St. Andrew's Episcopal Church

…in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin – Millinocket, Maine

Sermon Lent III Unbelievers Are God’s People Too.

As I reflect on the many tragic events that have happened in schools and colleges over the years, that have resulted in the senseless deaths of young children and young adults and their teachers and the stories of the people who killed them, I can’t help but to hear a message in these events for us all.
That message is that we need to be more compassionate toward those who are not like us, in these events we have heard the story about how these persons have been perceived as social rejects, and the physically challenged, or those who just don’t appear to fit into out society for whatever the reason.
This message convicts me, and I have asked God to show me and help me to show all of you what it is that we can learn from this, and to help me to communicate the importance of this conviction to you today. And so, we have this story today the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4.
I know this story is familiar to most of us, but allow me to recap it just a bit. We have already heard it but I want to just give you a quick overview. Jesus was on his way back to Galilee and felt like He should go through Samaria. When they got to a town called Sychar, the disciples went to find some food. In the meantime, Jesus sits at Jacob’s well, and strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman.
Now in those times, this was not to most people a good Idea or a common practice. First, she was a woman. The prevailing attitude of Jewish men was that it was almost better to be a dog than a woman. This was not Scriptural, but this was the attitude in this period of history. In some places these attitudes still linger.
Next, and probably even more important, she was a Samaritan. Samaritans were “half-breeds” Jews who intermarried with the people of the region who were brought there by the king of Assyria during the exile of Israel.

So, the Jews hated Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. And not only was she a woman, not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a sinner. Three strikes and you’re out, right?  But not with Jesus, and hopefully not with us here either.
Today I want to show us how we can reach out to those who are outside our normal circles, and I want to do that by showing the examples of Jesus. So, let us take a ride and while we are at it, let us set aside our prejudices. I would be so bold to say that most, if not all of us operate under certain prejudices, but for some less than others. Jesus was under no such restraint. He was a Jew, but that didn’t stop Him from ministering to many different people, including even a centurion from the hated Roman army. And then here we see Him talking with a Samaritan. I would urge you to remember three principles when it comes to shedding your prejudices.

First, remember that it’s not the color of the skin, but the color of the blood. It’s not your gender, but your image. And as scripture tells us and if we can imagine it, we are made in the image of God, regardless of sex, age, or current lifestyle or our religion. Jesus shed His blood, and I can’t find anything in Scripture that says He shed it only for Americans or Israelites. The Bible says that God so loved the world. And last time I checked that included all the continents and the people on them. We all bleed red, and so did the one who bleed to save us, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Second, remember the root issue, salvation. This relates to the last point, but this point I want to hammer it home. People of all races and lifestyles need Jesus. They are not exempt. The issue is not where they come from or how they dress (or how we dress, for that matter). They might look good and smell good, and even go to church, but if they have not trusted Christ as their Savior, then they’ll go to an eternity in hell. It’s no different for the Samaritans.
Thirdly, we must remember where we came from.  And I don’t necessarily mean ethnicity, although this can play a part. Immigrants need the love of God, too.
How many times have we overheard a person complaining about all the foreigners where they live and it is often that the person’s judgment is based on the names, or the color of the skin or how these people dressed, and because that name they are judged a descendant of foreigners! And unless you are a full-blooded Native American everyone of us have descended from immigrants.
But what I mean here is that we need to remember that before we came to Christ, we were enemies of God. Yes, enemies of God. The Bible says that until we became children of God we were objects of His wrath. Yet He looked at these objects of wrath and said they were worth saving. Samaritans are worth saving, too. So set aside your prejudices. Along with setting aside your prejudices, you need to speak the truth in love. Which we hear in that truth in verses 13-18 in the gospel.  If Jesus was following certain models of evangelism in our churches he wouldn’t have brought up the woman’s sin. He would have just told her that all she had to do was love Jesus and everything would be all right. No need to turn from her sin, no need to die to her own desires and follow Christ.
It’s easy for us to want to avoid touchy subjects, and I am not exempt from this statement either. Unfortunately for our comfort zones, Scripture talks rather specifically about sin, and its consequences. People need to know that our sin grieves God, and that the penalty for sin is an eternity in hell. Jesus didn’t hold back. He told the woman that He knew of her sin, and didn’t apologize for it. Let me share with you some tips for telling the truth in love.         First, don’t ever apologize for the truth. I think as a people of God when we are involved in truth telling, that we often feel like we need to apologize for sharing Jesus.  So, let me tell you something. The Muslims aren’t apologizing; the Mormons aren’t apologizing; the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t apologizing; and the abortionists certainly aren’t apologizing.
We have nothing to apologize for when sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who will believe. If anything, we need to apologize for not bringing the gospel to these people sooner.

