Sermon for Oct. 7, 2018 -- Thirsty for Peace


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 10-7-2018 Pardeeville

(Luke 1:68-79 and John 4:4-15)



     Today is a special day…not just in Pardeeville…or in Wisconsin…or in our country…the first Sunday in October each year is the international celebration of World Communion Sunday.  This tradition goes back 82 years and, like so many other good things, it was started by Presbyterians.  World Communion Sunday brings together Christians from around the world and allows the church, in the biggest possible sense, to celebrate unity in Christ as they receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.  A special touch that the Presbyterian Church (USA) adds to this day is called the Peace and Global Witness Offering.  That name has been changed in the past few years.  Old-timers like me still remember it as the Peacemaking Offering.  Each year, on the first Sunday of October, we have a chance to highlight the task of being peacemakers, to measure our progress in this area, and to challenge ourselves to expand our efforts both at the local level and throughout the world.

     Let’s look at the passage from the Gospel according to John first.  What Jesus does at the well is not only unexpected…it’s outrageous.  Jesus and his disciples are travelling from Judea in the southern part of the country back to Galilee.  In making such a trip, a Jew had two options.  If you wanted to avoid going through Samaria, you could take a longer, more easterly route.  But if you wanted the most direct way home, you would have no choice but to travel through Samaria.  What’s so bad about travelling through Samaria you ask?  It wasn’t that the terrain was that much different from the rest of Israel.  It didn’t have different weather.  What it had…and what bothered Jews the most…was Samaritans.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along with each other and that’s putting it mildly.  This feud had been going on for centuries.  Samaritans and Jews couldn’t agree on anything…not where to worship God, not a set of religious beliefs, not political or social decisions…nothing.  They wouldn’t talk to each other.  They wouldn’t look at each other.  They wouldn’t drink from the same cup.  The quarrel between Jews and Samaritans made the Hatfields and McCoys look like a tea party.

     The scene for this story is the Samaritan town of Sychar.  There was a well there…the well that Jacob gave to his favorite son, Joseph.  As this morning’s story begins, Jesus’ disciples have headed off to buy food…probably at the local Piggly Wiggly®.  Jesus comes to town and, feeling a bit tired from his travels, he stops to rest by the well.  We’re told it was noontime, the hottest part of the day.  Then a woman comes into the scene.  She’s come to draw water from the well.  Now you might wonder why a person would wait until the hottest part of the day to draw water from the well.  To put it simply…this woman has a past.  The only way to avoid snide comments from the rest of the town is to go to Jacob’s well when it’s so hot outside that no one else will be around.  Her whole town has judged her and will not associate with her.  That’s when Jesus does the unthinkable.  He asks the woman for a drink of water.  That’s right…he actually speaks to a Samaritan!  There are a lot of things people of Jesus’ day would judge wrong with this behavior.  First of all, Jesus talks to a woman.  People just didn’t do such things in public.  Even worse, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman.  What is he thinking?! 

     Peace and justice issues begin to get resolved when we begin to treat others as equals…regardless what our culture or country think.  One thing is clear from this story though…people haven’t been able to get along…or get past differences for a long, long time.  We also see the example that Jesus has set for his followers, both at the time and continuing to this day.  In the story we heard this morning, no one…and I mean no one…not the woman at the well…not Jesus’ disciples, and not anyone who might have found out about this encounter…would have expected Jesus to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan woman.  It went against everything that the Jewish people felt about Samaritans.  We’re talking a culture who refused to even walk on the shadows cast by those of the other culture.  Certainly Jesus caught the woman at the well by surprise by speaking to her.  But when he reached out that way…when he spoke about living water…Jesus was ignoring everything his culture thought about anyone from Samaria.  In the end, she had the courage to tell others in her town that she had talked to the Messiah…and many of the townspeople believed as well.

