Last night we celebrated Christian unity by coming together for an ecumenical service. All churches in our town took part, and it was a very nice service. I had the honour of preaching, and here is my sermon.
Unity At The Well
Have you ever looked at a something and say, “Oh no, not this again.” It could be a household chore, the laundry pile, your dinner, a project at work, many, many things.
I may have felt a similar twinge when I saw the text for tonight’s service. It’s at least the 4th time I’ve encountered it in the past year, and the second time I’ve preached on it. Unfortunately I didn’t save my notes from the last time, and I guess I have to start from scratch tonight.
Which is ok, because we are talking about the Samaritan woman in a different context tonight. Tonight we are talking about Christian unity. And, for me, it’s always special when our churches here in Sydney Mines come together. We’ve come together for celebrations, prayer, concerns, concerts, remembrances, and Holy Week (watch for the upcoming schedule of our annual lunches beginning March 30th).
In talking clergy in other areas of the country, I see how we are quite blessed here to have churches so eager to work together, because it doesn’t always happen.
Our general theme of tonight’s service comes from Brazil. A bustling country that has experienced some economic boom over the last number of years. Last summer they held the World Cup soccer finals and next year they will host the Olympic Summer games. These are quite the opportunities for this leading South American nation.
But Brazil also has very high rates of violence. In the last decade over 43,000 women were murdered. Almost half died in their own homes as the result of domestic violence.
Indigenous people have suffered greatly from violence as well. As large companies seek to expand their operations and wealth into vulnerable areas where resistance is low, including the ever valuable rain forest.
Over 85% of Brazil claims to be Christian, yet again, there is a lot of violence in that developing nation.
Churches don’t always help either. Churches in Brazil compete aggressively for members and air time on television broadcasts. So while I wonder just who might have prepared this unity service in Brazil, I can see why there is such a great need for unity. The churches just don’t want to work together because they see each other as competition to be conquered.
Is that what Christianity is about?
Yesterday I had the privilege to chaperone a school ski trip to Ben Eoin. Actually, Jack Humphries insisted on it, and who can say “no” to Jack?
We had about 70 kids going to the hill. Almost all of them had never skied before. From putting on boots to making their way to the bunny hill, watching them learn the basics of skiing, to some of them even graduating to go on the chair lift, here’s what I saw.
I saw kids who helped each other no matter their background. I saw kids cheer for and high five each other when they mastered a new skill. I saw kids laughing with each other when they made a silly mistake and fell. I saw kids clumsily helping each other back on their feet after those falls.
Some of these kids come from stable homes with money. Some of these kids had to scramble literally at the last second to find suitable clothing to wear for a day out in the cold. Some of these kids come from broken homes.
It didn’t matter. Yesterday they were learning and growing together.
I saw unity.
Now some of you may be saying at this point, “We just endured a marathon scripture reading, what does any of this have to do with Jesus, a woman and a well?”
That’s a great question!
Let me see what I can do.
Jesus and his disciples are making their way to Galilee, and make their way through Samaria. They stop next to a well and the disciples head to Ebbie’s for take-out so they can all eat.
For these Jewish travellers, Samaria is not a place they desire to be. Samaritans are a hated people who less than respected. They aren’t worth giving the time of day to.
I wonder what is our Samaria today, here in Cape Breton? Sometimes it might feel like Sydney thinks that way of the Northside.
Sometimes we like to joke about the rivalry between the Northside and Glace Bay.
Maybe we look at the Jungle that way in our own town? Or some other certain streets or homes.
And what of the woman?
Some call her a prostitute. Some call her a widow several times over. Some call her unlucky in life. We don’t know her circumstances for sure. We do know she has had a hard life. We know she’s come to the well alone, which is uncommon. We know that she’s had 5 husbands, for whatever reason, and likely depends on herself for a lot of things. I wouldn’t be surprised if abuse was common in her life.
In short: She’s poor. She’s unwanted. She’s broken.
Sound like anyone you know?
Does it sound like someone in your family? Someone in our community? She might. There are plenty people like this around us. Right outside our doors. Women. Children. Single parents (which make up over a quarter of our families in Sydney Mines). Drug addicts. People who live with mental health issues. People stuck on welfare with no way to get off of it. High unemployment. Poverty. Homelessness. Violence. It’s all here in this town. It’s all here within a block of this building. I know because I live a block away, and I see it. It doesn’t try to hide, it’s out there in the open for all to see.
And when Jesus confronts it face-to-face at the well. What does he do?
He invites her into a conversation.
He treats her as a human being.
He’s only known her for a few seconds, and yet in that time he’s walked her entire life with her, at least I’m sure she feels that way.
This woman comes to the well to retrieve water. Water, the basic element of life which we all need to survive. When we send out probes to other planets, moons and various rocks, what is it we look for first? Water.
The Samaritan woman needs water for her home. Whether to clean or cook or drink. She came to the well for a basic need we all share. Without water, we die.
It’s a simple rule of life. We can live for weeks without food. But take away water, and we’ll only last a couple of days.
Jesus is the first to ask for water, which she questions, because of her background.
And Jesus quickly turns the table on her. Instead of her meeting a need of his, he offers her something she needs. Something far greater in fact. Something 5 more husbands could never offer (you women out there are probably thinking, “well ain’t that the truth”).
But here it is. Jesus came for everyone.
He didn’t come for the church. He didn’t come for the Jews. He didn’t come for the kings and pharisees. He didn’t come for the Maple Leafs (and that’s more than evident right now).
Jesus came for everyone.
He came for the disciples. A rag-tag team of goofs who fall down more than they stand up when trying to understand just who it is they are following.
Jesus came for the broken.
He came for the lost.
He came for the stranger.
He came for the widow.
He came for the prostitute.
He came for the outcast.
He came for the victims of violence.
He came for the poor.
He came for the homeless.
He came for the addicts.
He came to heal the world.
He came to show us how to heal the world.
Sometimes healing begins with something as simple as a conversation.
And it moves from there.
In the life of Jesus Christ, we learn many things about how to treat each other. How to treat those around us. How to treat the world.
And through it all, we learn who he is.
We learn who he is through not only his life, but also his death. Because in his death, he shows how far he is willing to go for who he has come for. He gives his life for this world and the people in it. All the people. All of us here tonight. All of those who live in the homes and on the streets of this town. All the people.
He didn’t just come for the Anglicans, or the Presbyterians, or the Catholics, or the United Church, or the Baptists. He came for all. He even came for the atheists.
And he died for all of us.
And when he rose on Easter morning, he brought it all together. He showed that none of these things, none of our sin, none of our limitations, none of our brokenness, none of it has the ability to defeat us, because he has defeated it for us.
He defeated it all on our behalf. He defeated it for the people of Brazil. He defeated it for the people of Sydney Mines. He defeated it for the whole world.
And we, as people who are members of the churches in this town, have been united by Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection to show people that in God’s love, death has no hold on us. Nor does it have a hold on those who feel defeated, afraid, lost, or broken who walk our streets.
Jesus offers us so much more.
He offers us the water of life. A water, a spring of life in which God is the source. A water which brings healing, hope, love and grace who choose to drink of this well. A well where Jesus invites us to join him in not just a life in God’s presence, but an eternity.
We all believe this in our churches. And so we seek God’s blessing on this week of prayer for Christian unity, that he will bless us, our churches, and our community with His Spirit. His Life. And His love. Together we are the body of Jesus Christ in this world.
May it be so, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our Lord and our King. The One we server together in this community. Amen.