Openhearted Living

Keith McFarren

July 14, 2019

John 4: 1-18, 27-30, 39-42

 

 

 

 

     Frederick Douglass is an American hero.  Born into slavery in 1818 he taught himself to read and write and despite having no formal education, his writing and ability to speak in public were so good that people couldn’t believe he had ever been a slave.  After working with Anne Murray, a freed black woman whom he would eventually marry, Douglass eventually escaped slavery and gained his freedom and went on to be known as an abolitionist, statesman, writer and fighter for social reform.

     Douglass had been there – he had first hand experience and knew what it was like to not only live as a slave but to suffer the daily beatings and humiliation.  His drive for justice grew out of a desire to right the wrongs of the world.  He believed that his work honored God and his work was a form of true Christianity as he wrote about the hypocrisy of Christians who supported slavery. 

     “I hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.  We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.  The man who wields the blood-clotted whip during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus…  The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned out in the religious shouts of his pious master” (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Tribeca Books, 2010, 105).

 

     Douglass called out the sins of slavery because he believed that God had called him and that he was doing God’s work in the world.  And as a Christian, he couldn’t understand how other Christians could be content living in a world where the kingdom of God was nothing more than a concept rather than a reality.

     Being a black man fighting against slavery, Frederick Douglass created friction wherever he went and with whatever he did which included marrying a white woman after his first wife died in a time when black and white marriages were prohibited, a marriage that not only set him apart from the rest of the world but a marriage that alienated him from his own children for the rest of his life. 

     Frederick Douglass described himself as being an agitator.  It’s not very often that a person termed an “agitator” is very well liked by the general public, because those in power typically find an “agitator” to be someone who causes nothing but trouble.  But perhaps it would be easier to look at Douglass as being another type of agitator…perhaps it would be easier to picture him as being like an agitator on a washing machine…the part that agitates the water and the laundry so that the soap can clean the clothes.  To picture Frederick Douglass as being like an agitator on a washing machine is to see him confronting the filthy dirty injustices of the world and agitating the status quo.  And at the same time we can see him working to cleanse the soul of the nation from the deep seeded stains of slavery and inequality, working day and night to bring justice to our society. 

 

     When Jesus began his journey with his disciples, he knew that if they were going to love others the way God wanted them to, they too would have to be agitated if they were going to rid themselves of their filth.  Jesus believed that there were two very essential areas that help form the foundation of our life, two very essential areas that need agitated and cleaned up – that being the way his followers and society viewed gender and race.  These two areas, gender and race not only form the foundations of our lives but both help to fulfill the command to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

     One of the best examples of Jesus being an agitator is the encounter he had with the woman at the well as he crossed through Samaria.  At that period in time there had been a hateful feud going on for over 500 years between the Jews and the Samaritans.  Back when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC they co-mingled their people with the captured Israelites and settled in Samaria…and over a period of time the Israelites ended up conforming to the ways of their captors and ended up marrying outside of their Jewish religion.  Not only did they end up combining households and religions but the intermarried Israelites began worshiping various gods and goddesses of the other culture and they began to worship on Mt. Gerizim instead of going to the Temple in Jerusalem. 

     So the Jewish people began to look down on the Samaritans as being not only traders to their nationality and religion, but as idolaters who were unclean and socially unacceptable.  Because they left their Jewish religion a schism developed between the two groups and it came to be that a Jew would be willing to go miles and miles out of their way rather than take a short cut through Samaria.  Any Jew that is, except Jesus.

 

     Jesus went right through Samaria and stopped right in the middle of the town of Sychar, where he came face to face with a hated Samaritan woman…and Jesus started a conversation.  One thing about Jesus, he isn’t much at small talk.  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  Jesus talks about real issues head on…issues that are real and important.  So before the woman knows it they are talking about her love life, her religion, and a little bit about her political views.  And before the conversation ends, Jesus even tells her that he is the Messiah. 

     The Bible tells us that the disciples “were astonished” or in today’s language we might say they were shocked to see that Jesus was not only talking to a woman but a Samaritan woman as well.  At that time, it was socially off limits for a man to talk to an unaccompanied woman in a place where there was no one else around, so it may have been that the disciples were worried about accusations that could have been made against Jesus and the woman.  Once again, Jesus seems to have done a pretty good job of agitating his disciples.

