This text is a rough transcription of the sermon as preached at WSUMC.
As Christians, we all recognize that we are called to be part of the Body of Christ. This is often called the Great Commission. Pastor Thomas often says the WSUMC is here so that the community can know God’s love. Sometimes he says we are here to help you understand and embrace your gifts so that the community can feel God’s love. Either way, we agree that we are part of a collective – a group of people that are different, joined together, to function as the hands and feed of God. We are God’s ambassadors in the world. Isn’t that a challenge, a gift and a privilege?
Because I work for you, and they think I have some limited expertise, and a whole lot of “why not” mentality, I stand before you. Pastor Thomas said, I want you to talk them about how we can engage further in the community. How can we help those who are already doing the work? How can we partner with them, and make the work more expansive? I said, that is a tall order … I’m not sure. I prayed about it, and came to the conclusion that I think that is a step to far.
Why do I think that?
I think the first thing we have to do is determine where we stand in that process. We have to understand us, individually, and then understand how we go, how we connect, how we engage, and how we interact. We can sit and brainstorm 1,000 agencies across the Washington Metropolitan area that do great things for people. They feed the hungry – they do the same things we want to do.
But, as Kyle sang this morning, what does the Lord require of me?
As a child, I collected those little bibles that missionaries from wherever would drop off at our home. They only contained the new testament. In the front of the bible, translated into many languages, was the passage that we as Christians love and pervert so often, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not parish but have everlasting life.” I learned this passage. I was a Christian. I was going to learn it in every language so I could live it all over the world. For God so loved the world.
I went to church, and I found out that Christians often interpret this passage to read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that those whosoever can tithe, have good jobs, are heterosexual (or trying to be), are westernized assimilated citizens in good standing, with only slight blemishes, similar voting patterns (indeed rights), and can pass our background check, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” I am not sure that it is always intentional. Isn’t it just easier to talk to people you like? Isn’t it easier if you speak the same language? Isn’t it easier when they align with your understanding of humanity? Isn’t it just easier to take the path of least resistance? Isn’t it just easier to invite them to come to you? Isn’t it just easier to preach the gospel instead of living the gospel?
John chapter 4 centers mainly on the story of the woman that Jesus encounters at The Well of Jacob. I believe this passage to be one of the best “how to” descriptions of evangelism, community outreach, and engagement in the bible. Yet, we seekers of Jesus, become, so enthralled in Jesus being the living water, that we don’t see all of the instruction available regarding the offering of that good news. Christians seek to share this good news, don’t we? Clothed in the full armor of God, in our beautiful sanctuaries equipped and ready to bestow the good news on all who want and do not want to receive it. After all, it is good news… We have been changed and we feel (like Tony the Tiger—great). Because it is truly good everybodywants. They just don’t know it yet. Armed and ready we declare to our mission fields come and let us conquer you and win you for our Christ’s sake. We are enthusiastic, pumped up, full of great ideas, and vision. We are ready! We will be the beacon of light in our glass tabernacle. We will give you turkeys at Thanksgiving, we will give you clothes from our (gently used stock), and teach you how to reinvent yourselves in our image and our Bible.
Jesus demonstrates for us an alternative approach to engaging with those in our mission fields. Having proclaimed this the salvific gift be available to whosoever, Jesus demonstrates the true meaning of whosoever.
Jesus goes into an area that has been created for the marginalized (the unlike them) to dwell in. He goes directly there. Jesus was on his way back to Galilee. Other routes would have taken him there. Indeed, many other routes were preferable to the land where the others lived. The Samaritans! Those people. The ones who had shared the Jewish lineage but had become unclean, unholy, and not worthy of the most basic interactions with a good Jew. Yes, those people over there. It would have advisable that Jesus and his disciples take another route to avoid the potential discomfort of encountering one of those people. It is understandable really, it is a matter of self-preservation/safety. Often times, as we travel through life with our “Coexist” bumper stickers or artistically crafted palm crosses hanging from our rearview mirrors, we go out of the our way to avoid those people on that side of town. There are too many potholes on the road. There are too many places where we don’t want our cars to breakdown or run out gas. It’s just smart. We call it being safe. We check our GPS’s in advance for the alternative routes and if we are lucky that place is just an exit sign on the highway before our exit to Galilee (that intellectually stimulating conference or lucrative partner meeting where we glean best practices in how to better engage with those whom we just avoided in spreading the Gospel of Jesus).
Jesus shows us something different. He allows his own humanity to dictate the basis (create the relational need-based foundation) of the conversation. He illuminates both the oneness of humanity in need and action. Jesus like the woman is out in the heat of the day. He is tired and hot, and he asks for the very thing she has come to get for herself. He says, “Woman give me a drink of water.” Already this image stands in sharp contrast to many churches’ missional efforts. We rarely arrive at our destinations of benevolent giving exhausted and need of what is there. Why would we? We are going to serve them. What could they possibly give us? We often have a Jewish world view of our Samaritan neighbors and carry the missionary banner charity mentality instead of a water-sharing moment. We do operate like that sometimes. We came to help you…. not chat with you. We already know what’s wrong with you. Right? Seriously, some of the needs in our communities are so visible that we all grieve. We look at the TV, and the news, and drive past places, and think, “we’ve got to do something. People should not live like this.” We have clarity. They need us, the great Christian sojourner.
