Lost Souls, Found Truth

Sunday, February 6, 2022
Pastor Arne Bergland 

John 4:1-29, 39-42

In Nicholas Evans’ novel “The Horse Whisperer,” Annie Graves travels from the East coast to Montana with her daughter Grace and Grace’s severely traumatized horse, Pilgrim. They aim  to convince a rancher named Tom Booker to help them. They had been told  that this man was one of an elite group of people with the ability to heal severely injured horses. They were called Horse Whisperers, people who could see into a creature’s soul and soothe the  wounds they found there. Booker was challenged to  calm Pilgrim, who had been severely injured in a gruesome riding accident. He soon discovers that he has two human souls to heal as well. Grace has blocked out all memory of the terrible accident in which her dearest friend was killed and she herself has lost a leg. Crippled for life, she turns her fear and anger inward, blocking anyone’s attempt to help her get on with life. Her mother, Annie, a high-rolling advertising executive, has alienated herself from both her husband and daughter for years and is suddenly forced to come face to face with what she has sacrificed because of her career. Grace’s physical and emotional injury following the accident is but a shadow of Annie’s inner alienation from herself. Annie has lost the ability both to give and receive human affection. It is a story about a woman in search of healing for a wounded animal and her daughter who ends up finding herself healed in ways she was neither looking for nor expecting.                              This week’s gospel story does something that few other gospel passages do; it helps us understand how wounds and divisions, especially ones that are longstanding, get healed. Jesus is a healer in this week’s story but in ways that are not obvious at first glance. On one level, of course, Jesus heals someone in a way she is not expecting. The Samaritan woman  comes to a well to get water. She is minding her own business, doing the laborious work that women did in those days. She knows her place and is suspicious of the obviously Jewish man perched on the well. She approaches the well in the heat of the day.  She is understandably taken aback when he not only speaks to her but asks for her help.     Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”She is a Samaritan. He is a Jew. She is a woman. He is a man. It is a highly public place. Jesus, as usual, is “inviting trouble” in his typical unconventional attitude and behavior. He should not be speaking to a woman in the first place, let alone a member of a tribe of Israel long despised by the Jewish people. It is all disorienting, dislodging, confusing and wonderful – right from the start. People we think we have all figured out don’t act that way. Sometimes  things we never expect to happen do. When you are dealing with Jesus, expect the unexpected. It is hard to tell what is going on in the conversation between Jesus and this woman. Something happens in the encounter. When it starts out, they are perfect strangers. When it ends up, the woman is so excited that she wants everyone to know about the man whom she has just met. The woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” John 4:29   She leaves behind what brought her to this moment in the first place because she finds something else.  Something she did not realize she was searching for- someone who meets her at a level of her being that no one else has before. And, once she has been met, she feels found. Or is it that she has found part of herself that has gone missing? The clue is in what happens next; because, by the end of the passage, it is not just a woman who is excited about Jesus but a whole town full of Samaritans. Hear again the words from John’s Gospel: “So, when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to  stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we  know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” John 4;40-42 A whole town full of people have found themselves and have found that they “belong” after all. Despite  a centuries’ old hatred between two peoples, what matters is that their worth before God is without question. And all of this because of a conversation that got started at a well and a man who genuinely  saw people helping them see themselves. Jesus puts people in touch with the experience of a love that embraces them at a level deeper than thought and action ever could. When that happens, they find something that was broken inside them coming alive again, something that was lost in them suddenly found. And when that is our experience, then all the old suspicions, all the old rivalries and all the old fears and hurts just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.  People have come into “their souls” again. It  is a place where we need to be. Some therapists speak about “lost soul,” a condition usualls caused by trauma of some sort. A lost soul happens when a person is “out” of himself, unable to “find” either the outer connections that keep him in communion with others or the inner ones that keep him rooted in himself.  A person who loses her soul is unable to take her place in society, to engage in its rituals, to feel one with its traditions. They are dead to her; and she to them.  Until a person “regains” his soul he is not really and wholly human. When this happened to primitive people, it was said a person was possessed or  bewitched or ill – because, without his soul, a person had lost touch with all that energized him and humanized him.  People who lost their souls often died because of it both inwardly and outwardly because to be cut off from that central experience of being “one” with oneself was a “terminal” disease. The worst loneliness of all.  James Hillman, a famous American psychiatrist, tells the story is told about an interview with a patient that took place one day. The  woman sat in a  wheelchair because she was elderly and feeble.  She said that she was dead for she had lost her heart.  The  psychiatrist asked her to place her hand over her breast to feel her heart beating: it must still be there if she could feel its beat.  “That,” she said, “is not my real heart.”  She and the psychiatrist looked at each other. There was nothing more to say. She  had lost her soul, the loving courageous, connection to life that is the real heart.  Like the family in The Horse Whisperer, the Samaritan woman in this week’s gospel, the primitive and the woman in that hospital, we can and do lose our souls.  We lose them whenever we no longer see the connection between who we are and the love of God that wraps itself around us.  Jesus, both in his message and his intimate encounters with others, helped people re-establish that deep connection with  themselves where both God and healing are found.  He consistently cut through the clear and common-sense regulations that people established to determine who was worthy and unworthy, who was in and who was out. He bluntly declared to the woman at the well that she was worthy to receive the life he came to give. He was also declaring that you and all people were worthy to stoop and drink of that life-giving stream.  We find ourselves at this well today.  You may not have come looking for anything more than the ordinary drink you expected to find. If you are not careful, He who knows the hidden mysterious ways of the heart may just ask you for a drink.  If He does, give Him what He asks.  Give whatever it is you must give – to bring up, to haul up, if necessary out of the deepest depths of your soul. Perhaps even those darkest places you have hidden from yourself.  For, in giving him what asks, you will feel coming to life in you a gladness you never thought possible and the joy of knowing a love that flows freely to all who simply want to receive it.  For the One who meets us here and everywhere we care to find Him, is the One who simply wants to give us from that life-giving stream.

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