 

     Picture if you will the look on the faces of the disciples when Jesus accepted the invitation for all of them to stay in the homes of the Samaritans for two days.  They would have to sleep in Samaritan beds…and eat Samaritan food…and drink Samaritan water…and talk to Samaritan for two straight days…the same people who sold out their nationality and their religion for wooden and stone idols.  Throughout their entire lifetimes the disciples had heard nothing but jokes and stories about what the Samaritan did or didn’t do that made them indecent and untrustworthy people and now they have two spend two days with them.

     Now picture this.  Picture the person that you like the least in the whole world.  Who is it that you can’t stand to be around?  Who is it that you despise?  Who is it that you could care less if you ever see again?  Now…how would you feel if you had to spend two straight days with that person?  You have to eat with them and sleep in their home and you have to socialize and go places with them for two straight days!  Now you know how the disciples must have felt.   

 

    But Jesus, who is also a Jew and has also heard all the jokes and all the stories about the Samaritans, enters into human interactions with an open heart and an open mind.  Jesus has no cultural bias.  He has no prejudice.  He knows no stereotype.  All people are equal.  Because he comes with an open heart and an open mind…and with some compassion…he is able to understand where people have been hurt during their lifetime.  He knows how they feel.  He knows what motivates their actions.  But above all else, he is able to see through us and he is able to call out all of our prejudices, so that we can repent and transform our lives.

 

     Jesus wants nothing more than for us to experience openhearted living.  Having a closed, hardened heart does nothing but prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor.  If we believe that our neighbor across the street, across town, across the country or across the world is unworthy and should be treated as less than human than we are because of their gender or the color of their skin or the place of their birth, or what they believe, then we will never be able to honor God’s command to love other people.

     Jesus made his disciples stay in Samaria so that they would encounter the Samaritans as children of God…as people who were created in the image of God.  If you want to be an effective disciple of Jesus, you have to be ready to be agitated by all the various encounters Jesus will require of you during your faith walk.  But you also have to be ready to remember that whomever he brings you into contact with, they are Children of God and they were all created in the image of God.

 

     Our old ways of thinking just don’t go away on their own.  We’ve been taught by our parents or our grandparents or other relatives and friends who is good and who is bad…who is right and who is wrong.  It’s been instilled in our minds who is permissible in our lives and who is not…and Jesus knows that.  That’s why we have to be taught how to love others.  We have to make an openhearted commitment to love others.  It has to become a way of life. 

     Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; [and] everything becomes new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Paul is saying that when we accept the forgiveness and the love and the grace that Jesus offers us, we receive a new life. 

     It’s a life that not only allows us to have our past sins forgiven but it also causes us to no longer live and see things from a worldly point of view.  We no longer love what the world around us tells us to love or accept things and admire things that the world around us accepts and admires. Instead, with a new life and newly opened eyes, we suddenly begin to see the world around us just as Jesus sees it and we begin to love the way that Jesus loves.

 

     In Christ we become a new creation…but here again, it’s easier said than done.  It will take some time to see other people as clearly as Jesus sees them…that’s because we’re only human and not divine.  But we also have to remember that as ambassadors for Jesus we have made a heartfelt commitment to exemplify the life, the love, the values and the grace of Jesus everywhere we go.  This means that we no longer look at race or gender from the point of view of the family we grew up in, or the town you grew up in or the culture you grew up in (Tom Berlin, Reckless Love, Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 2019, 82).

     To be ambassadors of Jesus, is to encounter others in the same gracious, openhearted way that Jesus approached the woman at the well…with no cultural bias, no prejudice, and no stereotypes…only an open heart and an open mind. 

 

     This is not about political correctness.  It’s about following the direction of the Holy Spirit and making a heartfelt commitment to God to love your neighbor.  That’s the thing…you can’t change how you feel about others by yourself.  You’re going to need some help…which means that we need to ask Jesus what changes we need to make in our lives so that we can be transformed in such a way that it will show in our up in our commitment for equality and justice for everyone.

 

    We have to be intentional in what we do.  We also have to become vulnerable and even confessional so that we can move toward being accepting of all people.  It’s all necessary and it’s all needed if we want to keep the Great Commandment and be ambassadors for Christ as we reach out with his love…a love that will transform our human sins into a loving relationship with other people.  

     Following Jesus is unpredictable and often times agitating to say the least…but so is openhearted living.  Take a chance.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Go to Samaria and spend a couple days with Jesus…and change your life forever.           

