August 26, 2018
Pastor Jason Rogers
This is Elizabeth Eckford (photo shown). At the time there were some people who were not happy about her presence in this place. In a moment, we’re going to draw some parallels between what Jesus did and what Elizabeth Eckford is doing here. Elizabeth and the other eight students did something that at the time was not popular and was not expected. They went somewhere where otherwise they should not go. They went somewhere that would not altogether be considered safe or comfortable. They knew that arriving at this place they might not receive the warmest of welcomes. So, suffice it to say, there were no flowers thrown at their feet or cotton candy and candy canes handed out to them. But even at this moment where Elizabeth was kind of separated from the other students, she stood strong. She stood resolute and was prepared for whatever may happen. You see, sometimes we have to do things, go places, and say things that people don’t want us to. Sometimes we have to go places where people don’t want us to go and to speak up, even when you may be by yourself, or at least feel that way.
What I appreciate about this Bible story that we’re about to get into is that Jesus understood that there was going to be some hard work that needed to be done. -that he needed to go to a place that otherwise he should not go. -that he needed to go to a place where he may not be welcome or where people may look at him strange. It was his love for even those people that compelled him to go. What I love about the fact that Jesus was willing to do the hard work was that Jesus understood that it was not an emotional plea and not simply good intentions that would get the job done. Our emotions and our good intentions won’t solve this problem. It’s going to take some hard work. It is going to take some difficult conversations. It is going to take getting outside of our comfort zone and doing some hard work.
I. Racist rules need to be broken
John 4: 1-9
1 When Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), 3 he left Judea and went again to Galilee. 4 He had to travel through Samaria; 5 so he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from his journey, sat down at the well. It was about noon. 7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. “Give me a drink,” Jesus said to her, 8 because his disciples had gone into town to buy food. 9 “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
In this period of time in the Bible, Jews and Samaritans expected for Jews not to speak, to let alone even acknowledge, Samaritans. At this point in history, because of his ethnicity, Jesus himself belonged to a culture that had some traditional rules, both spoken and unspoken, that were in fact racist. You see, Jews did not speak to Samaritans. The Samaritan woman expected Jesus, without knowing him, as a Jew to honor this racist practice. It should be noted that Jews would never consider themselves, nor call themselves or any of their practices, racists. When you are raised to believe something a certain way, when society conditions you to believe that something is right and ok, when it conditions you to believe that there’s nothing wrong with the situation, it can be a painful, stark, terrifying reality to finally reach the conclusion that what you have been taught and the way that you have been raised was wrong.
What I love about the way Jesus approached racism is the fact that he knew he wasn’t to blame. Jesus knew that it was not his fault that Jewish society had conditioned Jews to believe this way. But as a Jew, instead of becoming defensive about Jews and throwing up his hands saying, “I never treated anybody that way. I’m not a racist,” (he could have looked at that Samaritan woman and said, “That was all in the past. We don’t need to keep talking about the past.”), instead of Jesus focusing on what he wasn’t and what he could not do, he focused on what he could do. He made a conscious decision that even though the religion of his ethnicity teaches Jews to practice racism, he would not participate. He would not honor those practices. He would not participate in this type of discrimination.
The route that Jesus took through Galilee was a route that most Jews would not travel. This was not considered a safe place for Jews to go. It was a dangerous journey. The Samaritans were both racially and religiously despised. The Samaritans used to be Jews, but they were considered racially and religiously corrupt. Through a series of events, when Assyria captured the northern territory of Israel, some Jews were captured, left behind, or simply decided to stay. Many of the Jews married Assyrians, who were Gentiles. So, you ended up with a lot of Jews that were now half-Jewish, half-Gentile. Essentially, interracial marriage entered into a society where there had not been interracial marriage before.
Now, we don’t necessarily have time to unpack all of that today. Just know that because of Jewish teachings, scriptures, and lessons, they had every right to discriminate against the Samaritans. This is not about color. You had a dark skinned man named Jesus, talking to a dark skinned woman that was a Samaritan. This was less about skin color and more about culture, ethnicity, and territory. It wasn’t necessarily color that separated them. There may have been some physiological differences in the way they dressed, the way they talked, and maybe some accents were different. However, we know the language was the same because they were talking to each other.
