United Church of Hyde Park, Pastor Charlene Hill Sermon
A lot can happen in one week. But I am grateful that we have communicated to our church family to be safe and well. We will be making phone calls this week, emails, a personal video from your pastor, and previous selections and messages from our worship celebration. We will be using technology to keep close to you all. You cannot get rid of United that easily.
This is our 3rd Sunday of Lent. We are on our third segment of our series the B Factor. The B stands for belief. Belief is important. There are shades of belief. Many struggle with their beliefs. Something may happen to a person or around a person that causes them to question. I remember one teenager I was working with and one day she just blurted out I don’t know if I believe. She says I pray a lot because that’s what my grandmother taught me to do. She says but not only have things not gotten better they’ve gotten worse. That’s real stuff. And there’s a lot that challenges us. We are now dealing with a pandemic and people are stressed and concerned. Our leaders are telling us they got this under control and they do not. And while I world is struggling to deal with the physical what about the mental and spiritual toll that this is taking on us. One of my neighbors said she could not even get out of bed for 13 hours. The impact of this virus is beyond words. And it especially at this time you need to really lean into what you believe because it is all you have to ground you. What do you believe? The answer is for you alone.
Today we turn to the gospel of John, which my former professor says is all about believing. The characters and the stories call on us to believe. Today we are in chapter 4 of the gospel of John verses 28-30. Prior to these verses a Samaritan lady, let’s call her Shona, is going to the well to fetch water. She arrives at the same time Jesus is there. They are there alone. Through the course of a conversation with Jesus where Shona keeps it 100% real she is convinced that she has at least met someone who is more different than anyone she has ever met in her life. She believes in Jesus' promise of never thirsting and authentic worship. Shona is moved. And Shona is so full and so convinced she goes back to her town differently and tells everyone. And they believe because of her.
Have you ever been out in public and someone touches you. You turn around and look at the person wondering why they have invaded your personal space. What do they want? The person looks at you warmly and says you don’t remember me? This question cues you to the possible fact that you should know this person but you realize your memory fails you. They continue to talk and reveal their identity. It is only then you remember and you realize you did not know who the person was because they not only look different but something has changed. And you believe because of the whole package. It’s not just what the person is saying but what you see. And it’s not just because of what you see but the spirit of that person.
Here is Shona and she has been changed. There is something about this woman that is so different that it compels them to want to go meet this man. I believe it was her testimony - all of the above that solicited curiosity and belief.
A colleague of mine, Colin, looks like a privileged white boy. He’s cute and young and sleek. He fits the stereotype. And yet when you hear Colin’s testimony ….well let me just share it. Colin grew up in the suburbs very comfortably and with his material needs met well. He was into sports and loved his family, community and school. And then one day his parents separated. His mother purchased a big home in a more rural area and converted it into a bed and breakfast place. From day one this former funeral home was the stuff we pay to go see in horror films. Doors closed. Things moved. Sounds were made. And preadolescent Colin was scared. And so when one day he was offered drugs he took them. By his early teens he was hooked and his world spiraled downward. The things that happened in his home were not so bad because he sedated himself. And he kept spiraling downward, never hitting the bottom for years. One day his mom sent him for a drug test and bingo he was positive. She didn’t know what to do and so she sent him to a Methodist horse riding camp. Did I tell you that Colin’s family were atheist? They did not go to church. So this was odd. Colin stuck to what he knew horses which brought him some delight. One evening Colin is peering in on a group of young people laughing. They are laughing so hard he gets curious. He speaks to one of the pastors and says what’s going on. What are they laughing about? What’s so funny? The pastor says why don’t you go see for yourself. I think it would be good for you. Colin goes down and is invited to give his life to the Lord and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And yes you heard me correctly this was a Methodist camp. Bizarre? Not as bizarre as his home. Colin gives his life to the Lord and receives the Holy Spirit and is filled with laughter. I believe Colin’s testimony. I believe it because it resonates with my own. I believe the story of the woman at the well. But what do you believe?
People don’t believe because we speak dry empty words. People do believe people when they have been out on edges and were given up on and then come back. Last week at our church I spoke on Bryan Widner, a former skinhead. Bryan was filled with hate and has done his share of violence towards brown skinned people. When he began to shift people would look at him with hate and disgust on both sides as he showed up with hate symbols tattooed all over his body including his face and skull. There was no way around it what he represented. He could not get jobs and the parents at his children’s school protested his presence. Bryan represented hate. And yet it would be a black man, and a white woman and an experience with God that would change him. He knew he could never change with the tattoos as so after reaching out to a nonprofit and anonymous donor paid for 2 years of horrendous hell he says of surgeries to remove every tattoo off of his body. He has received and receives death threats from white supremacist groups. He switched sides and loves himself some Jesus. And I believe. I believe Jesus met him at the well too. I believe radical stories like that...and less radical ones like my own. I believe in the power of God’s love to turn a life around. I believe no one, absolutely no one is worth giving up on because of such stories even if I may not be the one God uses in such extreme situations. I believe.
The text today says explicitly, which means even a fool should get it, that the people from the town believed because of the woman’s testimony (pause). I imagine the woman saying this is my testimony...this is all I got. As I look back over my life I can now say I have been truly blessed...this is my testimony. That which comes from the heart often reaches the heart. People believe because women on the margins who avoid crowds and tilt their heads down suddenly are uplifted, confident and speak to the masses. TED talk hasn’t got anything on Shona. People believe because skinheads who once spoke hate respond to the love of God. But God. Only God. Wow! People believe because they see what looks like the impossible becomes possible with spiritual intervention. People believe because they see grace revisited when someone was on the edge. People believe because we live a message counter to what the world says about Imma get mine and I don’t give a damn about anybody else. People believe because they see authentic love and caring. People believe because in our most vulnerable times one shows kindness instead of fear, btw leave some toilet paper for others. People believe by our actions.
United our beliefs anchor us. Our beliefs testify to the world there is another way to live rooted in kindness and love and grace. So Imma need you to fetch your beliefs and remind yourself of whose you are. Imma need you to remind yourself of what you believe and stay anchored in it. Whatever you believe, you will need all of that this week and in the coming weeks to sustain you so grab hold of it. Do not be ashamed of it. And stay calm and concerned, prayed up and planted. Amen!
There’s a saying that we are revealed for who we really are in the worst of times. I am not so sure about all of that but Lord help us in these uncertain times to remember what we are certain about and that’s is your love for us and our love for your creation. Help us to hear the CDC but also to hear your voice crying out in the wilderness. Help us to be safe but be concerned about our neighbor as well. Help us to see the greater human family and to find ways to remain United. This we pray in your son’s name Amen!
In these times it is still important that you share your financial resources. You can mail it in: 1448 E 53rd Street, Chicago, IL 60615. You can drop it off at the office in a slot at the door on 53rd Street. Or you can give electronically - https://app.easytithe.com/app/giving/uchp . Thanks for sharing your resources!
Pastor Charlene Hill is an inveterate spiritual sojourner and persistent inquisitor of life. An acute sense of empathy often makes our journey hers, and here, she shares her journey with us. From sermons to random notes and observations, you'll be refreshed by her perspective on life. Occasionally, Charlene will invite guest contributors to share their ideas and experiences with the community.