    

 

Openhearted Living

Keith McFarren

July 14, 2019

John 4: 1-18, 27-30, 39-42

 

 

 

 

     Frederick Douglass is an American hero.  Born into slavery in 1818 he taught himself to read and write and despite having no formal education, his writing and ability to speak in public were so good that people couldn’t believe he had ever been a slave.  After working with Anne Murray, a freed black woman whom he would eventually marry, Douglass eventually escaped slavery and gained his freedom and went on to be known as an abolitionist, statesman, writer and fighter for social reform.

     Douglass had been there – he had first hand experience and knew what it was like to not only live as a slave but to suffer the daily beatings and humiliation.  His drive for justice grew out of a desire to right the wrongs of the world.  He believed that his work honored God and his work was a form of true Christianity as he wrote about the hypocrisy of Christians who supported slavery. 

     “I hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.  We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.  The man who wields the blood-clotted whip during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus…  The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned out in the religious shouts of his pious master” (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Tribeca Books, 2010, 105).

 

     Douglass called out the sins of slavery because he believed that God had called him and that he was doing God’s work in the world.  And as a Christian, he couldn’t understand how other Christians could be content living in a world where the kingdom of God was nothing more than a concept rather than a reality.

     Being a black man fighting against slavery, Frederick Douglass created friction wherever he went and with whatever he did which included marrying a white woman after his first wife died in a time when black and white marriages were prohibited, a marriage that not only set him apart from the rest of the world but a marriage that alienated him from his own children for the rest of his life. 

     Frederick Douglass described himself as being an agitator.  It’s not very often that a person termed an “agitator” is very well liked by the general public, because those in power typically find an “agitator” to be someone who causes nothing but trouble.  But perhaps it would be easier to look at Douglass as being another type of agitator…perhaps it would be easier to picture him as being like an agitator on a washing machine…the part that agitates the water and the laundry so that the soap can clean the clothes.  To picture Frederick Douglass as being like an agitator on a washing machine is to see him confronting the filthy dirty injustices of the world and agitating the status quo.  And at the same time we can see him working to cleanse the soul of the nation from the deep seeded stains of slavery and inequality, working day and night to bring justice to our society. 

 

     When Jesus began his journey with his disciples, he knew that if they were going to love others the way God wanted them to, they too would have to be agitated if they were going to rid themselves of their filth.  Jesus believed that there were two very essential areas that help form the foundation of our life, two very essential areas that need agitated and cleaned up – that being the way his followers and society viewed gender and race.  These two areas, gender and race not only form the foundations of our lives but both help to fulfill the command to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

     One of the best examples of Jesus being an agitator is the encounter he had with the woman at the well as he crossed through Samaria.  At that period in time there had been a hateful feud going on for over 500 years between the Jews and the Samaritans.  Back when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC they co-mingled their people with the captured Israelites and settled in Samaria…and over a period of time the Israelites ended up conforming to the ways of their captors and ended up marrying outside of their Jewish religion.  Not only did they end up combining households and religions but the intermarried Israelites began worshiping various gods and goddesses of the other culture and they began to worship on Mt. Gerizim instead of going to the Temple in Jerusalem. 

     So the Jewish people began to look down on the Samaritans as being not only traders to their nationality and religion, but as idolaters who were unclean and socially unacceptable.  Because they left their Jewish religion a schism developed between the two groups and it came to be that a Jew would be willing to go miles and miles out of their way rather than take a short cut through Samaria.  Any Jew that is, except Jesus.

 

     Jesus went right through Samaria and stopped right in the middle of the town of Sychar, where he came face to face with a hated Samaritan woman…and Jesus started a conversation.  One thing about Jesus, he isn’t much at small talk.  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  Jesus talks about real issues head on…issues that are real and important.  So before the woman knows it they are talking about her love life, her religion, and a little bit about her political views.  And before the conversation ends, Jesus even tells her that he is the Messiah. 

     The Bible tells us that the disciples “were astonished” or in today’s language we might say they were shocked to see that Jesus was not only talking to a woman but a Samaritan woman as well.  At that time, it was socially off limits for a man to talk to an unaccompanied woman in a place where there was no one else around, so it may have been that the disciples were worried about accusations that could have been made against Jesus and the woman.  Once again, Jesus seems to have done a pretty good job of agitating his disciples.

