October 19, 2014
But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
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?” Then 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?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Do you know how Calvin Church got started? Our church was started for people who felt rejected, or at least as though they didn’t fit in. Calvin Church’s start was a direct response to what happened after the town of Zelienople got started.
In 1802, Baron Detmar Basse founded the town of Zelienople in 1802. He was a German immigrant who purchased 10,000 acres of land, and then proceeded to lay out the village of Zelienople, which he named after his daughter, Zelie. A few years later, he sold 5000 acres to George Rapp, the founder of a German Lutheran sect he called the Harmonites. Calvin Church is actually in Harmony, even if we have a Zelienople address.
After 10 years in the area, the Harmonites sold all of their land to a group of German Mennonites, led by Abraham Zeigler, from the Lehigh Valley area. They established a Mennonite community in the area. Meanwhile, Rapp moved his followers to Indiana to a town they called New Harmony. In 1923, after his prediction of Christ’s return failed to materialize, they sold the town of New Harmony and moved back to this area to establish Old Economy down in the Beaver Valley.
What’s the common theme in this history so far? This whole area was established by Germans, and was basically the melding of a number of German communities. To fit in, you had to be German. But what if you weren’t? What if you were of Scottish or English decent? What if you didn’t fit in because your language was different, your food was different, and your customs were different? Even if you wanted to worship, there weren’t many non-German options. You could worship at St. Paul’s church, which was German Lutheran where they spoke German. Or you could worship at St. Peter’s Church, which was German Reformed, where they spoke German. Or you could worship in the Mennonite Church where Grace Reformed Church now sits, and where they spoke German. Perhaps you could worship at Old English Lutheran Church, but you would still be worshipping in German ways, only in English.
Calvin Presbyterian Church (it was founded as the Harmony Zelienople United Presbyterian Church) was started as a church by the rejected for the rejected. Our church got started for quintessentially Presbyterian reasons. It was a church that was intended to create a home for people who felt like they didn’t quite fit in. I’ve often called us a church for misfits because in many ways we are still like our original church.
If you look around, you will find many people here who have felt rejected in one way or another. We have a number of members who have come here after implosions in other churches where they felt like they were kicked out. We have a number of people who are divorced or are going through divorce. We have a number who have gone through the pain of unemployment, life changes, and crises. We have a number who have come here simply because they don’t feel like they fit in with the predominantly evangelical or semi-fundamentalist theologies of many of the churches in our region. We also have people here who struggle with Christianity, and they’ve found in us a place where you can be a Christian even if you aren’t sure you completely accept all that is Christian. There are a lot of reasons people have come here, but one theme stands out, which is that many of them have felt like they fit in here when they haven’t felt like they’ve fit in other places.
It’s this reaching those who feel rejected that makes us Presbyterian. Peoplel of our culture don’t think of Presbyterians in this way because they typically think of older denominations as being stuck in the mud and old-fashioned, but the fact is that the Presbyterian Church is, and always has been, for those who think differently and seek God differently. The Presbyterian Church is really a church by the rejected for the rejected.
Look at our history in Scotland and you’ll see this. It was founded by people who no longer felt like they fit in with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England. They wanted to read scripture for themselves and discern God’s word personally. They wanted to be able to preach and learn in English rather than Latin. And they wanted to create a church grounded in what Scripture taught, not just tradition taught.
In this country the Presbyterian Church has always been a church that has struggled to engage those who feel rejected either by religion, culture, economics, or life situations. We are a church where people are allowed to think for themselves, and aren’t bound to orthodox dogmatic or fundamentalist formulas. We grapple with modern issues, whatever they are, because we recognize that many people struggling with them feel rejected by Christians. We are trying to be like Christ, who welcomed the rejected.
I think all of us recognize that Jesus welcomed the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the rejected, but I’m not sure how aware we are of how extensive his acceptance was. Our passage for this morning is an incredible example of how Jesus accepted the rejected.
