February 7, 2016 – The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus Week 5 – Sinners, Outcasts, and the Poor

John 4:3-30

         ‘You are known by the company you keep.’ This is a quote from an Aesop Fable.  We are often concerned with our image are we not?  Wouldn’t we be concerned if our boss saw us in the company of a known criminal?  Are we not a little leery of those who appear a little rough around the edges?  Those in politics are concerned about these types of encounters all the time.  What would others think?  How can I convince someone that I had just met this person?  Is there not that person hiding inside of each of us that wishes we were always seated at the cool kids table?

It is interesting how quickly these thoughts can take over our minds.  And yet when we look at the example Jesus sets for us time and again, we cannot help but wonder where these thoughts initiate.  We have a tendency to relate with those like us – other followers of Christ.  Jesus spent time with church folks as well, but a majority of his time was spent with the outsiders of society – sinners, outcasts, and the poor.  The main story we will be looking at today is the story of the woman at the well, read for us from the gospel of John.  This video clip will show you the area of Samaria and you will see the actual well where this historic meeting took place. [play video]

It might be helpful to understand the history between the Jews and Samaritans.  If you follow the story of the Hebrew nation, there were repeated times of obedience to God followed by a time of turning away from God. During one of these times where the Hebrew people rejected God, they were captured and sent into exile.  However, there were some who were allowed to remain in the region of Judea and who were made slaves to their conquerors.  These folks married non-Hebrews and the children of these unions became what are known as Samaritans.  These folks are half-breeds if you will.  I believe the Harry Potter world refers to them as mogels??  Later in the Hebrew nation history, the Jews were allowed to return to Judea and the line of prejudice was immediately drawn – true Hebrews (Jews) versus Samaritans.

So within this rich and dark history we find the son of God intentionally seeking out a scorned Samaritan woman.  If it was not scandalous enough, there are several additional areas of concern here.  First, Jesus, a Jew, is asking a Samaritan for a drink.  Remember the Jews were very much set on keeping themselves set apart as a separate people.  Any type of fellowship, communication, relationship between Jews and Samaritans was strictly forbidden.  Second, Jesus was speaking to a woman alone outside the home.  Women were not safe outside the confines of the home and clear gender lines were drawn between men and women as to who was in charge in the public arena.  Women were still considered as property to be carefully guarded.  Third, this particular woman was extremely scandalous.  She had been married and divorced multiple times and was now living with a man outside the bonds of marriage.  This was the reason she came to the well to draw at midday, as she was not welcomed by other woman in the morning during the normal draw time.  Strike one, strike two, strike three.  This encounter should have been doomed from the start, or better yet should not have occurred at all.

I personally am forever grateful that Jesus sees beyond the barriers of humans.  I am grateful that Jesus sees potential where others only see disgust.  I am grateful that Jesus knows the heart of the broken and instead of discounting those scorned by others, blesses us as children of God in spite of our faults and bad choices.  Instead of drawing attention to this woman’s sins, he offers her living water, so that she would never thirst again.  What is this living water? What was Jesus giving her that she could not find anywhere else or with anyone else?  Jesus was offering the peace of God, the love of a Savior who would take on her sins, and the freedom from her chains of restlessness – seeking satisfaction and never finding it.

The church I previously served hosted a soup kitchen every Monday at lunchtime.  I worked with a senior pastor who saw this as her ministry; hence I did not participate for quite a while.  One Monday, I was called over to offer grace because apparently pastors were the only ones who could pray J  I was extremely uncomfortable – how would I relate to this homeless population? How could I even begin to understand their daily struggles?  What gift could I give?  It wasn’t long after that the senior pastor began taking off on Mondays and I was called regularly into service.  It turned out one of their own had died in a fire one week as she was using an open flame to keep warm.  A couple had found love and wanted to be married.  Suddenly I realized I did have something to offer these folks.  I invited them to a free Pancake Supper for Shrove Tuesday. I called the wedding planning crew to host a beautiful ceremony for a lovely couple.  I held a brief service of remembrance for a lost loved one who had no other family or friends.  How do we change the world? One person at a time.

I find myself being drawn to ministry opportunities within our own four walls.  Our AA group that meets here often needs just a kind word or small gesture to help them on what can be a powerfully difficult journey of recovery.  Our Nursery School parents are often overwhelmed like a lot of us.  Showing them we are glad they are here in small ways has been a real blessing to both parties.  The blessing bags are small but mighty gestures with no strings attached.  We love others because Christ first saw something in us worth loving.

We are quickly approaching the season of Lent.  Often folks hear and participate in giving up something for Lent, only to return to that item as soon as Lent is over! Me, I’ve given up chocolate before but it just doesn’t last.  Perhaps we can look at Lent another way.  Lent is a time of preparation, of soul-searching, of finding ways to put God first in our lives.  I would like us to consider saving our loose change in order to continue supporting the Blessing bags project.  We mentioned this during announcements.  These blessing bags are kept in your car so that when you encounter someone with a cardboard sign looking for money you can give them these bags instead.  They contain things like the lotion and chapstick we collected last week, socks or gloves we are collecting this week, snacks, bottled water.  Sure, some will not appreciate your gift, but we are challenged to give anyway.  Some may be scammers, but we are challenged to be generous anyway.  Can we be generous with our loose change? Each day, empty your purse or pockets into a bag and bring that loose change in. We will use it to purchase extra items in order to round out the donations.  At the same time, please keep those donations coming!

Jesus routinely broke down barriers that were keeping people from knowing real love, real peace, real hope, real joy.  Can we?  Let this be your challenge during the Lenten season. Let this be the year when you remove the barriers separating you from a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.

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