Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Thirst

27 March 2011/Lent 3-A - John 4:5-42
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary, Baltimore, Maryland
I Thirst
So it is when we find Jesus comes to the Samaritan woman at the well. She is, perhaps, the most broken woman in the whole gospel story. The very fact that she comes at noon to draw water, rather than in the early morning when the other women of the village would be there, suggests that at the very least she is ashamed. In all likelihood she is the subject of scorn and derision. People look down upon her because of her brokenness in marriage and in relationships.

So here she is trying to avoid being seen, and instead there is someone at the well. Not just someone, but a man. Not just a man but a Jewish man. In that time and place men and women were not to be seen in public together. And Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with one another. So she is startled to see him there. She is even more startled that he speaks to her.

Jesus, we are told, is tired. As he addresses this broken, lonely and ashamed woman, he asks, “Give me a drink.” It is an invitation to be at risk. It is an invitation to cross boundaries and ancient taboos. But he is thirsty, and she has a bucket, and there is the well of their mutual ancestor Jacob.

Notice how Jesus does not look down upon her as the others do. He calls no attention to her brokenness. Instead, he acknowledges his own brokenness. He is tired. He is thirsty. Those of us familiar with this story will recognize this thirst of his. Among his very last words on the cross are the words, “I thirst.”

What Jesus is seeking here is someone who shares his thirst. His thirst is a thirst for peace. What he calls God’s shalom. This shalom is in turn a thirst for justice and healing for all people, especially people like this Samaritan woman. Most of all, Jesus thirsts for dignity and respect for all people. Not some people. Not a lot of people. All people.

This woman knows no respect. But Jesus reaches out to her from his need, not hers. By reaching out to her from his own need he gives her dignity and respect – there is something she can do for him. Jesus gives her identity and purpose. Suddenly something new, something real, wells up inside of her. It is a new confidence, a new spirit. And from this new spirit her real thirst is revealed. It is a thirst that will not be quenched by the waters at the bottom of Jacob’s well. She thirsts for real life, authentic life, and Jesus gives it to her without cost and without condition.

After some astonishingly frank and assertive conversation, her response is that of total commitment. And why not? She, who had no life and no purpose, but only heartache, pain and shame, is suddenly given the gift of eternal life with Jesus who is revealed to her as God’s own anointed one.

The disciples return with lunch and appear horrified that their master Jesus has compromised himself by talking with this woman in broad daylight. Even Nicodemus had had the tact to come in the dark of night. The disciples cannot understand the crossing of ancient boundaries, such a departure from the old taboos.

While Jesus tries to help the disciples see that this is the kind of life of risk and ministry to which he calls them, the woman runs off, leaving her bucket behind. She does not need it any longer. She has living water welling up inside of her! She is empowered by the simple fact that Jesus trusts her with his needs, his exhaustion and his thirst. And he trusts her with his identity.

She runs into town and tells everyone of her encounter at the well with the source of true and living water. She says something like, “I belong solely to him. He is my life. He is the hope of every dream. He is of absolute significance to me. I want you to know him too!” Notice how the townspeople do not trust her testimony. They run to see for themselves. They end up begging Jesus to stay in their village. Jesus stays for two more days. More people come to know Jesus. All because of her willingness to risk talking to the stranger at the well. More people came to Jesus because of her witness. Her word. Her willingness to reveal her brokenness to him. She becomes the first evangelist. Talk about being transformed by grace!

Notice how the townspeople do not even thank her. Even worse they are dismissive of her testimony. They do not seem to see that she alone made it possible for them to meet Jesus. They do not yet understand what Jesus is saying to them. They cannot see her like he sees her.

Like the woman, we all come to the well over and over again to draw water. But do we see the man sitting at the well? Can we hear what he is saying to us? Are we even aware he is speaking to us? Can we feel what it is like to be asked by Jesus to do something for him?

Can we see how it is that Jesus does not look down on the poor and broken ones? He does not come with something to give them. He does not coming pretending to tell them how to live their lives. He does not say, “Here, I have what you need. Take this and become like me.”

Instead he says that they have something that he needs. There is something they can do for Jesus and for us. Hearing this news the Samaritan woman is liberated from all that weighs her down. Jesus enters into a relationship with her first. He gives her value. He gives her purpose. He gives her new life by simply letting her know there is something she can do for him. We wonder if we might approach the poor and the broken hearted like he does.

This story means to ask us if we can approach others in this way. This story means to ask us if we are willing to reveal our brokenness to these others and to him. And this story means to ask us if we are willing, like the Samaritan Woman, to go and tell others what we know about Jesus.

