Cracks in the Wall
(April, 2003 POL)
Topic: Communion Meditation
Text: John 4:4-19
Well class, it is time to put on your thinking caps. I am going to give you a pop quiz on the poem you see on the cover of the bulletin. The poem is “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. I’m sure you all studied Robert Frost in high school English. The question is: what is the “something” that the lines refer to? Listen carefully:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
What is that something that doesn’t love a wall? Let’s see, it must be a natural force, something that’s cold, that puts cracks in walls and represents the poet’s point of view . . . The answer: frost! Frost is cold, and the poet is saying, “I don’t love walls!”
There was another man long ago who did not love a wall. He dedicated his life, and indeed, his death, to bringing down walls. His name was Jesus of Nazareth.
Our Scripture passage this morning is John 4:4-9.
Have you ever wondered what would Jesus do today if He were in the West Bank in the midst of the terrible conflict between Jews and Palestinians? Well believe it or not, our Scripture takes place on the West Bank, which in ancient times was known as Samaria. And back then, like today, Samaria was populated by people who nursed a deep hatred for the Jewish people. The antipathy was mutual: the Jews despised the Samaritans. It was common practice for Jewish people who traveled to go out of their way rather than pass through Samaria. But John tells us that Jesus made a special point of passing through this troubled region:
Now (Jesus) had to go through Samaria. So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to Him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?” [Then comes a breathtaking understatement.] (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
This is the Word of the Lord.
Something in Jesus did not love a wall. That is why He passed through Samaria.
On a hot afternoon in that desert region, Jesus found a shady spot and sank wearily to the ground beside a well to wait while the disciples went for food. A little later, a woman came to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink.
The woman was utterly flabbergasted and exclaimed, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?”
This snatch of conversation was the first warning tremor of the earthquake that would bring down walls dividing people around the world. Today Christianity is the most diverse religion in the world — racially, culturally and geographically. I sometimes chuckle when I hear in the media that the latest trend is “globalism.” Friends, globalism was invented 2000 years ago, when this man, Jesus, told His disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel.” With other major religions, you can point to a map of the world and say, “You will find most Hindus concentrated in this region” or “the majority of Muslims are in these countries . . .” Don’t even try that with Christianity.
Today 60 % of all Christians inhabit regions equaling two-thirds of the world’s area: Asia, Africa and Latin America. We find more Christians attending worship in China than in all of Western Europe. Today in Scotland, less than ten percent of Christians attend church, while in the Philippines this morning, you will find seventy percent of that nation’s Christians in the pews. In Nigeria alone, there are seven times as many Anglicans as there are Episcopalians in the United States. Korea now has four times as many Presbyterians as we have in this country. Oh yes, this is truly “World Communion Sunday.”
Why? Because Jesus passed through Samaria.
Jesus was friendly as He passed through that hostile territory. He let down His own walls. He struck up a conversation with a stranger. Some of you have told me you grew up in small Southern towns. You remember riding down small-town roads with your parents as a child. Whenever another car drove by, your father would always wave. Can you imagine doing that here in Atlanta? You might be arrested for bizarre behavior. As your father walked on the street in that small Southern town, he considered it simple good manners to tip his hat to each woman he encountered (assuming she was a lady). Those gracious courtesies are a thing of the past. Today it seems we are always surrounded by people we wish weren’t there, people who take our parking spot or who make the lines longer at the supermarket checkout stand. So today friendliness is no longer our supreme public virtue. Nowadays, we value physical attractiveness instead. We spend billions simply to appear attractive. Dallas Willard says we aren’t even aiming for Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame — these days, we’re willing to settle for 15 seconds of fame, content to turn a few heads when we walk into a room. We aren’t looking for authentic relationships, or even casual friendship, just a split-second response to our appearance from a stranger. Willard says that on the scale of social interaction, attractiveness is at the bottom of the barrel.
But Jesus never met a stranger. Our Lord loved robust social interactions, even with people He had just met. Consider some of the things He said to people right after meeting them: “Zacchaeus, you come down from that tree right now and throw another steak on the barbee. I’m coming to your house for dinner.” “Peter, you big old rock, I have a dream for your life . . .” And to this woman He says, “Ma’am, may I trouble you for a drink of water?” Jesus never knew a stranger. To know Jesus means we will never know a stranger.
But more than that, to know Jesus is to surrender our right to decide whom we will love and whom we will hate.
Look at this story from the Jewish perspective. The Jews had many reasons to hate the Samaritans. Let me give you a brief history lesson. In 710 BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria) fell into the hands of the Assyrians. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, held out until 586 BC. But the Assyrians intermarried with many Jews of Samaria. Their offspring were considered half-breeds by the “pure” Jews of the south. Besides diluting the Jewish bloodlines, these Samaritan Jews came up with their own version of the Old Testament, which omitted the Books of the Prophets. They even rejected the custom of worshipping on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem and declared their own holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim. But the Jews’ hatred of the Samaritans was really fueled by the events of 150 BC. Judas Maccabaeus and his family led a revolt against the Assyrians. They threw out the intruders and cleansed the Temple. The anniversary of this event is still celebrated today on the Jewish calendar as the feast of Hanukkah, at the time of year when we celebrate Christmas. But during the Maccabaean revolt, the Samaritans supported the Assyrians against the Jews!
Today many Christians harbor venomous feelings toward Muslims. After all they rewrote our scriptures, saying Jesus did not die on the cross. They put their Mohammed on our mountain. And today, some Muslims are supporting the enemies of American Christians. Why shouldn’t we despise Muslims? Because Jesus passed through Samaria. God loves the Muslim people.
I once read a book that contained a chapter entitled, “Why are Christians so mean?” That got my attention. The book asserted that so many Christians are mean because we believe that the essence of Christianity is believing the right thing. If we are correct, we have the right to dislike people who believe the wrong thing — even other Christians, if their beliefs are mistaken. The author pointed out that the flaw in this logic is its premise: actually, the true essence of Christianity is taking on the character of Jesus. There can be no holiness without “Christlike”ness. Jesus passed through Samaria. Something in Jesus did not love a wall.
A friend of mine likes to say that Jesus walks through the Gospels like a kung fu expert. A wall prevented Jews from talking to Samaritans. So Jesus cried “Hyah!” and down came the wall. A wall kept lepers from entering the temple and worshiping God. “Hyah!” cried Jesus, and the wall came down. A wall of prejudice kept Gentiles from worshiping God. “Hyah!” cried Jesus, and the wall came down. A wall excluded women from worship. “Hyah!” He chopped it down. And on the day Jesus died, the very last barrier fell: the veil of the Holy of holies was rent in twain.
In coming to this table we acknowledge, to paraphrase the words of the great Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that the line separating good and evil does not run between this race or that race, or between this religion or that religion, or between this nation or that nation. The line dividing good and evil runs right down the center of every human heart. So we all operate out of mixed and impure motives. I encourage you to bring your impure motives to the table this morning. Let Christ break down the walls in your heart.
Many of us learned a song in Sunday school that goes, “Red brown yellow black and white / All are precious in his sight . . .”
This morning let’s envision all those faces around our table. Oh, the multitude of faces gathered around here is unbelievable. There are black faces, brown faces, yellow faces, red faces, white faces. With flat noses and pointed noses, black eyes, brown eyes and blue eyes, round and almond-shaped eyes. All of them, our sisters and brothers from every tribe and nation, are gathered in this morning’s joyful feast of the people of God.
Let us be a congregation that does not love walls. Let us shatter the walls this morning.