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3rd Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2017
John 4:5-42

INI


Through Jesus Christ, outsiders become insiders. There is our theme for these next minutes because the Samaritan woman at the well is the ultimate outsider who became an insider- and devoted her life to making sure others were insiders as well.  

You just listened to one of the most fascinating sections of Scripture. John 4 is Jesus’ longest recorded conversation in the Gospels. He talks longer to that woman than any of his disciples, accusers, and even his own family.  

She is a curious choice for that honor because when I say “she was an outsider,” I mean outsider. Triple outsider.
She was a Samaritan, which meant she did not have the right credentials/pedigree to be a true, blue Judean Jew.
She was a woman. In that first century world women had no place in public life. Some NT scholars point out a group called the “bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman coming down the road, even if it meant walking into a wall and coming away bruised and bleeding.
But worst of all, she was a woman of questionable character. John tells us she came to the well at noon. All the other women would come in the cool of the morning. She preferred to be alone, unseen. Was it because she had been married umpteen times and her present arrangement was not with her husband? Imagine the gossip. Imagine the stares. She was an outsider. 

Centuries and centuries separate us from her time and setting, but not from the experience of being on the outside.
You kids can know that. Some of you know firsthand what it is like to be the new kid, in a new neighborhood, in a new school, and not a familiar face in sight; an outsider. And if that has not been your experience, you know who those kids might be, who might feel on the outside. These words from Jesus would have you welcome them in. Your school or neighborhood might be the very place you can help an outsider become an insider.  
Or adults, how easy it becomes to size up people around us and label them “Outsider,”- we might even think, “it is fine with me to keep it that way.”

We began this season of Lent with the fall into sin in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden.  
Everything that separates, blames, and divides- which is all that sin finally can do- can be traced back to Eden, where the harmony God intended for his creation was broken. Adam and Eve became outcasts- outsiders- and the ripple effect of that has been felt ever since.

See what I mean when I say this is a fascinating section of Scripture? A Samaritan, a woman, “of questionable character.” That is a triple header outsider.  

Which is why we need to go back to where these words began: “In Jesus Christ, outsiders become insiders.”
As Jesus engages this woman in conversation, he opens her heart to the truth about herself, and he creates a space in her to receive the truth about Him. 
Jesus is her Savior, Messiah, the One God anointed to bring outsiders in: “He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility,” is the way St. Paul wrote the Christians in Ephesus.  
Outsiders in - into his kingdom – family – grace.
Fully known- deeply loved- completely forgiven and included.
There was only one way for Jesus to do that: for our Lord, it meant going on from Jacob’s well to Calvary’s cross.  
There outside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus would become the Ultimate Outsider- the Sinless One- became sin for us; the only Son of God, one with the Father- became forsaken by the Father. That is being on the outside- Jesus forsaken, Jesus the outsider- so we never will be. 

And now start thinking of the difference that makes.
For One, trust that Jesus Christ is the only one who can truly tell you who you are. And that news is good! You might feel outside- You might feel out of it- Alone- Forgotten. But Christ has crossed all the boundaries – all the divisions- and He says, “You are in”-in his family- in his church- in his life that is abundant and eternal. By grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith… You are no longer an outsider.

And because you are no longer an outsider, now do your part to make your church a place where outsiders become insiders.
There are people out there waiting to be invited in. You know who they are. You rub elbows with them every day. Jesus makes outsiders insiders and He does that through you!
I have a friend in ministry who has stopped filling out all the statistical reports the Synod wants you to fill out. He says the important thing for their congregation is not how many members there are on a roster, but how many people out there consider that congregation their spiritual home? How many people out there consider St. Paul Lutheran Church their spiritual home and would be made to feel at home here? Made to feel at home – inside - included by you?

One last thought: There are still people at the well in the midday heat- folks who get written off- people who have made mistakes- people who believe they would never be welcome.  

Isn’t that part of our sin to confess this Lent that our natural heart too often can say, “Outsiders- wouldn’t touch them with a 10’ pole?”

This is why I like what St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa did recently: As people walk out of church, there by the exit door, propped upright in its own stand is an eleven foot pole. Those outsiders the world would not touch with a 10’ pole, the 11’ pole people of God touch, care about, treat justly, include, reach out to and welcome.

After all, that is the way outsiders become insiders.