Jesus at Work in a Divided World



A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Jesus at Work in a Divided World

John 4:5-30; 39-42

March 19, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


I don’t know that I know of a time when society is as polarized and divided as our own… at least, not in my lifetime.


We are so divided these days so many things:  by political party and personal ideology…. In my world, theology divides us as does what kind of denomination you belong to and whose church is the “true” church… then there are  those age old religious divisions… Christian, Muslim, and Jew.

Having been in a few interfaith conversations, I have come to see that the real divide is not so much among denominations or religions but rather between fundamentalists and liberals and moderates in every religion. And if you want to complicate things, there is a fundamentalism on the right and on the left—each thinking they have the truth and the other does not… sometimes even demonizing the other…

I don’t remember a world quite as divided as ours in  my lifetime.   There is a lot of anxiety and tension… everywhere… everywhere.

So I’m not surprised to hear people so tired of it that they are turning off the news, social media… because it is so hard to listen to…  I understand that we want to avoid difficult discussions here at the church and many in families because it is so very hard… I don’t know how many families I heard say during Christmas that they would not discuss politics or religion.  I understand. We don’t want to lose family or friendships over politics or religion… so we talk about the NCAA tournament, the latest movies and our favorite TV shows…

Some of our divisions are sort of funny of course.  Maybe it is why I love the college rivalries… Seems like a safe place to let off a little steam…

I remember the book we gave our son one Christmas on the Duke-Carolina Rivalry…”To Hate like this is to be Happy Forever”… I love that title… It is fun because it doesn’t really matter. (You know that don’t you… Don’t you???)

Then there was the trip last year to the Holy Land that took us to Samaria… where Palestinians live today… we had lunch in a restaurant and it was all going so well.. and then, I saw “it”. Hanging on a wall was a banner—8’ by 15’ … on this banner was the big letter “A” … and the words…  “Alabama—Roll Tide!”

I thought to myself. Really? Really? I’m in the Holy Land and here I am, an Auburn alumni eating in a restaurant where Alabama loyalty is displayed. Suddenly the food didn’t taste so good. Then I remembered I was in Samaria… of course! It all made sense. The holy ones were the Jews in the Bible… the Samaritans were the unclean ones. Bad exegesis, but it made me feel better.  I’ll put Alabama fans in the same class of people as Samaritans anytime!  Those are fun to me because it doesn’t really matter.

Not so much fun and very serious are conflicts caused by our divisions over race, religion, class and culture. In the extreme, people die over them. They die.

Today we still hear about the age old conflict between Jews and Palestinians… I’ve been hearing about that conflict my entire life. I’m not sure they will ever find peace with a conflict so rooted in their histories, their different faiths, and their fight over the Temple mount in Jerusalem…   It is hard to see how we will ever find peace in the middle of all that… People are dying.

I thought we had reached some level of understanding between the races… It used to be so bad you know…

I am reading a book by Brian McLaren in which he tells the story from his childhood… I can hardly believe it is true.

His family was looking for a church and he found himself in a Sunday School class that included kids up to 12 or 13 years old. The teacher was a proper, well-dressed woman whose daughter Janine, was in the class. Janine was very pretty and very much a teenager, and even though he was only eight, he couldn’t help but be in awe of her.

One Sunday, Janine’s mother became much more serious and earnest than normal: “Boys and girls,” she said, when you get older, it is very important that you not associate with children of another race.”

This was the early 1960s and the time of the civil rights movement. So Janine’s mother had his attention. “If you associate with them, you might start to date one of them,” she said. “And if you date one of them, you might fall in love with one of them. And if you fall in love with one of them, you might marry one of them. And that would be a very serious sin, and clearly out of God’s will.”  And she went on to explain something called “the curse of Ham” from Genesis to justify her position from the Bible.  (from the Great Spiritual Migration)

Now I wish I could tell you that story  was ancient history representing a sad time in our history… but then I read a couple of weeks ago about the KKK planning to hold rally in North Carolina… I hear about 3 middle schoolers in Wake County saying,  “if you’re in America, we don’t accept” the n-word, Jews, Arabs or Hispanics. “Go back to the fields of Alabama,Go back to the factories in Mississippi. You don’t deserve freedom.” Words from our youth in 2017. Many likely attend church.

I thought we had moved beyond those attitudes. But we have not. And people are suffering… some dying.

And add on to that, there are Christians who think we should have no conversations with Jews or Muslims or anyone else we label as “other”- they are of another race, religion, ethnicity culture and class.

It feels like the world has never been so divided… until… until, I read the story from our Gospel today…

Jesus and the Samaritan woman were two people living in a deeply divided world much like our own…they were divided by cultural understandings of God and faith and ethnic/racial background.  (You hear this revealed when the woman says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  Do you hear the fault lines in that question?

How is it indeed? Just as Christians, Muslims and Jews go back to Abraham as their father, so did the Samaritans and Jews.  But now they were enemies of each other.

Samaritans claimed that only the first five books of the Bible were Scripture. Jews included the other writings like the prophets in their scriptures.  They couldn’t agree on which Scriptures were the true word of God. Sound familiar?  Samaritans said that God was truly worshipped on Mount Gerizim… Jews said the true church was in Jerusalem.   They both considered each other unclean. They had that in common. Neither wanted to have anything to do with the other.  They shared that.  So hated, the  Jews called Samaritans, dogs. Dogs!

