Sermon by Rev. Amy Petré Hill
Mountain View United Church
Sunday, March 15, 2020
The news of COVID 19 inundates us daily: people are being impacted by the virus in every state and almost every country. Humanity is facing a pandemic that knows no boundaries of race, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity, economic status, or faith. It is easy to become overwhelmed and curl inward, to narrow our focus on the well-being of ourselves and our family. In our fear, we can begin to focus on who is “unclean” or look for who to blame.
But the reality is, we are not alone. God is with us, and God is inviting us to act with God to further the well-being of everyone. If the COVID 19 virus has shown us anything, it demonstrated that we are all connected, and each of us has the power to err on the side of love. Washing our hands often, covering our mouth and nose when we cough or sneeze, and worshiping via Zoom safeguards our health. It also honors the health of every person we come in contact with during our day and the health of everyone they meet. We help the elderly parent of the person in front of us in the grocery line by standing a few feet away, as well as the partner with asthma they person goes home to, or the child with a compromised immunity they nurture.
Jesus understood the depth of our interconnectedness and the harm that comes from calling anyone “unclean.” He demonstrates this in his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:5-42.
Now, back in Jesus’ day, they didn’t have a notion of viruses or cooties. Still, they did have firm ideas about ritually clean vs. unclean individuals and communities. “Good people” stayed spiritually and physically healthy by avoiding certain other kinds of people. For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, Samaritans were considered “unclean” by Jews. Although the Jews and Samaritans shared a common understanding of God, the Jews worshiped God in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans worshiped God at a nearby mountain they held holy. This disagreement on where and how to worship God led to the Jewish community consistently shunning Samaritans. Most Jews would not eat with or purchase food from a Samaritan—and they certainly would not drink water from a Samaritan’s cup!
So, of course, when Jesus decides to travel north from the Jordan in Judea to Galilee, he doesn’t do what many Jews would do. He does not take the longer path to Galilee that avoids Samaria. No, he and his disciples travel straight through Samaria. When he reaches the city of Sychar, his disciples go to get lunch from a nearby town, and Jesus asks a Samaritan—and a Samaritan woman no less!—for a drink of water.
The woman he asks is so shocked, she actually queries why a Jewish man like him would ask a Samaritan woman for water! She would be considered “unclean” by a Jewish teacher like Jesus for a host of reasons revealed as her conversation with Jesus unfolds:
• She is a Samaritan.
• She is a woman, and Jewish teachers did not speak to women alone for fear they would be suspected of impropriety by the community. And you’ll notice that like many women in the bible, we hear her story, but her name is never recorded.
• She is currently living with a man not her husband, she has been married five times, and she is out getting her water from the well at noon. UCC pastor Kathryn Matthews notes in the UCC’s Weekly Worship Seeds online publication that getting water from the well at noon would be quite unusual. The other women would have visited the well during the cooler hours of the day; at noon, the men would have been busy in their fields or in the marketplace. Thus, the Samaritan woman’s choice to visit the well at noon means she has no one to help her draw up the water, and that she chooses to do this daily task in solitude. It’s not clear how her marriages ended—whether, by divorce or death, we do not know—but we can guess that her life has been hard. As a woman living with a man other than a husband, she would have been shunned by her own community as well as the Jews.
The Samaritan woman is a disempowered outcast. Yet, she is the one Jesus speaks to that day. And she is brave enough to have an honest conversation and draw up water for a strange Jewish man asking her for a drink.
The gift she receives from that one brave act is priceless for herself and her whole community. She learns that the Living Water that is the Christ, God’s anointed one, is Jesus, and he is available to her and to anyone who is spiritually thirsty. All the old traditions regarding where one should worship—in Jerusalem or on the Samaritan’s sacred mountain—Jesus sweeps away. Now, people can worship God from anywhere, and eternal life is available to everyone through Christ. She knows that when Jesus offers this living water to her, he gives it to her understanding precisely who she is and what, as she puts it, “I’ve ever done.” The Living Water that wells up through Christ is equally for one of Jesus’ disciples and a shunned and despised Samaritan woman.
This is such a radical idea that the disciples cannot comprehend it. When they return with lunch for Jesus, they must ask why he was talking to such a woman. Yet, through her courageous act of sharing water with Jesus —she brings her entire community into a deeper relationship with God. Legion, the Gerasene man, abandoned by his community to wander among the tombs with his demons, after his redemption and inclusion by Jesus, he becomes the first evangelist to this gentile community. In the same way, this shunned, Samaritan woman brings salvation to her community by sharing her experience with Jesus.
Today, people just like this Samaritan woman, marginalized people such as immigrants, hourly low-wage workers, underpaid nurse assistants caring for people in nursing homes, are the ones most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID 19. We need to see these individuals and not as “unclean” people to be shunned. They are children of God worthy of care, respect, and the resources necessary to have housing, food, and access to health care in the face of this virus.
This requires us to have the courage of the Samaritan woman:
• In an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, we must reach out to those in need of essentials like water, food, a safe place in smart, strategic ways. This includes MVUC members who are sick or feel too vulnerable to the virus to go to the grocery store. It also includes lower-income families who cannot afford to stay home even when they feel ill. Sharing our resources and pushing our state and federal governments to provide needed relief to lower-income families is critical. Many poor children receive breakfast and lunch through free meal programs in their public school: with school closed, these children may not get enough to eat. And for immigrants in refugee camps on the Mexican border, this is a dangerous time, with many volunteers unable to safely bring food and supplies to desperate families. We must take every opportunity to support all whose hard lives have been made harder by COVID 19!
• Rather than spending time judging people as “clean” or “unclean,” we should focus on helping each other remember to take lifesaving actions. While some individuals have a harder time remembering to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, or not touch their faces, we all instinctively contact our faces many times an hour. This is new behavior for everyone, so we need to support each with love and a bit of humor.
• We must also speak out against shunning or blaming particular ethnic groups for the virus. The news shares stories of people no longer ordering Chinese food or harassing Americans of Chinese descent because the illness happened to emerge in China. Viruses don’t care where you come from or how you identify yourself. As the Church, we have to stand up, peacefully challenge blaming, and talk about what is essential: helping everyone stay healthy and virus free as long as possible.
• Finally, it means we must check in on each other, ensuring that no one feels completely isolated and alone. Here at MVUC, we are working on developing Zoom sharing times, where we can connect with each other online. And anyone can call Pastor Tracy, Pastor Wayne, and myself to talk. And another essential source of support is the Colorado Crisis Services line, which is for everyone, not just those in a mental health crisis. It is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith, but rather a sign of courage to reach for help and call the Crisis Line when you feel overwhelmed. The number is 1-844-493-8255, or you can Text “TALK” to 38255.
We must be brave because our actions aren’t just about how to keep from getting sick. There’s a good chance that many of us will, eventually, catch the virus. So this is how we must be the Church, caring for each other and those living on the margins as good stewards of our shared healthcare resources. If we can slow down the transmission rate of the virus and help individuals with the illness stay home —without fear of losing a job or not being able to pay the rent—we can ensure there are enough hospital beds, staff, and medical devices available for everyone needing intensive medical care.
We can be brave and act for the common good in a spirit of generosity rather than act out from a place of scarcity and fear. We know we are connected, and simple acts of washing our hands or delivering groceries to someone in quarantine helps everyone. And we know that the living water that is the Christ flows, unstoppable, through our most anxious times. It flows from God through us to one another and the larger world. God is with us; God is always with us. Amen.