It was the Samaritan woman in verse nine who reminded Jesus that Jews held racist beliefs. The Samaritan woman didn’t say that the Samaritans didn’t associate with the Jews. She said Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She reminded Jesus that even though he was in Samaria, that Samaritans were the oppressed group discriminated against by the Jews. Even though he had crossed into this territory and into this neighborhood, Jesus himself would be considered the minority. She was explaining that it was his people who were the oppressor and pushed them down. I love the way that Jesus approaches this situation. I love the way he begins to respond because Jesus did not spend time trying to argue any points. He just offered something priceless.
II. God desires Diversity where we Worship
John 4:10 & 19-24
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Again, in response to being reminded of the oppression of the Samaritans by the Jews, Jesus offered this woman something truly priceless. I love this because this helps us to understand that this issue is not too big for Jesus. This problem isn’t too big for the God we worship. You see, the God we call Father is bigger than racism. He’s bigger than the divisions that separate us. He is bigger than what our current culture tries to use to divide us and push us to one side or the other. The God that we serve is bigger than our politics. He is bigger than any other way that we would try to identify each other or ourselves. And as we look this sin right in the eyes, we do so knowing that Jesus will see us through. Jesus told this woman, “I know your people have worshipped on this mountain and the Jews have worshipped in Jerusalem but that’s not what matters. God is simply looking for people who will worship him in spirit and in truth.”
You see, church; those people are not separated by color, culture, ethnicity or territory. And just like Jesus did in this story, if we discover that people are divided by color, ethnicity, culture, and territory, we as a church, as Christians, as his disciples, have a responsibility to fix it. What we have to understand is that racism may not be our fault and you may not have contributed in this in any way, but as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, as one who says that Jesus lives inside you and through you, you have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to root out this sin. To find it in its dark corners, wherever it may hide, whether in other people or even in our own hearts and say, “No, it’s not okay. It is not going to be okay.” And there will be no safe place for racism as long as his disciples walked this earth. What Jesus was doing was knocking down a wall of division by engaging the very people that his culture had discriminated against. We’re called to worship together in spirit and in truth.
III. We must take the Gospel to our Whole Community
39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what he said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
Not only did Jesus go to a place that he otherwise should not go; he stayed for a while. He didn’t run out as quickly as possible. He did the hard thing. He did the hard work that he knew was necessary to engage these people right in their own backyards. What I love about what Jesus did was he did not spend time trying to convince the Samaritans that they’re slights were just perceived slights. He didn’t spend time trying to provide them with statistics or convince them that their oppression wasn’t real. He also didn’t spend time trying to convince them that maybe what they were feeling was their own fault, or maybe if they would just make better choices or act in a different way that things would be different. He didn’t ignore their past or the past of his own people. He didn’t act like their oppression wasn’t real or that it wasn’t his fault. Instead, he did the greatest thing that anyone could ever do when facing this issue. He loved them. He loved them right there in their own community. He loved them passionately and purposefully. He loved them with all his heart, willing to lay down his own life for these people.
The easiest thing that we can do is stay here within these four walls on this campus and wait for people to come to us. The hard thing is to get up, to go out, to travel to parts of our community that otherwise we would not go and have lunch in an area where we typically don’t spend a lot of time. Jesus could have decided that it wasn’t safe for him to go into this neighborhood or into this territory. He could have used that as a valid excuse not to go and see those people who were considered different from him. And he could have decided that it wasn’t safe to travel to a place and to stay for several days where he himself could have been viewed as a member of a racist group of people. He did the hard thing. It is the love of Jesus that should compel us to reach further, to reach deeper, to look at people not in the way our popular culture would describe them, but how Jesus would.
For the glory of God and for the work that Jesus did on the cross, we should view our neighbors just as ourselves. We should look out at every culture and every people and every color and every territory as one race. The things that our own culture uses to divide us should be no more. It is easy to believe that these are problems of the past, and certainly we have large groups of people that says, “Well, it’s definitely not as bad as it used to be. That was way back then. That stuff isn’t happening anymore.” There may be some truth to that. Then you have another large group of people that says, “Race relations have never been worse! It is at an all time high. Terrible.” And there may be some truth to that. Since there are such large groups of people that belong to both areas, it at least tells us that there is some work to be done. Inside of this work that needs to be done, it leaves us with an opportunity. We can run and hide to our perspective corners, take a position and plant a flag and say, “I’m not budging from this spot. I don’t care what you say.” Or we can take a pause, take a deep breath, and listen.
