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Giving Up Superiority March 14, 2012

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John 4:5-42

Lent Midweek 4

March 14, 2012

Focus: God is the superior author of all things.

Function: That the hearers live humble lives of service.

Structure: Story/reflect

 

Giving Up Superiority

 

As I was preparing this week, I came across a story that I just have to share with you.  It’s about a man named Bill.  He has wild hair, likes to wear a T-shirt, jeans with holes in them and walk around barefoot. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.  He’s intelligent, a little shy, but very, very bright.

He became a Christian while attending college and across the street from the campus was a well-dressed, very conservative church. They’d been wanting to develop a ministry to the students, but just weren’t sure how to go about it.

So one day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find anywhere to sit. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.  Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right there on the carpet.  While that may be perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, it had never happened in this church before!

The people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.  About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon’s in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time before the deacon reaches the young man. The church is utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t feel alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister regains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you’ll never remember. What you’ve just seen, you’ll never forget.”

The congregation’s desire to minister to college students was a good, godly thing.  But their attitude toward college students was a road block.  As Bill walked up the aisle of the church, anyone could have scrunched a little tighter in their pew and given him a spot to sit down.  Instead, they were so concerned about the petty things, like clothing and appearance, and their own comfort, that they were afraid to reach out to Bill.

Oh, and did they ever expect the deacon to lay down the law, to put Bill in his place!  But instead, he removed the road block.  He paved the path for ministry.  He went out of his way, and certainly out of his comfort zone, to make Bill feel welcome at church.  He reached out, he started a relationship.

Did you get the same sense from our gospel lesson?  Did you notice what John’s concerns were in recounting the event?  Did you notice the things he thought his audience would be thinking about?  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior and Lord, went to Samaria.  And as He waited by the well for His disciples to return from the market, a woman approached to draw some water.

Your typical Jew would have done one of a couple things.  They might have hid their face avoiding any contact or conversation with the woman.  Or, they probably would have just walked off, not wanting to be around her.  But they wouldn’t have done what Jesus did.  In retelling her response, John identifies two problems.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  We see the first issue again, as the disciples returned and marveled that Jesus was speaking with a woman.  But John also pointed out that Jews want nothing to do with Samaritans.

Have you ever wondered why that is?  What is it about Samaritans that Jews don’t like?  Well, it stems from Old Testament history.  Samaritans are people from Samaria, which we see here on Jesus’ journey.  But Samaria was the capital city of Israel.  Now I don’t mean Israel as in God’s chosen people, but instead the split between Israel and Judah, when God’s people became two separate nations.  Samaria was Israel’s capital, and Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.  Israel was the first to fall, conquered by Assyria.  And though they were carted off into captivity, the Bible recalls that they never returned.  They never repented of their sinful ways.

Judah, however, is carried off a couple hundred years later by Babylon.  During their time in captivity, the Jews, the people of Judah, repent of their wickedness and God sends Cyrus, King of Persia to free them from their bondage.  The Jews returned home to their lands.

There are a couple pieces to this.  First, Jews and Samaritans were at war with each other almost constantly through the books of Kings.  But when you combine that with the fact that Judah returned and Israel didn’t, the Jews turned their bitter feelings toward Samaritans into superiority.  They felt they alone were God’s people.   And they lorded it over the Samaritans.  Not much different from how the Pharisees treated other Jews, especially the “known sinners.”

But like the deacon, Jesus didn’t let the culture around Him detract from His ministry.  He wasn’t about to let the opinions of men harm the soul of people.  Jesus reached out to a woman who was hurting.  He reached out to a sinner to offer her the gospel, the message of salvation that she, and her people, needed to hear.

This isn’t the only time Jesus ever broke society’s norms for the sake of the gospel.  Dining with tax collectors and prostitutes didn’t sit well with the Pharisees.  But He didn’t care.  He was building relationships as a means to share with them the message of salvation.  He didn’t let the Pharisees and the teachers of the law lord their superiority over Him.

God’s Word, and His message of salvation, are far more important and superior than any lines we draw in the sand, any distinctions we make among us.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve likely noticed that our Catholic brothers and sisters are being attacked a lot lately.  Not only because of the recent health care law, but they had another chance before them this week to uphold the superiority of God’s Word.

One of their parishioners, an elderly lady, died last week.  Maybe it was through knowing this woman, or through funeral planning, but one way or the other, the priest found out that her daughter was a lesbian.  When the day of the funeral came and communion began, the daughter approached the rail.  On Scriptural principles, believing her to be unrepentant of sin in her life, the priest denied her communion at her mother’s funeral.

Since word got out, the homosexual community and the media have combined to create a riot.  If it were some other sin that she was stuck in, the story probably wouldn’t have even hit the local papers, let alone gone national.  The Catholic church has since suspended the priest in question, citing other problems in his ministry as the cause of suspension.  But because of the timing of it, the family and homosexual community, however, see it as a victory.

The reason I bring this news to the table isn’t to single out one particular sin.  Rather, it’s an example of how even as Christians, we sometimes allow our own interests or values to replace Scripture.  Abortion and the new healthcare law is being twisted into a woman’s rights issue.  We blur the lines on how many drinks count as too many.  Or how many donuts for that matter.  We concede that it’s alright to miss church a couple times a month, to sleep in or run an errand.  We claim that we have more important things to do than spending time with God in prayer and in studying His Word.  And we allow the opinions of others, and our own feelings of being better than them, to stand in the way of befriending them and telling them about the Savior who died for them.

We should be thankful that Christ didn’t allow superiority to block His ministry, because He’s God.  He’s infinitely better than we are as lowly sinners.  But He came to us anyway.  He gave us the message of forgiveness, love and salvation.  And He nailed it up on the cross.  He gave up His superiority to give us life.

The Word of God is superior.  His law, His love, His gospel are the only real truth in our lives.  As we continue through Lent, as we continue preparing for the cross, we need to give up on our own superiority and instead focus on the relationships.  If we give up the importance of our own schedule, we’ll find the time to be in a real relationship with God in Word and prayer.  And if we humble ourselves, we’ll find that there are indeed a number of relationships available with people of all shapes, sizes, social standing and ethnicities.   Relationships like Bill and the deacon, like Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman, or like Jesus reaching out and saving us.

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