We watch the news every morning at our house while we are getting ready for school and work. We watch CNN Headline News where the stories repeat quite often. For us, it’s a good mix of the important news of the day, and some fluff. One story has been headlining even Headline News for several weeks now. It was there before the Earthquake in Japan. It faded for a couple of weeks during all that. But the story is back: the trial of self-help guru James Arthur Ray. He’s on trial because he was the guy in charge when three people died in a sweat lodge experience on one of his transformational retreats, he was on the Secret.
I must confess I have been fascinated to hear the stories of these folks, who put their trust in this man. One by one, various students of James Ray are put on the witness stand. The two sides are to arguing about whether or not this teacher is responsible for these deaths. Did the people make a choice to stay or did he have too much power?
But I am fascinated by the stories of the people who gave their time, their money, and put their trust in James Ray. Over and over I hear the same refrains: “He was helping me.”, “I learned so much about myself.” ,“My life had gotten off track, and I went on this retreat, even though it was physically grueling, because I trusted him, and I wanted to find direction for my life.”.
They all want the same things we want: meaning and purpose, healing, connection and love. Perhaps the word “Love” is overused. It’s too bad, because it’s a good word. We all want it, don’t we? We want to love ourselves. We want to feel good about ourselves, and who we are and why we are here on this earth. We want to be healed of whatever is keeping us from loving ourselves, so we can live out our purpose in this world.
Jesus helps us do this. Jesus heals us, and tells us, “God loves you, and God wants you to love yourself.” “No matter what has happened before this day,” Jesus says, “Let’s be honest about it, and get past it, so we can live!”
In our scripture for today, (John 4:5-30, 39-42 for those following along at home or on the road) Jesus has an encounter with a woman. He travels through a part of the country where no self-respecting Jew would generally travel. They would make a huge detour in any trip, in order to avoid Samaria. Jews and Samaritans were basically the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Jesus does not see those lines. He sees everyone as a child of God, so he took his disciples on a journey right through Samaria. He sends his disciples into town to get some food and he sits down by a well.
A woman comes to the well, in the middle of the day. We know she’s a woman who wants to avoid the crowds, because all the other women come to the well early in the morning when it’s cool. This is a BAD woman. You name a rule, and she has broken it. No one respects her anymore.
She’s like some of those people who went on James Ray’s retreats. She was broken, and she needed healing and a new purpose. But I am sure she did not go to the well seeking anything that day, except a bucket of water. And then she met Jesus, and everything changed.
In worship today we showed a great video clip from a great retelling of the story. Erin Moon, an actress reads the story in more contemporary language. Go here to see it and come back because Kurt can’t possibly do it justice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q49BbfgJbto
“To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.” She says to Jesus, “You look at me. You know me.” This is one of my favorite stories.
Do you know you are loved? Do you know you are loved for who you are? But here is the really important question for today: Are there people in your life who will speak the truth to you, even when it hurts, or causes conflict, because they love you enough to speak the truth?
You see Jesus did not say, “I love you and who you are does not matter.” He made her face her mistakes. He held a mirror up to her life. And then he stayed there with her, and cared for her, in spite of her brokenness. That is true love: someone who loves us enough to speak the truth, even when it hurts and then hang in there with us anyway.
Do you have people in your life, that you trust, who will speak the truth to you, even when it hurts? Even when it causes conflict in your relationship? And will those people stick with you anyway? I hope you do because that is what God wants for you. And even if you don’t, I hope you will keep looking for them. Don’t give up.
You see, this is what we are trying to model here at The Village. I call it “messy Community.” It’s when we take the risk to be in conflict with one another, so that we can push through the conflict, and learn something about ourselves, and become better people together. That is authentic community, but it’s hard.
I hate criticism. I know that I tell you I want to hear your feedback about how things are going at The Village. But I still hate to hear it when people don’t like something I do. It’s because my dad was overly critical, at least that’s what I’ve come to understand in therapy. And poor Kurt has to suffer sometimes because I can’t take the least little bit of criticism without getting really ouchy. BUT I KNOW, in my head, that the only way to learn, and to honor the feelings of others, is to be able to hear criticism. And so I ask for feedback.
But it’s hard, isn’t it, when someone who really knows us speaks a truth about us, that we don’t want to hear? During a couple of periods in our life together of 15 years, Kurt and I have had to go see a counselor to help us work through our truth, because it’s hard. Just the other day, the therapist asked if there was ever a time that we even remotely considered that our marriage would not make it. Kurt immediately remembered the biggest fight we ever had, several years ago. It was about money, and our work. I did not even remember the fight at first. It was a distant memory. Because we worked through our conflict.
Now at the time, it was excruciating. But we kept talking, and trying to understand the other person’s position, because that is what we do in healthy relationships. There will be conflict, in any relationship. Sometimes it is because we need to hear something about ourselves that only someone who really knows us, can tell us. And they know all the bad stuff. And sometimes, when these moments of truth occur people give up. They walk away from one another because the work it just too hard, and then neither one gets better. Or maybe one does, but the other does not. That’s why do many marriages end.
At our house, we’re allowed to call a “time out” in a conversation about a conflict, or a hard truth, that we don’t want to deal with. But we have agreed that we will also call a “time in.” Because Kurt and I have a commitment to one another and to our relationship. So we are willing to do the hard work.
So, how about you? Do you have trusting relationships, with friends, family members, even co-workers, where you can speak the truth? Where you can know another person, and be known honestly, and trust that the relationship will continue and you will be loved, or respected, no matter what? I hope we all do. But my hunch is this: we don’t have enough. This is an area where we do want more, and I will honor that wish. It’s ok to want more -- healthy, honest, life-giving relationships. That is something worth wanting.
But we do have enough of something. We have enough strength, to do the hard work, to find and build and maintain these relationships. We have the ability to hang in there. That is what we are practicing here at The Village. We know we are imperfect people. That is our starting place. Here at the Village, we will love one another anyway.
Jesus taught the woman at the well, that she was loved, no matter what. Because God loves us, no matter what. Jesus also invited her to hear the truth, and to own up to her mistakes, and to stay in relationship and be loved by God.
Today, this is our invitation too. God loves you. Hear that message. God loves you enough to send people into your life, to be Jesus for you, and to speak the truth to you, and to challenge you. I pray that in this Village community, we can be Jesus for one another, and speak the truth, and stay in relationship, even when it gets tough. Because God loves us enough. We need to hear that message. They all need to hear it, as the woman said. But today, we need to hear it.
God knows you and loves you. “To be known is to be loved. And to be loved is to be known.” Do you have a place like this, where you can be known, truly known and be loved, truly loved? If you don’t, go find a community like that. We are out here. If you find yourself near Toledo, come join us at Monroe & Central. We’re here, we want you to be know and be known, to love and be loved.