March 15, 2020
From Theory to Practice 3rd Lent
Romans 5:1-11 March 15, 2020 John 4:5-42
Anyone who has been around church for awhile knows most of the basic theory of Christianity—love your neighbor as yourself, feed the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, love God with all your heart, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We know the drill, and we can talk about the theory, the precepts all day long—but it’s the practice that sometimes has us stumped.
If you wanted to fly a plane, you would enroll in ground school and learn all the rules, principles, and techniques of flying. Then you would advance to flight training where you are flying a plane with a qualified instructor. Once you’ve completed your hours and the instructor sees that you are ready, you solo—you fly the plane all by yourself!
Following Jesus is very much the same: We study the book to learn the principles of discipleship; we walk with other disciples as we develop our faith; and the rest of our lives we practice the faith we have learned! Paul tells the Romans that the practice of our faith often includes suffering, producing endurance, which then produces character and hope. Our Gospel lesson shows an example of how you and I might live out our faith—how to go from theory to practice! We get to see Jesus interacting with a Samaritan woman and modeling a core principle for us. I see this text as a challenge to go and do likewise! Let’s look at that exchange, and see what we can learn.
Why Hate the Samaritans?
First, you must understand this: “Good” Jews from Judea and Galilee hated the Samaritans. Let me give you a brief history lesson to explain.
When the twelve tribes moved into the Promised Land, each was assigned a territory to first conquer and then inhabit. As time passed, Israel was divided into two Kingdoms, the Northern (Israel) and the Southern (Judah). Each Kingdom experienced international politics and alliances and invasions. The Southern Kingdom of Judah managed to remain intact and, even when invaded by other nations, kept their traditions of remaining separate from Gentiles. They were strictly Kosher, and they had Jerusalem as their CENTER, plus the area of Galilee.
But the Northern Kingdom (which includes Samaria) was flooded with conquerors, and they intermarried with the conquering population. They developed their own branch of the Jewish religion, and they had their own mountain on which to worship. (They were not welcome to worship in Jerusalem with all the “purebloods”.)
By the time of Jesus, there was very active hatred between Judah and Samaria. If the good people of Judah needed to travel beyond Samaria to Galilee in the north, they preferred to skirt around into Gentile territory, rather than risk interacting with those “filthy half-breeds”! The Samaritans were the people that Judeans loved to hate.
It’s a human propensity, isn’t it, to find our unity in a shared DIS-like?! And, of course, we want to think that God is “on our side.” During the American Civil War, someone said to Abraham Lincoln, “God is on our side.” To which Lincoln responded, “I hope that we are on God’s side.” I love what Anne Lamott says: “You can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do!”
Jesus Models Relationship
Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived his life. 1. When he called his disciples, he invited radically different people into his inner circle. There was a tax collector and at least one or two zealots (who hated tax collectors!) There was a scholar from Judah (Judas Iscariot) and there were several fishermen from Galilee. Jesus helped these followers to overcome barriers—to be united.
- Jesus led his disciples into Gentile lands. I can just hear their warnings: “Be careful, Jesus!” He took them into the Decapolis, a ten-city region east of the Sea of Galilee (mostly Gentile). He led them into the area known as Syro-Phoenecia (a Gentile area north of Galilee).
- Jesus talked with women! In his culture, men only spoke with women who were part of their family. You notice that, when the disciples came back to the well with some fixins for lunch, “they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.” But with this woman, and the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus was leaping over cultural barriers in a single bound!
- Jesus humbled himself in order to engage with people. With the Samaritan woman at the well, he put himself in a position of need, desiring a drink from the well. [When I was working with dorm chaplains at Whitworth, we talked about how to establish a relationship with someone in the dorm. We suggested that they take an empty mug, knock on their door, and ask, “Do you have any hot chocolate?” Most people would say, “Sure! Come on in!” and the relationship could get off to a good start.] Jesus put himself in a position of need. Then, as he talked with the Samaritan woman, Jesus led the conversation to a deeper level, until they addressed her true need. He empowered her to spread the word to the whole village, and they came to hear Jesus for themselves. And the text says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” They asked him to stay with them, and he stayed for 2 days. And many more believed because of his word!
- In the Relationship Model, one only needs to spread the Good News to those who are nearest, and the Word will go out in an ever-expanding circle.
Going from Theory to Practice
I would just like you to start thinking about the people that God has put you near. Think about your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, people in your clubs and organizations. These are what I would call “continuing contacts,” because you have an ongoing relationship with them.
Think also about your short-term contacts: people you sit next to on a long airplane ride; folks standing in line with you at the store; others waiting at the doctor’s office. These brief contacts are also important!
Becky Pippert was working for Intervarsity, providing ministry to students at two universities in Oregon. On one bus trip between schools, Becky sat next to Maxine, a woman who seemed pretty hard and “crusty”—not the kind of person who would be interested in a conversation about spiritual matters. So Becky took out her yellow pad and began making notes about a talk she was going to give. Maxine asked, “What are you working on?” Becky just tried to deflect her with a short answer, but Maxine persisted. Finally, Becky gave in and told her the brief outline of the content she hoped to share. And this opened a deeper conversation. Maxine explained that she had a gentleman friend who had lived in the city they were headed to. When he didn’t show up for a date, she began phoning his neighbors to check on him. They reported that he had been found dead in his apartment. Maxine told Becky that she had been lying awake all night, asking questions of the dark, seeking to understand something about the meaning of life. So, she and Becky had a deeply significant conversation. Becky tells this story to remind us that one can never judge another person’s openness to conversations about life issues!
Jesus was trying to tell the Disciples the same thing. Right there among the Samaritans, Jesus told them, “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting!”
And what is Jesus saying to you and to me? He is saying that relationships are primary; that caring and listening and respecting and honoring are part of our ministry to the world; that the Good News is transmitted person-to-person as we embody Christ; that Christ, who indwells you, has something he wants to do through you!
Friends, I will close with this thought. You and I are disciples, and a disciple is one who is LEARNING from the Master. We are learning how to go from theory to practice. We are discovering that, in the context of a caring relationship, we can speak about God’s care for us. We can pray for those whom God has put into our lives. We can make ourselves available to be salt and light in whatever way God wants to use us. And we will only get better with practice.