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Unity in Christ - Sermon, 3/15/2020
March 17, 2020, 12:24 PM

I often use my cell phone to check emails and texts from church members and friends, but this week I also found myself doing searches for random information, usually about the Coronavirus.  It wasn’t just health-related searches I was doing on my cell phone.  One of the stranger searches I conducted on my phone was “do Samaritans believe in God?” 

The results of that search showed a lot of interesting information.  For example, did you know that there are still Samaritans in the world?  As of the year 2015, there were 777 Samaritans living in Israel.  There is an actual genetic difference between Samaritans and Jews.  There are also many, many years of ideological differences between Samaritans and Jews. 

After looking at many websites, books, and journal articles, I think I have pieced together the following information: Samaritans and Jews do, indeed, believe in the same God.  Historically, they started as similar groups of people.  However, the Samaritans split off from the Jews because of religious geography.  The Jews believed that the center of religious life on earth was in Jerusalem.  True worship of the one, true God needed to happen in the holy city of Jerusalem.

For Samaritans, though, the center of religious life on earth was on Mount Gerizim.  Believed by the Samaritans to be the site of the true worship of the one, true God, Mount Gerizim still exists in Israel today, near the town of Shechem.  There are ruins of ancient Samaritan cities on Mount Gerizim, a sure sign that Samaritans did, in fact, exist as more than just characters in the Bible.

Remember, then, that Samaritans and Jews believe in the same God.  For today’s story, it is their ways and locations of worship that is the main distinction between the two groups.  Jesus finds himself near Mount Gerizim, the center of Samaritan life and worship.  There, he finds a woman getting water at the well in the middle of the day.  That the woman is at the well in the midday heat is another story for another sermon on another day.

I imagine today’s story takes place on a very hot day.  After all, Jesus is desperate and looking for a drink of water from the most unlikely source imaginable – a Samaritan, a Samaritan woman no less.  As we hear in the reading from John’s Gospel, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”  That Jesus, a Jewish man, would even consider asking for a drink of water out of a Samaritan cup is already pretty scandalous. 

But drinking from a Samaritan’s cup is far from the most scandalous thing that Jesus does in the story.  In the course of a long dialogue with the unnamed Samaritan woman, Jesus has the audacity to suggest that a time is coming when the divisions between Jews and Samaritans will cease to be important. 

Jesus looks forward to the day when all people – both Jews and Samaritans – will worship God “in spirit and truth.”  But what does that mean?  To worship God in spirit and truth?  Might it mean worshiping God without the Book of Common Prayer?  Worshiping God outside, maybe on the beach, instead of inside the walls of our beautiful building?  Worshiping God with tambourine and drum instead of the organ?  Worshiping God in silent meditation?

Or maybe, just maybe, worshiping God in spirit and truth involves more than just different styles or locations of worship.  Maybe worshiping God in spirit and truth is about the internal life, attitudes, and convictions we carry with us when we gather.  Maybe worshiping God in spirit and truth involves shedding everything that separates us from each other.  Maybe worshiping God in spirit and truth means that we have the freedom to bring our whole selves to church. 

What might it be like to be truly present when we gather to worship God and celebrate Jesus?  To be present with each other – looking past the things that divide us?  Things like political convictions?  Things like resentment and anger?  This is the sort of worship Jesus looks forward to – the true worship of God in spirit and truth.

Jesus does not look backward to convince the Samaritan woman that she, her people, and their beliefs are wrong.  They don’t argue whether true religious life is based in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim.  They don’t argue about whether to use Rite One or Rite Two.  They don’t argue about which hymnal to use.  Instead, Jesus points to the future – a future in which all people will call Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, a future in which all people will be unified in their belief in the great good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. 

Although the Jews and Samaritans worship in different ways, in different places, Jesus looks past those differences into a future of unity.  How can we learn from Jesus and the gifts he shares with the Samaritan woman?  I believe one of the best gifts Jesus shares is the opportunity for oneness, the opportunity to be reminded of all that unites us instead of all that divides us.  Jesus shares the gift of unity in Christ.

And what a gift this unity is!  The always-unnamed Samaritan woman is so inspired by Christ’s gift of unity that she returns to her town and shares the great good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  We hear in John’s Gospel that she is so moved by her experience with Jesus that she becomes an instant evangelist, an immediate sharer of the Good News – and a successful evangelist at that.  John’s Gospel records that “many Samaritans from that city believed in (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.”

What messages of unity have we received from Jesus?  What is Jesus calling us to look past in favor of unity of faith in God?  Are there personality conflicts?  Political differences?  Individual resentments?  Whatever separates us from God, whatever separates us from each other, whatever prevents us from worshiping God in spirit and truth, let us be free of it now. 

Let us take time in this Lenten season to become free of what divides us in favor what unites us – the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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