A Sermon for a Time of Wilderness, Isolation, and Crisis

Unity Lutheran Church + Cross of Life Campus
15 March 2020 + Lent 3A
John 4.5-42; Exodus 17.1-7
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

This week at Unity, we live-streamed our Saturday liturgy at the Cross of Life Campus and our Sunday liturgy at the Christ the King Campus. The COL recording is linked here, and the gospel reading and sermon begin around the 24:20 mark. Audio of the gospel reading and sermon only is below.

No one could have imagined … back when the Israelites were getting ready to leave Egypt, hurriedly cooking, eating, packing up what little they had and could carry with them … on the bank of the Red Sea, the excitement swelling up inside of them … on the other side of the Sea, having just watched their pursuers drowned in the water, themselves no longer slaves … freedom … a moment of celebration and a future filled with hope and possibility.

No one could have imagined … the wilderness, the desert, the drought. The physical and emotional exhaustion, the hunger, the thirst. The uncertainty, the panic, the grumbling: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” We would have been better off in Egypt … We’re going to die here, aren’t we? … There’s not even any water

No one could have imagined a future so grim and so bleak when it had once looked so hopeful and full of promise and freedom and celebration. Now what? “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Then, out of nowhere, a miracle: water! From a rock! God’s deliverance, yet again. When all had seemed lost and hopeless, God was surely among them, hearing their cries, knowing their pain, just as God had done all along … before the Red Sea … before the plagues … before the burning bush … before Moses.

She never could have imagined … back on her first wedding day, the excitement, the nervousness … She never could have imagined the second … the third … the fourth … the fifth … She never could have imagined her life would turn out this way.

She never could have imagined … going out to get water from Jacob’s Well, at the unbearable, scorching heat of the noon hour, when no one else would be around, when she wouldn’t have to face them, to see the way they looked at her, the way they would turn to each other and whisper and point and laugh … She never could have imagined … going out alone, isolated, cut off from her community, socially quarantined

She never could have imagined seeing anyone else at the well … let alone a Jew. Now he’s asking me (a Samaritan!) for a drink? (But we don’t do that! It’s scandalous…) She never could have imagined there would even be a possibility of this living water … she would never have to come out to the well again!

She never could have imagined being so vulnerable with a stranger … a foreigner, of all people … of talking with someone about her life so openly, out of fear of judgment and shaming. She never could have imagined that the person she was talking to was the Messiah … I AM … the one who is! She never could have imagined being heard without judgment, being seen for who she was, being the one to bring back good news to her people, being the reason that many of her fellow Samaritans believed because of her testimony. She never could have imagined being treated like family, feeling like she belonged, restored to community!

No one could have imagined … one week ago, even only a few days ago, when it seemed so far removed from us, so safely distant … No one could have imagined that a public health pandemic would dominate our day-to-day, even minute-by-minute, lives. It seems that everywhere we look, we’re reminded of COVID-19 … the “Coronavirus.” It’s difficult to think of anything else. Like it or not, this is our “new normal,” at least for a little while.

Maybe we feel like the Israelites … lost in the wilderness, seemingly abandoned, uncertain, fearful, not in control or knowing what to expect next.

Or maybe we feel like the woman at the well … isolated, judged, perceived as less than, for whatever reason.

Maybe the woman’s cry is the Israelites’ cry: “Is the Lord among us or not?” Maybe it’s our cry.

Dear people of God, listen to these stories of our faith: In the wilderness, God provides water from the rock. At an ordinary well, Jesus offers living water and a source of connection that can never be cut off. Even in this crisis, in any crisis, God is with us.

It’s easy to feel paralyzed and not know what to do, when even our gathering together for worship is at risk. But one contemporary church music composer puts it this way:

“Music is not cancelled. It will just sound a little different for a while. Church is not cancelled. Worship will just look a little different for a while. Relationships will not be cancelled. They will just feel a little different for a while. Faith will not be cancelled. It will just grow in different ways for a while. Love will not be cancelled. In fact, we will need more of it for a while.”

There are life-giving sources of connection even now, connections to each other, connections to God. This week I was struck by the images and videos of Italians, under strict national quarantine, singing and dancing and playing music from their balconies for each other, making the best of circumstances beyond their control … connecting even across distance and walls.

At Unity, while our worship looks and feels differently, we’re still here. And we can continue to connect virtually through our daily Lent e-devos, worship recordings, and sermon podcasts. Technology is a marvelous thing, and we live in a place where the majority of us can take advantage of it anytime, anywhere.

Just because we’re told to “keep our distance” doesn’t mean we can’t make meaningful connections. Read that book that’s been collecting dust on your coffee table. Take an online virtual museum tour. Go for a walk or run outdoors and soak in the splendor of natural beauty. Order take-out or delivery to take the stress out of cooking and help keep local restaurants afloat. Video chat with family and friends.

Most of all, be of good courage, dear church. For even in the wilderness, even in isolation, even in the midst of crisis, God is among us.

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