Bridging What Divides…

John 4: 5-42

I have been living in the light of this week’s remarkable story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria and this is how it has come alive for me. Indeed, it is such a rich story before us now that you and I can quickly find any number of entry points. I, for one, though, am simply starting at the beginning.

  • For am starting with a sense of wonder that this conversation ever even happened in the first place.
  • I am considering what it must have taken for Jesus to reach out and ask this unnamed woman for a drink of water
  • And I am amazed at how much more it must have taken for her to respond at all, much less with the sophisticated theological exchange which is before us now…

Indeed, I am thinking about what a gift this story is — not only in its substance, but also in the model it offers all of us who live in a world where that which differs too often divides us one from another. And how much easier it often is to simply surround ourselves with the familiar. How much safer it too often feels to not risk ourselves: our suppositions, our ways of seeing the world, our un-examined assumptions, by entering into conversation with, much less relationship with others who differ from us so.

For these two at the well at mid-day, surely differed from one another.

  • One is male, the other female.
  • One is Samaritan, the other is Jewish.
  • My guess is that one is older than the other, given the life experience which so marked and shaped her.
  • And these are only the most obvious….

Not to mention the generations-old-enmity between them.

And yet, consider the gifts that would have failed to materialize if one had not spoken and the other had not responded under the heat of that mid-day sun. Indeed, think of the gifts you and I often fail to experience when we do not follow their lead…

So it is these days I am considering the challenges I face every day to do just this. And I am aware of how sorry I would be if I did not, do not…

This was so again today. I went to make a call on a couple who is involved in the congregation I serve, but who are not yet and may never formally be ‘members.’

They worship with us almost every week, participating in worship in all ways. And they work with the crew on our weekly quilting day — joining in the cutting, the stitching, the tying — and they sit at the table for lunch and snacks, enjoying the repartee of the group.

They are like us and yet they are also so very different:

  • For war has chased them all of their lives. As a result, they have been refugees in our midst for quite some time.
  • Their first language is Arabic. We struggle sometimes to find words we both understand.
  • And again, these are only the most obvious.

Today I went to call for I heard that he would have his naturalization interview this week. I thought to go to bring support and to offer prayer. I did both, yes, but I left with so much more:

Certainly two generous portions of chocolate cake to be enjoyed later, but more than that.

And yes, a deeper understanding of the immigration process. For instance, he knows that he will be asked why he wants citizenship, since he is closer to the end of his life than the beginning. He told me his response will be,

I want to live my remaining years with dignity.

Those words alone will follow me now as I am continue to harvest their meaning for him, for them, for all of us together.

But there was also this. On this visit, their daughter, who is an internationally renowned musician, was also there.  She spoke to me of her travels in war torn countries where she works with refugees: especially children. Indeed, she travels the world over sharing her gift, but wondered with me why people in this country do not seem as open to music from other cultures. She gifted me with her most recent recording: “Awakening Beyond,” a musical collection which she describes as especially appropriate for mediation. I tore the cellophane off when I got in the car and popped it into the CD player. And I was struck at how music crosses that which divides, bringing us together, if we will only take the first step into a new place. (To get a taste of that music, click on the link here:)

And yes, I consider myself fortunate to serve in such a time and place as this where part of a Saturday morning can be spent exploring and wondering about that which keeps us apart from one another. And what it can be when we are brought together. And what gifts that brings.

Even as was so for  Jesus and the woman of Samaria so long ago?

Only this is not the only such opportunity I had this week. Truth be told, the other one went quite differently.

For you see, on Thursday morning I officiated the funeral of a 25 year old young man.

They called me because I had done the same for his dad less than two months ago. His dad was 47. In his case, his heart just stopped. The 25 year old, though, died in a car accident. They say it was an accident, but one is always more vulnerable to such as this when losses have been recent and the grief is so heavy. As it was for him.

On Tuesday I went to meet with his family:

  • I sat for a time with his mother, his sister, his grandfather — all of whom talked about their son, their brother, their grandson.
  • I sat with their pain and I carried it with me when I left.
  • And I pieced together some words to share on the day of his funeral.

When Thursday arrived, I found myself standing at the back of the funeral home — both as people arrived and as they left a short time later. And yes, I quickly recognized all that makes us different from one another.

Age, of course, for many of those who filed by were very young.

But it was more than that.

His friends — and there were many of them — all looked beaten down, and not only by grief.

