The Open Space of God's Grace
Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
March 3, 2002

My experience says that men participate in violence much more than women do. We can point to all sorts of explanations for that which run from biology to culture. Regardless of the explanation it seems to be the case. We have shelters for abused women and children because it is economically feasible way to deal with the large number of cases of male abuse. When women do the abusing it is unusual and is cared for on a case by case basis, not as a class action.

When women start doing the suicide bombing, as has happened recently in Israel you know that things have gotten to a very desperate place for generally women are the glue in difficult situations, not the destructors.

When I was in Palestine/Israel one of my favorite places, and one that still holds out hope for the Israeli/Palestinian impasse, was the traditional site of the meeting between Jesus and Photina. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition she is not a nameless woman, but St. Photina, the lady of light revealing a new day.

When looked at the way we would look at any situation today, whether that was between a Hmong woman and a White man or an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman or a Hindu man and a Moslem woman, we would find all sorts of inequalities.

The same was true in Jesus' time. Their meeting at the well, just the two of them, would have had layer upon layer of a cultural wall built between them. They would have had years and years of a religious wall built between them.

There should be no way for anything good to have come out of this meeting.

And yet, as we hear this story told in one of the books of the collection known as the Bible and which as been used to enforce a patriarchal, male-dominated, society, -- there is a break-through.

This story is one of the many incidents that Paul will later condense into a saying about the resurrected Christ -- there is no division into Jew or non-Jew, into male or female for all are one in Christ.

With wall upon wall between them, Jesus and Photina have a conversation. This is miracle enough, simply to have a conversation. I hope you appreciate every good conversation you have, for it is still a miracle to talk with another rather than past one another or to one another.

Out of this conversation comes revelation.

Where the Jewish Messiah was to come and set everything right from on high, the Samaritan Messiah was to come to reveal who we are from within.

This could have been yet another wall between people; what it is they hope for. For, do we not argue most fiercely over hope. We can live with our economics life going to pot, those who have lived through the Great Depression know about this. Culture after culture can even live through military defeat. But, having one's hopes dashed is something we simply will not put up with without either curling up into a ball and fading away or striking out blindly in great desperation.

So here we have a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman having a conversation.

Within their conversation they talk about their hopes in geographic terms. Is their hope, their Messiah, going to come to Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim.

You might imagine that this is an even larger issue than trying to get the veterans groups to have a fruitful conversation with UW-LaCrosse about names of stadiums or fields or streets. This has even more divisive potential that the annexation or incorporation or water issues between the La Crosse Common Council and the Town of Campbell.

The amazing thing about this conversation is something that Jesus says that Photina can pass on to her neighbors: "the time has come when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter." [The Message]

The insight is that the positions we have held to so dearly, that divide us, are not the real issues. What is as stake is experiencing the presence of GOD, not how we try to put that experience into human words.

When hope is tied to God rather than to power and control, whether economic or military, then there is a new world available to us.

Photina was so excited about this new way of worshiping GOD in Spirit, rather than cultural geographies, that she forgot something seeming crucial to on-going life in a desert scene -- her water jar. She went to tell as many people as she could, as soon as she could, that there is a new life of real freedom available that is already present and does not need to be defended but can be lived.

Photina becomes the first non-Jewish missionary in the Gospel of John.

Her message would be similar to that of Paul later on. "We throw open our doors to GOD and discover at the same moment that GOD has already thrown open a door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand--out in the wide open spaces of GOD's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praises." [The Message, alt.]

As you leave today you will receive the communion elements at the door. You will receive the spirit of Jesus talking with Photina. You will be strengthened through the symbols of his life to take the wide open space of GOD's grace with you and to others. You will be inspired to be a healing presence with your family, your neighborhood, your country and your world. You will be encouraged to be a Photina your time and place to stand up tall and shout your praise that GOD has ended our divisions. You will be able to leave your "water jar," your reserve, behind and extend your welcome to people who are different than you.

Communion at the door will remind you that GOD has opened the door of heaven and the door of St. Luke's to all people. Go and have conversations and bring back a new friend to the open door of GOD's grace.

Let us pray the prayer of Great Thanksgiving (found on page 17 of The United Methodist Hymnal).

Copyright 2002. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.

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