Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Have come to abolish the Binary Code - John 4:5-42

There is an advantage to preaching about once a month, one really gets to walk with a Gospel reading.  I have the luxury of sleeping on it, relating it to current events and asking questions, more than I will ever answer.
The first question that came to my mind is why there is this separation between the Jews and Samaritans.  We hear the disdain in the parable of the Good Samaritan and we here it again this time from the woman at the well.  The Samaritans are perceived as an impure group.  They were remnants “of the native Israelites who were not deported at the fall of the northern Kingdom on 722 B.C.”[1] who married foreign colonists and refused to worship at Jerusalem. The Samaritans also hold a belief that they maintain true Judaism from before the time of exile as they remained in the land during that time. So one can see where contempt may come from.
Then Samaritan woman were looked upon with suspect as well.  They were considered ritually impure. Interesting note, at least for me, is that Herod’s mother was a Samaritan woman. 
There seems to be a reconciling between the followers of Christ and the Samaritans. Jesus first tells the disciples not to be concerned with the Samaritan city in Mathew 10 and in Luke a Samaritan village rejects a request for Christ to pass through. (Luke 9)  Then of course is the parable of the Good Samaritan and the healing of the ten lepers and only the Samaritan comes back to praise God.  By Acts Samaritans are being preached to and baptized in the spirit.
I titled this sermon “I have come to abolish the Binary Code”.  Who here knows what Binary code is? A binary code represents text or computer processor instructions using the binary number system's two binary digits, 0 and 1.”[2] It is a dualistic system that breaks everything down to one or zero.  Who remembers the movie Tron and the character Bit?  All that it can say is “yes” or “no”. Many of us still live in that world.
We live in a world which is either this or that, us or them, me or you.  There is no room for shades of grey, there is no room for fluidity and there is definitely no room for compromise. Richard Rohr in a recent daily meditation speaks on what he refers to as dualistic thinking;

Dualistic thinking, or the egoic operating system, as Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, is our way of reading reality from the position of my private ego. “What’s in it for me?” “How will I look if I do this?” This is our preferred way of seeing reality. It has become the “hardware” of almost all Western people, even those who think of themselves as Christians, because the language of institutional religion is largely dualistic itself. It is a way of teaching that has totally taken over in the last five hundred years. It has confused information with enlightenment, mind with soul, and thinking with experiencing. But they are two very different paths.

The dualistic mind is essentially binary. It is either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, by opposition, by differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, intelligent/stupid, not realizing there may be 55 or 155 degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. It works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or even honest experience.

Actually, you need your dualistic mind to function in everyday life: to do your job as a teacher, a doctor, or an engineer. It is great stuff as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, death, or love. When it comes to unconditional love, the dualistic mind can’t even begin to understand it. It pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of worthiness and achievement, which is largely what “fast food religion”, teaches, usually without even knowing it.[3]

Listen to that, the dualistic mind, the Binary code is necessary as part of our existence as humans to function in the everyday world and yet it doesn’t allow us to seek the mystery, grace and Love of God.  It will not allow us to go beyond ourselves and “pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat.”[4]  We, each and every one of us are guilty of this.  We hear it today from the woman at the well.  Jesus addresses her and her first reaction is one of them versus us response; “you’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan for a drink?” (John 4:9)
How many times have we ourselves been victims of this kind of thinking?  How many times do we still hear stories of the Binary?  You know our world is changing right before our eyes.  Daily there is some news of a victory in the movement towards equality.  Yet every day there is some news of a backwards bill or threats to safety of people. Just this month two young women were murdered they had been dating for a few months. Then there is a story of Marcel Neergaard.
Marcel started as a regular blogger on the Huffington Post at the age of 11. He started the petition against the “don’t say gay bill” in Tennessee.  He left school and went to be home schooled just to save his own life. Here is an introduction to this fine young man. Marcel NeeGaard. That was from June 1st of last year. He has since written 5 articles with comments like; “In July, I witnessed a room of LGBTQ activist campers become a room of anti-hate activists. I realized that we should not be fighting for rights for different groups, but we should be fighting for rights as one community. All of us should be equal.”[5] Do you hear that move away from dualistic thinking?
Marcel has since returned to school with hope that the dualistic/binary thinking would have ceased.  This was unfortunately not the reality.  He writes of how difficult it is returning to school as the new kid.  “When the school year started, it was not all rainbows and pink smiley faces. I had trouble with sleep, schedules and people. Maybe I expected the stars to whisper the answers to tests in my ear, or perhaps I thought the summer sun had expanded my brain capacity.”[6]  Such wisdom from such a young man seems so rare these days I had to share his story.
Marcel goes on to address some of the ignorant remarks he must tolerate. “People have a tendency to forget the filter between their brain and their mouth. I told a friend I went to the rival school in fifth grade, and the first word out of his mouth was "traitor." But it's the comments about being gay that hurt most. The everyday "fag" and "That's so gay!" almost go by unnoticed because they are so common.”[7] This reminds me of something that is at the bottom of every agenda at a sisters meeting before you speak think…T= is it true? H=is it helpful I=is it inspiring N= is it necessary and K= is it kind
Marcel goes on to explain one of the hardest things, especially if you consider the work he did against that don’t say gay bill.

