Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 17, 2013

2013.03.17 “The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Sinners, Outcasts, and The Poor” – John 4: 3 – 10

Central United Methodist Church

The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

Sinners, Outcasts, and The Poor

Pastor David L. Haley

John 4: 3 – 10

March 17th, 2013

 

So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” – John 4: 3 – 10

So I was sitting in a pub last night celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and a woman came up to me and said, “Would you like a drink?” And I said, “Woman, if you knew who it was you are speaking to, you would have asked me and I would have given you living water to drink.”

No, of course that didn’t happen, but maybe it should.  I did hear Adam Hamilton once say – in Adam Hamilton style – that he went to a bar once on a Saturday night as part of his sermon research. (Is there anything we pastors won’t do for sermon material?)  I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the founding purpose of Church of the Resurrection, the church Adam Hamilton pastors, is this: “To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.”  So a trip to the bar for religious purposes would be consistent with that purpose.  At least he didn’t film it for us.

Today, we learn that Jesus had a similar purpose, to a shocking degree: “For the Son of Man has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)  So today as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we go not to the River Jordan nor the Judean wilderness, not to the mountains nor the Sea of Galilee, but we look around to see who our companions are, and who the people are we meet along the way.  And the answer may shock, surprise, or comfort us.

You might think, given who we believe he was, that Jesus would have had a privileged birth and would have quickly and easily commanded an audience with the high and mighty. So that, instead of bumming around Galilee, hanging out with fishermen, Jesus would be in Jerusalem, consulting with Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, or in Rome, commanding an audience with the Emperor.

But it wasn’t like that, was it? Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, born in a stable, and brought up as the son of a handyman in a town on the wrong side of the tracks; and even that town kicked him out.

When he finally gets around to his ministry, the first people he calls are fishermen, and a tax collector.

He spends most of his time in Galilee, an out of the way place, healing the sick and the lame and blind, touching lepers, hanging out with sinners, even Samaritans, including some questionable women. In other words, Jesus spent most of his time with three categories of people we name today: sinners, outcasts, and the poor. In Hebrew, they were called “am ha-aretz,” the “people of the land.” In his book, Adam Hamilton recalls the Garth Brooks song, “Friends in Low Places,” and reminds us that Jesus had lots of friends in low places.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in one of her sermons, once compared it to going to a local café after church, where we run into others from church, and decide to sit at the same table, carefully saying grace before we eat.  But then, when we hear way too much music and laughter at another table, we look over and see Jesus seated there, eating with bikers and drug dealers and hookers, instead of at our table, the church table! As slighted or offended as we might feel upon learning that, was the way the religious leaders felt in Jesus’ time.

As we read the Gospels, the list of Jesus’ friends in low places is too long to elaborate, but many of them we have come to know and love: lepers, a hemorrhaging woman, the man born blind; the tax collector Zacchaeus; the prostitute who anointed Jesus feet with her hair; the list goes on and on. In today’s video, Adam Hamilton focuses upon two in particular: a man possessed by a legion of demons, whom people had chained by his hands and feet and exiled him to a cemetery. Jesus casts the demons from him, sending them over a cliff into a herd of pigs. That scared the townspeople so much – evidently they didn’t care much whether the poor man got well – they asked Jesus to leave, because in addition to disrupting local farming he was also – not disturbing – but preserving the peace.  But the man himself – formerly possessed – became one of Jesus’ greatest witnesses.

And then there is one of the most beautiful stories in the Gospels, from the Gospel of John, the story from which I took my opening conversation, the story of the woman at the well. According to the standards of the time Jesus should never even have spoken to her, because first she was a Samaritan, whom Jews would rather die than have dealings with; she was a woman; and a woman of reputation at that. In that day and time, to go from Galilee to Jerusalem or vice versa, Jews crossed east of the Jordan, a harder and longer journey, so as to avoid contact with Samaritans.  Except Jesus: not only did he go there, he had a conversation, with a Samaritan woman at that, whose name, we learn – according to tradition – was Photini.  She too – became a witness to Jesus in her own village. There’s no doubt about it, Jesus was a barrier breaker in every way, sometimes shockingly so, because he had a special love for friends in low places, whoever they might be.

So my two questions are these: If Jesus is the Word of God, reflecting the heart and mind of God, what does that tell us about God?  Doesn’t it tell us that God has a special place in God’s heart for common people, especially for those who are sinners, outcasts, and poor.

Some of us may feel that we are such people. That the lives we’ve led, that what we’ve accomplished or what we have to offer, is not much. Some of us may even feel like we are worthless. Guess what, you are the kind of people Jesus loved.  To whom Jesus would say, “I can use you.”

The second question we ought to ask ourselves is, If Jesus so loved sinners, outcasts, and the poor, and we follow Jesus, what ought that tell us about ourselves? 

Those very people we are tempted to look down upon, thinking – like the Pharisees, that we are better than them – the blue collars and the no-collars – and yes – even those teenage boys who walk around with their pants around their thighs and their underwear showing – yep, God loves them.  The list of those God loves and we are tempted to hate – or at least not hang out with – is almost endless.

I would have to say, if there’s anything I have learned and would like to change about my ministry of almost 40 years, it’s that I wish I had spent more of it outside the church and less inside the church. But it’s not too late to change; at the very least, you – as a witness of Christ – can do that for me. Let’s make some friends in low places.

Because by doing so, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

 

[Note: In worship, I used the 12-minute excerpt contained on The Way DVD. For the reader, I recommend you use the link below to view Adam Hamilton’s longer version, as originally delivered to his congregation on March 25, 2012, which may be viewed here:

http://www.cor.org/worship/sermon-archives/show/sermons/The-Outcasts-and-the-Poor/

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