s014g02 Lockleys Lent 3 3/3/2002

"Sir, you have no bucket." John 4:11

A long time ago I used to be a scout, and like every good scout, I have always taken to heart their motto: "Be prepared". I am a hoarder from way back. I particularly collect tools. It is the source of some (minor) personal pride that I can undertake most things with the tools I have collected. Mind you, I'm fairly useless with anything more delicate than one can achieve with a chain saw :-) For my 50th, Catherine gave me a handbag, because I'm never without my diary and my credit cards have a hard time in my wallet, because I'm always sitting on them when they're in my back pocket. It does nothing for the magnetic strips to be sat on regularly. By the time I have my "Leatherman", mobile phone, keys, and more recently my little digital camera along with a few other bits and pieces, actually the handbag's a good idea - except if I leave it somewhere ... If something happens, I can, if I look through my handbag, have something to fix the situation, other than of course, the kitchen sink :-)

And I think I operate using the same paradigm when I relate to other people. I hoard my knowledge of scripture, my understanding of the traditions of the Church, my extensive fund of life experiences which I find often come to me as I talk to others, which I bring out of my storehouse which illuminate some question. One can see this in my sermons, of course. I am forever quoting from the "Chronicles of Narnia" or "Mister God, this is Anna" or whatever book has recently taken my fancy.

The true engineer doesn't have all the answers, but knows where to find them ...

Most recently I have been thoroughly enjoying reading "Angels and Dragons - On Sorrow, God and Healing" by the Canadian author Molly Wolf. This amazing book is a powerful insight into her own personal spiritual journey. I feel both humble and privileged to have had an opportunity to read it. To paraphrase her words: (She has) "my deepest, most abject admiration. I want to walk up to (her) and fall at (her) feet, awed by (her) courage and fortitude." (p 142) Anything I have suffered is trivial compared with what she has gone through. It should be required reading for anyone contemplating undertaking lay or ordained ministry. I am particularly awed by her degree of self disclosure, which I find myself avoiding rather than embracing.

One of the determining factors in her life has been her suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, yet as I thought about this, I recall someone wryly saying that life itself is a sexually transmitted terminal illness. Molly herself talks about others she knows and loves who suffer more than herself - it is the essence of the paraphrase I used earlier.

This caused me to remember how shy I am as a person. The only reason I can do the job I do now is the realisation that everyone else is as shy as I am, it's just that others have perhaps become more practised in masking their shyness.

So putting all these things together, there would in fact be few of us who don't suffer some form of mental illness for some of our lives. We may suffer shyness, grief, depression, paranoia, guilt, obsessiveness, it really doesn't matter. The woman at the well suffered the ostracism of her neighbours. Most of us manage to live what we call "normal" existences - we manage to retain a facade to other people that we are OK, because for much of our life we think it is a competition. The last thing we would ever want to be discovered by others is that we are found to be "not coping". Molly talks about the "Plexiglas wall between us" (p105).

So here we all are carrying around our buckets. My own bucket is full of helpful suggestions, derived from impeccable authorities like the Bible and the Church, all of which help me hide my own illnesses and insecurity, which can become substitutes for relating to others as humans.

The woman at the well was no fool. Jesus didn't have a bucket. You need a bucket to carry water or else you will spill it all. But Jesus didn't have one. What could he offer her?

And Jesus did not go down the Samaritan / Jewish track, who is right and who is wrong. There is no "living water" in sectarian debates like this. Jesus didn't hide behind theological controversy or conversation.

What we really want for ourselves and others, is not these substitutes for intimacy, but for intimacy itself, and yet how infrequently this happens.

And I suspect that this happens so very infrequently, because we are here to "help" when what others want from us is simply to be there. The comfort that a pet brings to people is so often that the pet is content for the company, and we don't have to explain to our pet our own need for companionship.

A week or so ago I attended the "Worship Alive" service at Kidman Park. It was lovely to see and hear the young musicians play tunes I'm not familiar with. The theme of the service was the masks we wear, and the congregation was encouraged to be authentic. It was all good and positive stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. And it caused me to wonder: "being authentic" is such a long phrase, and I remembered, as I sat there, I am only just beginning to know and be able to articulate what I believe - and here I am at the ripe old age of fifty - nearly twenty years older than Jesus managed to live!

And the following day I was reading a response to the Diocesan Council from the Ministry Development Council regarding the possible appointment of an Assistant Bishop, where the statement is made: "The leadership must have integrity, authenticity, experience, theological and spiritual grounding, and good common sense." Now I would hate to think that someone was appointed who was dishonest, inexperienced, and lacking in common sense - yet "authenticity" expressed in this way seems something to achieve. I suspect what this means is that we are ourselves and are content with who we are. Perhaps it means we don't need to travel with buckets, buckets of things to help others, buckets of Bibles for others to read, buckets of Church traditions to which to adhere.

I thought, it is we ourselves, as we actually are, who are called. We are called by name, so it is us as we really are that we are our most useful to others. It is as we accept others as they in fact are - that we are most affirming.

Jesus offered the woman nothing but himself. He was prepared to converse with her as an equal. He was prepared to allow her to be herself as she really was - it really didn't matter about the details of her past or present associations, or which particular form of faith she held. Jesus related to her as the person she was, someone who could contribute to his present need if she chose to, or not. He was simply thirsty.

And this is the same paradigm for all of Jesus' encounters, including his encounter with us. What we have done or not done, what we have achieved or not achieved, how we articulate our faith or not - is all quite immaterial. Jesus relates to us as the people we are and asks of us to make our contribution if we choose to do so.

I always cringe inwardly at the phrase used by the psalmist: "he knows the very secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44.22) because it impinges on my privacy. Yet I've agonised over stupid things I have done in the past, where I've possibly (usually inadvertently) hurt others, then agonised often for years afterwards. God knows the secrets of my heart because I've told God, again and again, often. And I suppose we assume that this is what God wants. Yet God forgave my actions the very first time I asked for forgiveness. Actually I suspect God is bored with it all. Not again, Christopher!

And the other bucket that Jesus' didn't carry was the special one which was invisible because he was God's son.

John tells us: 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (Joh 7:38) We seem to think that Jesus is the source of all blessings, and the living water is just for ourselves as believers, yet the living waters in fact flow out of us. Our belief is that our personal stocks of living water are in fact increased as we allow it to flow from us.

The blessing that Jesus bestowed on this woman was not due to any special gift or grace he possessed and was able to impart, because he was God the Son. The blessing that Jesus bestowed on the woman - and on us because he treats us likewise - is that he as a human being treated her as a human being also.

And as we accept others as they are, we find that there is no diminishment in our own acceptance of our own integrity. It is here that we find the truth in those seemingly contradictory statements - about being all things to all people (1 Co 9.22) and still retain integrity as a virtue (Tit 2.7).

So perhaps Molly has had her good effect in my life as I've been enabled to embrace a little more personal self disclosure rather than avoid it.


Links to other sites on the Web:

About the author and links.

To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.

To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.

Back to a sermon for next Sunday.