Updated: Feb 9
Sermon by Pastor Dave Collins
This is our fourth week on Emotionally Healthy Relationships and today we’re talking about something very important, and just like it is outside today: very cold. Icebergs. But not real icebergs. Metaphorical ones. We all know how dangerous real icebergs can be. Just ask Jack and Rose. Well, you can only ask Rose because for some reason there wasn’t enough room for Jack on that enormous door.
Icebergs are so dangerous to ships like the Titanic, not because of the part you can see above the water, but because of the enormous mass of them that you can’t see, under the water. (And if for some reason you’re watching this in the future, and have no idea an iceberg is, I’m really really sorry. I wish I could say that I did my best, but I didn’t. Also, if you’ve run out of things to watch and are now watching old sermons from Maitland Presbyterian Church, you’re probably the last person on earth, in which case, we’re all really really sorry we didn’t take better care of the icebergs.) Anyhoo…we’re talking about icebergs today as a metaphor for our own lives. For our emotions, and our histories. Because as you probably know, 90% of an iceberg’s mass is under the water. The part you can see is just “the tip of the iceberg”. And in our relationships with each other, that’s mostly what we think we’re dealing with. But it’s just not true.
When we relate to others, we’re not just dealing with all the stuff we can see in their lives, but with the things we can’t. And most importantly, WE are acting and reacting, from all of OUR stuff, that’s under the surface. Stuff we might be a little uncomfortable looking at, but if we want to have emotionally healthy relationships, it’s essential that we do. Now, the truth is that you can absolutely ignore all that stuff, and live your whole life above the surface. Most of your day to day is spent up there. If you’re on your morning walk and say to your neighbor, “Hey! How are ya?” And they start sharing things from deep under the surface, I’ll bet you the next day, you won’t go down that street! We need to be able to chit chat about sports and the weather, and what you watched on tv this week. The problems come when you can’t stand to look under the surface, at your own life, or at anyone else’s, so you refuse, in one way or another.
We all have stuff below the surface that affects us every day. And it affects just about every one of our choices. If we don’t look at what’s under there, we end up making choices that mystify…us. We make decisions but we’re not sure why. We end up in the same kind of unhealthy relationship, over and over again. If you try to ignore it what’s under the surface in your own self, you might just end up floating around on debris with no room for Jack. God wants more for us than that. I believe it’s a part of why God sent Jesus to share our humanity. Jesus not only redeems all of it, but confirms that everything human is mentionable. God sees all of it, and loves us. God wants us to see all of it, and love us, too. There is a story in the gospel of John where Jesus does this explicitly for someone he just met. Let’s read it together.
Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:3-29)
3 (Jesus) left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water,
If you’ve been a churchgoer for more than a few years, you probably know this story pretty well. There are a number of reasons that the apostle John included it in his gospel. It shows how Jesus crosses lines that tradition said weren’t to be crossed. Even today in some countries in the Middle East, women aren’t supposed to speak to men outside of their families. But Jesus didn’t care about backwards traditions, then, and he sure wouldn’t care about them now. There were other cultural and religious things going on as well, that John lifts up in the text. But that’s not why we’re looking at this scripture today. The woman at the well did some of the same things that we still do today, and Jesus wanted her, and us, to change.
and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”
It might have been that she just didn’t understand him. But it also might have been that since she knew she didn’t understand him, that feelings of fear and shame started bubbling up inside of her, and she did what most of us do when that happens. She changed the subject. I know, let’s talk about history! I know the story of this well, and that makes me feel better about myself, so I’m going to try and steer the conversation to be about THAT. She even ended it with a sort of provocative question, “What do you think, that you’re greater than Jacob?” Which she knew would put him on the defensive, which kept her in control, which she was much more comfortable with. But Jesus knew something that we should all learn. You don’t have to answer a question just because its asked. Instead,
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Again, she stayed at the surface. Chores are no fun. I would like to do fewer chores. Jesus was trying to get her to go under the surface, but she wouldn’t, so…
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
Jesus knows what she really needs to talk about. She needs to talk about why she’s there at the well in the middle of the day, when it’s hot and no one else is there. Let’s talk about how you’ve been hurt. Let’s talk about your grief. Let’s talk about your insatiable thirst for love, which is really, deep down, an insatiable thirst for God. And she says, “Nope! Let’s talk about politics instead.”
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Let’s have an argument! That feels safer than where you’re headed. Your ancestors are dumb, and your momma dresses you funny. How ‘bout that? He doesn’t take the bait.
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Do you hear that? In spirit and in truth. We’re going to come back to that later, so just keep it in mind.
