Date: March 19, 2017
Title: “Fasting From Despair, Feasting On Hope”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 42:1-5 and John 4:5-15
This morning we continue our sermon series Feasting Through Lent in which we suggest “giving something up” while also “taking something on” for this season of preparation and reflection. Today, we are Fasting from Despair, and Feasting on Hope.
It seems a relevant topic. A lot of people these days are talking about their despair – their loss of hope for themselves, their families, the nation, for the world. All you have to do is turn on the radio, pick up a newspaper, open up Facebook or surf any current affairs site on the web, and you are confronted with a myriad of reasons to despair:
- From compromised air, water and soil to global climate change
- From homelessness to whole scale hunger
- From a worldwide refugee crisis to national disputes on immigration justice
- From racism to fascism
- From domestic violence to international warfare
There are more than enough reasons for despair! So we understand the Psalmist’s lament – My tears have been my food day and night… We can feel his query deep within our bones… Why are you cast down, o my soul, why are disquieted within me?!
Alyce McKenzie talks about our despair in this way:
“You have no bucket and the well is deep”, says the woman at the well…
I hear her voice often when I am standing next to a deep well with no bucket, when I am facing a situation that exceeds my ability to address on my own.
How about you?
Perhaps you have just been given more responsibility at work, and you wonder how you are possibly going to be able to fulfill these obligations. The well is deep and you have no bucket.
Maybe a loved one is struggling with an addiction and you feel helpless in the face of its power over them. The well is deep and you have no bucket.
We feel this way in the face of children who are being abused, or people who have no healthcare, we feel it when confronted by the homeless, or the millions of refugees worldwide running for their lives…The well is deep and you have no bucket.
And yet…it is possible to choose to fast from that despair and to feast instead on hope. Most of you know that my daughter Kate is currently living in southcentral Texas, where she works as a legal assistant in an organization helping unaccompanied, undocumented minors seeking asylum in the United States.
Kate is one of the first people to interact with these young people who have hitchhiked, walked or paid a coyote to help them enter the country. And she recently told me this story. She said:
One of the questions I have to ask in the intake interview is this one – “is this the first time you’ve been to the United States?” And my pattern had been, if the answer was “yes”, I would throw up my hands, put a silly grin on my face, and sort of jokingly say “Welcome! Bienvenido a los Estados Unidos!”
Recently, I was doing the intake interview with a young man, 14 years old, who had hitchhiked and walked all the way here from Nicaragua. It took him four months to make it to southcentral Texas, and the night before he was arrested, he fell down a steep incline and broke his leg. He was in a lot of pain and was unable to walk. When the Border Patrol found him, they first put him in solitary confinement, and they gave him no medical care for over 24 hours. It wasn’t a very hospitable entry into this country.
So when I asked if this was his first time here, and he said yes, I started in on my usual routine – threw up my hands, put on a silly grin and said “Welcome! Bienvenido!”, whereupon the young man began to weep. Through his tears, he said to me “You are the first person – you are the only person who has told me I could maybe be welcome here.”
Kate said that was the last time she would joke about welcome, because she had realized what a powerful word it is, and how sometimes all it takes is one word to move someone from despair to hope.
The well we stand beside may be very deep, but we ought not to overlook the buckets that come our way. And don’t underestimate the power of the bucket you may hold in your hand, if you will only offer to someone else standing at a very deep well.
Annie Dillard seems to understand this in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when she suggests The answer must be that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will them or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there to see them.
The least we can do is to take a page from the woman at the well, who knows the value of being there, of being present to the moment when God’s welcome and God’s sustenance is offered. She knows that when one begins to fast from despair – it gives you a chance to feast on hope
Paul Hawken, in his book Blessed Unrest, tells us that woman at the well is not alone. A speaker on environmental justice, Hawken would routinely meet people around the world who had already committed themselves to protecting the earth and those who inhabit it. He got to wondering how many groups and organizations were engaged in these progressive causes, so he decided to count. He writes:
“I soon realized that my initial estimate of 100,000 organizations was off by at least a factor of 10… I now believe there are over one, and maybe even 2 million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice…When asked at college lectures if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and you aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people working to change it and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart…although the 6:00 news is usually filled with the death of strangers, millions of people work on behalf of strangers.”
It is true that the wells we face are deep. It is equally true that together – with God’s help – a bucket will be found.
In the “high noon” scene at Jacob’s well, the sun is scorching hot and the Samaritan woman pulls no punches. She fires fast and free a volley of theology, history and sociology at Jesus, hoping to distract him from her despair. But Jesus refuses to play along. Instead, he simply acknowledges who she is and then declares his own identity. Peter Woods comments on the action in this way:
Isn’t that all any of us need for our healing? A welcome – and a space – as unbearably hot as it might be – where we can allow ourselves to acknowledge who we are and be graced by a God who does not turn away from our failures, but floods our lives with living water, with refreshing wholeness, with renewing hope.
Sometimes, the best we can do is to keep on breathing. In the movie “Castaway”, the hero has is lost in a plane crash at sea, washed up on a deserted island, and manages to survive until rescued and returned home. At the end of the movie, he muses:
Somehow, I had to stay alive
I had to keep breathing, even though there was no reason to hope, and all my logic said I would never see this place again.
So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing.
And one day that logic was proven wrong, because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now I’m back and I know what I have to do.
I have to keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide will bring?
The well you face today may be the deepest one you have ever encountered. But the good news is – Jesus is there beside that well with you.
Jesus is standing right next to you, in the heat of the day and at the height of your fatigue, offering the living water you need to fast from despair and to feast on hope.
Denise Levertov reminds us poetically of this truth in her poem entitled “Fountain”:
Don’t say – don’t say there is no water
To solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen the fountain springing out of the rock wall
And you drinking there.
And I too, before your eyes, found footholds
And climbed to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
Frowned as she watched – but not because she grudged the water,
Only because she was waiting
To see we drank our fill and were refreshed.
Don’t say – don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped green and gray stones
It is still there and always there
With its quiet song and strange power
To spring in us – up and out through the rock.
Thanks be to God! Amen.