Deanne and I were at a wedding this past weekend in Washington, D.C. At the reception we were seated at a table with 8 others. One of the guests shared that he was befuddled. He, his wife and children had grown up in the church. But now his two children, in their thirties married with children of their own, never went to church. “Rev. Lentz, what is going on? Why don’t people go to church anymore?”
All I wanted to do was enjoy my kale salad, seared tuna with mashed sweet potatoes and fresh asparagus and my glass of white wine and then dance to a really good band.
A good question, though; one that is not easily answered. Our table started talking about different generations and their spiritual needs: the baby boomers, the Gen-Xers, the millennials who were born between 1980 and 2000. Less likely to join institutions but moved to join movements, don’t identify so much with a political party – but tend to be more socially liberal, less communitarian and more individualistic.
The consensus, however, at the table, was that people of differing generations are not experiencing a sacred encounter. They are not being refreshed in spirit. A connection between what one believes and how one lives is not being made. And, the traditional answers given by the church don’t seem to match up with the questions being asked.
I am not sure I agreed with everything that was said, although it agitated me deeply. For the most part I don’t think Forest Hill Church is what they were describing. And yet 50 years ago this used to be a 1,500 member church. There used to be 6 thriving Presbyterian churches within 3 miles of here; now there are 3 that are viable.
The couple I married are millennials. They haven’t found a church (haven’t really looked) – but they pray together, are really smart, engaged and “involved-in-things-that-matter” people – they are not anti-religious. There were a whole bunch of millennials at the wedding so I asked a favorite one, Emily: “Do you go to church?” And she said: ‘Not often because I am so busy; I travel a lot. I like it when I go. But, when I do go I just want to be quiet and disappear, blend in – but everyone sees me as ‘fresh meat’ – “AH a young person!”
I am struck by the sacred encounter that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman in light of this wedding experience. It feels as if this meeting in Sychar, describes a universal meeting, describes a moment of sacred encounter from all times and place and generations – of whatever demographic.
We all want an encounter with something important, don’t we? Don’t you? Even the most cynical person, I have found is touched by beauty, moved by the big idea, leans into the mystery of love – whether we call it religious or not; an encounter which challenges and agitates; an encounter that touches our truth deep within without judgment; an encounter with reality; my reality – not someone else’s; an encounter with something holy and mysterious and real; an encounter that breaks down old barriers; an encounter which goes beyond pat answers. This is what the Samaritan women encountered in Jesus.
I don’t know how old this Samaritan woman was. I am not sure what the sociological definition of marriage was in those days. I picture her as a 30-something year old woman, with not much power, at the mercy of men. We too quickly judge this woman – what about the men who have used her? Remember, women couldn’t divorce men – so she has been thrown around, probably abused – coming to the well all alone at noon – a clue.
She is coming to the well to draw water. The same path, and routine followed for generations.
A Samaritan and a Jew, a woman and a man – the sociological demographics decree that they shouldn’t be talking. One worships on the mountain and one in Jerusalem; it had been that way for years – this is how it has always been done.
But Jesus says: mountain or temple doesn’t matter because the hour is coming when the ‘true worshiper’ worships the Father in spirit and in truth.
Jesus moves us off the mountain and outside the temple – it is not location but locomotion!
No, not just routine – spirit and truth.
Not in this church or that church – spirit and truth.
Not even this religion or that religion – spirit and truth.
Not in this form or that form, not this doctrine or that doctrine, not this experience or that experience – spirit and truth.
Spirit and truth – something that is authentic that stirs your deepest yearning. This is the sacred encounter that Jesus Christ brings.
Whether it be within our walls or outside the walls of temple, church – it begins with an encounter with the “fascinating mystery” that draws you closer. Some encounter with something – almost anything that causes you to pause from what you are doing, and lift up your head from the routine…. this is what happens to that Samaritan woman.
The sacred encounter can’t be about rule following, it can’t be about fear, because the very nature of God is to liberate and help you face the truth.
I don’t know what it means to have 5 husbands in that day and age; but clearly there was a stigma attached, some guilt about this woman’s status – and yet in the truth telling there is not judgment but release. “He told me everything I have ever done!”
In our moralistic day – we need to remember this.
Having a sacred encounter may touch something that is uncomfortable: the woman puts up a sarcastic wall: “Oh, so you are a prophet, are you?” The barrier is quickly raised … but the sacred encounter with Christ pushes through the barrier is always beyond guilt – to freedom and power.
Yes, there is water, refreshing water, living water – something new that is not part of the routine, something that effervesces. I think we are all thirsty for a word that refreshes and gives clarity and touches something deep within…don’t you?
The Samaritan woman is good; she talks back, challenges. Belief is more than rote memorization and pat answers. The Samaritan woman engages Jesus.
The Samaritan woman can’t help it but share the news and offer the invitation: “Come and See!” Did you know that “Come and See!” is essentially our tag line for this church?
So you and I, we come to the well this morning – this lovely well with our bucket – of many ages, from many places: Our hope is that you are being refreshed with living water – in the hymns, or prayers, anthems, maybe even a sermon, finding community, bumping into a truth that challenges but liberates. If so, then go invite others: “come and see.” We are not going to grow if no one invites.
Invite the millenials, the gen-Xers, the baby boomers, the rich and the poor, the gay and the straight, the republican and the democrat, the doubters and the cynics. There is magic in our human encounters. As we stand before the spirit and the truth, who knows what will happen, how we will change, or how we will meet Jesus and maybe have an honest encounter with ourselves and others.