March 19, 2017 Sermon
Thirsting for Reconciliation
Today I would like to start my message with a short pretend guided meditation. Have you ever done a guided meditation? With the soothing voice of the narrator and the mental images, it helps us to relax and lets our stress go away. So please close your eyes and listen to my soothing voice. “Imagine it is in the middle of August. It’s a hot sunny day with no clouds in the sky. It’s 30 degrees Celsius. And for some odd reasons, you decide to go hiking on one of Kimberley’s beautiful trails. You walk for 15 minutes and you start sweating. Oh darn, you realize you forgot your water bottle. You have to keep walking either forwards or backwards to get any water. Think of the hot sunlight pouring down on you, how sweaty you are, and how thirsty you are… how thirsty you are…” Now open your eyes. The ending felt more like a hypnotism than guided meditation, but the point is, imagine yourself being desperately thirsty, and then after a long period of suffering, you finally get a sip of cool water. How would you feel? When you’re desperately thirsty, wouldn’t you say something like, “I would sell my right arm to the devil for a sip of water” or “I would sell my soul to the devil”? Maybe WE wouldn’t, but a lot of people would; at least in stories and movies.
Life cannot sustain without water. Our body is supposed to be 70% water. Water is so important that even in the Bible there are a lot of scenes involving water, and water analogies; today’s Old Testament reading and gospel reading included. People of Israel complained that there was no water to drink. They cried out, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us?” By the way, this was not the first time they complained in the desert and wished they were back in Egypt. God who brought Israel out of Egypt to save them and bless them was not going to deny them something as essential to life as water; but they acted immaturely. Their behaviour came from lack of trust. They also built a golden calf to worship because they couldn’t put their trust in the invisible God.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus goes into a Samaritan city and interacts with a Samaritan woman, which was improper and frown upon at the time. Israelites and Samaritans didn’t get along well at all. Israel came back home from Exile under the Persian rule, and the formerly exiled people of Israel started calling themselves the true Israel, and calling the Samaritans, who have never been exiled, impure. I’m not entirely sure of their thought process, but they believed those who had never been exiled were not the true Israel. Here is a woman who has been ostracised by her community for having had more than 3 husbands. Jewish people were only allowed three marriages, and seeing that this woman was ostracised by her people we can assume that it was the same or quite similar for the Samaritans. She would have been considered immoral for having had many husbands.
This woman is shocked that a Jew would talk to her. I imagine the way Jews and Samaritans felt about each other was similar to the way Koreans and Japanese feel about each other. I think France and England had similarly uncomfortable feelings for each other in history. Anyway, Jesus and this woman have a conversation about water and theology. Jesus uses water as an analogy to teach this woman, who will later on teach her people, about his identity as the Messiah and God’s kingdom. There are different ways we might understand what Living water is. First, it can be understood as Jesus’ revelation or teachings. Secondly, it can be understood as the Spirit. Either way, this “living water” leads to eternal life.
Last Sunday, we listened to the story of Nicodemus learning the mystery of God’s kingdom from Jesus, and Jesus stated that one has to be born of the Spirit. We learned that to understand the mystery of God, who is spirit, we have to dive into the spiritual world and experience spiritual things. Both this spiritual fellowship with the Spirit God, and God’s mystery revealed and taught by Jesus are the living water that leads us to eternal life; that is why we learn the gospel teachings and maintain a spiritual relationship with God; this is the water that we need to survive as God’s people, as no living being can survive without earthly water.
This spiritual lesson about living water and eternal life is great, but today’s story has a much greater significance; this is a story about the reconciliation between two groups of people who hate each other. Whether it is historically true or not, according to John’s gospel, this is how the teachings of Jesus enter Samaria. They hated and rejected each other; but now, Jesus the Jew leads a Samaritan woman to faith, and later, she leads some of her people to faith in Jesus.
Lent is a time to fix and improve our relationship with God through repentance, spending more time with God, and putting the gospel lessons into action by serving our neighbours. Christian life has two dimensions; our relationship with God, and with our fellow humans. As we try to improve our relationship with God, we should also try to improve our relationship with each other; that is why we think of our neighbours, donate to charity, and participate in peace and justice works. Today’s story is about reconciliation. First we should reconcile with God especially during Lent; but it is equally important to examine the human relationships in our world. Our United Church of Canada puts a lot of effort into reconciliation works, which is what peace and justice works are.
Our church has been tirelessly working to bring reconciliation for different groups of people and their issues. One that we have been working on for over 30 years is reconciling with the First Nations people of Canada. It’s been 31 years since the United Church formerly apologized for the atrocities committed against the First Nations people, especially for what the church did through residential schools. The abuses and violence against First Nations children aside, the early Canadian government and the Christian church tried to colonize the First Nations people and eradicate their traditions and cultures. Even after the disbandment of residential schools and our apology, and the ongoing reconciliation works, we still occupy and control their ancestors’ land. Here in our home of BC, a pipeline project is invading a native territory in Lelu Island, and a big ski resort project is to be conducted in Jumbo Valley, which is a sacred land for the Ktunaxa people. This case went to the Supreme Court without any hopeful result. So petitions were collected and delivered to the BC government. The problem here is not that there are projects to bring comfort and job opportunities; it’s the fact that non-First Nations Canadians don’t think they should respect and honour the people who had been occupying this land much, much longer than anyone else. As we have seen in today’s gospel story, reconciliation is only possible through meeting and conducting conversations. I hope we can try to meet our First Nations people whose land we are sharing, and have conversations with them; learn from each other.
As we get thirsty for our body, as we get spiritually thirsty yearning for connection with God, our marginalized and suffering neighbours are thirsty for peace and justice. From what I hear from the US, transgender people cannot even use the public bathroom in peace. We have received living water from Jesus that brings us closer to God and quenches our spiritual thirst; in turn, we should bring living water of peace and justice to our suffering neighbours. This week, let us focus on reconciling our relationships; first our relationship with God, then examine our diverse human relationships. We cannot be truly happy and peaceful if our neighbors are suffering. Let us spend this Lent not only in reconciling our personal relationship with God, but also in bringing reconciliation and justice for our suffering neighbours.
Rev. Sunny Kim