As we move steadfastly toward Holy Week we remember that as the story nears its conclusion on the cross, Jesus is still thirsty. “I thirst,” he says. He is still thirsty today.

We are that woman. We come to the well week after week. Week after week Jesus asks us for a drink. We know the kinds of things for which he thirsts.

Are we ready to bring him a drink? Are we ready to talk with him? Are we ready to reveal our own brokenness to him? Do we make our full commitment to him? Are we ready to leave our buckets so we can run off and tell others?

Jesus is sitting before us right now. He is tired. Very very tired. He asks us to give him a drink. What shall we do?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

At The Crossroads

20 March 2011/Lent 2A – Genesis 12:1-4a/John 3:1-17
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, Maryland

At The Crossroad

Abram and Nicodemus – we are meant to see that these two figures of our faith stand for us. Just as they also play a role similar to Mary the Mother of God.

Our text from Genesis is deceptively small, yet in a sense tells the entire story of scripture in slightly less than four verses. Abram is called by God to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abram’s country was a city named Haran, which means “highway” or “crossroad.”

All of us at one time or another stand at a crossroad – and it can easily be argued that every moment of every day is a kind of crossroad. Every moment demands of us a choice for life or a choice for death, a choice for good or a choice for bad.

To stand at the crossroad can be paralyzing. We look one way, we look another, we look back, we look forward. It can be a moment, it can seem like an eternity, standing at the crossroad.

We stand and we wonder: Am I ready to go? Am I prepared to move on? Do I have what it takes to go this way or that? Am I good enough to do what is being asked?

Until something or someone moves us – gets us “off the dime” as we used to say. In Abram’s case it is the Lord. He is meant to leave all that is comfortable, familiar, “home,” and initiate God’s new plan for all the peoples of the earth. Abram quite honestly could have replied, and perhaps in some unreported moment did, “I am not really qualified for this task. Surely you must mean someone else!”

Yet, our own experience, and the witness of scripture from beginning to end is that the one who calls is the one who qualifies – the one who calls is the one who equips. So if God is doing the calling, the answer to all of the questions we might have is “yes.” A faithful response for us is to say yes, and to begin moving from what is known to what is promised.

It is the same story with Nicodemus in our Gospel. He knows well all the ways of the God of Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah and Jacob – or so he thinks. He has spent a lifetime so far teaching and interpreting for others what God asks of us.

Yet, in Jesus he senses that God is at work doing something new – something bold – something never before imagined! He approaches Jesus cautiously in the dark of night, lest anyone who knows him and respects his judgments see him with this new manifestation of God’s purpose for a broken world.

And what does Jesus say, but that one must be born from above or again (the Greek word can mean both and it really doesn’t matter which meaning we take here). “Are you kidding,” asks Nic? Speaking for all of us he blurts out, “How can these things be?” Only Nic has the courage to ask that on our behalf, for we are Nicodemus, just as we are Abram being asked to head off in a new direction, on a new adventure, to initiate some new thing God has in mind for the whole world.

Jesus says the Spirit is like the wind – you know not where it comes from, when it is coming, nor do you know where it is taking you – but the Spirit is of God and all you need to do is say, “Yes!”

Just as Abram and Sari said “yes,” just as Mary the Mother of God said “yes” – just as Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene all said “Yes!”

Not one of them had the qualifications to do what God was asking – not one of them was equipped, prepared or in any way ready to do what God was asking, and yet, they said “yes” and here we are. Without their "yes" we would not be here.

As we enter more deeply into this season of Lent, we must listen for the wind! We must be ready to sense the slightest breeze or puff of the wind of God’s spirit – just a breath is all we need to feel, to sense, for us to leave the crossroad and go to where God needs us to bring blessings to all people – as Abram was promised to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

As we hear the incarnate Word of God declaring – For God so loves the world that God gives….

"God does not give us gifts that are separate from him. He gives himself to us."

Like Abram and Nicodemus, this Second Sunday in Lent we stand at a crossroad. God in Christ Jesus is calling to us to leave our places of comfort and to head out to be a blessing to the peoples of the world.

No matter how challenging that may seem, God will equip us for the task as he has for generations before us and will continue to do for generations to come as we embrace and hold fast to the unchangeable truth of God’s Word! Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where Are You?

13 March/Lent 1 A - Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7/Matthew 4:1-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peters’ Episcopal Church at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Where Are You? Repent and Come Home!

What is perhaps most interesting in our episodes from Genesis and Matthew is what is missing. Don’t get me wrong, what is there is important, if somewhat overly familiar to the point that we tend to think we know what these stories are all about without really spending time with them.

