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The Gospel of Staying Home
The Reverend Matt Gaventa
March 16, 2020
A Reading from the Gospel of John
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
So, yesterday morning, after a long and exhausting week, I finally went to HEB. I knew it was going to be bad. I have been up on the news enough to know that it would be bad. I have seen the threads online comparing different Austin HEBs at different times of day: where the lines would get out of control, which branches would have household cleaners in stock, which branches would have toilet paper in stock, which branches would have tortillas in stock. You know, the essentials. My local HEB opens at six; I figured I’d go as soon as my eyes opened, so about 6:45, I pulled up to the store to try and buy some groceries. And the thing you need to know is that I just needed groceries. I needed some milk. I needed some vegetables. We actually did need some toilet paper. I’m not much for hoarding. We don’t have that kind of storage space. We’re not that good at buying groceries a week out, much less prepping for doomsday. I just wanted to buy some groceries, and I thought first thing in the morning might be my window.
The good news, for me anyway, was there was plenty. With a few exceptions, almost everything I can normally buy at HEB I could buy yesterday at HEB. And so, I started down my list. Vegetables for a few dinners. Fruit for around the house. A couple of proteins. The sort of stuff I get at that HEB at least a few times a week, it’s just habit. But the further along I went, the more stressful it became. The store was crowded, of course, and in the era of social distancing the crowd itself just makes me nervous. And with every minute the store got more crowded, and with every minute the lines got longer, and then I began to notice myself change. I started putting things in my cart that did not need to be in my cart. Surely a 5-pound bag of grapefruit will keep well. And I can put these pork chops in the freezer. And what if we run out of table salt? It wasn’t quite hoarding. We still don’t have that kind of storage. Nor am I particularly worried that the shelves are going to go empty. No, what I started to feel was. If this is what coming to HEB is going to be like. Then really, I just don’t want to have to keep coming to HEB. How much do I have to buy so that I never have to come back to this store again?
Give me this living water, she says, so that I never have to come back to this well again.
It must not have been a pleasant routine. We could speculate a little bit about why. It could just be the tedium of the thing. Back and forth to the well. Back and forth to the well. The water would be heavy. The buckets would be awkward. Back and forth to the well, anything so that I don’t have to do that errand anymore. It could also be something more personal. Noon is a bit of an odd time of day to come get the water. It would not be the popular time. Perhaps there’s a stigma to this woman. Perhaps it’s enough that she’s a woman coming into such a public place to begin with. And of course, layered on top of it is the history of this well, the deep Jewish roots of this well now firmly in Samaria, which makes this whole moment a sort of surprising case of intercultural dialog. For centuries Christians have offered their speculations as to what makes this well such a contested space, and I don’t know that we have any single interpretation that settles the argument. But what we know is. She doesn’t want to be there. She wants to go home. She wants to go home, and not have to come back to that well ever again. Jesus promises her the living water, so that she never has go back to that store ever again.
There’s something about the Gospel that we need to preach this morning. It’s the Gospel of Staying Home. It’s not really the sort of Gospel that I ever thought I’d be preaching. There’s not much in scripture that resembles the Gospel of staying home. All our Biblical heroes, for the most part, they’re always going places. Abraham, to the land he knows not of. David, the gimpiest shepherd in the village one day, and the next day on his way to the royal court. Disciples, called out of fishing boats into journeys they could not have imagined. Every time, all of them, they’re plucked from their homes, they’re sent on adventures, they’re sent with courage and conviction. It’s the whole thing. It’s in the most fundamental DNA of who we are. We send people. Today in worship we were supposed to be sending a bunch of you off to Reynosa for the Border Mission Trip. At the end of worship, I would send each and every one of you out into the world with courage. The very basic elemental metaphor of the Christian life is that home is safe and if you want to do something that matters, we have to send you somewhere. Except for this Samaritan woman. Who just wants to go home, if Jesus will let her have that living water.
Which means today is Opposite Day. Today is the Gospel of Staying Home. It is a strange and uncomfortable Gospel. We want to be out in the world. We want to be serving the people Jesus calls us to serve. But the perverse logic of the virus changes everything. The perverse logic of the virus means that just right now God calls us to stay home. Everything we know about how this thing works, everything we know about pandemics, everything we know about contagion, everything we know says that the most important thing we can do for ourselves and our communities is to stay home. The most important thing we can do for the health of our congregation is not to gather ourselves together. The most important thing we can do for the health of our UPLift clients is not to gather them together. The words taste acidic coming out of my mouth. They are so fundamentally opposed to who we are and who we feel normally called to be. It is a perverse Gospel. But it is the only Gospel fit for a perverse moment. Sometimes God wants you not to have to go to HEB. Sometimes God wants you not to have to go back to that well ever again.
I know that this Gospel will not land equally with all of you. Some of you don’t have the flexibility to just lock the doors and stay in. Some of you spend enough time at home already, thank you very much, and the last thing you might need is your pastor trying to make it some sort of not-so-great commission. And of course, you will need fresh air. And you will need exercise. And you will need, every once in a while, you will need to go to HEB. But mostly I want us to practice the Gospel of Staying Home. Not just for ourselves and our own safety. But for the sake of our neighbors. And the sake of our neighborhoods. And the sake of our whole community. For the sake of the doctors and nurses and emergency workers who need every ounce of bandwidth they can muster. For this sake of the most vulnerable who need as few points of exposure as possible. For the sake of our own evangelism. If you went to the sanctuary right now you would see signs at the entrances that say we are worshiping on-line this morning. Those signs are part of our public witness this morning. They mean: for the sake of our neighbors. For the sake of all creation. For the sake of the Gospel. We are staying home.
We have to stay home from the well, and trust the living water. None of us knows exactly what this is going to look like, except suffice to say it’s going to be different than anything we’ve ever experienced before. It’s okay to be a little scared. But we are still going to be the church, a church gathered around living water, and you don’t have to come to the well to drink. In this moment we get to be church in all kinds of surprising ways. We get to be church by having worship in this surprising venue. We get to be church by reaching out and connecting with one another in surprising moments. We get to be church by taking moments during the day to pray for one another or pray for our community or pray for our neighbor simply from the very familiar confines of our own home. Living water works over the telephone. Living water works over email. Living water works over Facebook. Living water is there to allow us to be the church for another, to be community for one another, to be family for one another, even when nobody can get to the well, because living water comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. And living water comes with the love of the risen Christ. And living water comes with the grace of God who so loved the world.
We are going to get to the other side of this. Because God so loved the world. Because God so loved the world that God created it, from nothing, out of love. Because God so loved the world that God bound herself to it, with covenant promises, with manna in the wilderness, with a path through the desert, with a call from the mountaintop. For God so loved the world that he was born into its midst, that he was a child in this world, that he lived in this world, that he ate and drank in this world, that he made friends in this world, that he made a home in this world. That he insisted upon a home in this world. That he demanded to be home in this world. This world is God’s home, and there is nothing in death or life, or angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation that can pry this home from God’s hands. God will stay with God’s home. You stay with yours. And I promise you. God will never leave your side.
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