No Interest in our Other-ness-es
Third Sunday of Lent (RCL- A)- March 12, 2023
Looking out my window, there was nearly no skyline, only a hospital named Good Samaritan. Started by the Episcopal Church,long since sold to corporate entities, it now covered several blocks and was almost all that I could see. Tucked between the medical buildings, was a church. The one that started the ministries that became the hospital. But it isn’t one with us anymore either. More than twenty years before I lived across the street, it had splintered. When asked where I lived In that stylish part of that town, if i replied across the street from ‘St. Splinter’, Episcopal people would mutter words of disgust and disdain and anger. I even heard more than one nice little old person hiss. I was only twenty-something, I didn’t know yet how twenty years ago could still burn like yesterday.
Between the hospital and the church and my building, was a coffee shop. It was not the cafe where I lingered with stacks of books, it was not the spot where I met up with friends, but it was my constant to-go cup. I don’t recall how our conversations began. It could have been in the wait before and or after the order. It could have been a comment about a book he read at his usual table. He could have been my much taller and just a bit older cousin. I learned he worked in IT at a big bookstore, but his vocation was that he was a deacon, at the church, the one through the window, the one I ungenerously call St. Splinter.
Maybe the dog knocked the day's water over. Perhaps someone is sick at home. There are plenty of reasons to go to the store in the middle of the night, or in this case the well in the heat of the day. There are plenty of reasons to be there that have nothing to do with a bad reputation. We do reasonably suspect that her life was anchored in death and exclusion, but If she was truly shamed in an honor/shame culture, she wouldn’t have had friends to tell and bring to the well. All the things that contribute to her otherness - heritage, lifestory, location - Jesus isn’t interested. To the least expected place, to the least expected person, at an unexpected time. He arrives - we have heard it for ourselves. His grace is as deep and quenching as his curious presence with her.
The most important moment in this long lesson may not be the well, or the thirst, or the boundary crossing. This is Jesus’ first self revelation in this Gospel according to John He will go on to say I am gate, I am bread, I am light, I am truth, I am the way. I AM seems like a kindergarten sentence, but for those with ears to hear it is about divine essence and the profoundity of the incarnation. It is a direct identification with the eternal voice from the burning bush to Moses. ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I will be who I will be’ is the Lord’s revealed name. Here we have heard it ourselves, Jesus begins the self revelation face to face with a woman who is the in one way or many, ‘the other’ who lives right across the street. She comes under the movement and the stillness of the presence of Jesus who says he is ‘I am’. Here she enters an unpredictable life transforming process, She doesn’t understand it all, because few of us ever do. But her experience of his love, becomes love for all that he loves.
Neighborly love for people on the other side of the world who you have never is less of a challenge than civil conversations across tribalisms that share location and heritage and claims to truth. The significant variances between 2nd Temple Judaism and Samaritans seem to go back to the differences in experience between those who were Exiled to Babylon and those who remained. On a biological and geographical level, these are the same people, in a taxonomy of religion, they are branch and twig (with arguments about which is which). But that is exactly what makes it harder. The messiness of our disagreements with those who are closest to us are fiercer than those who are further apart. Today we are faced with a multitude of fractious tribalisms based in pride, rumor, fear, shame, unknowing, clinging to power, the need to belong, profiteering, mistakes, stubbornness, and the manipulation by evil, to name just a few. We have seen and heard that such death-dealing and division is not the way of God’s mercy. Where do we go from here? Sometimes it comes down to two othered persons meeting at the well in the heat of the day.
Do you avoid or seek such encounters with the very other? Have you been gladly surprised by a chance encounter with someone you see as ‘other’? What do you do, in the presence of Jesus, with all our mutual failures to diffuse our othering of each other?
The ‘other’ Deacon in the coffee shop, his church is an other to me, and to us for many reasons, but certainly for disagreements about the language of the liturgy, and well, this (my being female and being a priest). He told me once that he didn’t care at all about the top issues that started the split. He was too young to recall the separation, much like I don’t recall anything but this prayerbook and hymnal and ordination equality. He was in that church because it was where he found meaning, purpose, community, and ritual through which he knew the presence of Jesus Christ, and had given his life to serving that. I was on a parallel path, but I cared much more about our differences. What made our coffee shop friendship work was mutual curiosity and the lack of contempt. The meeting of ‘others’at a well of sorts - the coffee shop between us - matches our gospel well. However, unlike that revelation, there is no conversion that I know of. Like this woman at the well, we are met by Jesus. All the divisions that we tally up in our tribalisms and otherness-es - heritage, lifestory, location - Jesus isn’t interested. We have heard it for ourselves. We have been to the font and to the table. We have known his presence in the breaking of the bread. In his life and death and resurrection: he surprises us, and sends us toward something other, something other than any of our death-dealing otherness-es.
The Rev. Jane Gober (she/her)
(610) 521-1626 EXT: 22
You can call me Reverend Jane.
Jane began her ministry at Christ Church in the fall of 2019, and is delighted to accompany people in their discipleship journey. Jane is the daughter of Army officers and has lived in either 15 or 16 states (depending on how you count), and West Germany. She graduated from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss!) in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts in Education, and a minor is Sociology. In 2003 she received her Masters of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, where she focused on Practical Theology and Adult Formation.
Before and after seminary, and before ordination, she served for over 20 years in the Episcopal Church in lifelong formation and ministry with young people. Jane was ordained in the best wine country anywhere, Walla Walla, Washington (Diocese of Spokane). Currently she serves with the Diocese of Pennsylvania on the Board of Trustees, Serviam leadership committee, and is an alternate deputy for General Convention. She has three cats: Glory, Poppy, and Molly, and enjoys visiting breweries with friends, reading and writing at coffee shops, and consuming both a gluttony of baseball (college and the Oakland Athletics), and soccer (USWNT and the Philadelphia Union). A book lover, book jacket reviews of Reverend Jane would say things like: inventive, erudite, genuine, ‘gets stuff done’, and ‘the most interesting church lady I have ever met.’