  • They looked more tired than young people in their 20’s should look.
  • Their clothes were tattered and dirty.
  • They reeked of tobacco smoke and who knows what else.

They looked lost and afraid.

And I could not help but think of all that keeps us separate from one another:

  • Education and privilege, yes. But also this:
    • I would guess that many of them have been cast aside again and again.
    • That a significant number of them have been victims of neglect or abuse.
    • And yes, that theirs is not the first generation in their families which has been so lost and afraid.

Though I tried to be open, not a one of them so much as made eye contact with me, much less approach me, and it hardly seemed the time or the place for me to do so, as they were wrapping their arms around one another in their grief.

The divide between us is great. And I am wondering what my call is to and for them. Indeed, should the opportunity present itself again, I wonder whether I will have the presence and the courage to simply do as Jesus did today with those whose lives are so different from my own.

And I wonder what it means to step into such places as Jesus did, expecting to be gifted as I go.

For in the heat of the day,  Jesus started out asking for a drink of water from one who had the means to give it to him. In the face of all that would divide, Jesus began by respecting the dignity of the one who came to the well that day.

So it was my week drew to a close with a Saturday afternoon walk through my neighborhood.  The temperatures are moderating now and the sun was shining high in the sky.  As I passed by one home, a woman leaned out her door and shouted to catch my attention. She had a cigarette hanging from one hand and her lined face looked decades older than my own, but I expect not more than a few years separate us. She called out to me, simply commenting on the weather. I turned to her and agreed, although I said the wind was better walking this way than the other. She nodded, saying that yes, her walk back from the gas station earlier had been hard. I wished her a good day and she did the same. It was nothing, really, but it lifted me to have a stranger — and yes, one so different from me — reach out in kindness.

And it spoke to me of this:

  • We are all buffeted by the same winds.
  • We all carry loss and grief and hopes and dreams.
  • We all ask big questions — as we hear in the Gospel story we gather around this week.

 

  • Jesus, yes, Jesus.
  • The woman of Samaria he met at the well.
  • Her whole community who received and responded to the news she ran to share with them.

And, to be sure …

  • My friends, who have wondrously found shelter here in this community from war besieged Syria.
  • A young man who died too soon, whose friends have been somehow bruised and broken by more than just this terrible loss.
  • A woman leaning out her front door today in the March sunshine, with her cigarette wagging in the wind.
  • And you and me.

All of us.

But we only recognize this and we only begin to learn to live like this is so as we step beyond or around that which would divide us. Only then does everything begin to change.

This was so in the Samaritan city of Sychar so long ago.

Surely it can also be so in the communities where you and I live and are called to serve.

And so I wonder now…

  • What does it mean for you to ‘live in the light’ of the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria?
  • As you consider this remarkable story, what draws you in? Unlike me, are you able to get beyond the ‘beginning?’
  • What differences are you called to bridge in the community you call home? What would a first step be in doing so?
  • Indeed, what helps you to remember that we are all ‘buffeted by the same winds?’ What prompts you to recall that we are all ‘thirsty?’
  • Finally, this. We are all busy — workers in and for the church are, too. It is easy to only spend time and energy with those who are most like us. How do we carve out the time to emulate Jesus today? How and when do we do the same?

 

8 comments

  1. Raye D. Stone says:

    Thank you, Pastor Janet for this wake up call! We are meeting at Katie’s Cup on Tuesday for “A Katie’s Cup Conversation” The topic is Lutheran Church in the Civil Rights Era. The presenter is Pastor Joe Ellwanger. He has written a book, “Strength For The Struggle.” He is currently serving at Hephathah Lutheran Church (Prison Ministry). I feel that your devotion today goes right along with what this Pastor will be talking about!
    Thanks again for making us think about what we do or say…or about what we fail to do or say.

  2. B.J. Helmer says:

    Thank you for so beautifully expressing the journey of being called to build bridges between the many forms of “other.” And sometimes, all we can do is let our wrinkled faces be seen as we call out a greeting across the distance. You have reminded me that the greeting, the presence with those hurting, the listening to the music–these small things are the very essence of the water at the well–water that nourishes as it builds bridges.

  3. Dennis says:

    Again, thank you so much for these reflections and how much deeper you have led me by these words; and many others before this. I hope you enjoyed the cake! I have been praying for the couple seeking naturalisation- your brief description of them and their daughter brought home the many whose lives have suffered war torn lives and battled for years to receive the dignity they never had – I pray he was successful as a result of his interview.

    Blessings

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