But let’s begin with what is here. In Matthew’s story of Jesus testing his new vocation as God’s Beloved Son in the wilderness, we are meant to hear some important resonances. We are meant to recall, for instance, that Moses sat atop Mount Sinai, fasting for forty days and forty nights waiting upon God to deliver what would become the basis for an eternal relationship with God – a covenant based in some pronouncements meant to determine our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. The takeaway here: Jesus is the new Moses.

Or, if we recombine this story with the story that immediately precedes this one, our Lord’s baptism, this “new Moses” is in fact the Beloved Son of God who will in every way embody those pronouncements from Sinai in all that he says and does.

That is, Jesus sets the example for how we are meant to fulfill our Baptismal Promise that all that we say and all that we do will proclaim the good news of God in Christ!

And just as Moses and the people of God were tested in the wilderness, so Jesus is tested – perhaps a better word than “tempted” under the circumstances here. When our translators render this antagonist “the tempter” rather than "devil" it is much closer to the Greek diabolos which means something more like “the slanderer." than usual translation "devil.”

So after forty days of no food or drink, is Jesus the anointed one of God, God’s Beloved Son, ready to go to work? Responding to each test to do something spectacular, something super-hero-like, and to make the ultimate power grab, Jesus quotes Moses’ famous sermon we know as Deuteronomy three times: “You cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3)”; “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Deut 6:16)”; “The Lord your God shall you worship, and God alone shall you serve (Deut 6:13).”

Evidently being God has little or nothing to do with power and spectacular displays such as turning stones into bread – we are meant to recall that Jesus teaches us to rely on bread that is given daily, just as Moses and the people did in that first wilderness.

That is, Jesus appears to pass the test – the SAT’s or Entrance Exam to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Which, after being waited upon by angels (and wouldn’t we all like to have a bit more detail on what that was like!) he sets out to proclaim to one and all, “Repent, for kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That is the part that is missing, and which I consider to be the real punch line here for the first Sunday of Lent.

To repent means to turn – the idea is that God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. It is we who have strayed from God’s ways as articulated way back on Mount Sinai like lost sheep, as Psalm 119 would have it. So to turn or return to God is the order of the day and the focus of Lent. It is the only way to get home again, as the first man and woman would learn the hard way in the garden.

The Garden – another story we think we know all too well. It is easy to miss, however, that the central problem here is not the disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit, as problematic as that is. The real problem is believing what I call The Big Lie – when the tempter says, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…”

It’s the same lie the tempter offers Jesus in the wilderness over and over, “Do this, or this, or this and you will be like God.” A funny thing to say to someone who already is God!

And in the garden the sin, if you will, is believing they “will be like God.” That is to forget who they are and forget who we are – imago Dei, created in the image of God, male and female God created us to be like God.

So as usual, the tempter does not have much to offer except a momentary case of amnesia.

But again, what is perhaps the punch line for this story comes after they sew some clothes to become the prototypical Puritans and the origin of species homo protestantorius. After joining the Garment Workers guild, they can hear the footsteps of God in the garden in the cool of the evening. Ashamed of having believed the lie, they hide – or so they think.

Surely any creature created to be like God knows that you cannot hide from God. Nevertheless, they attempt to hide. Displaying God’s more playful side, God goes along with their game and says, “Where are you?”

Which is perhaps the central question we are meant to consider for the next forty day: Where are you? God really wants to know. God really wants you to come home. God really wants you to repent and return to God. And it may begin with a simple, “Here I am, Lord,” another one-liner that appears and reappears throughout the entire sweep of the Biblical narrative.

For when we say, “Here I am, Lord,” we join with all those who have gone before us in getting involved with God’s work in God’s world on behalf of all God’s people and creatures, including the very earth itself – from which the first man is named, Adam from the Hebrew adamah, which means “ground” or “earth.” As we recalled on Ash Wednesday, God takes up a handful of dust from the ground, breathes his breath and spirit into the dust, and here we are – imago Dei, and by our baptism, God’s Beloved with whom God is pleased. Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return - adamah.

So this Lent take some time to come up with an answer to God’s primary question, “Where are you?” For until we know where we are, it is hard to know which way to turn to go home to God – the God who comes to us wherever we are, seeking us, so that he can love us and take us home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Matthew 17:1-9

Listen To Him

Epiphany begins with the Magi at the manger, Jesus' baptism and the voice declaring, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased, and ends with the brightness of the Transfiguration. The season of light - starlight, the light of Christ, the transfiguring light of God.