     The way that Jesus treated the woman at the well is an example for us.  It informs us how to be peacemakers.  We only have one problem.  In order to be peacemakers, we think we have to do our work on a grand scale.  We have to be the next Nelson Mandela or Gandhi.  True…these folks and many others have worked for peace and accomplished remarkable things.  They’re famous for their work bringing people together, establishing justice, and furthering the cause of peace.  We’re so busy honoring these great peacemakers that we fail to notice the things we’re doing that, in their own way, make a difference in the lives of others and…get this…promote peace in our own communities and beyond.

     A short time ago, just before the beginning of the school year, our Board of Deacons contributed to two programs to help students in the Pardeeville school district.  The “Stuff the Bus” program collects and distributes backpacks and school supplies to students whose families may not be able to afford them.  But think about it for a moment.  Contributing to this program is not just a feel-good thing to do.  It’s one of the ways we live out our faith.  And it qualifies as peacemaking because it says to others that we want all students to have what they need to succeed in school, that we do not want any economic disparities to affect the opportunities that education offers to people, and that filling this need in the lives of our young people and their families is important to us.

     Much of what we do as a community of faith grows out of our monthly mission brunches.  This idea is pure genius!  Over the years, this event has been able to connect the generosity of our people with the needs of our community and beyond.  We have provided the funds necessary to dig a well in Africa.  Think of what a difference this has made in the lives of those who come to draw clean water from this well instead of travelling much further to get water.  This too is peacemaking!  Other places our dollars have made a difference include Habitat for Humanity and the Saint Vincent DePaul Free Clinic in Portage.  More recently, we gave a significant donation to flood relief efforts in Packwaukee.  And this doesn’t even count all the things we do as individuals that touch the lives of others and bring them a sense of peace.

     The reading from the Gospel according to Luke this morning is called the song of Zechariah.  First…a little background.  Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist.  He was a priest at the temple and was randomly chosen one day to be the priest who entered the most sacred part of the temple.  While he was deep inside the temple, all by himself, an angel was suddenly standing alongside him.  The angel told Zechariah that he was going to be a father.  Normally such news would make a man happy.  But there is a twist—Zechariah is an old man when this happens.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, have been unable to have children and have pretty much given up the idea.  Long story short…Zechariah doubts God can do this.  The angel gets a pained look on his face.  And Zechariah no longer has the ability to speak.

     Then comes the day when Zechariah and Elizabeth go to the temple to give their child a name.  Zechariah is still quite unable to speak, unable to declare that he wants the baby named John.  He finally grabs something to write with and scribbles “His name is John!”  That loosens things up and Zechariah is again able to speak.  He hasn’t been able to talk for months.  What will he say?

     Zechariah doesn’t curse God.  He doesn’t complain about his situation.  His first words are words of praise to God.  Zechariah is the first person to tell the people that the Savior is on the way.  He then proceeds to predict what will happen to his own son.  John will be a prophet sent from God.  He will precede the Messiah and will announce the Savior to the world.  Zechariah also speaks about what God is going to do.  God is going to save the people.  God is going to reverse the darkness the people have lived in for generations and is going to bring light to the world. Zechariah’s song of praise ends with the words, “God will guide our steps into the path of peace.”  This is the key phrase of this passage.  “Guide our steps into the path of peace.”  This one short phrase says volumes about peace.  We don’t need to invent the whole process.  We don’t need to do all the work.  God has already established a path for peace.  It changes everything when we stop expecting God to bring every troubled spot into a state of peace and realize that we have a part to play in this too.  We are called to be God’s partners in peacemaking.

     This is also the path of peace that Jesus established with the woman at the well.  Jesus knew that people who know each other care about each other.  People who care about each other stand up for each other.  Peacemaking is not an idea…it’s a practice.  It’s about building bridges and crossing what divides us.  That’s what this church and a zillion other churches and organizations are doing around the world.  Today is a day to celebrate the work that is going on and to pray that it would continue and grow.  Thanks be to God!

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