The protection of the classroom doesn't seem to extend to me. One day I was talking with my friends about Zachary Quinto being gay. An otherwise supportive teacher stopped me and told me "talking about being gay in the classroom is illegal in Tennessee." I wanted to scream, "NO IT'S NOT!" I went home intending to double-check my facts before confronting that specific teacher, but my parents told me they would talk to the principal instead. I have found teachers are quite confused because of Ragan's bill (the Don't Say Gay Bill). They're too busy teaching to know if it passed, so they just try to be safe. Meanwhile, I am not allowed to talk about myself with my friends.[8]

He continues to speak about how kids ask him “who he turned gay for” or “how can you be gay if you have never been on a gay date?” or as he says, the brilliant remark “your gay cause you act gay!”  This is that Binary code in full swing it is still us and them.  It’s still straight or gay.  Yet Marcel’s fight isn’t just for the LGBTQI community.  You see he has gone beyond that Binary code.  He states; “It is important to say students cannot be harassed, intimidated or bullied because they are gay or perceived to be gay. The Dignity for All Students Act specifies many other groups, like kids who are bullied because of their religion, race, gender, gender identity or gender expression. It even helps the kids who are brave enough to be friends with students who are ‘different.’”[9]  His view seems to be one much wider, broader, beyond the one and zero.
You see this kind of broader thinking of looking beyond one’s self but seeing with the eyes of the heart is what Jesus is telling the woman at the well.  When Jesus speaks of the water of the well he says you will be thirsty again.  You will have to come back for more.  Your thoughts, if I may make a big leap, will remain the same.  The water of life, the water that Jesus offers is moving, it is not stagnant it does not allow for us to continue in the same way day in and day out it challenges us to move beyond the simple dualistic thought.  Jesus explains that the water he offers will becomes springs within us springing up.  There is an internal movement from us to God then from God to us. Richard Rohr comments;

Look at the unbelievably sad and even hateful divide between liberals and conservatives in our church and in our country, and at both extremes I find totally dualistic thinking. You can be dualistic as a liberal, and you can be dualistic as a conservative. They are simply two different methods to be in control, two different ways to be right and two different ways to look down on other people.

1 Dualistic or divided people live in a split and fragmented world. Usually, they cannot accept or forgive certain parts of their own destiny and experience. They cannot accept that God could objectively dwell within them, as John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters say over and over again. This lack of “forgiveness-of-reality-for-being-what-it-is” takes the form of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and proudly inside one’s own body.

The fragmented mind and the egoic mind see in parts, and usually antagonistic parts, but never in wholes, and then predictably create antagonism, reaction, fear, and resistance—“push-back”—from other people. 2 It is a double whammy of despair, and the saddest effect of all is that people living from this divided mind continue to do what makes them so unhappy. Sin and addiction have many of the same characteristics.[10]

