My eyes were opened a lot this past week. My heart was opened a lot this past week. Yes, some of the things that I learned had been told to me in the past, but for some reason they just seemed to resonate with me a little more over this past week. Then the problem arises: How to share this with the community in which I am entrusted to shepherd?
I have been preaching on inclusiveness a lot this past year. As member of the Body of Christ we are called to welcome all people in. If they are people of color, it does not matter. If they are gay or lesbian it does not matter. If they have disabilities it does not matter. And the list can go on and on because as human beings we have done such a good job of putting labels on other people that we think are different from ourselves. All of humanity are children of God and when we begin to put labels on people it can easily begin to strip away the fact that everyone is our brother and sister.
In our gospel lesson this morning we are quick to do the same thing that we often do in the world around us. We are quick to label the woman at the well. Quite often she is referred to as a prostitute, a woman that has been around the block a few times. Jesus states what she already knows, she has had five husbands and she is not married to the man that she is currently living with. More often than not we have also labeled her as a prostitute, and I know that I am just as guilty of this as the next person. However, have we ever stopped to think what her story may actually be? Maybe she has been unfortunate enough to have all of her husbands pass away unexpectedly. Maybe for some reason they were involved in war and battles and were killed in the line of action. Maybe the man that she is currently residing with now is actually a brother of her last husband who would have been obligated to care for her if he had not been already married himself. Yet, we do not know her full story, and we are quick to think that she is a prostitute.
I believe the more important factor here is that she is a Samaritan. So, we have heard of Samaritans, but who exactly are they? Apparently just from reading our text this morning we can assume that they are not the type of people that a Jewish person, like Jesus, would be interacting. The Samaritans can be traced back to Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph, whose father was Jacob. They follow the same God as Judaism, yet there seemed to be some falling out over time. During the late Roman times they numbered well over one million. Today they have dwindled to a mere 800 or so that live in the area of Israel and Palestine.
There is a difference here, mostly in faith beliefs, that has wedged itself between the Jewish people and Samaritans. Last week I spoke about seeking allies where we may least expect them. The woman at the well could see Jesus as an unlikely ally.
So, this brings me to the point of why my eyes and heart were opened a lot this past week. The Leadership Retreat that I attended this past week was put together for both our synod, North/West Lower Michigan, as well as Southeast Michigan. The topic could be deemed controversial, yet it was a conversation that needs to happen within the church. Our topic for the retreat was on race and racism and how can we go about being a place of anti-racism.
I will be honest, I was a little skeptical when I heard what the topic was going to be because I truly wondered how it would play a role in Allegan and at Immanuel. Since I have lived here I have not witnessed any problems. Yet, when I told council about it, I was informed by that I would be surprised.
I believe Bishop Satterlee said what many of us were thinking Sunday night during his sermon in our opening worship. Paraphrasing, he said that he really didn't want to think about it or talk about it because it made him uneasy and nervous. How refreshing it was for him to be open and honest and open the floor for the rest of the pastors and leaders in attendance as we shared our own personal experiences.
Now, most of you know that I grew up in Charlotte. Charlotte does not have the cleanest history of race relations in the area. When I was younger, there was a bi-racial couple living a few blocks down the street from my parents that had a cross lit on fire in their yard. Because surely nothing shows the love of Christ then a burning cross, right? I also recall a local business owner having a KKK robe hanging in the back of his store which you could see if you looked at just the right angle. It appeared the town was turning a corner when the KKK wanted to have a rally in town while I was in high school and people banded together to make sure that did not happen. Of course, this made us look great, but did it really change anything or how we truly thought?
I have a quick question for you. By a show of hands, how many of you would like your children to attend the best school possible? Ok, by there being a best school, does that not mean that there is also a worse school? Best is a derivative of better. As a society we place labels on things that make them better or worse. I believe that we should all be at the same level and treated equally. This is what I am talking about when I say our goal is to be an inclusive church open to the wonders of God that is available in every single child of God.
Our speakers for the retreat, JoAnne Mundy and Jim Perkinson, led us on a wonderful journey full of realization of the past and present. JoAnne, an African-American pastor from Kalamazoo, had three statements for us to reflect upon regarding racism in the past and the present. They are: It is not our fault. We are not to blame. Yet, it is our responsibility. As pastors, and a community of faith, we need not be afraid. If it is not racism it may be some other -ism or division that we set between ourselves and other people.
We need to stand up to where we see wrong in the world and proclaim the love of Christ and the good news. Jesus encountered the woman at the well with an open heart and shared with her a wonderful message of being refreshed through him in the waters of everlasting life. This is the pure grace of God that is made possible available to all people.
Christ experienced death on the cross and the resurrection so that same promise and water could be made available to us today. Do I believe that Christ will still love us regardless if we step up and speak out for the downtrodden? Yes! However, are we living out our calling as the church if we timidly shy away from such controversy and go about the status quo?
Christ marks, claims, and gathers us as children of God and promises us that same everlasting life that he promised the woman at the well. It is our responsibility to encourage others to Come and See what is possible with Christ. It is our responsibility to share the love of Christ with all people.