Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Imagine." John Lennon sang it; We need to practice it.

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
March 19, 2017

On this 3rd Sunday of Lent, the Gospel lesson is about marginalized people. I need a little help getting started here. Who is marginalized in our community? Help me with a list.

LIST (from the congregation): Homeless, addicts, mentally ill, disabled, LGBTQ community, elderly, children sleeping in cars, homeless veterans, the poor, unemployed, people without healthcare, undocumented citizens

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that so many are marginalized in a country that many say is a Christian nation? Jesus teaches us this morning that marginalization of our brothers and sisters is a problem.

When you are marginalized, you have a whole different set of rules that you live by.  You know where you can go and where you can't.  You know who you can talk to and who you can't... who accepts you and who does not. You are told what drinking fountains or bathrooms you can use; where you can worship or study or work, who you can marry or even be friends.

And something else happens to you when you are marginalized...something internal. You begin to think of yourself as less than, and in some cases even deserving of the poor treatment you receive.  And it can become such a part of what we think of ourselves, it dictates our expectations not just from others, but from God

Todays Gospel lesson from the 4th chapter of John tells of the day Jesus met the marginalized Samaritan woman at the well
The story opens as Jesus arrives at a Samaritan city at the site of the historic Jacobs well. Jesus, tired out by his journey, takes a seat. It was about noon.  Thats when she arrived, the Samaritan woman who came to draw water and Jesus said to her, Give me a drink. Verses 8 and 9 begin the lesson about the marginalized. First, we are told that his disciples had gone to the city to buy food, which sets up a meeting between Jesus and this woman alone. Not appropriate.

And then the Samaritan woman says to him, How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” The Gospel is explicit about why this meeting and this conversation is problematic. It says, Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” BUT THIS JEW DID.
Her status in the community didnt rattle Jesus.  In fact, he sought her out.  Its an intentional thing, you know. Its called inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is not something that just happens by itself.  Ask marginalized people. A lot of churches say "hey, we're open to everybody who walks through the front door; and then when you walk through the door, you learn that there are exceptions to the invitation.  
You know something is happening when Jesus speaks to her. Give me a drink he says to her.  Shes probably a little wary, maybe a little fearfulbut definitely toughened by years of cruelty. She must be asking herself, What does this Jewish man want from me?

And she looks Jesus up and down...  and she squints one eye and wonders aloud, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"  And Jesus surprises her by responding- "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." HMMM she thinks, do you think maybe he accepts me for who I am? But she is still a little uncertain. 

OK, she says to herself, I'll play along... "Sir”, she says, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. 

Then Jesus explains that he is talking about a different kind of water. But the Samaritan woman does something really quite subversive. She reminds this Jew that they share an ancestry. Where do you get that living water? She demands to knowAre you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” She reminds Jesus that he and she, a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman…we each come from the same stockthe way in which we need to remind ourselves daily that all of those folks we put on the margins of life list come from the same Creator, the one who created us all.

Then the discussion turns to theology. In verse 13, Jesus says, Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The woman does what she has probably never been comfortable doing her entire life. She asks this strange Jewish man for something. She asks for some of that living water.

Then Jesus lets her know that he knows about her difficult past. Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come back. The woman answered him, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You are right in saying, I have no husband’; for you have had five of them, and the one you have now is not your husband. Jesus is telling her he knows everything there is to know about her and that none of it matters…that whatever her life has been, she is invited to drink of the living watersand the woman suddenly realizes this is no ordinary religious message, not the kind she is accustomed to in any event, no judgment, no criticism, no exclusion.

The woman says, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. But then she challenges him to determine just how accepting he is.  She says, look, our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you religious folks say that the place where people have to worship is in Jerusalem.

She’s wanting to know whether Jesus is one of those religious types who establish rules and roadblocks, you know the kind, the gatekeepers who think only they know the right creeds and combination to the lock on Heaven’s door. But Jesus tells her, Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when none of that matters. The time is coming when it will matter far more how you worship than where. Jesus says at verse 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. 

A transformation takes place. She leaves the well having experienced acceptance for perhaps the first time in her life and she goes into the community proclaiming her worth and value and the love of the man whom she met at that well.

You see, I think that is the lesson for us on this 3rd Sunday of Lent. There are a lot of people in our community who have been marginalized and abused by people calling themselves “Christians.”

It’s why there are more and more empty pews in houses of worship throughout this community. Too many people, young people in particular aren’t sure. Will they meet the Jesus in this story… or the Christians they have met previously. 

The Gospel tells the story of the Samaritan woman meeting the Jewish rabbi at the well for a reason. It’s about the Jesus of inclusion, not the Christianity of exclusion. It’s about the Jesus of acceptance and love, not the Christianity of judgement. It’s about the Jesus of faith who welcomes our questioning and our doubts, preferring them to the dead certainties of the creeds and literal biblicalism.

As Gandhi said, “It’s easy to love your Jesus, not so much your Christians.” Let us at Highlands be aware of the doubts others have about those of us who call ourselves Christians as we demonstrate in what we do and what we say…that we, like John Lennon can imagine a world with no religion because we were with Jesus that day he stopped to offer the living water to the woman at the well.

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