We can take the opportunity to understand the pain and the struggles of others, not to convince them or ourselves that that pain is not real, not to make excuses for them or for ourselves about the past or the present, but to simply seek to understand the pain and the struggles of those who have had to suffer from racism. -to seek to understand the pain and the struggles from those who are just now realizing that they themselves are racists, have somehow contributed to racism, or have benefited from racism. There is no category when it comes to racism that somebody does not fit into and every single category of racism, no matter where you fit into it, has pain involved. It is through that pain that we understand what people go through. It is the blood of Jesus and the work that Jesus did on the cross, that compels us to reach out, to make progress, to move forward, to seek those people who have suffered from these different varieties of pain and have gone through these issues and have been hurt in the process, so that we can take the Gospel to every part of the world, to every part of our community, and every neighborhood in our city.
We have the best church in the Chattahoochee Valley. I love this place. Every day I get to walk these halls and meet new people. I’m encouraged every single day I come to work. This is the best job I’ve ever had. Every day I get to come to work and my fellow pastors encourage me and we pray together. We have a good time working here. I get to walk the halls and meet teachers I haven’t met before, because I’m still the new guy. I get to hang out with all these nice people. People pray for me, and I get to pray with them.
I’ve discovered that we have some of the best ministries in the entire state of Georgia. We have this amazing school on this campus that raises up a child in the way he should go, so that when he gets old, he does not depart from it. I heard of a story just last week of how a child received Christ because of one of his teachers in the school. We have these other amazing ministries. We have a counseling center that provides Christian mental health services to the greater Chattahoochee Valley. About two weeks ago, I heard a story from one of our counselors about a person who came in for counseling. This person was a Hindu. Somehow this Hindu person missed the word Christian on the side of the building, but by the end of that counseling session, this person asked for a Bible.
It is the love of Christ that compels us to reach across the aisle and to find people who are different from us and pour out our hearts that Jesus is the Way. We have these amazing assisted living and independent living facilities that honor our senior citizens who have earned the right to finish well. We have memory care units on site that provide twenty-four/seven, three hundred and sixty-five days a year care for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia, so they can live their lives with dignity with people who surround them with prayer and so that the families of those loved ones know that they’re loved and cared for. At Calvary Baptist Church, we care about people. We care about their whole life, from the beginning to the end.
Our ministries are reaching the Chattahoochee Valley, but it is oftentimes because those people come to us. They’ve heard about the church and heard our ministries, and they come to our campus and they receive something from us. Out of all those amazing things that we do and how we care for so many people right here, I have to tell you, that’s not good enough if we’re not going out into our community. If you sit in church and you look around and our church does not look like heaven or truly represent in every way the Chattahoochee Valley, then we have work to do. The only way in the future that our church does not look like heaven or is not a representation of our community is if it’s intentional.
Since that’s not who we are, we’re going to continue to see people every single week who look different from us and who come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different places, and different stages of life because our church values diversity. We know that God desires diversity where we worship. Because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, we will not not let racism live. We will not let it have a safe place here. We will not let it have life and breath. Every time we see sin, we have a responsibility to call it out where we see it and have those difficult conversations. I love you too much and I know you love me too much and you love each other too much to allow sin to live unabated and free inside any person in this room. Because we’re called to make disciples, we have a responsibility to go out into our community and make sure that it doesn’t live there either. This will not be easy. This will not always be filled with happy songs, hugs and handshakes…or at least it won’t feel that way in the beginning.
Anybody ever had physical therapy? If you’ve ever had physical therapy, you hate the physical therapist. They’re like the worst person in the world. You think, “Why are you doing this to me? This is painful.” It can be really rough, but through that pain, at the end, who is going to complain about being able to walk again? Then they love their physical therapist. They send them flowers.
Church, we’re going to honor the Lord. We’re going to make sure that we’re living holy and righteously, reaching across any aisle and knocking down any barrier until there is nothing between us but love.
• Today I realize I need to surrender my life to Jesus for the first time.
– I’ve allowed racism to exist around me and I commit to actively confronting it for the glory of God.
+ I will work to understand the pain of those that have suffered from racism and use the Gospel to help heal racial wounds.
- Have we really made progress in the last 50 years when it comes to racism?
- What excuses do we use in order to avoid conversations about racism?
- What can you do in our city to fight against racism?
- Read John 4:23, Who are the “True Worshipers” that Jesus is referring to?
- How can we help our church become more diverse?