But is this really our calling? No.
Jesus begins a conversation with, “Can I have a drink?” What would happen if we went into our missional areas and asked, “can I have some of what you have?” … but we don’t want that, do we?
In today’s world the concept of addressing the needs of marginalized members of society has too often become election cycle type jargon for those seeking to amass power. Even if we attempt to listen, oft times it is a well-organized interaction between the polished practitioner and their less shiny neighbors that becomes orchestrated conversations, designed by the polished, to be divided into compelling visual images and sound bites that simulate compassion and influence likeability. We have taken that page out of that public relations handbook…We say yes, put that on our website…every church should have some of that-right? Doesn’t that tell the world who we are?
We the church have adopted the sound bites and throw them on our website. Now people will know who we are. We go to the projects. We go to the shelter. But what do we do when we get there? Thisis the beauty of John, chapter 4. It is a moment. A water sharing momentin the wilderness. And I wonder … are you willing to have a water sharing moment?
What avenues of conversation and reconciliation would open to us if we recognized that all have something to give and all have room to receive? What happens when we hear truth as opposed to operating in our assumptions? What happens when we acknowledge our mutual needs? Pain hits every community. Sorrow doesn’t spare the rich. We are all in need of something. We all have room to receive. What happens when we all acknowledge that? The engagement moves from being transactional to transformative.
Jesus doesn’t just tell the woman she’s unclean and unholy. He allows the woman to testify to her own situation. He still offered her the gift, without expectation or demand. That’s it – we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, proclaiming the gospel to the world, without exception.
I was driving down the street when I saw a woman asking for money on the side of the road. We’ve all seen her. I thought, I’ve got one dollar in my pocket, and I need that for parking. … And then I thought, I wonder what her name is. You see, we drive past these people daily, and we may give them a dollar, or a check. But do we know her name? She hasa name. She has a past, and believe it or not, she has a future.
Jesus meets this woman who is in need, and he takes the time to get to know her. He is not repulsed by who she is or where she’s been. He stands there, right there with her, in the midst of her vulnerability and says, “Yes, I know. I know it’s been rough and tough, but I still have this living water for you.”
It should not be lost that Christ took an opportunity to show himself to the marginalized of the marginalized. This is an important element. There are marginalized within the marginalized. Human nature in its most perfect imperfection seeks to have dominion where it should not always dare. It should not be wasted on us that there is a pecking order within every community. It should not be lost on the true Christian that Jesus met a woman who was the marginalized of the marginalized and revealed himself unto that one. In a society that already looked down on her because of her gender, she was living with one who was not any of her husbands. Jesus allowed her to name it and let her know that he knew the depth and breadth of her issue, yet he did not turn away. Jesus never shamed her or said she was not worthy of the gift. He let honesty stand with no shame or questioning about how she found herself in that predicament. He offered living water.
She embraced the living water. Finally, Jesus stands with her in her in her vulnerability and allows her witness to be an external expression of an internal shift…In other words her witness is self-directed and unencumbered by preconceived notions of what it should look like. He did not say “run, tell that” or “now, do this and do that”. Too often, when we Christians go into communities or situations intent on exercising our missionary and evangelistic passions, we superimpose our values into what the outcome of that mission should look like. We have been so conditioned that we fail to remember that people are able to determine what progress looks like for themselves. But not Jesus, he just says, you will worship. It was her reaction, it was her response, that caused her to run back to a whole community to be an evangelist. This is our call as the church!
The result of the encounter is a community that is driven to seek, learn, and be transformed because of the testimony/transformation of one of their own marginalized beings. The result of us living out the whosoever principal moves us from paternalistic charity to water-sharing reunion with our brothers and sisters who have been separated from us because the world is as it is not as it should be. Reminiscent of Moses’ burning bush…. whosoever be confronted by the I AM and believe will receive enough to see and embrace their own brokenness and yet be filled enough to be transformed and participate in the transformation of others.
We see the encounter with the woman at the well leads to a community transformed. They are driven to seek and learn about God because of one of their own. While this may happen cleanly in the glass tabernacles of our houses of worship, there is a well in the wilderness waiting for a water-sharing moment. There is a well in the wilderness where sins are washed away. There is a well in the wilderness where transformation is possible. There is a well in the wilderness where needs are discovered and met. There is a well in the wilderness where obstacles are overcome. There is a well in the wilderness that leads to renewal, restoration, and reconciliation. There is a well in the wilderness that is waiting for you. What are we doing sitting here?