The opposite of isolation is love

Reflection for March 15, 2020 on John 4:5-45 | Jesus greets a Samaritan woman and many come to believe because of her testimony

A guest post by our seminarian, Megan Allen

We enter the third week of Lent facing a precarious situation – the COVID 19 pandemic. People are encouraged to practice social distancing, reducing our contact with others to slow the spread of the virus, and to self-quarantine when appropriate. Even for the most introverted, it feels like a time of disconnection and isolation. But what does COVID 19 have to do with the story of the Samaritan woman?

We know she goes to the well to get water alone and at a time of day when others were unlikely to be there. Some suggest this woman might be a social outcast, and I imagine that in the truest sense of the word, the woman was alone. Perhaps experiencing the isolation of social distancing. How long might she have been longing for connection and relationship?

Traditional Orthodox icon of St. Photini at the well with Jesus

We also know Jesus was at the well. I assume she and Jesus are less than 6-feet apart as he chooses to enter into relationship with her. A Jew and a Samaritan – unlikely dialogue partners with a shared history and fractured present. Through their dialogue we hear that Jesus offered this woman the opposite of the isolation she felt. Continued isolation from others can feel like brokenness; like a sorrow deep within our soul. Jesus offers her living water – a renewed relationship of deep connection and love with God. An opportunity to be made whole, even in this place of isolation.

Response to this pandemic demands we distance ourselves from others. Like the Samaritan woman, this leaves us thirsty for connection. But it is also an opportunity to meet Jesus at the well of our lives. We are reminded that as we too navigate the isolation of social distancing and feel the brokenness, anxiety, and fear in our separation from others, we too are offered living water.

What living water is Christ offering you?

About that Journey, artist Meredith Gould
Featured in the forthcoming issue of Soul By Southwest

The Samaritan woman in the Eastern tradition is known as Saint Photini, meaning “the luminous one”. She is a woman of light, quick to share the good news of Christ with others. As we drink from the well of eternal life, how might we respond like the Samaritan woman? We can extend Christ’s living water through inviting others to join us virtually, by reaching out to connect others in love, and by offering ourselves to God’s service, as we are able. May we remember throughout this time that Jesus meets us here, knows our pains, and satisfies our needs.

Note: if you’re finding yourself feeling alone right now, Incarnation is offering community, connection, and prayer several days a week online. Check out our Calendar for the full line-up, and links to join via Zoom. Drop in anytime you can.

What does theology have to do with love?

A Reflection from March 8, 2020 on John 3:1-17 | Jesus tells a religious leader about love

This week’s reflection begins with a short diatribe, but stick with me because it’s all a roundabout way of telling you what theology has to do with love.

Now, I have heard several pastors/priests/ministers give the advice about preaching, that nobody who goes to church on Sunday wants to hear about theology in the sermon.

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via GIPHY

Perhaps I’m just stubborn (no, you are!) but I refuse to accept this advice. First of all, it’s the job of church leaders not just to educate people about religious things, but to help shape people’s desires so that we love what is good and right and true (i.e. God and God’s goodness manifest in creation). So if Christians don’t love theology, whose fault is that? Secondly, if people don’t think they like theology, it’s probably because their church leaders didn’t ever say what’s so amazing about it!

So what’s so amazing about theology? Well, inasmuch as theology is the study of GOD, theology is really all about LOVE! Let me explain.

One of the reasons that the Bible is so important for Christians is that it is the basis for all the claims made about who God is. In particular, the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, make claims about who Jesus is as God incarnate. What this means is that the human God (that’s Jesus) makes known to other humans (that’s us) what is most important about God.

With that in mind, we should listen closely when Jesus says things like, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In this powerful statement, often quoted only in part, Jesus reveals how he is part of God’s plan of salvation for us, but even more importantly, why God would want to save us in the first place–namely, because of God’s unconditional love for the whole world. The theological principle that describes this unconditional love is ‘grace.’

This verse has become a popular slogan at football games and other sporting events.

The message of grace says that our God is a God of love. Moreover, everything Jesus does to reveal God to humans, by becoming human himself, indicates that God wants us to know that love in our own lives.

As I talked about in last week’s reflection, sin is the greatest threat to love. But it’s really important to note that sin is what prevents us from loving God and God’s creation (including each other and the created world); sin is not what prevents God from loving us. I’ll say it again: sin is not what prevents God from loving us. And we know this because Jesus said in John 3:16-17 that he came because God loves us and intends, not to condemn us, but to save us.

I’ll give a new copy of “On the Incarnation,” by Athanasius of Alexandria to the first person who can count all of the theological claims I just made. Here’s a hint: I claimed that God is a God of love, that Jesus is the full revelation of God’s love, that Jesus came to restore us to relationship with God because God loves us unconditionally, and that this is the message of grace. What’s amazing about theology is that it tells us all this! Theology is all about love (whether you love theology or not!) because God is all about love.

What do you think? Share your thoughts about theology, love, and grace in the comments.

Athanasius of Alexandria – 296-373

John 3:1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”