March 15, 2020: The Third Sunday in Lent, The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

In the name of one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman this day, we do not have to worship at Ascension to still worship together.

I want to tell you a story about my dog Cuthbert, or Cutty as many of you know him. My sweet little Golden Retriever. He is two and a half years old and almost a year and half ago when he was a little over one years old, we took him to the beach. Steve’s family has a house at Orange Beach. Its right on the bay with a little strip of sand and a pier out front. We went down to the beach. Steve had to work in Pensacola that day as it was a Thursday so I took the dogs down and we played fetch in the water and taught Cutty how to swim and chase the stick and bring it back to the shore. We had a great day together.

And the next morning I was planning on teaching Cutty how to jump off the pier and chase the stick and bring it back to the shore. Before we started those lessons, Steve—who was there that day as he didn’t have to work that Friday—took Cutty and Banshee down to the pier because we had this gaggle of geese that would swim every morning in front of the pier. Land on our neighbors front yard, and hang out there for a while before swimming back. It was about eight o’clock in the morning and the geese were getting ready to swim back to wherever they spent the day. So Steve decided to take the two dogs down to the pier so they could bark at the geese and enjoy themselves.

I went in and changed into my bathing suit and told Steve I would be there in a few minutes, so he went off with the dogs. A few minutes later I went down to join them. I was halfway down the grassy path to the pier, when Cutty who had been happily barking away with Banshee at the end of the pier at the geese as they came swimming by, turned around and saw me and came running back up the pier toward me as fast as he could. I was excited that Cutty was coming to me and then I realized that Cutty was not coming to me, he was going to jump off the pier so that he could swim after the geese. So, of course, I started calling for Cutty, “Cutty, come here bot, come one buddy!” Running down as fast as I could to get to the end of the pier before Cutty could get to the sand and then the water and chase the geese. Steve realized what was happening and, he too, started running from the other end of the pier toward Cutty, yelling, “Cutty come back! Come back!” But Cutty was dog-brained. He had only one thought on his mind and that, was those geese.

He came off that pier at full go and into the water to start swimming after those geese. Steve and I got to the end of the pier about the same time. I was pulling off my t-shirt as I splashed into the water. I swim at the YMCA three mornings a week and am a strong swimmer as well as having been a lifeguard throughout my high school and college years.

Now, let me set the scene for you. There is a tropical depression brewing off the coast. Its cloudy and overcast and the wind is blowing and the waves are white capping. Its sprinkling intermittently but not so much as to keep you in the house when you’re at the beach. So I head into this turbulent water, this chaos to swim after this sweet little Golden Retriever who is just over a year old and is completely dog-brained and focused on these geese.

I run, of course, through the water that is shallow before I have to get to the place where I have to start swimming. I dive in and start pulling that life guard stroke, keeping my head up out of the water, and every so often the waves would come in front of me so that I couldn’t see anything but the white cap in front of me, but then as it subsided I could see that little brown head bobbing along. Cutty, however, had a really good head start and it was really chaotic in those waters. And every time I would open my mouth and try to call for Cutty and yell his name as loud as I could, he couldn’t hear me. He was either so dog-brained on those geese he wasn’t listening to me or the wind and the waves were too loud and drowning out my voice.

The problem was that every time I tried to open my mouth and call for Cutty to come back I got a big mouthful of salt water. Quickly I realized that the waves were too much and that one of us if not both of us just might drown. I stopped calling for Cutty because the waters of chaos were coming over me and I became frightened and panicked and in the back of my brain, I knew to never be panicked when in open waters because that is a sure way of drowning. Pretty soon, I got it together and thought, now is not the time to panic, now is the time to pray. And so I started praying.

I first prayed that God would keep me and Cutty from drowning. And then I realized it was eight o’clock in the morning and my second prayer was, “Please don’t let any sharks eat us for breakfast.” And then I started praying that God would move Cutty back toward the shore, that God could convince Cutty to turn toward the shore and stop chasing those geese and just swim to that shore. I kept praying this over and over and over again, but either God wasn’t answering my prayers or Cutty wasn’t listening to God. And he just kept on swimming further and further away from the shore.

About this time, we were at least a football field away from the house, the pier, the safety of land; in the deep, over our heads; in this turbulent, chaotic storm with white caps crashing around us. Cutty still focused on that sole impulse of going after those geese. Me praying my heart out to Jesus. And when Jesus didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it, I asked him to please forgive me, I really did believe in him, but I also believed in the community of saints. I knew that St. Francis was the patron saint of animals so, if Jesus was too busy to turn Cutty into the shore, I was going to ask St. Francis. So I started praying to St. Francis, “Please turn Cutty into the shore.” But Cutty wasn’t listening to St. Francis either and he just keep on swimming out into the middle of the bay.

Then it dawned on me, stop praying for Cutty to do something and start praying for the geese. So, I immediately prayed, “St. Francis, Jesus, anybody up that’s up there, please turn those geese into the shore.” And immediately, the geese turned into the shore and Cutty turned with them. I couldn’t believe it for a moment. Relief flooded through me, God had heard my call in the midst of the chaos and sent the geese toward the shore. And then I realized, all except for one goose who had turned back into the middle of the bay and was acting as a decoy when they realized Cutty was still following them. He was honking as loud as he could and flapping his wings in the waves and Cutty fell for it. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Should he turn back to the goose in the middle of the bay or keep following the geese toward the shore.

In that moment of indecision, I was able to pull a couple of strokes and get close enough to Cutty to reach out and catch him by his haunches, at which point he popped his head up and looked at me as if to say, “Oh, you’re here too? Let’s go get that goose!” And I said, “No buddy, we are going back to the shore.” I took him by the collar and though he kept swimming toward the middle of the bay, I am bigger and a stronger swimmer and was able to bring him back to the shore so that we were safe.

So that we were safe…because God was with us that day.

I realize that there are several ways we respond to God in moments of crisis and chaos and the storms in our lives. Sometimes it is like the Israelites. We’ve been wandering in the wilderness for so long and we can’t find water and we are so focused on our immediate need that we lose our hope and allow ourselves to slip into darkness and despair and we cry out, “Is the Lord among us or not?” I did that just for that brief moment in the middle of those waters when the wind and the waves seemed too much; and I was way over my head; and I could not reach this thing that I loved; and sharks might have been swimming underneath me in the deep; and I almost panicked as I cried out, “Is the Lord among this or not?”

I quickly realized that yes, God was there. God is always there. Always in the moments of our suffering.

Jesus meets the woman at the well and he says to her, you are so focused on that one thing—you’re dog-brained—just on meeting your needs. Getting water from this well…getting toilet paper from Publix. But there is something more in this world. Something more that you can know if you simply reach out to me. Reaching out with our heart to care and to love even when we cannot reach out our hands to hold one another.

“I am the living water,” Jesus tells her. The water of life, eternal life. Drink from me and you will know peace.

In these days ahead, we will know some suffering. But as Paul has reminded the Romans, suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character will give us hope. And because we are justified by our faith, even the smallest glimmer of it, we can know the peace of God. Amen.

Lent 3A: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Episcopal Church of the Ascension – Montgomery, AL
Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Sunday, March 15, 2020

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