Lenten Sermon Series: Giving it up – Superiority
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We continue our Lenten Sermon series the discipline of “giving things up”, and we turn this morning to the tope of “giving up superiority.” Now, for the first two sermons, I’ve been able tie in the readings in some way, but this morning, unfortunately, I’m stumped to try to do that.
So as the central text of scripture, this morning, I am taking the story of Jesus and the Woman of Samaria. You recall that in this encounter in the Fourth Chapter of St. John, Jesus is travelling through Samaria, a mountainous region that lies between Judea, to the south, and Galilee to the north. It was at about noon, and Jesus had sent his disciples into town to get some food from the local Tops, while he remained outside of town – perhaps because he didn’t want to create a ruckus in town by his presence, or perhaps because, as the text tells us, he was simply tired and didn’t feel like walking all the way into town. So he sat down next to a well in a field outside of the town. And while he was sitting there a woman came to draw water. And while she was there, Jesus asked her for a drink. The woman retorted, “how is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus replied, if you knew who was asking, and the gift of God, you would have asked me for a drink, and I would have given you living water. The exchanged continues, back and forth, eliciting from our Blessed Lord memorable and powerful phrases such as “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We can’t look at this passage without considering how this seemingly innocent little interaction between two people about water is really a very profound and dynamic-changing event that breaks down some very tall barriers.
First of all, there is the fact that she is a woman and he is man. It was culturally inappropriate for these two people to be conversing with one another on that basis alone.
But there was another issue. He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. We probably all know, because of the parable of the Good Samaritan, that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. The history of how the Samaritans came to exist is too long and too nuanced for our sermon this morning, but what we can say is that these two groups, Jews and Samaritans, disagreed over at least two profound issues.
The first issue, was over the true place of the true worship of God. The Jews believed that it was in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed it was at a different site, on Mount Gerizim.
The second issue was over Scripture and which version was correct. The Samaritans argued that their version of the Bible was the true word of God and that the text that the Jews were using was corrupted during the Babylonian Exile nearly 600 years before Jesus met this woman at the well.
Both groups had agreed on three things, independently of each other: One, there should be no contact with the other group. Two, members of the one group shouldn’t talk with one another, and three, neither should enter the territories of the other.
Arguments over who was truly the people of God had isolated the one group from the other, totally and completely. What was the root cause? What really lay at the center of this division?
I would submit to you that it was the feeling by each group that the one was superior to the other. That the one was right and the other was wrong. In their independent claims to be the true people of God, the very people whom God had chosen out of the world to be his people to eventually use in order to reconcile the world to himself, they had alienated themselves from one another. And in a real and sad way, by each claiming to be superior to the other, they had in fact alientated themselves from the very purpose
Enter Jesus into the scene. He breaks all the rules, rules that probably shouldn’t have even been there. He goes into Samaria, he talks to a woman, he asks her for a drink.
And in his conversation with her, he shows how the very reasons that these two groups feel superior to one another are totally bunk.
First, he points out that in the Kingdom of God, true worship will not be concerned with Jerusalem or Gerezim, but rather, it will be in spirit and truth. The worship of the true God will not be in a temple made of stone, but in the heart of those who have faith in him.
And secondly, regarding the true word of God, there is a certain irony as we look at this scene. Two groups at odds over the true Word of God, and there he stands, wearied, asking for a drink of water to cool his parched throat, offering all the while, living water, which whereof we drink, and never thirst again!
The need to feel or be superior to others comes from the very heart of our fallen nature.
First, because of the existing, worldly competition for resources. Darwinian theory states that out in the world, it is a matter of “survival of the fittest.” The fittest are, of course, the most superior. They therefore have access to more resources need to survive: food, shelter, money, even the opportunity to procreate. We want, at a very primal level, to be the fittest, have the most, and be more likely to survive than our neighbor.
Secondly, we want to be superior to others because of our pride, which always wants to be right, always on top, always have the last word, and always be in control. Our pride and our ego want to not simply excel and achieve, to grow and develop, but want to be number one, king of the hill, top of the list. And it wants to do so, not for some benevolent reason such as serving in a leadership position as a servant, or helping others by using my knowledge and skill, or to better an organization by good solid leadership. No, my pride want to be, needs to be superior simply for the sake of being superior.
On the contrary, God’s call to us on how to live our lives seems to focus our attention on overcoming those very urges to live in a “survival of the fittest” world dominated by pride and ego, which lead ultimately, not to the common good, building up of the kingdom of God, but to the destruction of our relationships, communities, and eventually, if not before, our selves.
Scripture repeatedly tells us that in place of pride, we need humility.
2nd Chronicles 7:14 – “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
1 Peter 5: 6-7- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Matthew 18:4 – “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Luke 14:11 – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
James 4:10 – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
And I could go on for hours.
But I want to finish with this final scripture. God does not lead us down any path which he himself has not trodden before us. That’s the awesomeness of our Lord. His call for us to give up control, to give up expectations, to give up superiority, is not a call which he himself has not heeded for our life and our salvation.
I leave you this morning with this passage from Philippians chapter 2. It is probably not something that Paul wrote himself. It is, scholars argue, probably an early Christian Hymn which is familiar to his audience, and which he is quoting to them in letter form so they hear not just whatever it may have sounded like in the beauty of the voice of song, but so that they, and we, might hear the wonderful, powerful truth which it contains.
It goes like this:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a]
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of aservant,[b]
being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”