HOW DO WE LIVE IN RELATIONSHIP?

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”  “I have no husband,” she said.  “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband.  You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”

-John 4:16-18

(Preached on Sunday, March 19, 2017)

We live in a world that seeks to divide us.  Everywhere you look there are efforts to pit us against each other.   This is nothing new.  It has probably been part of our human species evolution since the beginning of time.  But as we have evolved more and more lethal means of inflicting harm, of subjugating, even of killing one another it is more and more critical that we find ways to bridge those divides and stop looking for winners and losers.

The world desperately needs the witness of people of faith, of all faiths, for the supreme goal and value for every great world religion is “peace” and “love.”  For Christians, followers of Jesus, this is part of our DNA structure – that which totally defines us.  (Yet we have not always demonstrated that throughout our history.)  But since the earliest days in the Jesus movement it has been clear that Jesus did not just gather one group, or one type, of people but he warmly welcomed all people.  From the beginning we have been aware that we do not all look alike, think alike, live alike.  But the one thing which united us was our trust in this Rabbi from Galilee to be the one who could unite us with each other and with God.  We confessed that belief through our baptism into the Church, the family of God, and we celebrate that confession each time we gather around and encounter the risen Jesus at the Table of Communion.  The great witness of the church is that in Jesus diversity need not divide and unity does not require uniformity.

This framework of belief is illustrated for us beautifully by the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus talks with this woman longer than he does with anyone else in all the gospels.  That is really quite amazing.  It is amazing because this woman was a triple outsider in Jesus’ social circles.  We are reminded of that truth near the end of the story when Jesus’ disciples return from town looking for lunch.  It says:  “They were shocked.  They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman.”  Of course none of them said anything to Jesus, but it did not alter they thinking.

What “shocked” them?  First, she was a Samaritan.  For Jews the Samaritans were impure half-breeds who did not faithfully practice the Law of Moses and the Jewish faith.  Second, she was a woman, alone, without a man.  No self-respecting male in that world would engage such a woman in conversation unless he had a nefarious intent.  Finally, the fact she was there at noon, the hottest part of the day, to draw water, suggests that she may have been “that kind of woman.”  At the very least, we know she did not feel welcomed by the other women enough to gather early in the day when they did to draw water and exchange gossip.  Quite possibly she was the brunt of much of that gossip.

Now there are lots of things I could tell you about the divorce laws of the culture and how easy it was for a man to divorce his wife for the flimsiest of excuses.  But none of that really matters for what does matter is that Jesus chose to speak with this woman.  And not just once, but he chose to engage in a full dialogue.  By doing so he offered her the dignity of respect for another human being.  He invites her into a conversation of intimacy, in which she shares her life and he shares his life.  By doing so he offers her acceptance.  He never rejects her as she shares more of her life which others would reject her for.  This is a truly transformative moment in which he gives back tot eh woman her self-respect and empowers her to embrace her own gifts and capabilities as a child of God.

These are important lessons for us to remember as we seek to live in relationship today.  How we approach one another, how we treat one another, determine the quality of all our relationships.  In this encounter Jesus has modeled for us how to approach one another: with love demonstrated through respect, by openly listening, as equal partners or companions in life, accepting of the gifts each person has to offer, and not judging people but leaving the judging up to God.  These are relationships built on honest, love and forgiveness.

There is a pastor of a large church in Houston who makes the time each month to go down to the homeless shelter in the city to work in their soup kitchen.  After the homelss people have been fed, he then invites them to join him in a service of Holy Communion.  They have shared soup together in the soup kitchen and then they come to share the bread and the cup together at the altar in the chapel.  One day as he was moving down the altar serving communion, he came to a man kneeling there who looked like he had been out on the streets for quite some time.  The man looked up at the pastor and whispered: “Skip me.” “What? Pardon me?” he said.  In a louder whisper, the man said again, “Skip me.”  “Why?” he asked.  “Because,” the man said, “I’m not worthy.”  The pastor said: “Neither am I.” He then added: “I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to serve communion to these other people.  Then, I’m going to come back and serve communion to you and then I would like you to serve it to me.”  The man blinked and said: “Father, is that legal?” “Yes, it’s legal; it’s beautiful and that’s what we are going to do!” The pastor went on down the altar rail and served all the other people kneeling there and then he came back to the reluctant man and said: “What’s your name?”  The man said, “Josh.”  The pastor placed the elements of the Lord’s Supper before him and said: “Josh, here is the Body of Christ and here is the Blood of Christ given for you.  Eat this and drink this in the remembrance that Christ came for you and Christ died for you.  Amen.”  Josh blinked back the tears in his eyes and he received Holy Communion.  Then, the pastor knelt and handed Josh the trays of break and wine and said: “Now, you serve me.”  Josh nervously took the trays and again he said: “Father, are you sure this is legal?” “Yes, it’s legal.  Just do it.”  Josh’s eyes were darting from side to side as he looked over this shoulder and then the other as he expected (at any moment) the police, FBI, CIA, or the Pope would come rushing in to arrest him.  Finally, he held the trays toward the pastor and as he received the Sacrament Josh muttered: “Body – Blood – for you, Hang in there!”  That pastor said later: “Of all the communion rituals I have ever heard, I don’t recall the words ‘Hang in there’ in any of them but at that moment for me, Holy Communion had never been more ‘Holy.””

And Josh walked out of the homeless shelter that day with an extra “spring in his step,” and it was reported that he went everywhere saying: “You won’t believe what I did today!”  In fact, the story became so widespread that from that day Josh became known on the streets as “The Rev.”

The way to live in relationship today begins with being in honest, intimate, relationship with Jesus.  He will then help us to live such honest, intimate, accepting and loving relationships with our brothers and sisters as well.

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