March 11, 2018 – Becoming a Stranger

Text: John 4:1-10, 27-34

Give me a drink. Only a stranger can ask for a drink of water. Strangers don’t have a choice but to ask. They are not strangers if they already knew how to get what they were looking for. Not just one time, but many times strangers have to ask where things are, and why things are the way things are. Imagine that it’s your first day of your new job. There are so many things to learn and so many faces and names to remember. You carefully observe how others behave, and you try very hard to adjust to the new environment. Imagine that you just moved to a new place where you don’t know anybody, or worse yet, you don’t know their language or culture. Do you remember the very first day you came to this church for Sunday worship? How did you feel? Did you have a clue when to stand or when to sit? Did you feel like all the eyes in the congregation were fixed on you just because you were a newcomer? Was there anything or anyone who helped you to feel at home? It’s uncomfortable to be a stranger. Most of us would rather be welcoming a stranger than to be welcomed as a stranger.

Becoming a stranger, however, is an important spiritual practice. To be a stranger is to be vulnerable. A stranger must know how and when to ask for help. Walking in a foreign land, a stranger must accept the discomfort of getting lost, and finding the way by asking throughout the journey. It’s not a local but a stranger who appreciates a surrounding more than a destination because she sees everything with fresh eyes. Unexpected gifts, such as a smile and a random act of kindness can bless the solitary heart of a stranger.

I remember the very first time I set foot on Canadian soil. I arrived in Vancouver on Remembrance Day of 2006. I didn’t have a clue why people at the airport or on the street were wearing the same kind of flower. ‘They must love it so much,’ I thought. ‘Does it represent some kind of national pride?’ I wondered. Two days after my arrival, I went downtown to check where my English school was, and to explore the city. There is a benefit to not having a good sense of direction. I walked and walked and walked on almost every street in Downtown Vancouver, and found so many treasures, like an organic grocery store, Stanley Park and many other places that I had to visit again with my family later. It took me 8 hours to finally listen to my aching feet, and return to where I stayed. I was walking without a destination, wandering around aimlessly, and seeing everything for the first time. I remember how tired my body was, but I also remember how happy my soul was; it was nurtured by the firsthand experience, and my heart was expanding like Alice in wonderland with endless adventures.

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist Way, believes that everyone is creative; there is no such thing as a non-creative person. “Creativity is God’s gift to us,” says Julia, and “our using the creativity is our gift back to God.” She suggests that in order for us to nurture our creativity we keep the practice called, an “Artist Date.” It is a once a week festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests us. She suggests that we don’t take any of our significant others with us. We go out by ourselves and we do something that pushes our comfort level. When we say a date, we mean wooing, so an artist date is wooing our own consciousness. Julia says that an Artist Date is something most people have enormous resistance to, because we adults are reluctant to go and play. And yet playing is absolutely necessary because when we make a piece of art we are drawing from an inner well. It’s like fishing from an inner well. And unless we refill it with images and experiences, we go to fish and there is nothing there. So with an artist date we are refilling our consciousness.

I really appreciate Julia’s wisdom. An Artist Date is something we all need to start practicing. Many of us are so used to working hard. I don’t need to tell you to work hard. You don’t need to tell me to work hard. I don’t need to remind my colleagues in ministry to work hard. I find that hardworking is part of our culture in the United Church. No wonder we are tired. No wonder we are frustrated while expecting different results by doing the same thing over and over again. The problem is that when our ministry becomes all about work, we forget about refilling our inner well. Ministry is never meant to be about maintaining, managing or controlling. It’s meant to be about living with mystery, finding God in the midst of unanswered questions. Through ministry we are meant to create something beautiful with God. Perhaps it takes artist dates for us to do church differently. We need to step back from our routine acknowledging how empty our inner well is. We must be willing to be strangers, learning to ask for help, and to accept unexpected gifts from others.

Give me a drink. Only a stranger can ask for a drink of water. This is how Jesus, the stranger creates a new relationship in a foreign land. Jesus first acknowledges how tired he is by the journey. He then uses his fatigue to connect with the woman of Samaria, an outsider in his community. The unlikely conversation between the most unlikely people happens not when they work hard, but when they find themselves alone away from their routines. I like to think that they, pushing their comfort level, go on their festive and solo expeditions to explore something they have never done before. Notice what they can create together. She becomes a messenger brining her entire community to the stranger. Together they breathe a new life into the whole community. It all begins with the simple yet profound need of the stranger. Give me a drink.