We are going to wade in some deep waters today. The woman at the well references the deepness of the well. So much of the story of God happens around the water, at the water’s edge. The edge of rivers, seas, pools, and this well.
Today I invite you into the deep water. The water that feels unsafe. The water that wells up around you and offers life and fear.
This past week, I took the youth from the church to a water park. I have an irrational fear of waterslides, especially the ones that are all enclosed…. When you can’t see where you are going. And even though the water is maybe just an inch deep, it feels infinitely deep. You twist and turn, you fall, and water splashes into your face. And, to me, it feels like drowning. It feels like deep waters.
This week felt like deep waters. I started this week by driving 11 nervous young people up to camp. It was a long day. It was a good day. I prayed and prayed for those kids on the way home, hoping that they would have the kind of week that changes their lives.
And then it was the Fourth of July, a beautiful day. Where we celebrate the freedoms that this country affords us.
And then it was Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas.
It was like barreling down a waterslide, through the deep water, twisting and turning and dropping.
From God’s Word
This scripture, the story of the woman at the well, is a story for today.
Jesus was talking to a woman, a woman who, simply because of her gender, was considered nothing, property. Men didn’t just ‘talk’ to women.
This woman was also a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. This story is a story about race. It is a story about oppression. Jesus stood with her, a woman. A Samaritan. He stood with her, he talked with her.
She was not less then.
She was not an object of pity.
She was not a project.
She had dignity.
Jesus didn’t restore anything. He stood alongside. He was human, because she was human.
And he asked her for something. He needed something from her. Fill up my cup. I am thirsty. Bring me some water.
Jesus didn’t have to be there. He didn’t have to say. But he did.
He had multiple opportunities to excuse himself from the conversation. He has so many opportunities to walk away from this mutual interaction.
“I’m a Samaritan.” She said. But Jesus stayed.
“The well is too deep.” She said. But Jesus instructed.
“I am a sinner.” She said. Jesus didn’t condemn.
The disciples returned and raised their eyebrows. But Jesus remained.
The woman went and brought her community back. And he showed them. He was with them.
Jesus stood with her and with them. He was not afraid to stand in the place of discomfort. He was not embarrassed to need something from her. He was not afraid to stand with her. To be a Christ follower means standing with the oppressed.
This story is connected to another story… another interaction with Jesus and a woman. Just a couple chapters over in John 8.
It is the story of the adulteress woman.
Jesus stood with her.
The law said she should die. The law said she should be stoned for her crime.
But Jesus stood with her.
Jesus stood with her until every accuser put down their stones. He stood with her until she was no longer in danger of dying. And then he put his own stone down.
To follow Christ is to stand with the oppressed, regardless of their crime, their reputation, their race, their gender.
This week I watched two men die. Two men who were human. Two men who should have been guaranteed a trial, a jury of their peers, a judge. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
I then watched chaos in Dallas as bullets sliced through a crowd of people – people who were standing with Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Police officers who were standing with protestors, holding up their rights to protest. I watched as police officer lay on the ground.
We are called to stand with the oppressed.
When I heard the news about Philando Castile, I was heartbroken. His death took place just blocks from where my children used to go to school. Where their friends live, where our life took place. Philando Castile was three years behind my husband in high school. He worked in the St. Paul Public schools.
When I saw the video, the news, I wondered if I should go stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends, my neighbors… I talked to my clergy friends serving in the community where the shooting took place.
When I asked if I could do anything to support their work, I was asked to pray.
So I organized a prayer vigil at Little Prairie. Here. In Dundas. It was clear to me that I needed to stand for justice, stand shoulder to shoulder here, in this place. Bear witness in this community.
I invited the pastors of another church in town. I emailed our law enforcement (before Dallas happened) and told them that we would be praying for them. This week I am also the on call police chaplain.
So we gathered. We were a small group. But we prayed. And we sang. We held space in this community, standing shoulder to shoulder in this town for the hurt in our nation.
Northfield can feel very far away from the Twin Cities. Certainly if feels very far away from Baton Rouge. This town can feel very insulated, except when we are going to Wild game or a Twins game or a concert. Then the city is just up the road. But when something like this happens, it might as well have happened across the ocean.
If we call ourselves Christ followers, we must do what Christ did. This community needs us to hold the light of life, to stand up for the oppressed.
This past week I watched as my friends who parent African American sons, I watches as they mourned and cried out in fear for their children. Afraid to let them walk down the street, or drive across town, or go out with their friends.
I have never had to fear that simply because of my sons’ skin color they might be in danger. I have never feared that their skin color might escalate a situation to violence. Never. I have never had to talk to my children about how their very appearance can be dangerous.
But my friends have and do. And they have for generations.
It is because of this, I don’t get to say how a person protests. I don’t get to say that blocking traffic or boycotting commerce is wrong. I can say violence is wrong. But as long as it is peaceful, I don’t get to say, “Oh, you’re overreacting.” “You’re methods aren’t working.”
I had someone say, it’s hard to pick a side. It’s not about picking a side; it’s about being on the same side. It’s about coming together because we want this world to be a better place for everyone.
A black clergy friend of mine quoted Martin Luther King Jr,
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
When I picked up kids from camp yesterday, I was surprised to see one of the boys, an African American boy, who lived in my neighborhood in St. Paul. He had come up with my previous ministry setting. And this boy, who now looked like a young man, this boy who spent much of his summers in my back yard, this middle schooler hugged me. A genuine hug. He was so happy to see me. And I hugged him back, like one of my own. I hugged him and told him I loved him. And I didn’t want to let go because I want this world to be better for him.
And then I found my brother in law, my husband’s brother, a camp counselor this summer. My brother, also African American, was goofing around with my son. And I hugged him. Wanting so much more in this world for him. The uncle to my children. A young man, on the cusp of adulthood.
If you don’t feel like you can stand for people in another town. Then maybe you can stand with my brother. And if you don’t feel like you can stand up for my brothers. Then stand up for your own children, grandchildren, that they might know what it is to follow Christ because you followed Christ. That they might know what it is to follow Christ and stand with the oppressed.
These are deep waters. And it is uncomfortable. It is complicated. There are no easy answers and we don’t know if we are even close to a way out, but we are Christ-followers. We are called to stand with the oppressed.
Come to the well and stand. Shoulder to shoulder. Be in the deep water. Offer the deep water. Take the deep water. Follow Jesus.