This was delivered at the Federated Church of Green Lake in March of 2017.


Springtime is my favorite time of the year. I can see the grass again, flowers start to bloom, butterflies return, and I don’t have to trudge through a mile of sandwiched layers of ice, water, and snow on the sidewalks on my way to class. Spring is the time where everything wakes up, and in a way I believe we do as well. Somewhere around this time we suddenly wake up one morning and realize that we just have too much darn stuff laying around the house. Then, we go and clean it all up, but with a tinge of disappointment along with it. “How did I get all of this stuff?” you ask. The reality is that we are the ones that got all this stuff in the first place, and it’s now taking up too much space in our house.

Coming to terms with the fact that we have too much stuff in our house can be a difficult task. When we look into the things we have, all of them have some sort of value in our mind. If we look past the value that we place on all of this stuff, all of the stuff becomes just that – stuff. However, we can’t see past the value we place on it because it means so much to us. We’re so used to this stuff being here that we don’t want to see it go or can’t imagine life without it. And so, it sticks around, taking up space. The image here is actually my room, and while you may not think it is messy, it’s probably the messiest it’s ever been. I mean, there’s at least three candles cluttering up my desk, and regardless of the fact that there’s a bible very clearly opened on my desk, I struggle to find a place for God amongst all of the stuff going on in my life and subsequently my room – graduating, writing a thesis, finding a job. Certainly I can’t just clean these things up in my life, but during this time it’s easy to lose sight of where God is working in my life and to let that become a mess too.

Now, imagine you’re the Samaritan woman, coming to the well to get water. You come alone at a different time of day than everyone else as to avoid others. And yet, a man is there, and he’s asking you for a drink. You try to respond to him, but you’re too caught up in the fact that he is a Jew and that in your mind, Jews do not associate with Samaritans. The man responds with an interesting idea – water that won’t leave you thirsty. You’re interested in this living water he has proposed to you.

At this point, you’re concerned with the physical world. The only reason you’re interested in this living water that this man has offered you is simply because you don’t want to come to this well to fetch water anymore. However, this water that he has offered you goes beyond just physical water. This water represents the spirit of God – everyone can have it, and everyone can experience it. The fact is that the spirit of God does not only reside in the water, but resides everywhere – in everything and in everyone. The spirit can do amazing things within us and the world, everywhere and all of the time, usually when we don’t realize it.

It didn’t take long for the Samaritan woman to “believe” in the spirit after she was told about it, just as it doesn’t take us much to believe in the spirit either. All too often, we find ourselves saying to ourselves that we believe in the spirit and we believe in this water that can quench our thirst – but there’s something missing. Just believing is not enough – just accepting is not enough. Rather, there is another component of belief that takes effort and is not easy to achieve. Believing and worshipping at this level takes some serious work, and the Samaritan woman experienced it all in one confrontation.

Instead of just taking the woman at face value and telling her how to get this living water, he asks her to go get her husband, to which she responds that she has no husband. Following this, Jesus exposes to the woman a truth that she herself has not accepted. She was a woman that had been through a series of divorces that has left her feeling not so great, naturally so. During this time in the world, divorce was something that was initiated by the husband, and was always in some way against the woman – if the husband found that the woman was unclean or incapable of fulfilling her duties as a wife, he divorced her. This always shamed the woman to the rest of the world – and she had been through it five times. So, needless to say, she has a messy house and a messy soul. Rather than cleaning it up though, she put it off and turned away – burying the mess so she didn’t have to think about it anymore. She stayed with another man just to avoid begging and starvation, and continued about her life.

When Jesus exposed this truth to the woman, her walls were torn down. The thing she has tried to not think about has come once again to haunt her, and I’m sure that this didn’t make her feel good. Now, at this point, the woman has two options: to continue living with this burden of truth, or to accept it and change for the better. The first option is easy – we’re used to that by now. Cramming that truth down as far as we can into the ground has worked for us in the past, but that doesn’t fix the issue. The only thing that will happen if we push it down farther is that it only rises back up eventually. This is what happens when we drink the unfulfilling water – it pleases us for a second only for us to become thirsty a second later. We continue to sit in our messy house, realizing it’s messy but never actually cleaning it up.

The second option is repentance. The word repentance is a rather scary one to many of us, and it was to me as well. In our Wednesday night discussion, I asked the group what the word repentance meant to them, and most of them responded with something along the lines of “realizing we did something wrong.” The dictionary definition of repentance is just as damning as we thought – “sincere regret or remorse.” Every time we hear this word we immediately think of the negatives – being exposed to something we did wrong. This realization makes us feel uncomfortable and exposed, just like the Samaritan woman at the well. However, repentance goes beyond just being exposed to something we did wrong and making us feel terrible. It goes beyond just exposing us to our inward truth.

To fully go through the act of repentance, we must not only accept this inner truth but also make an outward action upon it. It is one thing to accept our truth, but another to actually make a change in our lives that can repair the issue at its source. If we are stuck living with this truth forever and do not move forward from it, the only thing we can do is spin our wheels in the mud, never moving from our current position in life. It is very easy to do this because we have our own justifications for doing so, the way we have been living previously is comfortable to us. In our Lent devotional, Ruth Haley Barton mentions that these patterns must work for us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t be so attached to them in the first place. However, the only way to grow is to actually actively make a change.

In true preacher fashion, I broke the act of repentance into three separate and equally important steps, all starting with ‘R’ for maximum memorability – reflect, recognize, and react. These steps are all a part of the repentance process, and without all three, we can’t move forward from our place in the mud that is quite cozy, but leaves us feeling dirty and probably a little wet.

The first step is to reflect. I might have already lost some of you here, as it can be quite challenging to look within ourselves and discover what is cluttering up our lives. It is easy to look around our house and our physical things and figure out what it is that is taking up so much space, but it gets significantly harder when we look for things that aren’t physical – and especially so when we look for things that don’t allow God to create a prayerful space within us. When we reflect on the things we have in our lives – family, work, relationships, the list goes on – we examine each to look at where we can improve to create a space for God.

A great way to do this is through centering prayer. I’m sure many if not all of you have heard of this by now, but it is definitely my favorite and the most effective way for me to be with God and let him work in me to discover what it is he wants me to do. Centering prayer is essentially a form of meditation, guided by faith – and really the only thing you need is a time and space for silence. When you start, you choose a word or a phrase that will be your guiding word or phrase throughout the session of prayer. Thomas Keating, in his guide to the method of centering prayer, describes this word or phrase as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. This word invites God into your thoughts and prayers, and allows him to work within you. Once you have this word or phrase, then sit quietly and silently, introducing the word or phrase into your thoughts. As you sit and reflect on this word or phrase, continue to reflect on the meaning of the word or phrase in your life. Think about where it is a part of your life, and how God is present in your life and in your guiding word or phrase. If your thoughts stray from the guiding thought, return to it and continue reflecting. The time you spend in centering prayer is up to you – as much as you can handle sitting quietly and silently. Some of you might be able to sit silently and quietly for as long as 20 minutes, others maybe only one or two minutes. This is more than okay – the key is to get into the rhythm of doing this every day in order to become more mindful of where God is acting in your life and what it is God wants you to clean up in order to make your life more inviting to his spirit and truth.

Once you are aware of what needs to be cleaned up, the second part of repentance is to accept it. This may be the most difficult part of this process, for some of us, myself included. Accepting our shortcomings for what they are isn’t easy because we’re so used to them being a part of our lives. The Samaritan woman had a difficult time of this, as well. Throughout the exchange, she was more focused on the fact that Jesus was Jewish and she was a Samaritan woman, and how the two shouldn’t even be talking. She was so caught up between the walls that she had built in her life that she couldn’t even see what was right in front of her until she was explicitly awakened to her shortcomings. If we do not accept our shortcomings for what they are, we’ll be stuck rooted in them forever.

The last step in repentance is most often the one that is overlooked. Repentance is not a process in which we recognize our wrongdoings and wallow in it for the rest of eternity, but rather a process in which we can accept our wrongdoings and then grow from them. The last step is to react to these, and clean them up. Once we have accepted what we have done, what would be the purpose of leaving it how it is? Why not, as Kathleen Norris puts it, make it into a place where God might wish to dwell? After the truth had been exposed to and accepted by the Samaritan woman, she had received the living water and her thirst was finally quenched. Jesus had created a space within this woman to enable the presence of the spirit to work within her. So, she acted upon it, returning to the town and sharing with the other Samaritan people the wonderful thing that had happened to her.

The entire process of repentance is evidence that God’s grace is real and working every day. Regardless of where we’re at in our lives, we are able to come back and reflect, recognize, and react to the things in our lives that are inhibiting God’s work within us, at which point we can return to living the way God has wanted for us. All of the water we could ever drink will never quench our thirst the way the living water that we gain by creating a space for God to work within us will.

So, take a look around. Where are the spaces in your lives that are cluttered? Where are the walls that you’ve built around you, keeping the area within dry and without water that gives life? Once you’ve found these places, recognize and accept them for what they are, because there’s no point in keeping it the way it is. Then, change and grow from these experiences. As Maria Robinson puts it, nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. Today, and every day, we can clean up our messy house and we can clean up our messy soul. Today, and every day, we can make a new ending for our lives – one where we live not just in spirit but also in truth, to ourselves and to God. Amen.