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
It was another miracle that pointed to who Jesus really is. But today, when she is running back to the town, proclaiming the truth to the people she wanted to avoid an hour ago, I hear her saying this: “Come and see a man who saw who I really am and didn’t flinch. And if he can do it, maybe I can too? Maybe I can look beneath the surface, at my disappointments and hurts, at my own flaws and sins, and not look away and change the subject? And maybe by doing that, I can come to know God as he really is.” That’s who she just met. She just met God in the flesh who lived exactly that way.
The gospel writers show Jesus as one who had intense, raw, emotional experiences and was able to express his emotions without shame or embarrassment, no matter who he was talking to. He didn’t repress or project his feelings onto others. And we believe, because of who we believe Jesus to be, that is what it means to be fully human. If you asked Jesus how he was, he was never “Fine”. He wept. He shed real tears. He was filled with joy (Luke 10:21) not distracted. When he was worried and afraid, he didn’t soft pedal it for his friends, he told them that he felt overwhelmed with grief (Mark 14:34). When people were obstinate and set in their ways, he wasn’t just “a little frustrated” . He was angry and distressed (Mark 3:5). He wasn’t just a little down. He was sorrowful and troubled (Matthew 26:37). When he saw someone in need, he didn’t just do the right thing because it was the right thing, His heart was moved with compassion (Luke 7:13). This is a big part of what it means to be fully human. And I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said that those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth.
We worship God in spirit. The word for spirit in the Bible is the same word for breath. Which means it’s not separate from who you are, but intrinsically a part of who you are. Worshipping God isn’t divorced from reality. It is our reality. It’s not done in the denial of who we are, and what we’re feeling, but done THROUGH them. We worship God in truth. Yes, by only believing the things about God that we know to be true through the Bible. But also by seeing and telling the truth about everything. About who we are. About what we want, and where we’ve been. If we only know God above the surface, then the most we will ever know God is with 10% of who we are. The spirit and truth is mostly under the waves. If you want to know God, that’s where you’ll need to go. It’s not hard to get there, you just have to be willing to go. Now listen up, because there might be someone here today who needs to hear this next part.
Nothing you feel is wrong.
I don’t know what your parents taught you about your feelings, or what lessons you picked up along the way, but if you ever learned that something you feel, some emotion you have, is wrong, you need to look again. You need to shake up the Etch-a-Sketch. Because the truth is that nothing you feel is wrong. Nothing you feel is meant to be ignored, or pushed down. Nothing you feel is wrong. This isn’t to say that you are meant to be led around by your emotions. Or that your feelings are always right. But that you are always supposed to know what they are. To be able to name them, and claim them as your own.
I read a story this week about a family that wanted to get their yelling under control. They didn’t want their family to repeat the patterns they grew up with. But after trying and failing to just “not yell any more” they decided to start cataloging all the different kinds of situations that made them angry and give them unique names. And they found a lot! There was the anger at dealing with a stranger’s incompetence, which they realized there was nothing they could do about, except in traffic, with a quick beep of the horn and a point to the traffic light. But my favorite one was what they named diophonus anger, which is Latin for two sounds. They realized that they would both get very angry and start yelling when the dog was barking, and the baby was crying. Two sounds. And just naming it helped them tame it. You put the dog outside. I’ll pick up the baby.
Very often, anger is the feeling that rises above the surface, isn’t it? It’s the easiest to recognize, at least for everyone but you. But it’s one of those feelings that many believe to be wrong, isn’t it? But it isn’t! In fact, anger can be a “warning indicator light on your life's dashboard”. Through anger, God may help us clarify our values, and discover what we really want. When our values or beliefs are violated, we sometimes feel it in our bodies. For example, our stomach gets knotted, our neck tightens, we sweat, we clench our fists, our shoulders stiffen, we can't sleep. Sometimes, anger leads us to action. And in that case, it’s more than just not wrong. It’s good! But other times, the feeling of anger isn’t wrong, but it is wearing a disguise. Sometimes, anger is the emotion that breaks through the surface, but when we stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I feeling this way?” And hopefully even take it to God in prayer, it draws us below the surface to deeper emotions, like hurt, sadness, fear, disappointment, and shame.
Anger may also be an indicator of unmet expectations in our relationships with family, and friends, or at work or at church. And then we need to discern if we actually had a right to those expectations or if we were simply making assumptions. Anger can also be a sign of deeper sin, revealing our pettiness, arrogance, hatred, envy, or prejudice. Those are sins which will tear you apart, and ruin every relationship you have. But if you’re not willing to look, you might never see them for the sins they are, and you might never be free from them.
Jesus came to free you from those sins, absolutely. But that’s not the only reason he came. He also came so that you could be fully you. Without pretense, without denial. Not just the you who everyone can see. But the 90% of you that we can’t. We can do that, we must do that, by going beneath the surface.