So when Jesus walks up to that well and asks for a drink of water, much more is going on than meets the eye.  This is more than a meeting at Starbucks for a friendly conversation.

This is a story first century Christians would read as a story ready to explode with conflict.

Jesus is meeting with a woman in a culture that would not approve of them talking to each other. A Jewish man talking with a Samaritan woman… scandalous! (Tweet that!) Let’s add that meeting to the list of reasons people why some wanted to crucify Jesus.

So I’m not surprised when the disciples return from looking for lunch, their first response is to ask “why” he is talking with someone like “her”… You just don’t do that in their world.

Perhaps he should have avoided her… avoided the conflict and the controversy. But he didn’t. He entered what is known as the longest conversation recorded in the gospels between Jesus and another person. And he talks theology with her… in a real conversation…

I like the way one person (Steve Garnaas-Holmes)described what happened in the conversation:


Jesus sees her as she is, and accepts her without judgment:

she is not immoral; she has been used. (by her husbands)

He sees her wound. And he sees the truth in her.
He sees her not as someone flawed, (or from the wrong side of the tracks or as a victim) but someone gifted.

Then she leaves her water jug,
not out of forgetfulness but because she knows she’s coming back.
She goes into the village,
and the former outcast becomes the first Christian evangelist.
She brings people to Jesus.

Something happened in her that changed her.
What was it?

Imagine this: Jesus comes to you
in the dull midday heat of your ordinary life.
You are bound by judgments of how good you are.

(People have placed you in their boxes—theological, cultural, ethnic, political. They don’t see you but the box they have put you in)

And he sees through that. Sees you. You. Your soul.
He sees your wounds, sees your giftedness.
He sees how your wounds inhibit your gifts…
and yet can propel your gifts.
And in his knowing he sets you free.

All because Jesus sees… really sees her, the woman’s life is changed forever… leading to her friends lives being changed… which means, If you ask me, that this a healing story…

He heals the woman of all the baggage she has been burdened with because of who she was, where she lived, her background… offering her grace and truth that come from God… offering her the living water that comes from him… the Christ… and his grace… Then she shares that living water with others… healing waters… He becomes our peace who as Paul says, can break down the dividing walls of hostility. (Ephesians)

This is a great story of how Jesus is able to heal us of those things that divide us… one person, one community at a time. Offering peace. Not allowing those labels and boxes define us as a person.

Which I find to be really good news!

If you are someone who feels like an outsider… for whatever reason, know Jesus is reaching out to you. If you are someone who fears they don’t belong because of some past… or because of your background, or race or ethnicity or culture… know Jesus is reaching out to you… If you are someone who wonders if you belong because your politics, theology or ideology doesn’t seem to match up… Jesus is reaching out to you…

Which means Jesus is reaching out to all of us, don’t you think? Reminding us that the most important thing we share is not our politics, not our common way of seeing things, but Jesus Christ.

This all makes you wonder, does it not, if what Jesus wants, needs, expects us to do as followers is to look beyond all of those things that divide the world… and to look to the one who brings us together… Jesus Christ. To remember that what brings us together is the love and grace of Jesus Christ and nothing else.

One of the saddest things I hear from time to time at the Kirk (and oddly, I have heard this from both liberal and conservative people) is whether or not they “belong” because they perceive the Kirk is more liberal or more conservative than they are. That there are people who disagree with them here.  In response, I like to point out that there never was a time when the church consisted of people who agreed on things. As evidence, I offer you the letters to the Corinthians.  They couldn’t agree on much of anything.

But what they did  come to understand is that they shared a common faith in Jesus Christ… that they gathered together because Jesus Christ was their peace who broke down divisions between Jew and Greek, Male and Female, Slave and Free (to quote Paul)… It is an amazing thing that the early church consisted of Jews and Gentiles.  Perhaps the greatest witness the early Christians shared in their divided world was the love of Jesus Christ that transcended everything else!

God has had a funny way of reminding me of this from time to time. One thing I’ve shared with a few people is the fact that in almost every congregation I’ve been called to, there has been an Alabama fan on the call committee. Talk about a confirmation of a call. And they have become some of my closest friends.  Leading me to say, “In Christ there is no Alabama or Auburn, no Duke or Carolina!”

I also think of the time I was asked by the minister of FPC in Tuscaloosa… to come preach a Winter preaching series… and I accepted with some relish. What an opportunity for an Auburn fan to go to Samaria… I mean Tuscaloosa.

I was tempted to preach on Jonah going to Nineveh but resisted. So I went there. And to my dismay, the people of Tuscaloosa were really… nice!   They welcomed me with love and grace. And I’ll never forget the words I heard from the Moderator  of the Presbyterian women at a lunch…  Words an Auburn person seldom hears: “Welcome to Tuscaloosa, Dr. Welker”… There in the heart of Alabama country… a warm welcome… a gift of grace.

I shouldn’t be surprised… because they knew something that you know and I know  down deep… that the Christ we love and follow… the Christ who offers the true living waters… is one who continues to break down everything in our world that seeks to divide us. And when that happens, salvation comes a little bit closer to us.

Thanks be to God for the peace that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.