 

If the Bible is right, and it is, then we have the good news that people need to hear and in hearing avoid hell and come to enjoy forgiveness and a full life here on earth and eternity in heaven. I encourage you, don’t apologize for sharing the good news!  Don’t ignore sin that needs to be addressed. I’m not saying that we should be ready to list people’s sins, but if asked, you should be ready to tell them how Scripture deals with that sin.
If someone is living a sinful lifestyle they need to know that, and not just that it’s sinful, but that Jesus offers freedom from that sin. But I want to caution you to keep in mind that we cannot expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people. A great downfall for us as believers is too often we want non-Christians to behave like Christians. And if we are Christ-Like in our behavior then that too can change. But guess what, folks! You cannot expect spiritual behavior from those who don’t know Christ. Keep your nose below your eyes. You know what I mean! In other words, don’t get your nose stuck up in the air, looking down on others with some air of superiority. In verse 27 of our gospel it speaks to this.  “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
The implication here is that they wanted to ask that, but didn’t. You could almost imagine what they were thinking: “Why were you talking to her, for crying out loud! She’s a woman, worse than that, she’s a Samaritan woman.” And imagine if they had known about her home life, they would have gone ballistic! So now, let me say this as nicely as I can. You’re no better than anyone else. You might be better off, because of your relationship with Christ, but you are no better. Think of that when dealing with Samaritans (people who are different). So, set aside your prejudices, speak the truth in love, and most importantly is to be available and to be ready.   In verse 31-38 of the gospel the point here is that there are plenty of opportunities to tell someone about the salvation available in Jesus, and thus we will see people come to Christ.
There are people out there right now, at this moment who are ready to trust Christ as their Savior.

But someone needs to tell them. I hope that you will go out and try to find some of them as you go. Tell them the good news or get me in contact with them, and I’ll tell them. Here are some ways to reach out to the unbelievers in our area.
Identify and pray for the unbelievers around us, make that your daily prayer. Now obviously, you don’t walk up to a person and say, “Pardon me, sir, but would you consider yourself a believer? What I mean is to look around and see the people being rejected by our society. Maybe it’s the homeless on the street; maybe it’s the poor person or the single mother or father using food stamps at the grocery store. Maybe it’s the student who dresses differently to get attention. Depending on your circles of influence, maybe it’s the rich person who has no real friends. Maybe it’s the geek with all the calculators and pocket protectors. Maybe it’s just the short skinny kid who gets picked on at school. Find them and start praying for them. Pray that God would open their hearts to the good news of Christ. And here’s the hard part, and it takes faith and trust. Pray that God would allow you the opportunity to share Jesus with that person or persons.
It’s a little different when you interact with people, isn’t it? Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Pray for the opportunity to influence and impact the unbelievers, and to welcome them into our fellowship. It used to be that people came to church just because the doors were open. Well, that just doesn’t work anymore as we all know. People need to be invited to church, and they need to see that church has something to offer. Not just in the way of a lively service, but in the way lives are changed by the Word of God. Let me ask you a quick question, one which I believe is very important: what is the purpose of Scripture?
Some of you might think of 2 Timothy 3:16, where it says that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. And that is very close. But these are just the means to the end.  But what I want you to know is that the purpose of Scripture is to change lives. The Bible doesn’t just exist to inform us about God it exists to transform us to be godly, and thus exhibiting Christ like behavior.
And when people are being transformed by the Word of God, it is easy to invite others, and it is easy for people to see that we have something to offer. But they need to be invited, invited to come just as they are. Don’t try to get them all gussied up. Bring them just as they are.
We need to help them find opportunities to advance. I’m talking about advancing spiritually. Jesus could have just left the woman at the well hanging with the knowledge that He knew about her sinfulness. But he went on to say that He was the Messiah, and then after the townspeople came out to see this guy, He stuck around a couple days, and a bunch of them put their faith in Him. He stuck around to help them advance spiritually. And as we look around to those who could use a hand-up spiritually, we need to realize that it takes time and effort. Remember, Samaritans are people too. And in ministering to them we need to set aside our prejudices, speak the truth in love, and be ready and available.
So now what? What are you going to do with this message I offer? I beg of you not to do what we usually do with messages, myself included. I am going to ask for a very specific response here. I want you to commit to praying for and actively seeking to minister to Samaritans (unbelievers). Before we finish, I want to take a few seconds and ask you to come before God and ask Him to give you the name of an unbeliever He wants you to minister to. And if no name comes to mind, ask Him to put someone in your path. This is not easy, I know. But if we truly want to impact our area for Christ, then we need to do our part. And we do that by being active in reaching out to those outside the family of God. I want to caution you that not everyone will respond as the Samaritan woman and the rest of her village. But we need to give it a try, and trust God for the results.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - Millinocket, Maine | A member of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine, The Episcopal Church, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion