Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “February, 2008”

>The Woman at the Well

>Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus have an extended conversation with a woman except in the Gospel according to John and it is a powerful conversation at that. It is bold, unexpected, and is an illustration of the Kingdom of Heaven where all are equal, man and woman, Samaritan and Jew.

The story opens with Jesus stopping to rest at Jacob’s Well near Sychar. He’s tired and the Apostles have gone into town to find something to eat. A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. As she goes about her business, Jesus says, “Give me a drink.” The woman is astounded for multiple reasons – first, a man speaks to her, second, he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan and they are adversaries going back centuries. One can only imagine what the woman is thinking. A strange man sits by the well and says he’s thirsty, yet he has no bowl, cup or bucket. She is bold enough to question Jesus, and he responds to her inquiries with the statement that if she knew of the water he was speaking of, she’d ask for it – and she does. Their conversation grows bolder, more meaningful and at one point Jesus admits to being the Messiah. The story continues with her running into town to tell the news that a man who knew everything about her was at the well – and he was the messiah.

Sometimes I feel like the Samaritan woman. I go about my business, I live on the perimeter of what we consider the norm of society, and sometimes these wonderful insights into life hit me, like a wave on a beach or a gust of morning wind. I want to run and tell everyone I know what I’ve learned, what I’m feeling, to invite others to experience for myself what I have experienced. I want them to drink from living water.

What I take from this Gospel, and I hope you as well, is that we are all part of the great cosmic scheme — Jesus chooses to reveal himself to the least likely of people in his society: an outsider and a woman. It doesn’t happen within the precincts of the Temple within the Holy of Holies, but at a well on a blistering hot afternoon when a Samaritan woman who has been married several times and is living with a man outside the norm of society comes up to the well to draw water. Jesus asks, “Give me a drink.”

I cry, “Jesus, give me some of that living water!”

Go forth in the name of Christ!

With God’s love and mine,



>Let it Be

>I have a number of favorite heroes and heroines from scripture, just as I’m sure some or all of you may have. In the Hebrew scripture, I count Elijah, Ruth, Deborah, Jael, and Daniel. In the Christian scripture, there’s Peter, Mary — all of the Maries — including Magdalene, Stephen, our sister Phoebe, a deacon, and of course, Jesus – and Nicodemus. Nicodemus shows us that sometimes discussion is inadequate in experiencing the understanding God. Sometimes, you have to just let it, to get it — and by that I mean one needs to let God take over, let these inspired and inspiring words sink in. You have to shut up, open your heart and mind, and let the beauty and mystery of God’s love happen to get what’s going on. And how wonderful and inspiring this Gospel of John is! It stands apart from the Synoptics, for its advanced Christology, its mystery, its allusions to water, life and light; and as we’ve heard in the scripture passage this morning, Nicodemus goes to Jesus under the cloak of darkness and ultimately comes to the light.
When Nicodemus meets Jesus, perhaps you get a sense, as I do, that things are changing for him. The location of this meeting isn’t mentioned, but given that Jesus has upset the local authorities and the local economy by chasing the merchants and money changers, the cattle, doves and sheep out of the Temple right before this visit, it is somewhere in Jerusalem. Perhaps Nicodemus was a witness to Jesus’ protest, or had seen and heard him elsewhere in the city. Perhaps he was present when the Temple authorities decided that Jesus had crossed the line, was a threat and must die. Whatever the circumstance, the teaching he’s witnessed and his station in society compels him to go to Jesus. Nicodemus comes in secret during the night so as not to be seen. And he’s a man in the dark.

You have to feel for him: he approaches Jesus wanting answers, and no doubt risks his life in doing so because he’s a Pharisee, he’s a man of reputation and Jesus is still an unknown, a Galilean rabbi who’s cause a bit of trouble. Nicodemus addresses Jesus with respect – rabbi – a little one on one rapport – and receives puzzling responses. Is Jesus being deliberately rude? I don’t think so. Jesus is responding in a way that initiates an intimate dialogue – he answers questions with questions of his own, questions that provoke deeper thought, prayerful consideration. Questions that sometimes reveal innocence or naivety. We don’t get the answer we expect, but we get word play: wind and spirit, the lifting up of Jesus – up on the cross and then into heaven – and the curious statement from Jesus that you can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit, that you must be born from above. Is it any wonder that Nicodemus goes away dazed and confused, takes these statements literally? He doesn’t have the filter of two thousand years and countless commentaries and critiques to ‘get it.’ He either doesn’t understand, or chooses not to. I think it’s the first, for he’ll later defend Jesus at his trial and offer costly spices for his burial. At some point, the light glows brightly for him and he understands.

