Saturday, March 01, 2008

Breaking Boundaries: Sermon John 4:5-42

Dear God, take our minds and think through them; take our hands and feet and work through them; take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire for you. Amen

One thing that we take for granted in this country is our access to clean drinking water. We are lucky in that regard. Although the earth is covered almost 70-75% by water there are limited supplies of drinking water. Those of you who keep up with local news might have heard about a border dispute between Georgia and Tennessee. Some in Georgia contend that the border was not correctly surveyed in 1818. The real debate is whether or not Georgia should have access to a source of water. North Georgia, including Atlanta has been dealing with a severe drought for over a year now, a lot worse than ours. This might seem comical to some who claim that TN should send National Guard troops to the border to defend from the invaders. Lack of water access however is a serious matter. Around 1.1 billion people, that is about 1 out of 6 people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water and every 15 seconds a child dies from a water bourn illness.

Our bodies need water. We are made of almost 70% water and we need around 3 gallons of water a day. Now of course we don’t drink that much a day a lot of what we get is from food, but we should drink 8- 8oz glasses of water a day. Most of us do not though. There is not doubt about it we, and every other living thing on earth needs water. Communities in the past were started around a common source of water, a river, a lake, or a well. Access to water is vital to life on earth.

We find Jesus near a source of water in today’s story and his conversation with the woman he finds there has to do with water. However, this is a different type of water that Jesus is offering to her. He is offering her living water. Jesus knew that our need is not only physical water, H²0, but also for living water or spiritual water. This is that kind of water that, once found, gushes up from within each of us like a spring. Jesus saw this encounter with the woman at the well as not only an opportunity to receive physical water, but to proclaim the gospel which he knew is the source of living water.

There is a problem however. This is no ordinary encounter. There is scandal a foot in this story. It is not obvious to us today because we are not members of 1st century Jewish society, but what Jesus is doing is strictly taboo. By speaking to this woman and offering her the gospel he is breaking down barriers and boundaries that were long part of the status quo of the time.

First of all this woman was a Samaritan. In fact Jesus had already broken a social taboo by traveling in Samaria. Most good Jews would simple go around Samaria much less stop and talk to a Samaritan. I want to look, just for few moments, at the history between these two peoples. Now we know that that Samaritans and the Jews did not like one another. This comes down to the Jews believe they were God’s chosen people and that the Samaritans were rejected by God. First, they disagreed on the place in which God should be worshiped. The Samaritans believed that God’s holy place on earth was Mount Gerizim, whereas the Jew believed that it was the Temple Mount. Secondly, the Jews saw the Samaritans as traitors because they had assimilated with the Assyrians during the first Jewish exile. The Samaritan response was that many of the so-called pure Jews had also assimilated with the cultures that had conquered them. There are many other reasons and the rift between these two peoples runs much deeper than these things, but I want us to have a running understanding of the taboo that Jesus was crossing.

This was not the only boundary pushed by Jesus. There was also a gender boundary pushed. Jesus, who was alone, was speaking with a woman, who was alone. This might not seem like a bug deal in today’s day and time, but then this was a big no-no. In those days woman were considered very inferior to men, they were to low end of the social ladder. Not only this, but a single man speaking to a single woman without family supervision was simply not done in those days.

Jesus’ actions were shocking by 1st century standards and we can see that in the reaction of the disciples. John writes, “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” They could not understand why Jesus would ignore this boundary. Here is the thing that they don’t understand. Jesus not only ignores the boundary, but destroys it. He breaks down all the boundaries that were between him and the woman at the well. Why does Jesus do this? He does it because he knows that every person deserves the living water provide in the gospel. The gospel of Christ supersedes any and all human made boundaries. All people all children of God.

This is good news. However, we, in the Church, seemed to be bound by similar cultural margins. The question before us this morning is this: what boundaries prevent us from spreading the gospel today? Despite vast improvements in the last century, race is still an extremely volatile and divisive issue in this country. It is unfortunate to say, but the church still is the most segregate place in the nation. This is not an indictment on this church or even of the South. This is something that is prevalent in every community no matter what the geographical location. This is not just a black or white thing. One of the greatest challenges the church is going to face in the next century is the great influx of Hispanic/Spanish speaking people. This is a hotbed political topic, but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. If we do not begin to address the real issue of racism in the church and in our nation then we will see no progress in the future. It is true that the church as led the way in abolition in the 19th century and the Church as led the way in the fight for civil equality in the 20th century, but the Church has also ignored racial injustice in communities all over the country. We have travelled miles and we have yet miles to go.

We also have the boundary of gender. There are still barriers between men and women and despite over 100 years of struggle women do not have equality. A white woman makes on average $.78 to every $1.00 a white man makes. An African-American woman makes $.67 to a white man’s dollar. This is a major justice issue in this country and it prevents the gospel from being proclaimed. Women pastors have faced severe adversity even in the more mainline churches like the UMC. One pressing issue that the Church is involved in today is women’s reproductive rights. Many women do not want men making decisions about their bodies. I don’t bring that up to discuss it in detail that is a whole sermon and Bible study in and of itself, but I mention it as a demonstration of these gender boundaries prevalent in our nation.

The final boundary I want to discuss today is class. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. The rich seem to get richer and to poor get poorer and those stuck in the middle seem to be dwindling. The battle of poverty has been raging for thousands of years and will continue for the foreseeable future. We have a tendency to look at the poor in this country with disdain or pity. We look through them without looking at them. We make judgments about them without getting to know them. We see their poverty without seeing the person. This is a boundary that prevents the spread of the gospel. How would we react if a person came into church who wasn’t dressed very nice? What if he smelled bad and tracked dirt into the building? Would we treat him as well as we would a person who was dressed to the nines? These are questions that the Church must answer.

These are not the only boundaries the Church faces. In fact, it seems that we are dividing ourselves more and more in to smaller and smaller pigeonholes. Jesus breaks through all of that. Jesus knows that through him all boundaries are broken. Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 “28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. “ Paul knows the truth that all boundaries are dissolved in Christ. That is why Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman without fear or hesitation. That is why Jesus eats with the tax collector and sinners. That is why he helps the adulteress and forgives those who ask for forgiveness. That is why God’s grace demonstrated on the cross of Calvary is for all people throughout the entire world. I want to close with a story. I don’t know how many of you watch Extreme Home Makeover on ABC. It is one of my favorite shows. Last week they helped a family who had a son who was born without eyes due to a birth defect. However, this extraordinary young man was an accomplished musician and even was a part of the University of Louisville marching band. They were interviewing him for the show and he said the most incredible thing. He said most people see his blindness as a disability, but he said that he see sight as the disability. This is because sight allows us to judge others before we know them. He said that race, gender, class, all of these boundaries that we place around others meant nothing to him because of his blindness.

That is the way the grace of God works. It is blind to the boundaries of the world. God’s grace does not know race or gender or class or size or shape. Let us look at one another and the others we encounter let us look at them without eyes, but with our hearts.

Let us pray…

Grant, O Lord,

that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts,

and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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