This is the sermon I didn’t give this morning in Fort Bragg:

This morning, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  Like many stories of Jesus’ life, this is a story about expanding the boundaries of who counts with God.

It might be hard for us to imagine.  But although the shortest route between Jerusalem and Galilee was through Samaria, a direct shot north, people often went east, across the Jordan River, north, and then west, once more across the Jordan River when they made the trip.  Or they traveled in large, well-armed parties.

The Samaritans were a conservative offshoot of Judaism, who centered their cult at Mt. Gerizim, near Sychar (and Jacob’s well).  Jews thought of them about the way we think of Jonestown.  And it was likely to be dangerous for Jews who traveled through Samaria.

So it’s a bit surprising that Jesus’ small group would be traveling that way by themselves.  And it’s more surprising that Jesus would have sent the others off, and remained by himself waiting for them to get supplies.

But it’s more surprising that he should speak to a Samaritan.  It would have been considered a violation of the law.  And it’s even more surprising that he would talk to a Samaritan woman.  Because it was completely against custom for a Jewish man to address a strange woman in public.  It just wasn’t done.  Worse yet, it’s at least possible she might have been considered a loose woman.

But the surprises don’t end there.  He approaches her as a strange, foreign, Jewish man, and he asks her a favor.  He asks her for a drink of water.  That sounds like a pretty simple request.  But the well was hundreds of feet deep.  You had to have your own rope and bucket to draw water.  Jesus, as a stranger, would have neither.

That meant not only that there was some work involved for her in bringing up the water, but also that she would have to share her pottery dipper, the one she drinks from, and give him a drink from it.  Jews never shared drinking vessels with non-Jews.  He’s not supposed to talk to her, either as a Samaritan or as a woman.  He’s really not supposed to share food or drink with her.

Sharing food and drink at that time was considered an intimate and sacred act.  It implied complete doctrinal agreement on religious questions.  And offering hospitality, food and drink, obligated you provide safety for your guests, and care for their welfare as you would your own.  So it was a big favor Jesus was asking.  And he probably broke all the rules when he asked.

Julian Gordy, commenting on this story says:

In God’s reign, everyone is invited to worship together in spirit and truth – both the chosen and the rejected people, both male and female, both good and bad.

Surely the intimacy associated with eating and drinking is one reason why, on the night in which he was betrayed, as his parting gift and command to us, Jesus left us with a meal to share.  Bread to break together.  A cup to share together … a powerful statement that nothing separates us from one another.  … That’s why our altar is open to whoever comes.  If Jesus would eat and drink with anyone, we will too.

Jesus provided a radical brand of hospitality, welcoming all kinds of people to eat and drink with him.  Many, I know, differentiate “ordinary” eating and drinking from the sharing of a “sacred” meal as we do at the Eucharist.  And there may be a difference between the sharing that went on at the last supper and the sharing that went on in ordinary day to day life.

But I wouldn’t push this difference very far.  Because any sharing of food and drink was an intimate act, any sharing of food and drink was a sacred act – an act which implied commitments to the one you ate with.

In my home congregation, St. George’s, it is the expectation that one who regularly shares the bread and wine with us does so as part of the community.  It is expected that they will make a commitment to Jesus through baptism, and that we will make commitments to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

And we do want people who share communion with us to understand that they are participating in something we consider sacred.  We want it to mean something to them.

But when we eat and drink together as the family of God, I believe Jesus would want us to share our food and drink with all his guests.  During his lifetime, Jesus regularly fed all those who came to hear him and be with him.  He broke the rules!  Jesus offered everyone his hospitality.  We do our best to follow his example.

Now not everyone feels as we do at St. George’s.  But it is clear that Jesus pushed the boundaries and broke with established patterns of behavior.  He regularly included people in his fellowship that others though could not be included.

At the very least, as his followers, we must look closely at the barriers we put up that may keep others from drawing nearer to Jesus.

For as far as I can tell, Jesus never turned anyone away.  So whether we mean to put them there or not, any barriers we make that keep people away from Jesus must be removed.  For we are called to welcome even unworthy sinners, like ourselves, into his presence.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

 

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