Our Lenten Gospel readings are long, aren’t they? I tend to want to apologize to you for this – sorry to take so much of your precious time up with Gospel reading – but I know that the compilers of these lectionary texts make no apologies. In fact, they’d probably say something more like, “You’re welcome.” And maybe we should be thankful, for time taken up with Gospel reading. For what is Lent if not a time to stand face-to-face, almost nakedly/honestly before Scripture? It reminds me of how a wise colleague once described his seminary experience. “For me,” he said, “seminary was a time to take everything I knew and to shave it all away, drop it, leave it behind, take it off until I was standing there naked, face-to-face with God. Nothing else but you and God.” Imagine that. Doesn’t get more honest than that. Might I suggest that one need not go off to seminary to stand honestly before God? We are blessed by these 40 days of Lent (sign out front: may the gifts of lent be yours), a time to move into new territory in our faith journey. Let’s see where God takes us…
Jesus himself moves into new territory today, from last week. Last week he was in Jerusalem, talking to Nicodemus by night. Today he’s traveled up to Samaria, where he’s talking to an unnamed woman at the well. What wonderful contrasts we have on our Lenten journey:
Last week: Jesus is not seen, whispering to famous Nicodemus a leader; this week: Jesus couldn’t be more seen, for the well at noon is the place where everyone goes and everyone sees.
Our Lenten experience has taken a turn: from the peaceful and safe darkness of night, from inside ourselves (which God so loves) and our own little worlds (which God so loves)—good things to focus on, but not the only things, Jesus reminds us over and over. Our Lenten experience has taken a turn from inside ourselves and our circles—to beyond our own worlds and into the Samarias of our day.
Jesus goes to Samaria and finds this woman. Samaria doesn’t come looking for Jesus. Samaria never would, for Samaria wasn’t fond of Jesus’ kind. Just as most people from Jerusalem would never go to Samaria.
You know why Samaritans and Judeans hated each other?
· Northern Jews, aka Samaritans, weren’t taken into captivity. They didn’t suffer as much for their faith. Generations of bitterness had divided them
Like Christians who claim other Christians aren’t really Christians.
Today’s text, as the Lenten path guides us beyond ourselves and our own circles, is a lesson about fundamentalism and what Jesus has to say about it. Fundamentalism is to claim that there is one right way and everyone else is wrong. This was the story of the Judeans and the Samaritans. All to common a story in world history. Still goes on today.
Fundamentalist have to believe that the nature of religion is to divide. They love to point to those passages about Jesus separating the weeds and the wheat, the sheep and the goats (and I’ll just go on record and say that they mis-interpret them). To divide.
And when you divide there is a tendency for suspicion and when there’s a tendency to suspicion it leads to a tendency to demonize and once you demonize, it makes all the sense in the world to destroy the one from whom you’re divided. Divide-suspicion-demonize-destroy.
For the Southern Jews of Jerusalem, who were just good fundamentalists (knew their Scriptures, knew their rules, knew their history and family roots…and they knew they were right)…for those Jews, association with Samaritan Jews was simply…a sin.
But for Jesus—and here comes our radical God, like a staff to a rock—separation from Samaritans was the sin. For Jews association was the sin, for Jesus separation was the sin. Jesus was anything but a fundamentalist. He broke the laws of his own people for the sake of a far greater ethic, for the sake of a cosmic compassion.
For Jesus, the whole nature of religion is not to divide (which leads to suspicion-demonization-destruction); for Jesus the whole nature of religion is to REACH OUT. I don’t know how fundamentalists overlook these texts. Today’s text is but one example, one look at who Jesus publically reaches out to: not only a Samaritan, but a Samaritan woman, not only a Samaritan woman but a Samaritan woman who had 5 husbands. Elizabeth Taylor—may she rest in peace. And this woman—her namelessness and status was a sign of the times—but it is so significant—it couldn’t be more offensive to fundamentalists….this woman not only receives what Jesus offers, she dialogues with Jesus, even does a little theological wrestling. Don’t you love that? And this is the first person to whom Jesus makes known that he is the Messiah: to a Samaritan woman!
This might not sound so shocking for 21st century ears, but this is earth shattering!
So what does this mean for us? It means that we too are called to venture out beyond ourselves. Make this text come alive for you and go home today, and the next time you look in the mirror, admiring or despising yourself in the mirror, try saying out loud to yourself, “_____, it’s not just about you and your closest circles.” Say that with me. Do you know what I mean by your closest circles?
We are called to love ourselves and our circles as God loves us and our circles, and then we are called beyond them. The Lenten journey just got 3-dimensional.
We know that God loves us, but does the world know that God loves them? Go and tell them. We have to get to know those who are different from us—it’s the whole nature of religion, according to Jesus. Reach out. Maybe the most Christian thing we can do is to study the Qaran, for example, so that we can dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. [pause] That would be so “John-Chapter-4”. Go to Samaria, sisters and brothers in Christ! Go to the places that are foreign and unfamiliar. For liberals that means have dinner with conservatives. For Republicans that means have dinner with Democrats. For the rich that means have dinner with the poor. For the straight that means have dinner with the gay. For the Christian that means have dinner with the Muslim and the Muslim have dinner with the Christian. (One preacher suggested that the modern day Samaritan is a Muslim. But that may not be so for everyone.) Maybe it just means sitting down with someone of the opposite sex or another race and asking them about what it’s like to be them. One time for a project I interviewed female pastors in the Lutheran church. I thought I already had a pretty good idea of their challenges, but I had no idea I quickly learned. Go to Samaria, get beyond yourself and your circles. Read, watch movies, pray, and or just sit down over a meal or coffee. That’s where we really come to know each other—over meals and coffee.
I tend to want to apologize to you for such a challenging and bold message, but I think Jesus would say, “Your welcome.” For we can certainly be like those rocks in the desert—dry, isolated, hopeless, seemingly worthless. “Oh not me, I could never reach out like that.” But Jesus, the new Moses, whacks us with the Gospel today: “Go to Samaria. You’re welcome.” And we break open with that holy whack, gushing forth with the water of life, with love, compassion, concern, interest, a desire to walk in another’s shoes so that we might better serve them. Sound good? It’s more than good, it’s the way of Christ. And in this way is God’s salvation, that is, God’s healing. Martin Luther said that the greatest idol is our desire for security—it doesn’t really lead us down any paths. It just means we curl up. And God is there too. But curling up is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is to Samaria, and finally to Calvary, the roads less traveled. Sisters and brothers in Christ, on those rugged roads is God, God’s peace ironically, God’s love for you, God’s boundless mercy for this whole world. Amen. Amen.