Sermon: The Gospel Is Inclusive

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Third Sunday in Lent | John 4:5-42 | March 12, 2023 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

It was nearly 8 years ago that First Christian Church of St. Paul made a decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation.  That means that we openly welcome LGBTQ people into the full life of the church.  I think that’s a good thing for us to do and to be, but ever since we did that I’ve been wondering- why does this matter?  I mean know all the reasons that we say we do this and I know that it is important and it is, of course, personal to me since I am openly gay and married to a man.  But too often the reason we do this get stuck in our never-ending culture war.  What I’ve been grappling with is what does it mean theologically and biblically?  What does it mean for us as a community of faith?  


I think this is a question we as a congregation need to wrestle with. Our theme is centered around the concept of call and we are all called in some way to live for God. Calls ain’t just for pastors anymore. Our congregation is called as well.  The Design of the Christian Church, our confession of faith, says “In the communion of the Holy Spirit, we are joined together in discipleship and in obedience to Christ.”  We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Our Stone Campbell tradition looks to the book of Acts as a model for the church one where we people went out from Jerusalem to the known world.


Our text today gives us an idea of what it looks like for a congregation to be called, to be inclusive and welcoming.  Jesus is traveling and the Scripture tells us he had to go through Samaria.  The Bible is telling you something when it uses that phrase because Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria.  It is in between Galilee and Judea, but most people didn’t go through Samaria.  Samaria was filled with surprisingly Samaritans.  They had something in common with Jews, but the two groups differed enough that there was animosity between the two groups.  Most Jews didn’t go through Samaria, they went around.  Jesus had to go through Samaria because he was called by God to go to Samaria, not unlike how the apostles were called to go to different parts of the world.


Jesus meets this woman and asks her for a drink.  She was surprised because here was a Jew, a man asking a Samaritan and a woman.  He draws her into a conversation about not simply water at a well, but about living water.  


When Jesus asks about calling her husband, it is easy to think that she is being called out for some sin.  The Bible isn’t clear that this was the case. She might have been in what’s called a leverite marriage, where she marries the brother of her husband if he dies.  Whatever it was, it was not something she wanted to talk much about.  When Jesus points out that she doesn’t have a husband, she is astonished that he is aware of something that she might not want to be public and never said a thing about it.  Jesus never shames her, he just states a fact.  But that alone was amazing that she was known by this stranger.  He finally admits that he is the Messiah and she is so excited she leave that jar of water and go and tell her neighbors.  She is welcomed by Jesus and then is compelled to tell others.


The villagers come and believe that Jesus is the Messiah and they tell the woman this phrase which is rather powerful: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”


The Samaritan woman was called by God to go to tell her neighbors the good news of Jesus.  We have had an encounter with God in some way.  It might be very intense, or it could be very formal like baptism or communion.  Those encounters call us again and again to our mission as the people of God to go and tell others the good news.  


Why are we open and affirming? It’s not simply to set a sign-out and expect people to come to church, but it is to be called out to share the good news with people who are LGBTQ and feel that God doesn’t love them.  


While I’m focusing on sexuality and gender issues, it isn’t just about those issues.  We are called by God to go out of the walls of the church and connect with the world around us.  The church is the gathered community that comes together to learn to be disciples of Jesus and then we go out and carry God’s message of love to LGBTQ people and to everyone- gay, straight, liberal, conservative, Bernie Bro, Trump supporter.  


How does that happen?  What does that look like?  That’s a matter of discernment.  There are different ways of that happening and as a community and personally, we discern what is the best way to share the gospel.


But the call is there.  As we prepare for our visioning gathering, I hope you keep this in your hearts and minds: you and I whether we are sitting here in person or watching online are called by God to share the good news to everyone, crossing boundaries in order to let people know that God loves them.  That is our call.  Let’s discern how to best live that out.  Thanks be to God. Amen.




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