This week we continue the series of messages titled I Love the Church Because… This week’s message is I Love the Church Because…I Can Be Real.
I am often fascinated by commercials, or as the broadcasting medium calls them, “messages.” In our day and age commercials – especially television commercials – specialize in absurdity. Next time you are watching TV, take note of how many commercials have completely absurd premises, presumably to gain our attention in our loud, media-saturated world. Take note also of how easy it is to remember the premise of the commercial but not the product. In fact, most of the commercial’s time is often devoted to the setup rather than to the product itself. I don’t watch much TV, but I do pay attention to many of the commercials, more as a way of understanding what they say about us as a society. I was fascinated by one that aired recently, showing a man in an operating room, doing surgery on himself. At the bottom of the screen was this disclaimer – this is fake. Do not attempt. Perhaps it’s more of a reflection on our litigious society than it is on our collective IQ, but I found that rather amazing. It’s not as though I would do a preventative appendectomy on myself that afternoon! It’s an odd time in which we live when we must require labels to tell us what is real and what is fake. We have commercials that distort what is real and what is fake, we have national discussions and debates about fake news. Thank goodness we have Facebook to help us sort it all out, such as the post I saw that had a picture of Abraham Lincoln and a quote from him that reminds us, don’t believe everything you read on the internet (I saw it on Facebook, so it must be true!)
Our Scripture passage if from the 4th chapter of John’s gospel, a familiar passage where we read of the story of the conversation Jesus has with a Samaritan woman. Follow along with me as I read.
John 4:4-18 –
4 Now he had to go through Samaria.
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.
18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
This morning I have only two points to share with you, the first of which is –
- We Must Allow Others to be Real.
Here is how one person expressed it, and I love this – FCC does an outstanding job of fostering a spirit of community among a very diverse group. One personal example: I am a fairly progressive Democrat and one of my favorite friends is a fairly right wing Republican. In the context of the church, we are brothers. That is a great testimony of two people allowing each other to be real.
I will admit up front that I understand there is some irony in the title of this week’s message, as you might be scratching your head and asking I Can Be Real? At church? Really? Isn’t church, at least sometimes, the practice of presenting an image that is anything but real? Isn’t it an all too common practice to come to church, putting our best foot forward and crafting an image of having it all together, when we are anything but together? If I were to be totally honest today, I would have to say that I was not totally honest with each person who asked me how I am doing today. Each time I was asked how I am doing today I answered I’m great! But if I were to be real, I would say I am really tired, have a terrible headache, and am very stressed. It is a sad reality that we so often feel compelled, even in church, to present an image of having everything perfectly together and that we are always doing great.
Even though this is how we generally present ourselves, it is not how it should be. I think we all recognize that church, especially, is one place where we should able to be who we are, warts and all. The difficulty is, we don’t know what to do with the struggles and the problems of others. When those struggles and problems are openly shared, we feel uncomfortable, not knowing how to respond or how to offer help. It doesn’t help that we live in a culture that practices the art of presenting an image of health, wholeness, and having it all together. For all of the professed openness of our culture, and in spite of having a “put it all out there” ethos, we still don’t know how to either present the full reality of our lives or how to handle the reality that is the lives of others. All of us have done our share of shaking our heads at the personal information people will present on social media, and I have become convinced people share so much online because we have lost the ability to openly share on a personal level.
Today’s Scripture text tells us of the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well. I selected this passage because Jesus points out that she has been married five times and was, at the time of their conversation, living with someone who was not her husband. Many people read this passage and shake their head at this woman – my goodness, they think, married five times and now living with a man to whom she is not married. What kind of a woman is this? She is not very moral! She is not a paragon of virtue! Tsk, tsk, shame, shame. Now, it is important to point out that Jesus was not speaking in judgment of the woman. Many people assume, when reading this passage, that the woman was 5-times divorced and after five divorces is living with a man, perhaps deciding that marriage wasn’t for her after five divorces. But here’s something to consider – in that day and time, women did not have the power to seek a divorce. Even if she were 5-times divorced, it would not have been at her instigation. And, we must remember, she might have been 5-times widowed, and we also can’t assume that the man with whom she was living was a cohabitating relationship. The woman’s situation might actually reflect a very difficult stretch of life in which she lost husband after husband and eventually had to move in with a friend – or a relative – because she was unable to support herself. The point being, we don’t know her circumstances and thus should not stand in judgment of her. Because of the difficulty of her situation, she seemed to be avoiding speaking of it with Jesus, while he wanted to bring her circumstance into the open in order to bring healing and wholeness to her life. I can’t imagine that Jesus was speaking judgmentally to her. I believe he was speaking more in the spirit of you know what; you can speak freely to me. I am not here to judge you. I am sitting here talking to you, when it is evident that many people in this town don’t want much to do with you. They have taught you to be ashamed and to avoid being open and honest about your circumstances, but you can be real with me! You can be who you are!
