Restored and Reconciled

Restored and Reconciled           A Sermon by Pastor Teddie McConnell
Based on       John 4:5-30, & 42;  Romans 5:1-11
Jesus stopped to rest by Jacob’s well in the city of Sychar while the disciples went to buy lunch. He was dusty and thirsty from the journey. A woman approached, let’s call her Sarah, since the story doesn’t give her a name. Normally, the women in that culture would go to get water in the cooler times, in the morning or the evening, chatting with each other along the way. Since Sarah was going to the well by herself in the noonday heat, she was clearly an exile from her community, rejected due to her multiple husbands and her current status of living in sin. Once people are labeled, it’s difficult for them to seen in another way. Sarah existed on the margins of society, one of many outcasts Jesus chose to give the news of his special nature. Perhaps she felt like such an outsider already that she figured it wouldn’t matter if they were at the well at the same time. For a Jewish rabbi to speak to a Samaritan woman alone was to risk both of their reputations. But Jesus was more concerned about restoration and redemption than about social conventions or what the town gossips would say. He cared about God’s thoughts, not what people would think.
She was shocked that Jesus would speak to her and ask for a drink of water. Like the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, Jesus’ words confused her. She took him literally when He spoke of the water He could give, just as Nicodemus thought Jesus was talking about returning to his mother’s womb when Jesus referred to being born from above. Sarah wondered aloud how he would retrieve water without a bucket. She mocked him, asking if He was greater than her ancestor Jacob and his family, those who established the well. Little did she know!
Jesus wasn’t just tired from traveling, but also tired of watching people choose to separate themselves into groups that label and hate one another. He reached with love across the long and hostile separation between Jews and Samaritans to really see her as a human being, to touch her heart, and make her an agent of restoration and reconciliation.
By briefly describing her personal history, he demonstrated his miraculous knowledge so she might see beyond the Jewish label she had given Him and tell that He was someone sent by God. Then she brought up the primary difference in belief between Jews and Samaritans, which is the location of the holy mountain where worship should take place. They shared some common ancestors and their belief in the first five books of the Bible, but had longstanding and serious disagreements. “You (meaning all Jews) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Any Jew she’d encountered in the past would have reviled her, making her continued wariness understandable. Her response tested His willingness to accept her. Would He label and reject her like the other Jews she’d met?
Jesus revealed to her that His coming expanded the worship of God so anyone can worship in any place and time in spirit and in truth, no temple or mountain needed, no membership in a particular group required. God can and still does open the doors that separate people so the fresh wind of the Spirit will blow through and bring unity, harmony, and reconciliation, making us all God’s people as we work and rejoice together. He confirmed that He was, indeed, the Messiah.
The Samaritan woman was so excited by her encounter with Christ that she left behind her jar for hauling ordinary water, carrying instead the water of the Spirit and sharing her testimony with her neighbors. Despite how they had treated her in the past, she extended the hope Jesus gave her to everyone and invited them to meet Jesus for themselves. They not only chose to believe her, but they also went to see Jesus and received the Spirit, too. Not only was she reconciled with her community, but many in her community were brought into the larger fellowship and love of God.
Jesus invites his disciples to take up the work that the Spirit has already begun. We are to be bridge-builders in a world of stereotypes, labels, and prejudice. Being born from above wipes out our human differences over our birth identities and brings us together in Spirit and in truth as the body of Christ. We are restored to faith and redeemed for the work of the Kingdom. Hallelujah!
Theologian Chelsey Harmon wrote, “When the church is worshiping in spirit and truth, it is meant to be a picture of the dividing lines torn down. All that could (and does) separate us, race and ethnicity, gender, social class or financial status, even denominational identity (or clinging to the lack thereof), speaks to the unifying power of the Spirit through worship. So why does Sunday continue to be the most segregated hour? In Christ, by the Spirit, for the Father, don’t we have more in common than we are apt to admit?”
And, I might add, why do we continue to label each other? How can we start conversations with people we have labeled in the past, ones that heal and unify?
The Apostle Paul is an example of God using someone with a terrible past for good. Even though he persecuted Christians and sent many to their deaths, God looked beyond that job description, that label, and saw someone worth knocking off his horse so he could wake up and serve the gospel.
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks with joy of the reconciliation that comes through faith in Christ. He wrote that we are accepted for all time as God’s beloved children. Our justification is complete. We rejoice, celebrating what God has done for us. Hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God’s living water from the Holy Spirit is always present to quench our thirsty souls and wash our sins away, giving us God’s love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, leaving us restored and reconciled with God and with each other. God’s gifts restore us, then give us the power to help others receive the same gifts. We can forgive ourselves and each other for any past hurts, knowing that God forgave us first. While treating others with kindness, generosity and self-control can be challenging in our own flesh, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us is often the only thing that makes it possible. Then instead of boasting that we have done the right thing, we boast that God did the right thing through us.
Yes, we have peace and grace and can boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. As we continue to read, it’s tempting to skip over those words in verse 3, “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” How can suffering lead to anything good, anything comparable to peace and hope? Why should we rejoice or boast in suffering?
No matter how blessed our lives have been, we’ve all known what it is to cry, to fear, and to hurt, both physically and emotionally. God’s incredible love surrounds us tenderly even in those times, reinforcing our hope that this too shall pass, and that, although evil is strong for now, God will use everything for good in the long run. Suffering also makes it possible to empathize with others who are hurting. We may even suffer because we long for heaven to be here on earth now, not wanting to wait for it until after we die, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Suffering is a mystery that we can’t explain in this life, but faith through the Spirit gives us the knowledge, the faith, that things will improve eventually. Even in tragedy, we can look at the situation and find something God gives us to comfort and help us through it, whether it’s other people, scripture, inspiration, or some combination of the three. When we focus on what God has done, how God has loved us, hope does not disappoint us.
The ultimate and stunning paradox of our faith is this: While we were yet sinners, God in Christ loved us. Despite being as offensive and sinful as possible, godless and self-serving, deserving of God’s wrath, God showered us with love by redeeming us through Christ, reconciling us to Himself. Like a mom whose child is covered in gooey mud, God picks us up and lovingly washes us clean, but at a terrible cost. The basis of our redemption was the suffering and death of Christ. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Lent reminds us that grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap. Look around the sanctuary. There is the cross, a symbol of pain and death. I heard a non-Christian say that it’s odd to wear a tool of execution around our necks, that it’s like wearing a tiny electric chair. We know the cross is so much more. We see it instead as a symbol of redemption and love. We see the baptismal font, and remember that our old sinful natures have been drowned to let our new selves rise up cleansed and new. The communion elements we share remind us of a sacramental meal and of Christ’s body broken and His blood spilled. Life emerges from death, love is poured out for all, salvation and forgiveness from the cross, even for the soldiers who nailed Jesus to it.
God didn’t promise us a life free from suffering, injury, disease, or people who choose to harm us. God through Christ restores us, redeems us, and promises us a life free from guilt and shame over our sins. Our mistakes no longer define us, no longer become our labels. Thank God.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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