In the name of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
So far this Lent, we have heard about Adam and Eve eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we heard about Abraham having as many descendants as of grains of sand (or as The Message presented it by God telling Abraham, “You are going to have a big family”), and this week, we hear about Moses and the very thirsty Israelites in the desert.
Moses is afraid the angry mob will turn on him. The Israelites are focused on their lack of anything to drink. Moses fears for his life. Everyone is wrapped up in their own story of suffering until God steps in. God uses Moses and his staff to remind us all that the story is not about us, it is about God. This is God’s story and we play only a small part in it. What we find out by reading Holy Scripture is that being in God’s story will call upon your humility – and if we understand our humble role, we will find that we have only confidence and gratitude.
Paul conveys this concept beautifully in his letter to the church in Rome, “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand.”
On our journeys of faith, we start out looking for God. We might search for a long time. While we search we often try to do everything right so that we can find God. The irony is, we can spend so much of our energy trying to live up to being the way we think we are supposed to be to connect with God, then, when we finally discover that we are connected and we are loved, beyond measure, by God, then we realize that God has been with us, loving us that way all along.
We start out with the idea that we aren’t quite good enough as we are, so we invent the self we would like to be and present that self to the world. That’s our false self. That self isn’t necessarily bad. It is the mask, the face, the outer appearance we think we need.
Our true self is the part of us deep inside which is deeply connected to God. This is the unchangeable center of our nature where we live without inhibition or judgment.
Richard Rohr, in his new book about the Trinity, The Divine Dance, writes about the animals at their ease in nature. “All creatures seem to like being what they are and to accept what they’re not. But humans, we’re a different story, aren’t we? We don’t like being what we are; and worse, we always want to be someone else. We’re mimetic and envious. We’ve traded our instincts for aspirations, wishing we were thinner, or taller, or more handsome, or whatever, anything other than this little incarnation that we are for one gorgeous moment in time. We have a hard time finding grace in ‘just this’!”
The ‘just this’ is our true self. In the version of the Bible from The Message, Eugene Peterson puts the words of ‘true self’ in the mouth of Jesus. This happens in his response to the Samaritan woman’s question about their differing ways of worshiping God.
He says, “But the time is coming-it has, in fact, come-when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself-Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration” (John 4:22-24).
It is in our true selves where we know God, truth, self, being, and spirit. From the perspective of the true self, we can understand most readily the view that we are the ones coming into the story about God, not the other way around.
Just as a child is born into the midst of a parent’s life,
We are born into the midst of God’s work in the world;
In the midst of evolution and nature running its course,
In the life of the Church.
In the generations of this parish.
Just as Christ told the disciples they were about to harvest in a field where they had not lifted a finger, where it was others who had worked long and hard … here we are showing up to worship in a beautiful church building we did nothing to help build. Spiritually, we are the child who was born into the middle of God’s story.
It takes experience to learn of our place in the story – whose story it is – and to cultivate the perspective to appreciate God’s generosity, patience, and mercy.
This was exemplified in the gospel by the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. The Samaritan woman first heard Jesus tell her who she was. He said, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water” (John 4:10). Just hearing him say the words, she didn’t understand. She had to experience his prophecy about her life. When she started putting everything together, she realized who Jesus was, she knew that the Messiah had come, and she went to share the good news with others.
It is impossible not to. Once you really know yourself to be that loved, you only want to share that love with others. She left and told the townspeople. They were interested enough by what she said to come and find out more. When they met Jesus and had their own conversations with him, their own experiences were why they truly believed.
Experience is very important. It differentiates the false self from the true self.
The false self is always aspiring, seeking to be something it perceives we aren’t yet. The false self tells us where to go and how to stand in order to get God to love us.
The true self, on the other hand, is experiential. The true self tells us that as we are in this moment, where we stand right now, God is loving us beyond all measure. What we’ve wanted all along has always been here. It is happening now.
We do not have to be like the Israelites who were desperately thirsty wandering around in the wilderness with Moses. We don’t have to be stuck deep inside our own story of suffering.
We have the advantage of hearing the story and seeing that the Israelites came into God’s story of loving creation when God sent water gushing forth from a stone to quench their thirst. Oh! If we could just send a text message to the past and tell the Israelites not to waste so much of their energy on complaining. What if they had known and trusted all along that whatever happened to them God would provide?
Take this perspective with you and carry it in your heart: Our true self knows that as we are, and where we stand (or sit) right now, God loves us beyond our understanding.
What we’ve wanted all along has always been true.
It is happening now.
As you are.
Where you stand.