Sermon July 23, 2023

Link to Service Bulletin

                                                                          Psalm 146 ,John 4: 7-40                               

Today’s reading from John is an important encounter that Jesus shares with this unnamed woman at the well.  So often in the Gospels, we find Jesus crossing paths with others not from his own “tribe.” In fact, he seem to seek out people from other communities and He does not shy away. He met people in their daily lives and locales, such as the Samaritan woman at the well and engaged with them at the point of their deepest yearning.  In our own lives, perhaps we have also experienced something quite similar. When we seek out new experiences in our lives, we often meet new people, foster new relationships, and  allow ourselves a deeper spiritual encounter with humanity. And in our openness, we may uncover new spiritual learning than we previously imagined. As we age, I hope that our experiences teach us to be more open and less fearful or suspicious of others; however, we may also develop biases along the way, even ones of which we are not entirely aware so we always have to be careful to listen carefully to others as they tell their stories which may often contradict our first impressions.  How can we shift our perceptions and come to redefine so called “strangers” as “friends we have not yet met?”  Let us pray, O Gracious One, we thank you for the gift of stories in Scripture, stories which may continue to lead us on new paths to new understanding and depth.  Bless us and keep us open to your presence as we continue to meet new people along our journeys. Amen.

Our reading from Psalm 146  describes a just God who looks out for those who need it most. Our worship theme of “Encounter” really asks us to examine our willingness to learn and grow, seeing with  eyes of compassion no matter how different the culture or religion of those we meet. Jesus was known  for many things, but one of them was breaking cultural and religious taboos. Speaking to the woman (a Samaritan!) at the well alone in the middle of the day, eating with those at the margins of society, touching the untouchables–all these stories are recorded in scripture because they were extraordinary in his time. 

Many clues indicate that this Samaritan woman may have been at the well mid-day for good reason, likely to avoid the gossip and stares of those who looked down upon her. But Jesus saw her worth and immediately offered her what he called  “living water.” It seems that both Jesus and the woman “thirsted.” We might consider times when we also thirsted for something, yes for much needed drink, but perhaps also for deeper meaning, a change in our lives, new adventures, new joy. Indeed, we all thirst for lives of love, connection, sustenance, and freedom. And as we look to Jesus as an example, we know that all are worthy of these things. 

As I discussed last week, leaving home can be a way to learn more about others and as well as ourselves. We accept the love of others when we keep our hearts open to the different ways that love is shown. Only when we get “close up” do the stereotypes or assumptions about those we consider so “different” fade away.  Too often, we might view others through a narrow lens, yet, I hope we have come to understand that each of us is far more complex and multi-faceted than we might appear on the surface; we all have our share of burdens and inner thoughts and that is altogether true of others. When we take the time to listen to the stories of another, to hear about what inspires them or captures their hearts,  “they” may become part of “we” and together, we may become more personally committed to working together for a better world for all people. 

One of the joys of traveling is that it gives us the opportunity to try out new food and hopefully to break bread with others and often, it is  not just about the food, but when we sit down at a table or on the floor with others to share a meal, we get a glimpse into their customs, their rituals, their preferences, and we get a taste of what they enjoy and what sustains them and they may do the same with us.  This can allow for a deeper, mystical connection that happens when we are aware that this moment is a sacred encounter. It is one of the most elemental aspects of being human–needing sustenance for our bodies and also our spirits.  Breaking bread and sharing the cup at table was the ritual Jesus used to demonstrate this most sacred bond and to show those who followed him that they must continue to seek peace and love one another. “Whenever you do this, remember me.”

I recently saw a wonderful story about a summer camp that was started by the country singer Zac Brown. I’m not a fan of country music but I had heard of him.  He has a wonderful song “Love Is the Remedy” which informs the spirit of  this amazing camp for teens that he helps run.  Camp Southern Ground is an inclusive camp which serves children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and religions, with programs that challenge, educate, and inspire.  They bring together what they call “typically” developing children, children with neurodevelopmental differences, children from underserved areas, and children from military and veteran families. By including as many children as possible, they trust that it creates a stronger community in which to learn and grow together.

This camp has helped these young people others from very different backgrounds and beliefs and provide them with the opportunity  to spend time with kids they might never meet otherwise …having fun, supporting one another and coming to the important realization that they have much more in common than difference.  There are many wonderful things about this camp including the fact that they provide healthy food, often locally grown, and it is completely tech free.  And so for a week, kids who are too often on screens learn how to build relationships, talk to each other, navigate challenging activities and support one another.  The camp provides a wonderful sense of community such that these kids may learn to love themselves and to accept others on their terms. They  hope that these special experiences may become a springboard for their lives, that what they learn will help guide them in their lives to be more open and welcoming to those who may seem, on the surface, to be very different, but who in reality share a common humanity.

In Maine, we also have an amazing camp that shares a similar philosophy, the Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace began in 1993 as an idea of the American journalist John Wallach. At a state dinner with politicians from Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, Wallach shared a toast in which he encouraged those gathered  to pledge to bring 15 youngsters from each of their respective countries to a new camp he was founding in Maine. These 46, including 3 Americans, ranging in age from 13 to 18, comprised the first session of the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield, Maine.[1]

These first campers  were later invited to the signing ceremony of the Declaration of Principles (better known as the Oslo Accords) in Washington, D.C. which included President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat.

Since its founding, over 8,000 young people and educators have attended the camp.  These campers are drawn from areas of conflict around the globe where they are introduced to a transformational model that provides opportunities to grow personally and expand their horizons and beliefs.  Together they learn new ways of thinking, especially towards those whom they have been taught to either hate or fear.  Something special happens in this encounter and so many of them move back into the world to become ‘seeds’ of peace and hope for their communities.

Jesus’ life provided wonderful examples for us on how we are meant to connect with others in the world.  When he told us to ‘love our neighbor’, his definition was very broad and he intentionally to sought out those on the margins, those from different communities than his own.  In so doing, he instructs us to do the same, to read out in love far beyond our usual social circles to those whom we might otherwise never come to know.  When we are open, we too may share a very sacred encounter and learn something new about ourselves, about our neighbors, and about the One who loves us.