Sunday, March 15, 2020

Broken Vessels

Robert McCarty
Sermon from Christ Lutheran Church
Staunton, VA
March 15, 2020

Broken Vessels

Once upon a time, [in a time and a place before indoor plumbing], a young woman worked for a merchant [family] who lived on top of a hill. She worked as [their] laundress and every day she had to walk down the hill to collect water from a stream. She had two pots to carry water, which she hung upon a pole she could carry over her shoulders. With time one of her pots got a slender crack along its side. She observed the cracks on the pot and decided she could still use it.
Every day, the woman carried those pots down the hill to the stream, filled them to the brim, and  walked back up the hill, balancing the pole across her shoulders. By the time she reached the house, the [broken]  pot would be only half full while the other pot delivered a full portion of water.
The [broken] pot glanced at the other pot and saw water filled to the top, and it began to feel desolate. The full pot was proud of its accomplishment while the cracked pot felt ashamed and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it was meant to.
After a few years of what the [broken] pot perceived to be a failure, it spoke to the [laundress]. “ I apologize for my flaws. The crack on my side, has made me useless. I spill half of the water. I’m of no good!” the pot said.
The [woman] felt sorry for the old [broken] pot, and she said,”But pot, you don’t understand, You haven’t been paying attention. Look around you. As we return to the [family’s] house, I want you to look at the path we traverse.”
The next time when the lady carried the water up the hill, the pot carefully observed the path along the way. For the first time the pot stopped looking inward and instead looked out. On his side of the trail the pot noticed beautiful flowers growing in abundance. While the other side was still dry.

As the [laundress] reached the top of the hill, she asked “Did you notice the beautiful flowers on the path? They are only on your side of the path. I had always known about your cracks and I took advantage of it to water [seeds I planted along your way]. Without you being just the way you are, the path uphill would not have this beauty [and these flowers would not grace our family’s home].”
The broken pot was overjoyed. All its sadness was gone. He understood that the very thing he thought to be his flaws turned out to be a blessing for the flowers along the path….
[This version above, attributed to Anonymous, comes from with modifications indicated by brackets.]

The Samaritan woman of our gospel story is a broken vessel. Though, as I say this, be careful about guessing at her brokenness. Perhaps five husbands have died and she is five times a widow. Perhaps, as Moses allowed, five husbands have divorced her. The law allowed men to write a certificate of divorce, however a woman could not initiate the proceedings. So perhaps she has been dumped five times. Perhaps some combination of divorce and widowhood has plagued this woman’s life. If she was guilty of adultery, however, especially if she was guilty of serial adultery, the community would have stoned her. The law prescribed that punishment. Still, something strikes an awkward tone with this woman and her current living situation and her presence at the well. Typically women gathered together at the well. Typically a Jew and a Samaritan would not meet at the well. Typically a man and a woman would meet at a well. And typically, a Jewish man would not share any eating plate or drinking vessel with a Samaritan. We only have hints at the truth, enough to know this woman is broken, but not quite sure how.
I heard Pastor Dave Daubert speak last October. Daubert, an ELCA pastor, specializes in revitalizing congregations. He serves a congregation in the Midwest, he writes books, he gives presentations. He talks about the importance of facebook and your church website. And he shared this about the person who walks through a congregations doors the first time. The person who walks through those doors the first time does not come because they need more friends. Most people feel like they have enough friends, maybe too many friends, although maybe not enough really good friends. Daubert said people come through those doors because something hurts, something is missing, or something is broken. People do not often say, I feel great, I think I will start going to church. —  Does that part of it make sense? 
People do not start going to church because they have a good job, they have a good wife and the family is fine, to paraphrase a Billy Joel. Something is hurting, something is broken, something is missing, that is what drives new people to church. Perhaps one should also know, that people who have worshiped regularly for years can come here feeling broken or hurting. A reality that rings especially true today.
Why have church today? Because the anxiety is through the roof. And right now, we are all feeling helpless and vulnerable for the same reasons. Perhaps today, like no other Sunday, we all have an inkling of what it is like to walk through the doors of the church for the first time just hoping for a hint from God that he hears us and our feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. And if you confess that, then maybe, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the brokenness of the woman at the well. 
Jesus does not gloss over her brokeness. He does not tell her it will be alright. Instead, he offers her living water, which is a powerful force for life. I am not sure how best to describe her response.  She does not quite believe, but almost does. That is also probably typical of someone walking through the doors for the first time. How best to describe her reaction: trust, amazement, hope, some combination of the three. She goes to the people. I do not know why or how she and her community became so broken that she goes to the well alone, but now she goes from Jesus to her people and back again. “This cannot be the Messiah can it.”
I chose to use the New Living Translation Bible this morning for our reading, because the ending is nuanced slightly differently, in a way that I believe is important for the day. They tell her, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you have told us.” The community recognizes the woman’s testimony is part of their conversion. Also, the community answers the women’s question. “He is indeed [Jesus is indeed] the savior of the world.” You could say something similar. Her testimony is part of your faith today.
Here is the great thing about Jesus, and it is true today. We talk about the woman’s brokenness, but again we are not quite sure what it is. It does not matter. Now, she is no longer defined by that brokeness. Now she is known for the trust she places in the one, Jesus, who stands before her. Now, she is known as one who received living water.
The same holds true with you and those who come here hurting or broken, vulnerable and unsure. There comes a point when you are known by the living waters of baptism that you have received, drowned and reborn. There comes a time when you are known for the one, Jesus, in whom you trust and his living water. There comes a time when we, those gathered around you can not even imagine you as broken but as blessed. 
There comes a time when you are not defined by the crack or cracks like the broken pot of our story, but you are known for the flowers along your side of the path. And Jesus is the one that helps you to see those flowers of grace and beauty. I pray for you this week. And I pray for those amongst you who long to be here, but join us in spirit. 


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