Jim Penczykowski delivered the following homily at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on March 27, 2011 – the Third Sunday of Lent.
What do we seek when we tentatively cross the threshold of a worship space for the first time?
When you enter a church or chapel for the first time what do you hope for?
Do you expect to meet God face-to-face?
Do you expect an ecstatic experience?
Do you expect your life will be laid bare before you?
Do you expect an invitation to intimacy that might be a little bit scary?
Or, do you expect something less daunting?
Do you expect an environment and symbols centuries,
and even millennia, old will mediate your experience with God?
Do you expect interaction with other humans
who are every bit as distracted by the cares of this world as you are?
Do you expect, and even look for, flaws that tell you your prayer experience will be far from perfect?
Alas, the differences between the two sets of expectations are in part the trade off we accept for being church.
Who among us has not at times wondered what it was like to be among the first disciples of Jesus, to have nothing and no one mediate the experience of hearing his words and following after him?
It would be exhilarating and exciting and scary, would it not?
Our expectation for our public prayer, our liturgy, falls somewhat short of that, does it not?
Our Gospel writer today, John, understands full well the tension and trade off.
John’s account is adventurous and, in some respects, picks up where the other Gospel writers leave off.
John has knowledge of other Gospel accounts, especially Mark’s, but chooses not to reference the 12 apostles.
Church structure is already “gelling” in other communities of Christians, but John places all of his emphasis on discipleship, on following Jesus.
It would be a stretch to say John is opposed to all structure and separation of ministries and apostolic succession, but the writer avoids reference to anything or anyone who might mediate the encounter with Jesus.
Today’s passage concludes with the chorus of Samaritan villagers saying to the woman,
“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Part of what made this Gospel writer’s community different from many others 60 years after Jesus walked this earth, was the catalytic power of new members with backgrounds distinctly different from the founding members. One of those new groups was made up of Samaritans.
They did not believe that Jerusalem was the center of worship; they did not believe the Jewish synagogue leaders had any authority.
They did not follow Jesus with the cultural trappings of the Jews or the Greeks.
And so Jesus said to the Samaritan woman,
“But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth,
for God seeks such as these as worshipers.
God is sprit,
and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.”
The original message of the first generation to encounter Jesus entered into the hearts of the Samaritans.
The Samaritans’ worldview, in turn, opened the community of John to the importance of worshiping God in spirit and truth.
This past year and a half of worship at Holy Wisdom Monastery has also been a time of opening the gates, so to speak, to many new faces and voices. Those of us who have worshiped here for a long time have much to share with the newcomers.
Those new to the assembly bring perspective and worldview that acts as a catalyst on our gathering.
We find ourselves looking at our routines, at our structures, at our ministries with new eyes.
We find ourselves listening to stories different from our own that create new pathways and new solutions to old problems.
Each new configuration of faithful followers takes on the heady responsibility of proclaiming the Good News to the world.
It is our mission.
Mission requires structure, logistics, authority to act on behalf of others, and a succinct message that challenges others to accept the word made flesh.
It may be unrealistic to expect an ecstatic experience here, but if we are open to the promptings of the Spirit, we should expect to encounter the Risen Christ in the breaking of the word and in the breaking of the bread.
This is the source of our hope for the fulfillment of the Reign of God
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Holy One, you seek those who will worship in spirit and truth, open our minds and hearts to receive the gifts of this Eucharist, we pray …
Healer of body and soul, cure the sickness of our spirit, so that we may grow in holiness through your constant care, we pray …
Font of Living Water, make us good stewards of the natural resources you provide so that all people and all creation may know your abundant love, we pray …
For what else shall we pray?
Please speak the names of those whose needs you carry in your hearts: for these and all those listed in our book of intentions, we pray …
God of all compassion, Mother and Father of all goodness,
to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us
you bid us turn to fasting, prayer and sharing with our sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our sinfulness, our guilt is ever before us:
when our weakness causes discouragement,
let your compassion fill us with hope
and lead us through a Lent of repentance to the beauty of Easter joy.
We ask this in Jesus’ name in the unity of the Spirit.