Jesus takes us, his disciples, up a high mountain to be with him by ourselves. It is an historical invitation - "the mountain" can only be one mountain - Sinai, that cosmic location high up where one Moses could meet with God face to face and receive the covenant - those pronouncements, those principles that transform a rag-a-tag disparate group of runaway slaves into a people.

Just before this Jesus has made it clear that once in Jerusalem he will be arrested, suffer, die and then be raised up. There can be no doubting that these pronouncements of his made little sense until afterwards. And at the very least, these predictions of his would be an initial source of embarrassment for his closest followers who were no doubt expecting and hoping that he would be the one to defeat and dismiss the Roman occupation. (Which ironically he does, just a few hundred years later!)

But a Sinai experience it is! As Jesus appears to physically become the light of the world, dazzling white, his face shining like the son, as had the face of Moses when he came down off the mountain, suddenly there are Moses and Elijah. The narrative is sparse. We are simply told that they are "talking with him." Wouldn't we want to be listening in on that conversation?

Moses, giver of the Covenant, the Law, Torah, the minimum daily requirements for being a person of God - the God of Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah,Jacob and Jesus. Elijah, the prototype prophet, social critic, tasked with reminding the people of God what the minimum daily requirements are to be for all time. Jesus, where, between them? Being prepared for his upcoming Exodus? Getting helpful hints on how to manage religious and secular officials who have no time for God or neighbor?

Evidently Peter, James and John are not listening in. What an astonishing missed opportunity! Instead Peter interrupts the conversation and announces that he wants to build some dwellings, some booths or tents. It is an idea that is not so strange as it seems. Every fall God's people build booths to remember their forty year time of testing in the wilderness - to remember that once we were no people, once we had no home, once we were aliens in a strange land. Once we had enough, dependent on God for Manna each day, daily bread. It is a festival, Sukkot, meant to remind us that we come from rather humble origins and perhaps we should remember this when confronted by people who are homeless, strangers far from their home, hungry and in need of some neighborly love.

God has something else in mind it seems than starting Habitat for Divinity! As Peter interrupts the Holy Three on top of the mountain, God interrupts Peter "while he was speaking" to remind one and all, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"

Be silent, and quit flapping your gums about God. Be still, be silent and listen to him. For God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk. Stop talking, stop building, be still and know that I am God. Listen to him - because when you listen to him you are listening to me.

They fall to the ground, overcome with fear. What is it in our society today that prevents us from falling to the ground overcome with fear? There is so much of which we ought to be ashamed. All we have gone astray from the very principles the Law and the Prophets sought to place in our hearts, in our minds, in our every action every day. How much narcissism and hubris can one society sustain before it finds itself back in the wilderness? Back in exile? In desperate need of a new Exodus?

Falling to the ground looks somewhat like falling to our knees to confess our faults - those sins that separate us from one another and from the love of God. It is a good place for us to listen.

Look what happens when we listen.

Jesus, God incarnate, God made flesh and blood, comes to us, the very one who is God's Son, God's Beloved, the one with whom God is well pleased, comes to us, touches us and says, "Get up and do not fear." He, God, comes down to touch us and dispel our fear.

Then the Beloved continues: "Tell no one the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

So here we are. He has been raised. We can and do tell people about the vision. We do tell people about our Jesus!

The whole vision is astonishing! That God would become small for our sake - to get our attention - to invite us to listen to him once and for all. The God who cannot be contained in this chapel, not even this whole magnificent church we call Mount Calvary! The God who cannot be limited or contained by all of the heavens and all of the earth becomes small for our sake. The God who cannot possibly be contained in morsel of bread and a sip of wine, but by some mysterious calculus of faith, out of some mysterious vision of our own, he is.

He who came to us in our likeness invites us to be transfigured into his likeness. The word here, by the way, is metamorphosis, suggesting that whatever we are now is not what we are destined to be just as a caterpillar is not destined to remain a caterpillar.

Behold the light of his countenance. See him with Moses and Elijah. Stop doing whatever you are doing and listen to him.

There is no more important human task than this - that we listen to him and be changed into his likeness.

That there even is a season of Epiphany all began with a young woman - a teenage girl, really. When asked to bear God's Son, she was fearful. But the angel said do not be afraid, and she responded, "Yes, according to your word." Her "yes" is why we are here at all.

As we listen to him today, he touches us and says, "Get up and do not fear."

To be changed into his likeness can seem like a daunting task and responsibility. But each time a piece of his body is placed in our outstretched hands, each time the chalice shimmering with his blood is passed to us, trembling we say, "Yes!"

It is our "yes" that combines with Mary's "yes" that gives hope for the whole world and everything and everyone therein.