.
She's still a woman who has had five husbands and is now living with a man to whom she is not married. She still bears the pain of five excursions into widowhood. She still wears the shame of never having borne a son to carry on his father's name and to care for her until her death. She's still living with a man to whom she is not married-a man caring for her out of kindness or maybe obligation.
But she has changed, this woman at the well. She's got a new lease on life. You can see the change happening and so can that stranger who meets her at the well. She boldly demands, "Sir, give me this water...." And when that stranger sees the deep truth of her life, equally boldly she declares, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet." And then she engages that stranger, that prophet, in deep conversation-a conversation in which he reveals not only to her but to himself as well just who he truly and most deeply is.
Our woman at the well says to the stranger, "I know that Messiah is coming...." And to that the stranger replies, "I who am speaking am".
That's living water deep at work-in the woman at the well and in the stranger she encounters there as well. "I who am speaking am." He's not claimed that for himself before. He's not claimed his status as the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah who is to come. But here, in conversation with the woman at the well, the stranger--Jesus of Nazareth-claims his deepest identity. "I who am speaking am"-echoes of God who when asked by Moses replies, "I am."
Jesus doesn't grow into or claim his full identity as the Christ, the anointed one, the living God in the warm and cozy and safe environs of his family home. Jesus doesn't learn who he truly is, who he can truly be, in the temple courts. No. Jesus is called into his true self by a nameless woman in the margins far beyond the comfort zones of his day and place and people.
I suspect that Jesus and that unnamed woman at the well are not the only ones transformed and changed through encounters at the margins. I know that's true for me. Perhaps for you as well. People I come to know and care for who walk in different worlds than the ones I customarily inhabit call out sides of me I didn't even see. People who draw out in me a part deeply buried in the conventions of my life. Folks who see in me something I don't yet see in myself. Folks who sometimes in their questions, sometimes in their grief, sometimes in their anger and sometimes in their pain lead me kicking and screaming more deeply into the person God has created me to be.
Today is one such time. The congregation I serve-the congregation of St. Martin's, the people with whom I worship every week are deep in grief and impassioned by outrage at injustice. Our community is reeling from an encounter at the margins, an encounter in an arid, barren place covered with rock outcroppings, scrubby trees and grasses. A place quite like the well where a stranger offered a nameless woman living water. A place just east of Tramway where a week ago today a nameless man was shot and mortally injured. An encounter that, both at the moment and now in retrospect, invites each of us to become what God has created us to be-beloved and loving children of our most loving God.
Who knows what transformations will occur when we join Jesus at the margins of our world. Shall we join him there, you and I? Shall we join him there today?