A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN
by The Reverend Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, March 12, 2023: Lent III / Year A
Come Holy Spirit and quench our thirst for God in Christ today. Amen.
What made you decide to come to church this morning? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people gathered today. One answer might be a need for spiritual nourishment. A need for communion with God in a community striving to know what it means to love and to be loved. A longing to feel that love of God. A desire to belong to God and to one another. Some of us came to church this morning with a thirst for God’s grace and comfort. A thirst so fierce in today’s desert of distorted relationships with ourselves, our neighbors, and with creation, that we’re spiritually exhausted and parched. Today’s sermon is about how spiritual practices like prayer, study, and worship cultivate our spiritual awareness of Holy Synchronicity. Sacred events when our inner and outer lives suddenly align in encounters with The Holy in particular places and times with particular people – people very different to who we are – that change our lives. Holy Synchronicity is life-changing not because we magically get what we want, but because we suddenly see ourselves anew within an interconnected web of sacred human relationships knit together in spirit and in truth. By deepening our spiritual awareness of Holy Synchronicity in our daily life, I pray that our thirst for the loving, liberating, and life-giving God may begin to be quenched today.
Most of you know, that I tend to be a little “woo-woo.” For those who don’t know what “woo-woo” means, Merriam-Webster’s definition is: “dubiously or outlandishly mystical, supernatural, or unscientific.” How dare they! Because I am not only “woo-woo” but can also be petty, I respectfully rebuke that definition in the name of neurological science. In her bestseller on the science of spirituality in psychology, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality in Our Quest for an Inspired Life¹, professor, researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller teaches that humans are universally equipped with a capacity for spirituality, and that our brains become more resilient and robust as a result of spiritual awareness. Perhaps you’ve had moments of inexplicable intuition that revealed a hidden truth. Or a moment of exquisite coincidence – a miraculous event, a door opens or closes on life’s path that manifests a truth beyond your control, prediction, or explanation, at a particular time and place with particular people. That phenomenon is what Carl Jung called synchronicity. Synchronicity is one of the facets in Dr. Miller’s work in the neuroscience of spiritual awareness that provides an entry into today’s Gospel.
Exhausted on his wilderness journey halfway from Judea to Galilee, Jesus arrives at a particular place, Jacob’s Well in Samaria: the land of mixed-race Samaritans whom the Jewish people feared and hated because they worshipped God differently. A particular person: a woman, a Samaritan woman, a Samaritan woman who had survived, yes, survived five marriages who now lived with a paramour, encounters Jesus: a man, a Jewish man and prophet from Galilee. She encounters Jesus at a particular time: it was about noon – a time when the heat of the sun was sweltering. Most women would fetch water in the cool of the day at sunrise or at sunset, almost never at noon. This Samaritan woman goes to Jacob’s Well when no one should have been there. And Jesus is there. As Jesus and the Samaritan woman recognize their differences in gender, race, religion, education, class, and social status, Jesus in his vulnerable humanity asks her for some water. He thirsts. Like she does.
The synchronicity of this encounter Jesus and the Samaritan woman share across their differences relates to Dr. Miller’s research on what happens when a lack of spiritual awareness keeps us isolated from people who differ from us in race, gender, class, politics, religion, or culture. Miller details the work of Tim Shriver, nephew of the late John and Robert Kennedy and Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver had a spiritual awakening mediating on a mural depiction of a scene from the life of St. Martin De Porres. In that moment Shriver committed his life to end “‘othering’ – the shaming, guilt, scapegoating, and stigmatizing most of us unconsciously practice in an effort to feel safety and belonging.”² Miller says,
Nothing is impossible for the spirit! Healing comes when we end othering – when we find a language and a way to be with one another that allows us to transcend division and embrace our shared hunger for meaning, value, connection, and hope. That’s the means to achieve the justice and respect that are so absent today – a practiced willingness to cross boundaries of division, refuse contempt, and acknowledge the dignity of others. Then, justice has a chance.³
I think we can agree with Dr. Miller that fear, hatred, and loneliness have led our society into a spiritual desert. An isolating wilderness of distorted relationships. We are not in right relationship with ourselves, our neighbors, God, or Creation. Like the Israelites in the lesson from Exodus, our world is filled with complaining, quarreling, and getting ready to stone one another because our thirst for wholeness and wellbeing is so fierce it distracts us from encountering God in moments of Holy Synchronicity. Those “woo-woo” moments when we surrender ourselves in complete trust in God to reconcile us in interdependent relationship with those who are most different to us. Moments to be still and present to sacred coincidences that reveal truths hidden in our blind spots and shadows. To look deeply into what that exquisite synchronous encounter with the divine is revealing to us when we interpret our self as a spiritual being encountering another spiritual being across all of our differences. Dr. Miller says,
this enhanced perception of synchronicity goes hand in hand with increased spiritual awareness—and with better mental health. The more we practice engaging with open awareness, the more we are able to perceive synchronicity. And as we see synchronicity, we become more spiritually oriented—more aware of guidance, connection, and unity in our lives (4).
Like the Samaritan Woman, we show up at particular times and places completely unaware of the miraculous revelation God is waiting to show us in an encounter with difference. Spiritual practices like studying the Holy Scriptures, praying, contemplative silence, or giving praise and thanks to God in worship opens and deepens our spiritual awareness of God’s presence revealed in moments of Holy Synchronicity in our lives. In this wilderness of spiritual desertification that we are journeying through together, remember to drink in the words of Jesus:
the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth, for God seeks such as these to worship God. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.
Jesus engages the Samaritan Woman as an equal as they tell one another all the truths about their differences. Truths that set the Samaritan Woman free to see God revealed in Jesus as the Christ and she becomes the first person in John’s Gospel to share this revelation of God’s Messiah with others. The Holy Spirit of Truth that Jesus pours into the Samaritan Woman then pours out of her into those with whom she shares this good news. In the Apostle Paul’s words, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” By growing in spiritual awareness and being open to divine revelations in moments of Holy Synchronicity, we can see God’s love in unexpected people, times and places. May we pour God’s love into others just as God pours the Holy Spirit of love into us to quench the spiritual thirst of all people, in all places, at all times. Amen.
- Lisa Miller, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life. (New York, NY:
Random House, 2021).
- Ibid., 226.
- Ibid., 228.
- Ibid., 94.