Water Works Rev Dr Durrell Watkins – Lent 3 (2014) Moses and his fellow travelers are in a wilderness. To escape oppression they have fled to the wilderness, but the fear of being lost, the difficulty of finding food in a barren area, and the stress of having not quite enough water in a desert […]
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins – Lent 3 (2014)
Moses and his fellow travelers are in a wilderness. To escape oppression they have fled to the wilderness, but the fear of being lost, the difficulty of finding food in a barren area, and the stress of having not quite enough water in a desert region are all overwhelming. They named and confronted the problem of bondage, but fixing the problem means change and challenge and facing the unknown and as we all know that can be a terrifying experience. Still, there is hope in spite of horror and the possibility of peace in the face of pain.
Moses needs a miracle, but it won’t be forced on him; it never is. He has to find a rock that might have water and then strike it to release the water. The water works don’t appear until he does his part. The miracle that happens for him actually happens through him.
The people in the Exodus narrative are complaining because they want magic, they want fairies and unicorns and elves to prance about showering pixie dust on them to make everything OK without effort, and because that so rarely happens, they are agitated and bitter. But when one among them is willing to think outside the box and do the work that is required, THEN the experience changes. When Moses starts beating the rock, someone must have said, “That’s new. That’s not how we used to do things.” Someone else must have said, “It will never work.” But I promise when the water starting flowing those same people were first in line with their cups in hand and the next day they were bragging about how they gave Moses the idea to do it and asking why on earth he didn’t try it sooner.
Moses’ attempt to try a new thing could have failed. But still, it is better to try and then fail than to simply complain and hope that things will magically self-correct.
When schools were racially segregated, when women couldn’t vote, when Jewish people could be denied employment or housing in some cities, when Japanese Americans were interred in their own country during WW2 because their country’s enemy shared their ancestry, when LBGT people were until very recently second class citizens, and in some states and many countries they still are, when the native inhabitants of this continent suffered genocide as their lands were colonized and their populations decimated, how hurting people must have complained over the years, heartsick and weary from the burden of oppression, crying out for justice which was their right. Susan B Anthony, Harvey Milk, Dr King, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Gloria Steinem, Medgar Evers, Troy Perry…oh how lucky we are that some people braved the blows and faced the fury and struck the rock.
But just being sad, or scared, or angry isn’t enough to change anything. We can cry out about how terrible things are, how awful someone else may be, but who is willing to strike the rock? How ridiculous must Moses have seemed beating that rock? Who is willing to try the improbable, to move beyond the safe or comfortable? Who is willing to risk failure in order to give success a chance?
Moses takes calculated risks and pays a price to lead the people from bondage to a brighter future, and he must have been so relieved when the water works project succeeded. The people were weary from hunger and fear and exhaustion, but Moses suffered all those same things and had the added burdened of being heckled by the people he was doing everything in his power to help.
Every performer, amateur or pro, who sings or plays or dances or acts their hearts out for an audience only to have critics who never trained as hard or took the risks they have tear them apart knows how Moses must feel.
Every business leader who has tossed and turned at night worrying about how to pay her staff,
every parent who has cared for a special needs child while those who do not share their circumstances judge them for their struggles,
every person who has been judged by their gender or sexual orientation or race or ethnicity rather than on their actual character,
every lesbian or gay person who knew they were sincere in their spirituality but were told by people who have no idea what it is like to be same-gender loving in a heterosexist society that their spirituality couldn’t be legitimate if they loved someone of the same gender,
every addict who has fallen off the wagon and summoned the courage to return to meetings,
every person who was told that hoping for improved health was silly and they chose to hope anyway,
every person who has started a new diet after the last ten failed,
every person who has struggled with grief longer than others said they should…
knows what it is like to be vilified for daring to be out, to try their best, to give hope one more chance.
There is always someone who thinks they know how it should have been done…they weren’t around to help or encourage when you were doing it, but now that it’s over they are too happy to tell how you could have done it better.
The complainers we will always have with us, but few are those with the insight and courage to strike the rock of despair and allow fresh streams of hope to flow through!
The gospel story is offers more water works.
Jesus is traveling and finds himself alone and thirsty. He finds a well but doesn’t have a bucket. So, he asks for help. The woman he asks is, well, a woman. And she is a Samaritan. And, if we read more of the story, we’d find she is a Samaritan woman with a reputation. Jesus pushes past the sexism, the ethnocentricity, the religious prejudices, and the prudery that would have been common among his contemporaries. And by overcoming those obstacles, he received the help he needed.
In traditional reflections on this story, we usually focus on Jesus really seeing the woman and not just judging her by her reputation. He sees she has been objectified and, by contrast, he treats her like a person. And that affirmation of her sacred value was the water that changed her life, the water that never runs out…because once you really believe in your innate goodness you’ll never let anyone take that from you again.
But what occurs to me as I read these stories this time is that Moses’ people had a real need and Moses was committed to ministering to it (not carving out his own privilege or legacy or comfort, but taking risks to help others),
and Jesus has a real need and the marginalized woman he encounters ministers to it. He gives her respect, but she gives him kindness, it is a mutually beneficial exchange of energy. We all have something to share, and we are better when we share what we can.
Working for justice, sharing compassion, building community…that’s hard work, and it is sometimes met with hostility instead of gratitude or praise, but for those that work has touched, it was like giving water to a thirsty person.
Offering a progressive message to those who have been served a steady diet of fear and condemnation, it’s like giving water to a thirsty person.
Was the rock really a rock in the Moses story? Was it a type of cactus? Was it a pool simply hidden by a rock? Is the story a parable with no historical accuracy at all? I don’t know.
And the same with the Gospel story. Did Jesus really encounter a Samaritan woman at a well? Did he really suggest that a change in consciousness would be like drinking water that would never dry up? Did he really change a woman’s life by affirming her sacred value, and did he really accept her kindness? If so, they were both surely changed for the better.
I can’t prove that these stories did or did not happen, but I feel strongly that they are true in that they show us that far too many people remain parched for hope and affirmation. The same old same old won’t quench their spiritual thirst, and our rock striking efforts to help and heal our community may be met with more grumbling than gratitude, but we are in the thirst quenching business and we will not be deterred.
When we add our voices and efforts to help LBGT people in Uganda, Nigeria or Jamaica find safety,
When we celebrate every place that passes marriage equality and keep an eye on every place that hasn’t so far (FLORIDA),
When we insist that divine Love rejects no soul ever for any reason,
When we advocate for gender non-conforming people who have yet to be consistently afforded the respect they deserve even in our own community,
When we remember that AIDS isn’t over and our concern is still needed,
When we challenge racism and sexism within and beyond the walls of the church,
When we gather food or clothing or school supplies for people who need a helping hand,
When we build community and strive for more diversity and care for people from 2 to 102,
When we challenge ourselves to be more generous, more concerned with the marginalized and disadvantaged,
When we do everything we can think of to affirm the sacred value of all people, we are sharing our bucket at the well of healing; we are striking the rock of despair and allowing the water of hope to flow unobstructed into lives that need to be refreshed. And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
Let the healing waters flow today.
Let us be refreshed and renewed.
Let hope wash over us.
And let us share these droplets of grace with others.