The readings on
which this sermon is
be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r014.htm
s014g11 Lent 3 27/3/2011
They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman John 4.27
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
Jesus engages in a theological debate with a heretic woman.
It might be noted that Jesus doesn’t have this sort of discussion with
any of his disciples! The fact that he would converse with
a woman was astonishing to Jesus’ disciples, yet it was really how he
consistently did his ministry. The disciples themselves
were not the theologically literate in society, and nor did Jesus try
to make them so. Jesus accepted his disciples as they were,
and Jesus accepted this woman, heretic and multiply married at
that. Even the blessed virgin Mary doesn’t have this level
of theological discourse with her son.
A woman, heretic, less than devout, even less than moral and an outcast
- yet Jesus engages her in theological conversation in an age when
women were meant to be silent - and even St Paul didn’t extricate
himself from this perversion.
This woman is no fool. When Jesus offers her living water
she scoffs that she is the one with the bucket, not he.
Jesus has nothing to offer, but himself. And the living
water he offers is not something to satisfy her thirst, but something
that will flow out of her, for others .. And that
gift was given, and she didn’t need a bucket either, for, like Jesus,
she had nothing to offer but herself, which she does .. and the people
of the town find faith that she did.
And it all stems from taking this woman seriously.
So time ago I was talking about the mission of the church where we hope
people will be brought into the church by osmosis. People will
see the good things we do and want to be a part of our
community. Or else people will see the bad things that
people outside the church perpetrate and seek our fellowship as a safe
haven. But Jesus points to a different way - an incarnation
into society - completely removing that ‘selectively-permeable
membrane’ on which osmosis depends.
Giving people dignity enables them to give other people
Currently I have been helping a parish move from a being a local shared
ministry parish to a new model of ministry. Some years ago
this parish had found that it either couldn’t afford a full time
resident priest or there wasn’t one available and so four people were
trained and two were ordained deacon and two more deacon and
priest. And these people have done a remarkable
job. But I reflect that the church has done this to try to
maintain a clergy centred ministry.
Paul Collins has recently written a piece entitled ‘Australian
Catholics facing disaster’
in ‘Eureka Street’. It details the vast lack of vocations in the
catholic priesthood, and again I reflect, like my Anglican experience,
it assumes that only a return to a clergy centred ministry is
But if we look at clergy centred ministry, it has been assumed that
clergy are essential at every stage of life. Babies are not
acceptable until they are baptised, marriages must be ‘in church’
(which of course is code for ‘our church’), people can’t go to heaven
without ‘extreme unction’, and of course when and with whom one may be
intimate is determined by this church. And there are as
many Anglicans who think like this as any others. We just
can’t do anything without the priest being there. How is
this conferring dignity on others? Isn’t this not treating
others as infantile? Unable to make any decisions
themselves, unable to come into this world or leave it without help!
It is no wonder that modern society looks at this paradigm for what it
is - a load of codswallop. The days when the parish priest
was the only literate person in the village, sheriff, judge, lawyer are
long gone. Real people have expertise, indeed people have
read the bible, along with other religious and spiritual
tracts. They are educated and they are able to reason and
they do not need clergy to mollycoddle them.
I have often commented that I’ve had my most interesting conversations
with atheists and agnostics, for these people have actually thought
about the faith and why they don’t believe. And I learn so much
from internet conversations I have with people who express things
differently. Just recently someone commented that he got
nervous about ignoring sin which inspired me to respond that I get more
nervous ignoring evil, for it was evil the put Jesus on the cross, not
sin (thanks Garth :-). This may well find its way into my
sermon for Good Friday. It is these sorts of exchanges that
move me along on my journey of discovery. I am not the
fount of all wisdom, I’m just a learner like everyone else.
And there is no one from who one cannot learn something.
And it is these sorts of conversations that sustain my enthusiasm for
reading the scriptures .. again .. and thinking about them .. again ..
The church is finding herself more and more on the margins of
society. So much more is done by governments, industry and
service organisations, and we ought to be grateful that this is
so. People have learned their lesson well, that each has a
part to play in the ongoing welfare of society and of individuals
within it. And they do. While we are trying to
re-assert the centrality of the church into society, society knows how
much the church has resisted the findings of scientific discoveries and
has sought exemption from most anti-discrimination
legislation. In doing so the church has shown herself to be
divisive, myopic and curmudgeonly.
How much healthier and happier the church would be to engage in
conversation with others, not to convert, but to
affirm. To engage in conversation with the heretical,
the less than devout, the less than moral, even someone other than
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