Sermon for March 15, 2020
I am sure that you figured out already that the theme for today is water. We listen to the story of Moses providing water to the Israelites. The Israelites were unhappy. They were thirsty for the water that keeps us alive. The Israelites quarreled with each other and with Moses. They tested God and Moses to see whether God would take care of them. Their quarreling and testing were so loud that they gave the names Massah and Meribah to the place where this happened. And God did provide. When Moses struck the rock water poured forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.
Most specifically the theme is about the living water, the gift that Jesus gives us. Jesus gives us grace and love to nurture our spiritual thirst, to carry us through the tough times, to keep us steadfast in the Way of Truth and to bring us to everlasting life. Rather than stopping at this point and making this the shortest sermon you ever heard, I want to ask you to consider another theme about how we see we meet people we do not know. Consider this gospel story about Jesus and the woman at the well.
We begin by noticing that this woman was an outcast, someone whom society had swept aside. She was an outcast simply because she was a woman and we know that woman were considered second class citizens by many. The custom at the time was that she was not supposed to talk with Jesus without some escort being present. She was also an outcast because she was a Samaritan and the Jews and the Samaritans did not like each other. Jews and Samaritans did not talk to each other. We know that it was risky for Jewish people to travel through the land of Samaria. If Jews interacted with Samaritans, they would be contaminated and that is a bad word for us right now.
Finally, she was a pariah in her own community because in her life she had lived with five husbands. Even by today’s standards that is a lot of husbands. I wonder if she was ignored by the people of her village. Certainly, Jesus had every reason to ignore her, to not speak with her. If Jesus had decided to speak with her then he probably would have wanted to preach to her about her sins. Perhaps Jesus would offer her forgiveness and tell her to go and sin no more. Jesus did not do anything that we might have expected. He didn’t ignore her or mistreat her or look down on her. Rather, he asked her to give him some water. It was only after they had some discussions that he told her that he was the Messiah.
It caused me to think about how we treat outcasts in our society. Sometimes people are outcasts because they have done something that is against the norms of our society, like robbing a bank. We don’t wish to associate with those kinds of people. But sometimes people are outcasts because we don’t know who they are or simply because they have fallen into a bad situation in their lives.
On Thursday night, a group of about fifteen of us gathered to talk about the book Grace in Les Miserables. That night we focused on the difficult challenge that poverty presents to people. We talked about a character in the book named Fantine. She became an outcast. Her great sin was that she fell in love with a man who was not committed to her. Sadly, she ended up having a baby out of wedlock and the man she loved abandoned her. She was forced to find work. She left her baby in the care of a family that took advantage of her, her child and everyone else. Someone at her work found out about her situation and she was fired for unwed mothers were not accepted at that time. As her situation became more desperate she took desperate measures to protect her child and eventually died in the process.
She was an outcast who never found a way to survive. Most people treated her cruelly. The main character in the novel tried to help her but his help came too late to save her. He was only able to save and care for her child. People mistreated Fantine because she had done something wrong. We can label people who are poor with statements like, they caused their own problems or they don’t work hard enough, or they must be on drugs or drink too much. That may be true but there are also reasons why people become outcasts for nothing that they did.
On Thursday, we discussed how we can respond to the issues of poverty, racism, and sexism. There weren’t any easy answers. The problems are so large that we cannot solve them ourselves. After all, Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us. I mentioned how difficult it can be to know who we should help and how we should help. In my time as rector, I have helped some people who needed the help and I have been taken advantage of by others. I still must try. People who try to help often have the best intentions to do good but they make mistakes. I gave the example of people who took Native American children out of their homes, put them in boarding schools and taught them skills that others have used to be successful. But we now know these techniques were wrong. We haven’t had the same experiences as outcasts which make our decisions about how to help them difficult.
Jesus clearly told us that we should help the needy. In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus told us that if we don’t help the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick and those in prison we will not be given eternal life. It is not always easy to figure out how to meet this requirement.
But in the story of the woman at the well, we find some answers. Treat them wish respect. Don’t assume that you know the answers. It worked for Jesus and it may work for us. Jesus didn’t start by speaking to the woman at the well about his life giving water and he didn’t ever tell her that she must accept that water. He started by asking her to give him water. Sometimes it is through our own vulnerability that others are able to hear our words. Jesus needed her help and after she had helped him, Jesus offered to help the woman. It is after all about the water. Through the Living water, Jesus gives us grace. It changes everything about our spiritual life. It helps us to follow God’s will and it helps us to show love to others. When we understand the living water that Jesus gives us, we are not spiritually hungry anymore. Jesus words changed this woman’s life.
This woman, this outcast shared her experience with her community. They listened and she convinced them to come and meet Jesus. In the end, they said that they first believed in Jesus because of what she said but after being with him they knew he was the Messiah because of their own personal interaction with Jesus. Jesus accomplished the impossible. He brought Samaritans and Jews together through their faith. He used the woman’s strengths to create a new relationship. His disciples learned that some of the rules we follow need to be tested to see if people can be brought together in God’s love. The woman at the well was no longer an outcast. Perhaps we can learn something from what Jesus did.
I think that in some ways everyone of us has been treated as an outcast. There may have been some group of people that would not let us join them. I have occasionally felt like an outcast myself, not to the extent that I have been shunned by society but in smaller ways. If you have ever felt that you were being shunned, remember that Jesus reaches out to you.
The nation is focused on the coronavirus. We are anxious and afraid. Some say we are not doing enough and others say that we are overreacting. Many have chosen to be isolated. We choose to be isolated, separated from our fellow humans and for good reason. But today, you have bucked that trend. You have chosen to reach out to others. You must be feeling the living water of Jesus.
We may go into further isolation. My hope is that out of this terrible experience, we may find some new ways of coming together, of sharing the love of Jesus with each other. I hope that some of the anger that exists may go away in the love of Jesus. Let us just remember that Jesus gave us life giving water. Let us ask Jesus to keep us safe and to help us make good decisions. Let us pray that this time will pass and that we all join together in the love of Jesus and share God’s love with everyone we meet. Amen.
Last modified on Friday, 20 March 2020 19:17
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