What About the “Other”?

This message was shared on Sunday, January 29th at Saint Joseph UMC in Fort Wayne, IN. 

John 4:27-38 To give a little background…Jesus was resting by a well in the middle of the day. A Samaritan woman came to get her water for the day. Jesus strikes up a conversation. In the midst of the conversation, Jesus reveals to this woman what He knows about her…which is everything. He shares His knowledge about her past and why she is coming in the middle of the day, rather than the early morning (like the other woman). She tries to change the subject, but Jesus has a way of bringing things back to the heart of the matter. The story truly shows the breaking down of barriers: Jew/Samaritan; Man/Woman; Clean/Unclean

After her encounter with Jesus, she immediately goes to share her story and invite others to “come and see”.

As followers of Jesus, we should be filled with the same contagious faith of this woman – that after encountering Jesus, we should be compelled to go and share our story and invite others to “come and see”. There should be something so amazing and transforming about our encounter with Jesus that we are unable to contain our enthusiasm.

We read that the disciples are surprised to see Jesus conversing with this woman, but none are willing to question Him about it. Jesus uses this opportunity to talk about our call to reach all people. Jesus tells the disciples that the fields are ripe for the harvest. God is sending each of us to reap the harvest.

When I look at this story, I’m moved by the compassion, grace, love and empathy Jesus had for a person that would have been labeled as an “other”. It’s almost like Jesus took the OT Law seriously. Let’s take a look at a couple of passages from the Old Testament (because I know you all were hoping and praying that we would deal with some passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy).

Leviticus 19:33-34 & Deuteronomy 10:18-19 

Now, some of us hear this passage and say, “Oh, but that’s the OT. It doesn’t really apply to us!” Of course, Jesus has something to say about that. Matthew 5:17-20 . Jesus didn’t abolish the Law, He showed us how to live it. We aren’t off the hook. Jesus taught that, if we could fully love God and others, it would take care of the whole law and prophets. In other words, there’s something about the way we treat and love “others” that is closely tied to our relationship with Jesus. The way we treat our neighbor, which includes the foreigners and strangers among us,  reflects the way we treat our Savior.

Therefore, this interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman should cause us to consider how we love and treat the “others” around us?

In our nation, today, there’s a lot of talk about the “others” and “foreigners” among us. There’s a lot of talk about building walls and banning refugees. So, it’s time for me to step on some toes.

Are we more concerned with the “others” earthly or eternal citizenship? I don’t recall reading any passage of Scripture where Jesus calls us to limit our love, compassion, care, service, and hospitality to only those who have the proper documentation.

If we are going to be serious about following the Jesus of the Bible, we need to seriously consider building bridges, rather than walls. We need to seriously consider welcoming, rather than banning those who are fleeing violence and genocide. We need to consider showing love and hospitality to those seeking a better life. Let us remember that Jesus was once a Middle Eastern refugee. All this “America first” language is borderline dangerous. As Christians, our primary allegiance is to God and God’s Kingdom. Too many of us confuse patriotism and Christianity.

If we desire to build walls, reject and ban refugees, we need to at least be honest enough to admit that it’s not our faith in the God of the Bible that is motivating our politics on the issue, but our fear of the other.

Brennan Manning wrote, “The outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, not the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception.”

Of course, for some of us, the “other” in our lives is not necessarily about a “foreigner”, but those who are “different”.  Maybe your “other” is your neighbor who is a democrat or republican. Maybe your “other” is based on one’s religious or non-religious affiliations. Maybe your “other” is based on the color of one’s skin, their gender identification, or sexual preference. Or maybe your other is a Patriots fans (actually, that one is probably justifiable)! Or maybe your “other” is a person that is different in some way that causes anxiety, discomfort or fear.

Honestly, for me, it’s often easier to love the “other” than it is to love my fellow Christians. My “other” is often fellow Christians with slightly different theological interpretations. The words, actions, social media posts of many so-called Christian leaders and friends that fail to honor my understanding of the way of Jesus, that’s my “other”. In my less mature days, when various Christian spokespersons said crazy stuff like “taking in refugees isn’t a Biblical issue”, I’d say things like “I’d like to punch that guy in the face.” Now, I just make passive-aggressive Facebook posts!

In His interaction with this “other” woman, Jesus shows us that we are here to break down walls. We are here to build bridges. We are to include, rather than exclude. We are here to extend love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality to all. Our love for God, one another, and even our enemies should be what defines us as followers of Jesus.

One of the ways we can build bridges, include, and extend love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and hospitality to all is to invite others to join us on this journey. We need to become an invitational people. We need to embrace a culture of invitation.

80% This is an important number. 80% is the percentage of Americans who are not meaningfully connected to a church. That means the mission field is ripe for the harvest. If we don’t know anyone who is not meaningfully connected to a church, we need to get out of our Christian bubble, flee the Christian ghetto and make some new friends!

80% is also the percentage of Christians who believe we have a responsibility to share our faith.

Fort Wayne is often referred to as the “City of Churches”. According to some demographics utilizing census information, only 54% identify as religious in Fort Wayne and Allen County. 26% fall into the “nones” category (following the national trend).

According to researchers at Christianity Today, 96% of those not associated with a church would likely attend if they were invited. However, here’s some not so great news…Only 21% invited someone in the last 12 months. Only 2% invited an unchurched person. 19% invited people who are already actively involved in a faith community! That’s not evangelism, that’s competition!

So, 80% believe we should share our faith with the 80% not connected to a faith community. Only 21% participated in an easy way of sharing our faith by inviting someone to church. And, of that 21%, only 2% invited someone not meaningfully connected to a faith community. Come on church, let’s be trendsetters. Let’s change the numbers. Let’s share our stories with the world around us.

We have a lot of changes taking place at Saint Joseph. We’ve seen staffing changes. We’re preparing to launch a new worshipping community at the Lehman YMCA this summer. That launch will impact how we do things at our Reed Road location. Let me be clear, we do not make changes simply to make changes. We make changes in order to best position ourselves to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If you are here today and you have a pulse and you are breathing, you know things are always changing. The world around us is rapidly changing. Yet, we as the church are often slow to adapt and adjust. Therefore, it is wise to anticipate and expect changes. We keep offering the same old stuff in the same old ways in the same old packaging and expect different results. Whenever changes are made, it requires a response. We can accept the change. We can refuse the change – get mad, throw a fit, take our ball and go home.

Let us remember, Jesus calls His followers to shoulder our crosses daily and follow. Just to be clear, the cross is not about our comfort, our felt needs, or our personal preferences. For some, welcoming the “other” is a cross. For some, accepting change is a cross.

But, it’s more than just accepting the change that is necessary. When we accept changes, another facet of our acceptance is to invite others along for the journey. When we make changes and do new & different things, it presents a great opportunity to extend an invitation to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others around us.

The woman didn’t wait around – she ran to share. God wants all of us to “go”, to run, share our story and invite others to come and see. For many of us, this requires us to step out of our comfort zones. We all have a call and responsibility to invite others to join us on the journey. We need to invite others to “come and check out this new thing”!

In your life, think of one person who could benefit from an encounter with Jesus. Maybe it’s someone you would label as an “other”.  Think of that one person who could truly benefit from the fellowship, community, love, care, support and worship life of the church. This week, pray for that person. Call them, send them a text, let them know that you are thinking of them. Pray that God would give you opportunities for conversations where you can bring up your faith or church involvement in a way that isn’t awkward. Then, invite that person to join us next week.

3 thoughts on “What About the “Other”?

  1. Pingback: When Your Faith & Politics Don’t Align | Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor

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