Third Sunday of Lent
March 3, 2002
The Gospel: John 4:5-26 [27-38] 39-42
Sermon: "Barriers"
The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."] Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

John 4:5-26 [27-38] 39-42


Third Sunday of Lent - March 3, 2002

Barriers. Barriers can have a positive and a negative function. Barriers, concrete and steel, are used on bridges and overpasses to prevent a car from going over the side. Barriers, wooden rails, are used on walkways on waterfronts to prevent people, young and old, from falling into the water. Barriers cones with yellow tape mark construction areas and roadwork to prevent people from walking or driving into trouble and getting hurt. Barriers have a positive function.

Barriers can also have a negative function. In the early part of the last century signs appeared in stores, in buses, and other public areas that said whites only. In the 1950's a wall of concrete, rebar, razor wire, mines, and gun emplacements was built in Berlin. These barriers are negative because they are between people. They state somehow that the other person is different. The person on the other side of that barrier is different than I am. These physical barriers are physical manifestations of our distrust, dislike, and even hate of the other.

Yet, the worst possible barriers are the ones that have no walls or razor wire. These barriers exist in our hearts. They manifest themselves in our speech. We talk about the other person behind their back. They manifest themselves I the way we look at the other person. The look is condescending, distasteful. They manifest themselves in the way we act. We try to get people to take sides or we turn our back on the other. These barriers have no warning signs, no structures to ward off the other person or to warn them that danger lies ahead. Yet, these barriers are hurtful. They are harder than concrete. They are sharper than razor wire. They bruise the body and they cut all the way to the soul.

We seem to find almost any excuse to build these barriers. The other person just has to be different in one way or another. They can be a different skin color. They can be a different sex. They can have a different sexual orientation. They can have a different social or financial standing in the community. They can live on the other side of the street. Human beings, us, seem to have no shortcomings in finding ways we are different and using these ways to separate ourselves from one another. Are we trapped in this behavior of building barriers? Do we have to be this way? Is there no hope or no way to overcome these attitudes?

Thankfully, there is a way. Jesus shows us a way. At the well in the Gospel story, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. Jews and Samaritans did not get along in Jesus' day. There had been a huge fight over worship spaces between the Samaritans and the Jews. The fight ended horribly. Many years have passed and the anger and hatred have not abated. Yet, Jesus strikes up a conversation with this woman. Jesus, a Jewish man, begins to talk with a Samaritan woman. A Jewish man never spoke with a woman, much less a Samaritan woman in public. Still Jesus begins the conversation over sharing a cool drink of water.

The woman is surprised. What is he doing talking to me? She is even further amazed by his intimate knowledge of her life. How could he know? Even more, why does he not chastise me or condemn me for my lifestyle? He knows I have had five husbands. He knows I am not married to the man with whom I am living.

Jesus continues the conversation. He tells her who he is and she begins to believe. She begins to believe so much, that she runs to the town and shares the news. She shares the news that she may have met the Messiah. The towns people leave the town to see for themselves.

Just before the woman left to go to the town, the disciples arrive and see Jesus talking to the woman. They, too, are surprised that Jesus is speaking to this Samaritan woman in public. Why does Jesus speak with her? The Messiah is to come to the chosen people. The Samaritans are not chosen. Why does he speak to that woman? Women are not allowed to speak with men, particularly teachers. The barriers are raised. She is not one of us. She is of the wrong culture. She is the wrong sex. These barriers are not concrete and rebar, yet they are just as real.

And standing in front of the disciples is Jesus. Standing before them is the one who tears down all boundaries between people. There is no difference between men and women in the kingdom of God. There is no difference between races of people in the kingdom of God. There is no difference between any of us, rich or poor; white, brown, black or yellow; male or female, in the eyes of God. God made each one of us in God's own image. God cares for all. God comforts all. God loves us all.

God has no boundaries between people. In fact, God expects us to have no boundaries between people. While the disciples are standing with Jesus amazed that he has been talking with this woman, she returns with the entire populace of her town. The disciples are now in the midst of a whole town of Samaritans. What happens to them? The disciples listen as the people converse with Jesus. They watch as the people come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The entire town is converted through the efforts of this lowly Samaritan woman.

Barriers. The disciples had barriers to this woman. If we are honest with ourselves we have them too. We have our prejudices. We have our people we don't like. We have barriers erected between others and ourselves. Try this test. Think of the person you dislike the most, the one person you cannot stand. Now remember Jesus died on the cross for them too. Not only did Jesus die for them, Jesus died for us. Jesus died for our sins, too.

Barriers. Barriers can be overcome. White only signs have disappeared. The Berlin Wall came down piece by piece. Our own barriers can come down too. One piece at a time, one brick at a time, one inappropriate feeling at a time, our walls can come down. Instead of using the differences between people to erect barriers, we can begin to celebrate the diversity of people as children of a loving God. In our Holy Scriptures and in our Prayer Book, God is described as light. Jesus Christ is described as the Light of the World. If you take a white light and shine it through a prism what do you see? A rainbow. God made diversity. God's desire is for us to celebrate the diversity and become the rainbow people of God. God through Christ has shown us the way. Through the grace of God on an Easter morn long ago, all barriers were broken. Christ died on that cross for all our sins. Christ rose for all people in the entire world to know the saving love of God. We see the epitome of God's grace in Jesus Christ. With God's grace our personal barriers can come down too. On that day, with all God's children we can stand and sing, "In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth."

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