- We Must Give Ourselves Permission to Be Real.
I taught a class at Highlands Latin School in Louisville for five years, and I had two students – a brother and sister – whose family was selected to participate in a network reality show. You might remember the show; it was called Wife Swap. The premise of the show was to take two wives/mothers from very different contexts and have them swap families for a period of time. In this case, my students – who live in a rural, farm setting – received a woman into their home who was from a very urban setting and was nothing at all like their mother. It was fascinating to hear them talk of the manner in which the program was filmed. Everything that seemed spontaneous was not at all spontaneous. Most scenes were the product of take after take after take. The conflict was scripted and the drama was created. Everything about the show was very carefully crafted, as the producers created situations and scenes that were about as far from the truth – and reality – as was possible. The “reality” of the show was this – it was not at all reality. How much more ironic can you get than to be told you cannot be who you are but must present a false image? What an irony it is that a “reality” show had absolutely no reality involved! True reality, as we know, is far different. True reality is beautiful, ugly, easy, and hard. And that’s okay. All of us live lives that are a mixture of beautiful and ugly, easy and hard, and we do not need to be ashamed of our struggles and our stumbles.
So why is it that we are so afraid to be real? Mostly, I think it is the fear of rejection. How many of you have this feeling that people might find out who you really are and reject you? We put our best face forward because we are afraid that if people know the “real” us they will reject us. It becomes, then, exhausting to keep up the façade that we so carefully erect. The lesson of the woman at the well is that Jesus invites us to be real. Too often, we are drinking water that leaves us thirsty, when Jesus offers the water that quenches that thirst, and does not leave us thirsty. The living water of Jesus is an invitation to be real and to know that Jesus accepts us for who we are.
When I was in the band Exit Up we were invited to be part of a small movie. It was not only a small movie, called Jackson’s Run, and it was a small part as well. We were filmed for a concert scene and I believe that in the final version we got about 10 or 15 seconds of screen time, but it was an experience that we enjoyed and it was exciting, especially attending the premier. The premier was held at the Palace Theater in Louisville. All of those who were involved in the movie met at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, where a line of limos waited to take us to the Palace. When we arrived at the Palace there was a red carpet that we walked, stopping in front of a backdrop of the movie so that people could take our picture. I have to admit, it was an experience that swept us up and made us feel a bit like celebrities. After the end of the movie, however, we came crashing back to earth very quickly. We parked our cars blocks away, near the Seelbach, and there were no limos to take us back to our cars. In fact, it was pouring rain outside when we left the Palace and we had to walk a number of blocks through the rain, getting soaking wet, before we got back to our cars. In spite of the rain, we were able to laugh about our circumstances, as we noted wow, that was fast. So much for celebrity, red carpets, and limos. Here we are now, slogging through the rain and getting splashed by cars that are passing by. As much as we enjoyed the excitement of the premier, the experience afterwards reflected reality much more accurately. Riding in a limo and walking a red carpet had nothing to do with reality, but trudging through the rain did, because much of life is composed of struggle, and dealing with the various storms of life that come our way.
The woman who spoke with Jesus at the well had experienced a lot of storms in her life, and perhaps it was the pain and scars from those storms that caused her to want to hide the reality of her life. Jesus, however, invited her to open up her life, admit her realities, and to accept what he had to offer.
Let’s stop exhausting ourselves trying to present a “reality” to others that is not true. Let’s not put forward a façade that our lives our perfect, when they are not. Accept the living water that Jesus offers, living water that satisfies!