So here is a question if each one of us, children of God, have an opportunity to seek God’s grace and living water, if each one of us can experience that movement towards God and God’s movement back to us, why, why is humanity so broken?  How can it be as Christians some of us rally towards a world where love, equality and peace reigns and yet others don’t really even seem to want to try.  How do we who have a radically new view of a Christian world make the world welcoming for those who have been taught differently for so long and now are seeing their world change?
Ironically what has led me to this question was a posting on Facebook.  Fred Phelps The founder and former head of the Westboro Baptist Church was excommunicated back in August and placed in a home and has since passed.  The question posted on Facebook was how would you respond or reach out to Fred Phelps.  This is where that line is drawn.  Listen to your initial reactions. I know there is a part that is thinking, because I thought it as well, someday soon he will know where he went wrong.  He will know the pain he caused.
This kind of thinking is still in that dualistic mind and it causes harm to our own spirit to think this way.  Richard Rohr explains;

You cannot sincerely love another or forgive another’s offenses inside dualistic consciousness.  Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. We have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, Cut off from the vine, and you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). The ‘Vine and the branches’ are one of the greatest Christian Mystical images of the nonduality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone – even my enemies. Alone and by myself, will power and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time.[11]

We need to seek out the source that is that living water within each one of us in order to respond to the other in a loving way.  We need to practice stillness and centering so we can learn to find that God self that is in each of us.  When we do that we can move beyond our self and respond with Gods’ love in a way that is only possible through God.
“The disciples, returning at this point, were shocked to find Jesus having a private conversation with a woman. But no one dared to ask” (John 4:27).  The disciples are caught off guard as Jesus has gone beyond boundaries.  Jesus has reached out not only to a Samaritan but to a woman but what is more important is what has happened since Jesus decided to go beyond that which the “Law” may have forbid.  The woman ran off to tell her whole village.
I find it interesting that the woman ran off to tell her village but it says “She left her water jar behind. This is “Johns way of emphasizing that such a jar would be useless for this type of living water that Jesus has interested her in”[12] In the same way once we even get a glimpse of how God can work in us we seek more.  Once we find that living water which cannot be contained, we have an actual need to move away from our daily Binary thinking to move to a place that can encompass more.
In February we had a guest preacher, the Rev. Elder Douglas Graves from the Community of Christ. Now I want you to understand that for him to bear this title just became a reality in his denomination back in April.  So recently he was relaying a story of how he was invited to preach at a church where he was not part of the congregation, as a guest preacher, same as he was invited here. The difference was not all in this congregation were, shall we say, of the same mind. He telols the story of how he is all proud of the passage of rules that made his reality possible and yet, as he approached the pulpit and looked out upon the congregation he realized, just as his world had changed for the better, for others, they were mourning the loss of a world they knew, a world that had been a constant.  He realized, then and there, that there needs to be care for those people as well.  There needs to be care for the ones who see today’s reality as a reality they never expected therefore never needed to try to understand.
How many times have we said, when speaking of marriage equality, heck when speaking of being able to come out that “I never thought I’d see this day?” Or “twenty years ago we could not even dare to imagine this.”  Well once we get beyond the; us vs. them thinking, the black and white thinking, the dualistic/binary ego centered thinking, we realize we need to care for the other.  You see for every victory we celebrate and embrace someone is mourning the loss of a world they once knew.
The woman at the well knew one world, new one kind of water and yet at the end went running back to tell her whole village of what Christ had taught her and brought the village to Christ. She went on to become a Saint in the orthodox tradition and sometimes considered the first to preach the Gospel.  Again going beyond ancient teachings and traditions and ways of thinking, a woman of Samaria preaching the Gospel of Christ and tradition has it all the way to Rome and Nero himself.
Once we move with living water there is no more room for us vs. them it is world where victory and failure are one in the same but, our eyes are wider, our hearts are bigger, and we move, not in our own direction but where we are lead by spirit, by truth, by love, by compassion this is at the center of the living water that is Jesus Christ. Amen.

[1]. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, The Anchor Bible 29-29A (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-70), 170.
[2]. Wikipedia, Binary Code, (accessed March 17, 2014).
[3]. Richard Rohr, e-mail message to, Monday, March 17, 2014.
[4]. Ibid.
[5]. Marcel Neegaard, A Night of a Thousand Candles, (accessed March 17, 2014).
[6]. Marcel Neegaard, Different, (accessed March 17, 2014).
[7]. Ibid.
[8]. Ibid.
[9]. Ibid.
[10]. Richar Rohr, e-mail message to Joseph Shore-Goss, 3/17/2014.
[11]. Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Pub., 2009), 127.
[12]. Brown, The Gospel According to John, 173. 

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