March 23, 2014 - The Third Sunday in Lent

The Third Sunday in Lent
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

One of the Academy Award nominated Animated Shorts this year was titled: Room on the Broom. It is an adaptation of a children's picture book by the same name. And it goes something like this: 

A witch and a cat are flying through the air on a broom, laughing and enjoying the breeze, when the witch suddenly loses her hat. What's a witch without a hat? So, down they go to search for it. They search and search and search and search to no avail. Just when it seems like they are going to have to give up on their search, they see the bushes rustling, and out jumps a dog. With the hat in his teeth. They whistle for the dog, and the dog comes over, and graciously gives the hat back. Then, he jumps up on his back feet and says "I'm a dog, as keen as can be, is there room on the broom for a dog like me?" The cat shakes his head no. Of course, there isn't room on the broom for a dog! But the witch ponders the question, and finally says, "Yes!" And on the broom the three companions continue their journey. 

So, the witch, the cat, and the dog are flying through the air on a broom, enjoying the breeze, the witch holding tight onto her hat, when suddenly, she loses the bow out of her hair. Down they go to search for it. They look all over - the witch, the cat, and the dog. The cat finds a needle in the haystack, the dog finds a bone, but no bow can be found. When suddenly, along flies a green bird. Now, this bird was always a bit of an outcast in the family, the proverbial black sheep or the ugly duckling, because she was green and her siblings were black. They never wanted to include her in activities. So, after giving the bow back to the witch, she asks, "I'm a bird, as green as can be, is there room on the broom for a bird like me?" The cat shakes his head no, the dog shakes his head no, but the witch ponders, and counts how many creatures would be on the broom, and finally says, "yes!" And off they go. 

So, the witch, the cat, the dog, and the bird are flying through the air on the broom. It's a little crowded, but they are enjoying the breeze, when suddenly the witch loses her wand! What's a witch without a wand?! She needs it for her spells, so down they go to search for it. You know by now how this story is going to go. They search and search, but no wand can be found, until suddenly out jumps a.... frog! Now, this frog is a bit OCD. There is a broken cattail, and he has to fix it. And then he looks over at this frog family, and they are all in the mud, and have this gross croak burp, and shudder, it freaks him out, so after returning the wand to the witch, he says, "I'm a frog, as clean as can be, is there room on the broom for a frog like me?" The cat is really upset by this point, and is furiously shaking his head, the dog shakes his head, the bird shakes her head, but the witch ponders and counts, and finally says, "yes!" And off they go. The frog, as clean as can be

Now, by this point the broom is getting weighed down, and can't quite go as fast or get as high as before, but the witch is still enjoying the breeze. The cat and the dog and the bird are feeling pretty crowded, but the frog is enjoying himself. He is having so much fun, he leaps in the air, and when he lands back on the broom, snap!, the broom breaks in down. Down go the animals, down to the earth. The witch keeps going with the front half of the broom, but without the rest of it as a rudder, she can't control it very well, but she does the best she can. When suddenly, she finds herself entering a big, foggy cloud, or cloudy fog. 

And inside of this fog is... a dragon. And this dragon likes nothing more than to eat witch... with french fries. The witch tries to escape, but with that little stub of a rudderless broom, she cannot control herself well, and soon, she is crashes into the ground, and finds her back up against a rock, nowhere to escape. So, she faints. The dragon picks her up and starts carrying her back to his cave. Well, he is so hungry, and that witch looks so yummy, she cannot wait, so he finally sits down and goes in for his first bite, when suddenly...

Out of a bog comes a monstrous beast! With four heads, eight eyes, wings and arms and claws. Gross mud oozing down its body. And it growls and croaks and squawks all at the same time! The dragon was frightened. And then the monstrous beast says, "Let go of our witch!" The dragon drops the witch, apologizes, and flies away. 

You know by now, of course, that the monster was no monster, but the four animals banding together to scare that dragon way. The story wraps up with the four animals finding ingredients to make a new magic broom, which the witch whips up. And this new broom is better than ever, with easy chairs for the witch, cat, and dog, a bathtub for the frog, and a perch for the bird. The end.

Now, the moral of this story is pretty obvious. There is room on the broom, even when we don't think that there is. And together, we can do so much more than any of us could do on our own. If the witch and the cat had encountered that dragon, as they probably would have, even with a functioning broom, they probably wouldn't have gotten away, and they couldn't have stood up to him on their own. Only when all of the animals worked together could they stand up to the dragon. 

This cartoon has been on my mind a lot this week, and not just because with a 2 year old, I have seen it way too many times for my own good lately. No, this movie, oddly enough, reminds me of our Gospel reading today. Jesus strikes up a conversation with a five-times divorced - maybe widowed, but probably divorced - Samaritan woman, who is living with, but not married to, her latest partner. This is all rather scandalous. And to put the icing on the cake, this all happens at a well, which Biblically-speaking is where romance occurs - it is where Abraham's servant found, Rebekah, a wife for Isaac; it is where Jacob found the love of his life, Rachel; it is where Moses found his beloved, Zipporah. Whenever you read about a man and a woman meeting at a well, expect wedding bells to soon follow. No wonder the disciples were shocked when they returned. 

The standard understanding of the day was that there was no room on the broom for this woman. Samaritans worshipped God in the wrong place. And five previous marriages, and now living with a man while not married, was a scandal, unworthy of "true" and "proper" religious practice. And yet, Jesus doesn't care. You can almost imagine the woman saying, "I'm a person as scandalous as can be, is there room on the broom for someone like me?" And Jesus says without a moments hesitation, yes, yes, yes. There is room on the broom for her, and for everyone else in the city, also unworthy because they were Samaritans. 

This is the stuff that got Jesus in so much trouble, this is the stuff that the Scribes and the Pharisees couldn't stand about him. He hung out with all of the wrong sorts of people - sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors. Like that one time when a Pharisee hosted him for a meal, and a woman came and anointed his feet with oil, and the Pharisee said, "If he was really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman that was." And, of course, he did know. Just like he knows in today's reading. He knows everything about this woman's background - her five husbands, her live-in partner. None of this bothers him. He doesn't condemn her, instead he wants to offer her "living water" that will well up inside of her into eternal life. 

He wants to offer living water to everyone. To the Jews, to the Samaritans, to you, to me. His mission is not just for those like him, pure and perfect, from the right tribe and class. No, his ministry is for everyone. He emphasizes that point by making a special effort to hang out with the outcast and the sinner, but the point is that everyone is included, there is always room on the broom. 

The corollary to the question of whether there is room on the broom is: Is there room in the pew? And the answer, for Jesus, is yes. We sometimes get afraid of welcoming new people in. Not the ones who are obviously good Episcopalians, from the right tribe and class, those we are perfectly comfortable with, they slip in so easily. But Jesus is challenging us to welcome everyone. To see that there is room on the broom, and room in the pew, for all, even those that are different, who are going to cause us to change, those who might stretch us and our life together. 

But the great thing is, these pews aren't going to snap like the broom. And if they do, we'll fix it or get a new one. Like those animals standing up together to the dragon, we will be able to accomplish more than we otherwise could have. We will be able to offer more living water to this world. We will be able to more fully be the Body of Christ in this world. 

There is room on the broom for the disciples, there is room on the broom for the Samaritan woman, there is room on the broom for you and me and the stranger we haven't yet met. Welcome all to the broom and to the pew and to the altar rail, so we can drink of the living water together. Amen.