I’m afraid I don’t have a video sermon to post, or even a written manuscript to share this week. I’m at the Spring House of Bishops meeting of the Episcopal Church. We meet at least once a year together, gathering from all over the world (and mostly from North America). The Spring meeting is generally a retreat with just bishops present. We spend our time in prayer, conversation and reflection.
This year we are in Alabama for our meeting and earlier this week we traveled to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum and learn about the history of the Slave Trade in the United States and how that evolved in the post-Civil War era into our institution of mass incarceration. We heard from Bryan Stevenson about the vision he had to create the Museum, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (which is sometimes described as a memorial to people in America who were killed by lynching.) We visited the Memorial and toured some of the historic sites related to the struggle for Civil Rights found in Montgomery.
One of the points that Mr. Stevenson made again and again as he spoke about the work of the EJI was the importance that truth telling had in the work of reconciliation. He spoke of the need to tell the truth, the need to repent and forgive and of the need to maintain a sense of hope. It was the importance of the sense of hope, that every effort, no matter how small, directed toward reconciliation would matter in some way, that made the biggest impact on me. He told story after story, some from his life and some from the process of opening the Museum and showed us how the events recounted changed someone’s life. None of the stories were of grand events or sweeping change narratives. They were stories of how someone encouraged him on an evening when he was dispirited, of how one person’s act of forgiveness changed another’s life and of how one person’s refusal to stop hoping that things would be different led to making things different.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for today, of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar, Jesus tells her the truth. She doesn’t really understand what he is saying nor do the disciples that follow him. But she understands enough of what he is saying that she tells others that something important is present in him. And that simple act begins a process by which an entire community is changed.
Reading this lesson and reflecting on my experience in Montgomery, I am struck by the power of a simple act of truth telling. It’s hard, even frightening, to tell the truth sometimes. It can be even harder to hear the truth and to face up to what it implies. But a life that is living a lie isn’t really worth very much – and the lie’s impact can be much broader and impactful than we realize. Just like that of the truth. But the truth is so much more valuable and life giving.
I saw that first hand this week. And I do hope that if we as a community have the courage to tell the truth, we can begin to be freed from the hard parts of our history.
If you’re looking for a sermon to read or to use for Sunday, let me point you to this sermon by the Rev. Andrew Gerns. As is typical for him, it’s an excellent take on this week’s Gospel: “We all need watering“.