One problem when we read so many of the biblical stories is that we are 2000 years removed from the biblical culture, so we don’t pick up things that people of those times instantly picked up. This passage is a great example. On the surface it’s a simple story. Jesus speaks to a woman at the well who has had five husbands and is now living with another. He speaks to her of the fact that through him she can find living springs of water that will fill her life with God’s grace. She is sinful and he is offering grace. On the surface that’s a pretty simple story, but it goes much, much deeper than this.
First off, men didn’t talk directly to women in public. So Jesus’ talking to her was taboo, yet that didn’t stop him. His talking to her would have been scandalous to his disciples. Also, she’s been married and divorced five times, and is living with another man, so she is s sinful woman.
There’s more: she is a Samaritan. Right there this says that her sin is greater than just marrying and divorcing five men, and living with another. We are so used to hearing of the parable of the Good Samaritan that we’ve lost touch with who the Samaritans were to the Jews. They were worse than Gentiles. To Jews, all non-Jews were Gentiles, and therefore all sinful and unredeemable. But the Samaritans were worse. I don’t know if there’s a modern equivalent other than perhaps the way some Christians look at Muslims today as being unredeemable. The Samaritans were worse than Gentiles because at one point they had been faithful Jews. But then the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel happened in 800 B.C. The remnant Jews created a pseudo-Judaism that integrated elements of other religions. They also set up their own temple on Mt. Gerazim, which competed with the one in Jerusalem. They taught that their religion was the only true Judaism, and that the Judaism set up by the returning exiles from Babylon was false. In other words, the Samaritans were competing for the title of being the chosen ones, and the Jews hated them because of it. To the Jews, they were no “good” Samaritans. And Jesus, being an observant Jew, knew this. So just talking to a Samaritan defiled him. So she’s worse than we thought.
Then there’s the fact that she’s there at noon. Why is that significant? Because women in those days came to the well either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler. Anyone who came to the well at noon was a rejected woman. She probably was, or had been, a prostitute, which may account for the many husbands, and for her present live-in mate, who might have been the equivalent of a pimp. She was an outcast even among the Samaritans. She’s much worse than we thought.
Then Jesus asks her for water, and just the fact that Jesus would have accepted a cup from her would have defiled him for seven days. Physically touching her was taboo. Yet he was willing to reach out to her, even though it would have defiled him and ostracized him.
Finally, Jesus charges her with telling the Samaritans that he is the messiah, and that God is reaching out to them just as much as to the Jews. Imagine: he’s asking a sinful, Samaritan outcast to preach to the Samaritans and to tell them the Good News of Jesus (she’s the first woman preacher). Everything Jesus is doing in this passage is taboo, but he’s doing it to reach out to a woman who’s rejected. He is modeling the way for us Christians, and for us Presbyterians.
Part of being Presbyterian means creating a church for those who feel rejected, rather than creating a church just for those who feel they fit in. A significant part of being Presbyterian is trying to be a church for others, including the rejected. The problem is that this is a very hard thing to do because the people we reject, or who feel rejected, don’t always feel like they fit in with us. It’s hard for us to figure out ways to help these people feel welcomed in our midst. But that’s our calling and challenge as Presbyterians.
I’d like to end by taking you out of our church and just making you aware of how this effort to reach out to the rejected is taking place on a grander scale in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You probably aren’t aware of this, but our denomination has started a venture called 1001 Churches, which is an attempt to create 1001 new Presbyterian churches all across the country. Many of these churches are intentional attempts to reach out to people who feel rejected. I want to close by inviting you to watch three very short, 2-3 minute videos of three of these churches:
- This is a video of Shalom Ministry in Atlanta: http://www.onethousandone.org/Inspire/Stories/Video-Shalom-International-Ministry.aspx
- This is a video of COMMUNIDAD LOS DEL in Detroit, which reaches out to the poor and homeless: http://www.onethousandone.org/Inspire/Stories/Video-Communidad-los-del-Camino.aspx
- This is a video of Beacon Church in Philadelphia that is intentionally trying to create a diverse, inner-city community: http://www.onethousandone.org/Inspire/Stories/Video-Beacon.aspx
As Presbyterians part of our calling is to reach out to people whom others reject or look down upon. It is to be like Jesus at the well.