This is a bit more than my experience. I can relate to Nicodemus, whom I like to call the patron saint of the clueless; I count myself among those lucky few. Aren’t there times when you find yourself stumbling in the dark, looking for the light? When you’re so confounded that all you can do is just scratch your head and nod, pretending to get it? Don’t we have all the answers? Not on your life. Aren’t there moments when you do come to an understanding, you cry, “Ohhhhh! So that’s what he meant!”

And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Sometimes we have to step back and just live in the awe. We can be like Nicodemus and walk away, dazed and confused, with answers that answer nothing, but there’s beauty in that. As we grope in darkness, we find ourselves dependent on a God that comes to us and connects us, giving us a bridge to salvation and eternal life.

How can this be, Nicodemus asks?

It can be because God makes it so.

It is not that we are expected to undergo a physical renaissance, but that we undergo a transformation within, a spiritual rebirth, which is more meaningful, more powerful.

And if we step back and take it all in, we can let it be.

Eventually, we’ll get it.

Go forth in the name of Christ.


>Into the Wilderness

>The stark narrative that is Mark’s gospel tells of the baptism of Christ and his preparation for, and beginning of, his ministry; this narrative reminds Christians to set time apart to be alone and quiet with God, to prepare ourselves for ministry and be ready for challenges.
If you want richness and drama, exciting dialogue, details filled in, like that found in the narratives of Matthew and Luke, you won’t find it in this Gospel. Mark only gives us the minimalist version of Jesus’ story. Today we have the beginning. We hear how Jesus came to John and was baptized; at the moment he rises out of the water, the heavens are ripped apart, the Spirit descends and God speaks. Then the Spirit drives him immediately into the wilderness with the wild beasts and angels to see to his needs.
Our wilderness and our wild beasts may be many things – we have so much to choose from nowadays. It’s a long list, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about: beginning with stress at home and down the list to war.
But it’s not time to crawl under a rock.
We have an example to show us how to cope and how to garner strength and faith, and it is in God, working through Jesus.
Right after his baptism, Jesus was tested rigorously – he did not immediately begin his ministry, but was immediately driven into the wilderness. One might suppose that the wilderness is not an idyllic woodland, but an arid, stark landscape, apart from society and all comforts. Mark says that Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan. But wait a moment – didn’t the voice from heaven just say “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased?” Why would the Son of God need to go through all that? It’s a puzzling contradiction, but necessary, because it shows that Jesus is truly human and his conflict with Satan, as Williamson states, “is the ordeal which validates the man Jesus as bearer of God’s banner throughout the coming battle.”[1]
Could it be that his baptism was a commissioning of his ministry and his trials a strengthening, hardening experience?
Here’s another thought, another thread to connect it all: baptism, preparation and identity link Jesus to us. Just as he began his ministry with baptism and preparation, so do we. Jesus’ baptism does not set him apart from us, he is one of us. He is the beloved Son, and we are the beloved Children of God. Christians past, present and future have these commonalities, no matter what is in store for each of us in our spiritual journeys. It is this deacon’s personal opinion that a Jesus who experiences the joys and sorrow of life, is put through trials, is a Jesus that is accessible, making God even more accessible.
Throughout history, humanity has been tested, often in the wilderness, and often it has failed, but it came out with a deeper, more meaningful spirituality, and that is what I strive for, and maybe you do, and we hope to pass our trials as Jesus did.
I invite you to take some time out of your hectic lives, go to the wilderness, the desolate place that is uniquely yours and seek out God, find moments with the Lord and empty your heart and soul. Let the Spirit enter the void, fill you with the love of Christ. I invite you to wrestle with your wild beasts and demons, whatever they may be, and know that angels will patiently and lovingly attend you. When you emerge, I hope and pray that you will be restored, and we all have new strength and a sense of commitment to whatever ministry we are called, so that together we may bear witness to the good news and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here and now.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord!


[1] Lamar Williamson, Jr., Interpretation – Mark, John Knox Press, Louisville, 1983

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