St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

A Sense of Wonder

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 6, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church

Every time I turn my attention to the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Women I am astonished. There is no end to inspiration in this magnificent story. This morning I will make just a few remarks bookended by a couple of startling quotes and hope your imagination might be stirred to consider for yourself the depth of meaning here.

First, the chorus by Van Morrison comes to mind from the song “A Sense of Wonder.” It goes, “Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder? Didn’t I come to lift your fiery vision bright? Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder in the flame?” What flame? The flame of his love that burns away the tragic conditioning of Photini’s life, the flame of understanding, the flame of forgiveness, the flame of divine compassion, the flame of transfiguration.

It is this flame that elevates her and catapults her into the present moment’s encounter with Living and Dynamic Truth unbound by the past and sin, where even religion has no power to constrain. “For there is a time coming,” he says, “and now is when the true worshippers will no longer worship on this mountain or in the temple, but in spirit and truth.” St. Basil speaks surprisingly of an auspicious detachment from religion itself and I think this is what we see here. Detachment from religion and attachment to very Thing religion is supposed to point to: union with God. For religion is at best a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself. To mistake the finger for the moon is a common and unfortunate mistake. It is a dead end. As Marcus Borg writes, “It is possible to be centered in sacred tradition and yet have one’s heart far from God.”

It is interesting that Jesus does not ask her to repent. He does not judge her for her sin. He judges her according to his infinite compassion.

Here’s is the first quote from the Australian Catholic priest John Dupuche speaking about this Gospel reading.

“He (that is, Jesus) does not feel compromised at being alone with a woman, a Samaritan, an adulteress, for he is not concerned with clean and unclean. To him all things are pure. He is pure and makes all things pure. He is whole and makes all things whole. It is the unclean mind that sets up obstacles and divisions between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, clean and unclean. The divided heart says, ‘you are not my friend, you are not my very self.’

It is clear to me that Jesus sees her as clean and pure, as friend, not foe, as one with him and not “the other.” This is a quintessential I Thou moment the great Jewish scholar Martin Buber famously wrote about.

The second and last quote is from a poem by the Irish priest John O’Donohue. It is a beautiful prayer of hope and blessing that I comes to mind when I read this Gospel. I think it speaks of the Lord’s good intentions and of the goal of spiritual transformation, the very transformation I see occurring today.

May you listen to your longing to be free.
May the frames of your belonging be generous
Enough for your dreams.
May you rise each day with a
Voice of blessing
Whispering in your heart.
May you find a harmony
Between your soul and you life.

What do you think? Does this not speak to the longing of every heart for freedom, for authenticity, for abundant life? Is this not the point of drinking living water and of worshipping with spirit, pneuma, breath and truth, unbounded, mindful, conscious, and awake? I think it is.