3 Lent A—3/19/17
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Pr. Scott Kramer
In last month’s issue of National Geographic magazine was a story titled, “For Widows, Life After Loss.” In some cultures, the article reports, “the death of a husband has meant exile, vulnerability, and abuse.” In Uganda, for example, if a woman’s husband dies, her in-laws typically take away everything from her: not only her land and property but even her children!
One day Jesus was traveling with his disciples outside their own country and he stopped at a well. There in the heat of the day he met a widow—but not just any widow. Turns out that she has had five husbands! We don’t know why, but we can be pretty sure that she is not the problem. Women were property! They had little power in her day. If she had had that many husbands it was not her choice. It may be that each of her five husbands had died, and she had been handed down in turn to each of her first husband’s four brothers.
How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? If the woman was nothing but a piece of property in her own land, how much more would she be a nobody in the eyes of this Jesus, this foreigner, this Jewish man!
How different from the times we live in! How many among us take time at the well to listen to the “nobodies” of our time? How many Mexicans, how many Muslims have the experience this Samaritan woman had of being heard? How many among us would say to our fellow citizens, as she did, “I have caught a glimpse of God in the stranger.” How many among us have listened to the stories of people at Standing Rock, people in the immigration line or refugees from war, famine, and persecution?
“Only America First!” proclaims the White House. And millions of Christians set aside any moral and religious qualms or convictions, and respond, “Amen!” How far we as a nation have strayed from the kingdom of God! How great is our need for the season of Lent. How deep–as a well in the desert–is our need for repentance!
It isn’t just the “nobodies” outside our nation’s borders who know the experience of being ignored. It’s our fellow citizens right under our noses. Maybe you saw the article in the Seattle Times a couple of weeks ago. Seattle is one of the best cities in the country to live…if you are rich; one of the worst if you are poor!
How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? There in the desert, in the heat of the day, the woman had something Jesus didn’t. She had a bucket; he didn’t! He needed water. He recognized his need for her, and not simply as a tool to get what he wanted. He valued her. He talked to her, which is more than anyone else did. He treated her as an equal. When was the last time that a refugee or an immigrant felt like an equal to a life-long American citizen? When was the last time a person of color was welcomed not for some economic benefit that they might provide but for who they are?
I had conversation with a gay friend this past week and asked how he was doing these days. He told me that the gay community is running scared. Given the personalities and policies and promises of politicians, many LGBT folks are terrified that gains toward dignity over the past years will be rolled back. They’re also afraid that as all this unfolds their straight friends—including Christians!–will stand by and say nothing, do nothing.
Gains have been made over the past years for the dignity of our gay brothers and sisters and sexual minorities among us. In some ways, those gains exceed gains in race relations. One of my non-Lutheran gay friends recently asked aloud why the Lutheran church over the years seems to have made more progress in LGBT issues than in race relations.
Well, he has a point. A couple of weeks ago several of us gathered for our monthly women’s Bible study here at the church, and here’s an excerpt from that study:
When the ELCA was formed in 1988, we set a goal that within ten years our membership would be 10% “persons of color and/or persons whose primary language is other than English” …recognizing that God was calling us to form a new church that was more representative of our diverse society…Yet according to a 2014 study by Pew Research, the ELCA remains 96% white—the whitest of the 29 religious groups included in the study. According to the same study, the adult population of the U.S. is only 66% white.
Despite our good intentions, despite our beliefs, thirty years later why has so little changed? Why do we as a denomination remain at a distance from our brothers and sisters of color? You know what they say, right?—that the most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning!
But miracles do happen! Last Sunday we heard a miracle story. Nicodemus, the rich and powerful man with many options, chose not to exercise those options. He chose not to run from the difficult teachings of Jesus but to stay close and learn from him. This Sunday we again hear a miracle story. A woman who is a nobody even within her own community is listened to not only by Jesus but by her community, and because of her, the community not only listens to Jesus but welcomes him, inviting him to stay with them.
What might disciples of Jesus in the 21st century learn from their example? What would it look like for us—especially white folks!–to listen ever more deeply to the perspectives of people of color, the LGBT community, refugees and immigrants, people without health care. In other words, what would it look like to be the face of Christ and take sides?–not the side of privilege and power but the side of those who are being unjustly attacked by policies and politicians and people. What would it look like for us to be that Samaritan community who listened to one among them who was routinely ignored?
Shortly after last fall’s election, over 100 of us church leaders gathered to discern how we can provide safety and welcome for people among us, especially Muslims, who are being threatened and treated unjustly. One African-American woman rose to say that she didn’t feel included. Immediately one well-intentioned white man felt uncomfortable and responded that she should feel included. And she said to him, “Sometimes you need to just shut up and listen”–which sounds to me like the voice and example of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in the world, often through and among those who are off the radar. When our hearts and minds are awake and ready– we see and welcome in the stranger, the outcast, and the voiceless none other than Jesus himself!