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What Do You Care About? ~ John 4: 7-42

Two weeks ago, Ron Schmidt gave a Minute for Mission about caring and told a story about softball team members who carried a player from the opposing team who had just hit the game winning home run, but had injured her leg and couldn’t touch all the bases. Apparently if they had just left her in the dust their team would have won. But placing care and compassion above victory they showed themselves to be leaders; they showed themselves to be individuals that I want to trust.

Last week, Julie Lustic testified that her care for this church led her to become an Elder and that commitment has deepened her Christian faith.

These stories got me thinking about what I care about and how that affects my choices. I do a lot of talking, but do I actually do anything? After this recent presidential election I wanted to do something that reflected my deepest values and showed what I cared most deeply about.

I decided that I could no longer reside on the sidelines and so I made the commitment to joining the Strategy Team of Greater Cleveland Congregations: a faith-based organizing network of religious communities pressing for greater access to jobs and healthier neighborhoods for every citizen in metro-Cleveland.

I also wanted to be more involved in interfaith dialogue. Hence, I reached out to Muslim leaders after the travel ban and to Jewish leaders after the bomb threats.

It means more meetings and less free time, but like Julie, I am feeling energized. It feels good to follow your caring! You feel more alive.

It took others, however, to push me to make my commitment. I needed to be agitated to do what I had been thinking about; to put my care into action, to make my opinions have legs, so to speak; so I can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

We may need to do that to each other – that is what the Nominating Committee is all about – agitating you to consider what you care about and then doing something about it! You always have the sacred right to say “no.” Your care may be located in other places at this time; and that is good…but try not to say “no” too quickly!

What do you care about? What is your deepest self-interest – what is your vocation, calling? Let’s get down and get spiritual.

Frederick Buechner has written: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” “Deep gladness” – that place where you care the most, that place that motivates you, where you know you are in touch with something deep and powerful. “World’s Deep Hunger” – what the world really needs. Not the world’s deepest fear – which I think is motivating far too many today – but deep hunger, deep yearning.

Where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet is where God wants you. It is where you find yourself as God’s beloved and powerful child.

Now the “world” can be the world, or it can be your slice of it: in your homes, or work, at church, in your relationships. I have known powerful people whose world is cramped by a barrio, or a sick bed, or a prison cell, but whose imagination and sense of self is large. Their caring hearts extend beyond physical limits. So this vocation thing is not just for the young and the able – but truly is for everyone.

It may be that the world you need to serve is on a ministry of this church, or one of its committees. It may be by showing up at a GCC meeting, or serving at the Pantry lunch, or hammering a nail at the Habitat house, or writing a get-well card to someone.

I remember being told a parable when I was training for faith-based organizing. You are standing by a river and you see a person struggling to stay afloat. So you jump in and try to save the person. But if you see a whole lot of people struggling you have to realize that something is going on upstream and you had better figure out the source. Sometimes what you care about is macro – large!

But on the other hand, there’s the woman who was walking along a beach and saw hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand. She knew that she couldn’t throw them all back into the water but she knew she could throw a few, and so she did; the enormity of it all didn’t paralyze her.

In short, you do what you can do.

I think this passage in John’s gospel illustrates and illuminates these issues of care, and identity, and agitation and finding your power.

It is a peculiar passage. Its chopped dialogue makes Jesus seem remote and almost harsh. But the woman is cool. I like her. You can feel her tension when Jesus agitates her: “Give me a drink.” And “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She is no shrinking violent, there is passion and power in her responses; she is not going to back down: “Oh so you think you are a prophet, do you?” She has attitude!

We don’t get background, or her back-story. Is Jesus judging her for sleeping around? Perhaps, but maybe Jesus is judging the patriarchal cultural system that takes for granted that this woman should be used by men either as a sex slave or a prostitute, that this beloved child of God has no identity other than through what man she happens to be with as sinful?

Probably a bit of both, really – after all, Jesus is a man of his time and we have seen him say other “politically incorrect” things to other non-Jewish women (metaphorically calling the Syrophoenician woman a “dog” in Mark 7) But he is one who has the heart of the Creator, who has the vision large enough to see what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like!

But whatever her back-story what Jesus says agitates this sister and as we read she goes back into town and starts telling everyone: “This may be the Messiah! Come and see!”

On the surface what she came for–what she cared about–was water; to drink, to bathe, to wash and to refresh, and to serve others. On a deeper level what she cared about was, I guess – because I don’t know for sure – but the results of this encounter seem to suggest, that what she deeply cared about was for someone to know her; even the hidden and self-conscious bits – someone caring enough to ask a question and to engage, and to press and to get her to reflect a bit more deeply about who she was. We know this encounter liberated her. It empowered her.

And that is all that Jesus wants to do with you and we should want to do with one another: liberate and empower. This isn’t always comfortable work – but we have to get comfortable with discomfort and step beyond safety to power and freedom.

And frankly I think the interchange made Jesus change a bit too. His vision got a little clearer and his worldview a little larger, and that shouldn’t surprise us. It doesn’t make him any less the Son of God or divine. I believe Jesus had a continual stretching of his vision and mind: at his baptism, in the wilderness, at the mount of transfiguration, with the Syrophoenician woman, with this Samaritan, in the garden and yes, even and perhaps especially on the cross – nobody, even the Son of God, is a finished piece of art at the start! You have to go through stuff to get “finished!”

I wish this woman had a name. But she got unleashed and she changed her backwater, dusty, insignificant community and witnessed to the saving and empowering grace of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is calling each of you in the same way. Seeking and probing what it is you really care about – – where “your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest hunger,” and then agitating you to do something about it. It isn’t about guilt or obligation; it is about empowerment, liberation, service and even deep joy.

I am warning you. In the coming months Jesus may look a lot like Julie Lustic, Ron Schmidt, LeDon Headen, Jane Frederick, Karen Loughridge, and Dave Peterjohn – they may ask you for a drink of water! Don’t run.

What do you care about?

What are you doing about it?

AMEN

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