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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Disciples In A Strange Land - 03/15/2020

What a strange land we’ve stepped into … and rather abruptly. It is alarming and discombobulating.

Here I stand in familiar place that has taken on such a powerful spirit of unfamiliarity, even for me, someone who spends quite a bit of time each week alone in this building.

There is another sermon on our website on this bible story of the day Jesus ran into a Samaritan woman at the well. It comes in both text and audio. It’s called The Samaritan Disciple - 03/19/2017. You can find it by going to www.edenonthebay.org, clicking on “sermons” and then “2017.”

For now though, perhaps fueled by all the focus we’ve had since Christmas on what exactly it means to be disciples of Jesus, I’m hearing this story from the perspective of them. They weren’t witnesses to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in real time, but it was surely happening and I would be very surprised to learn they didn’t hear about it – from Jesus, from the woman herself, or from all the people she told, all the people who felt the Spirit stir and their faith awaken as the woman reacted to her encounter with Jesus.

No matter how thirsty she was when she came, “the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’” (John 4:28-29)

This was not going to stay secret. I’m comfortable assuming the disciples knew all that happened before too long.

Even if they didn’t though, enough happens in their presence to form them, to make them think and teach them, to encourage them to be of a different way, even in a strange land occupied by those you’ve been told your whole life are the enemies, a land and a people to be avoided at all costs.

Remember that the Jews and the Samaritans are like cousins. They all come from the tribes of Abraham, but through splits of kingdoms and disagreements over what is sacred, and other human-born drama and power struggle, they became separated as people and over the generations they grew farther apart and evolved as people in different ways. Just as Midwesterners, in some ways are different than people from the coasts, or American people are different in some ways from Guatemalans or South Africans or Chinese people.

They are divided by geography, politics, time, theology, culture. Sometimes we humans can forget the ways we are connected, especially when most of the focus buzzing all around us is on why we should remain divided.

And so it would most certainly have been strange, alarming and discombobulating for the disciples to:

  1. Go to a Samaritan city called Sychar (Si-car) in the first place!
  2. Leave a thirsty and tired Jesus by himself at a foreign watering hole, without even a cup to dip into the waters.
  3. Come back from getting lunch for everyone just as a shunned Samaritan woman, says to Jesus:   “I know that Messiah is coming … When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  And then hear Jesus say to her “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

This is strange. We know the disciples are alarmed and discombobulated because they fell right back into their thick-headed, “I-don’t-think-I-can-really-handle-the-truth” kind of ways, when they urge Jesus to eat and Jesus says: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 

It’s pretty clear to us and maybe it should have been to them too, that Jesus is talking about something other than a piece of bread or a nice cauliflower or even some wheat snagged from a field and crushed in the palm of his hand. He is talking of God, of course. God is his source of his nourishment and stamina on this difficult road to the cross in Jerusalem.

But the disciples don’t get it or they don’t really want to. “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” they say to one another as they look around. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, Four months more, then comes the harvest? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.’” (v. 32-39)

It is another lesson in what it means to be a disciple. He’s brought them into this strange land, strange situation, to show them that as followers of the Jesus-way they should regularly question divisions, like the division between the Samaritans and the Jews. They are to seek ways to build bridges and rejoice together. He has made it plain to them that it is not just the Jewish people who await the promised Messiah.

And by sending them into a strange and foreign Samarian marketplace to get lunch – probably the only meal they will eat that day, maybe the only meal they have had in more than a day – he has shown them, he has made them “enter into” the reality that disciples – whether we can detect it or not, whether we want to admit it or not – disciples must be aware and learn to treasure that we are all in this together. He tells them this as they are receiving life-sustaining food from the fields and harvests and threshing floors and kitchens of their so-called enemies.

And they are overwhelmed and discombobulated and alarmed. But here’s something that kind of surprised me this time around with this story from John. Even though the disciples have temporarily regressed into their thick-headed, “I-seriously-cannot-handle-all-this-truth” kind of ways, their behavior has changed. Did you notice it?

“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’” (4.27)

Jesus has changed their behavior at fundamental levels already. They would have chased the Samaritan woman off before. They would have chastised Jesus, begging him to refrain from associating with people like this Samaritan – this woman! It was not Jewish tradition, it could lead to trouble.

They didn’t do any of that … because they are already and fundamentally changed.

And we are already and fundamentally changed by Jesus too.

Whatever happens to us in this pandemic, however long we will need to be creative and seek alternative ways to stay connected to one another in this public health crisis, and whatever your own personal uncertainty is, or worry, or brokenness … there is nothing that can separate us from the live-sustaining, thirst-quenching salvation Jesus has brought you and me and all of creation on that cross he is walking toward again this Lenten season.

It will perhaps be more important than we’ve ever known to keep this identity at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers … to let it guide us in our actions and care for one another in this strange land.

We cannot gather together around the communion table to remember this today. That is truly a lament. Like Jesus we are at the deep well of our communal life together and we have no cup. I am working on figuring out a way in which we can maybe be creative about this too.

And in the meantime, I urge you – remember, do not forget – you are already and fundamentally changed by Jesus. Feel it right here –  + (cross forehead). Let it comfort you; let it guide you as we find new ways to be Christ to one another through our time in this strange land; let it fuel our ceaseless prayers for an end to the pandemic; and let it encourage and embolden us to seek the future God has prepared for us. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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