Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Almighty God, we pray for your living, creating presence among us today; that the worship which we offer to you may be the work of your hands. Strengthen us in our worship, that we may be fed by you and have strength for our journey through the coming week. AMEN
What she learned from Jesus about the "right way to worship, was the same thing that Abraham had known -- that the only appropriate way to live and to worship God is by allowing God to lead.
You see, there was a man at the well. She hadn't expected that, and she wasn't quite sure what to do. But she needed water . . . and it was her village well, after all. So she went on.
There was a Jewish man at the well -- She REALLY hadn't expected that. Everyone knew that Jews didn't enter Samaria. They didn't speak to Samaritans, they didn't touch anything that Samaritans touched-- they certainly didn't drink from Samaritan wells. But there he was, sitting there just the same, where he didn't belong. She hadn't expected this . . . But she needed water . . . and it was her village well, after all. So she continued on.
And what she learned from Jesus about the right way to live, was the same thing that Abraham had known -- that the only appropriate way to live and to worship God is by allowing God to lead.
What is it like for you when the unexpected happens? Is the unexpected a good thing or a bad thing? How will you ever tell the difference?
For the woman at the well, things just got stranger and stranger. There was a mutually accepted boundary to be observed: Jews and Samaritans do not speak to each other. Additionally -- and everybody knew this: Men and women do not speak to each other in public. It just isn't done -- Like reaching over and taking food off of the plate of a stranger in a restaurant, a man must never begin a conversation with a woman in public . . . and a woman must never begin a conversation with a man.
Soon after I arrived in Hong Kong -- I got my meal at the restaurant counter, found an empty table and sat down to eat. Suddenly a young man came with his meal and sat down with me at my table-- MY table. He smiled and then he unwrapped his sandwich. I hadn't expected that-- that this total stranger would come to me and sit down. It was his country after all -- his restaurant in a way . . . but I hadn't expected that.
The woman at the well -- she hadn't expected it. She wasn't looking for it. She was not seeking anything -- not change, not conversation, not new water, not new anything.
But Jesus was there at the well. He broke all the boundaries. He threw out the expectations . . . And she hadn't expected that. She hadn't expected it, but it came just the same. Jesus had knocked on a door . . . and she answered.
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
His smile had been directed at me when he sat down -- I didn't know quite what to do . . . so I said "hello."
And then he began to speak -- about travels and hopes of studying in America and how exciting I would find Hong Kong. He welcomed me, in a way -- not in so many words. But in his welcoming language, his kindness -- he changed my lonely eating into a shared meal; Hong Kong from a "place" in my mind to an encounter with people. He changed my whole outlook on that city. It was no longer a strange, bustling metropolis-- it was a gathering of human beings-- some of whom were kind enough to reach out to a stranger and share dinner.
How is it that Jesus -- Holy and divine -- the savior of the world, comes and calls you? How does he come to you, unexpected, uninvited, breaking down barriers, inviting you to a new way of being? Will you be changed? What the woman at the well learned from Jesus about the right way to live, was the same thing that Abraham had known -- that the only appropriate way to live and to worship God is by allowing God to lead. What new things might Jesus lead you into?
What would you say if someone were to tell you that being the church is different from what you might expect that it means?
My friend, Gary, was serving as the pastor in the last Lutheran church in Newark New Jersey, when the church caught fire. What would that be like for us?
Gary's church was surrounded by drug dealers, prostitutes and drive-by shootings. What affect would the loss of a church have in that sort of neighborhood?
The people of the neighborhood gathered around the perimeter of fire trucks as the building burned-- some were members, many were not. And when the fire department said that it was safe, then the people went inside-- all the people: members and non members alike -- and they began to clean up the church. It was their neighborhood, after all . . . their church. They hadn't expected the fire -- hadn't wanted it. But it came just the same to their church. A fire knocked on the door of their lives, and the people answered. And they discovered each other . . . neighbors who cannot be strangers anymore. Strangers who are gathered in a most unexpected way.
What is there that is unexpected in your life? What hasn't gone as you thought it should? What has gone wrong? God certainly isn't the one behind what goes wrong in this life . . . But God is, most certainly present -- even in the unexpected. Perhaps especially in the unexpected.
Do you sometimes struggle to understand whether the unexpected is good or bad? The truth is that ultimately it doesn't matter. What matters is that regardless of whether it is good or bad, God is present within it. God is present in all places.
His presence in all moments makes those moments places of invitation -- occasions for something new . . . but only if we respond in faith. Paul knew that. Paul looked at Abraham and knew that. And so Paul tells us that we are justified by faith. We are transformed by God's love when we trust God’s love in our lives. We are transformed by God's forgiveness when we trust God’s forgiveness in our lives. We are transformed by the presence of God, when we trust that God is, indeed present . . . even in the unexpected. When we know this, even our sufferings — in a strange way — become a time for celebration.
There was a woman at the well. The disciples hadn't expected this. It was a problem-- what were they to do? Not only were they uncomfortable in this land and with the fact that Jesus had made them buy food in it-- now they come back to where Jesus was to meet them, and here is a woman.
And what's worse!-- Jesus was speaking with the woman! They hadn't expected this. Perhaps they thought to themselves, “the only good thing about being in Samaria right now is that there are no Jews around to see Jesus speaking with a woman! Do you realize what a scandal this would create? The rumors would spread like wildfire. This was very uncomfortable. And maybe too much. Will Jesus not respect any boundary?
But when the woman left, Jesus spoke to them about a harvest-- "look around you," he said. "See how the fields are ripe for harvesting!" All there was to see around them was Samaria. Was this unclean land the field to be harvested? Is this what Jesus was saying? Yes.
The woman went from her unexpected encounter and shared the good news with the people of her town. She is the first apostolic witness of the church. A woman. a Samaritan woman. The first preacher. The first church teacher! The first evangelist. How very unexpected. But because of her they came-- they invited Jesus to stay . . . and he did. How VERY unexpected. And the disciples -- because they continued on as his disciples even after these unexpected events-- they were permitted to share in Jesus' ministry among the Samaritans.
What they all learned from Jesus that day is what Abraham had known: that the only appropriate way to live and the only way to worship is to let God show you how.
The only appropriate way to live and the only way to worship is to let God show you how.
Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman.
Jesus stayed with the people of Samaria for two days.
Jesus died on a cross.
It was all, very unexpected.
But to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God. Because the cross is not the last unexpected event with Jesus. So too is the resurrection. So too is the coming of the Holy Spirit. So too is his coming to you today . . . in the unexpected . . . in your unwelcome places where he is not invited . . . he comes to be received by you. . . .
What we might discover from him, if we will receive him, is what Abraham had known; what a Samaritan woman came to know; what his disciples came to know . . . the only appropriate way to live and the only way to worship is to let God show you how.