 

     Picture if you will the look on the faces of the disciples when Jesus accepted the invitation for all of them to stay in the homes of the Samaritans for two days.  They would have to sleep in Samaritan beds…and eat Samaritan food…and drink Samaritan water…and talk to Samaritan for two straight days…the same people who sold out their nationality and their religion for wooden and stone idols.  Throughout their entire lifetimes the disciples had heard nothing but jokes and stories about what the Samaritan did or didn’t do that made them indecent and untrustworthy people and now they have two spend two days with them.

     Now picture this.  Picture the person that you like the least in the whole world.  Who is it that you can’t stand to be around?  Who is it that you despise?  Who is it that you could care less if you ever see again?  Now…how would you feel if you had to spend two straight days with that person?  You have to eat with them and sleep in their home and you have to socialize and go places with them for two straight days!  Now you know how the disciples must have felt.   

 

    But Jesus, who is also a Jew and has also heard all the jokes and all the stories about the Samaritans, enters into human interactions with an open heart and an open mind.  Jesus has no cultural bias.  He has no prejudice.  He knows no stereotype.  All people are equal.  Because he comes with an open heart and an open mind…and with some compassion…he is able to understand where people have been hurt during their lifetime.  He knows how they feel.  He knows what motivates their actions.  But above all else, he is able to see through us and he is able to call out all of our prejudices, so that we can repent and transform our lives.

 

     Jesus wants nothing more than for us to experience openhearted living.  Having a closed, hardened heart does nothing but prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor.  If we believe that our neighbor across the street, across town, across the country or across the world is unworthy and should be treated as less than human than we are because of their gender or the color of their skin or the place of their birth, or what they believe, then we will never be able to honor God’s command to love other people.

     Jesus made his disciples stay in Samaria so that they would encounter the Samaritans as children of God…as people who were created in the image of God.  If you want to be an effective disciple of Jesus, you have to be ready to be agitated by all the various encounters Jesus will require of you during your faith walk.  But you also have to be ready to remember that whomever he brings you into contact with, they are Children of God and they were all created in the image of God.

 

     Our old ways of thinking just don’t go away on their own.  We’ve been taught by our parents or our grandparents or other relatives and friends who is good and who is bad…who is right and who is wrong.  It’s been instilled in our minds who is permissible in our lives and who is not…and Jesus knows that.  That’s why we have to be taught how to love others.  We have to make an openhearted commitment to love others.  It has to become a way of life. 

     Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; [and] everything becomes new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Paul is saying that when we accept the forgiveness and the love and the grace that Jesus offers us, we receive a new life. 

     It’s a life that not only allows us to have our past sins forgiven but it also causes us to no longer live and see things from a worldly point of view.  We no longer love what the world around us tells us to love or accept things and admire things that the world around us accepts and admires. Instead, with a new life and newly opened eyes, we suddenly begin to see the world around us just as Jesus sees it and we begin to love the way that Jesus loves.

 

     In Christ we become a new creation…but here again, it’s easier said than done.  It will take some time to see other people as clearly as Jesus sees them…that’s because we’re only human and not divine.  But we also have to remember that as ambassadors for Jesus we have made a heartfelt commitment to exemplify the life, the love, the values and the grace of Jesus everywhere we go.  This means that we no longer look at race or gender from the point of view of the family we grew up in, or the town you grew up in or the culture you grew up in (Tom Berlin, Reckless Love, Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 2019, 82).

     To be ambassadors of Jesus, is to encounter others in the same gracious, openhearted way that Jesus approached the woman at the well…with no cultural bias, no prejudice, and no stereotypes…only an open heart and an open mind. 

 

     This is not about political correctness.  It’s about following the direction of the Holy Spirit and making a heartfelt commitment to God to love your neighbor.  That’s the thing…you can’t change how you feel about others by yourself.  You’re going to need some help…which means that we need to ask Jesus what changes we need to make in our lives so that we can be transformed in such a way that it will show in our up in our commitment for equality and justice for everyone.

 

    We have to be intentional in what we do.  We also have to become vulnerable and even confessional so that we can move toward being accepting of all people.  It’s all necessary and it’s all needed if we want to keep the Great Commandment and be ambassadors for Christ as we reach out with his love…a love that will transform our human sins into a loving relationship with other people.  

     Following Jesus is unpredictable and often times agitating to say the least…but so is openhearted living.  Take a chance.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Go to Samaria and spend a couple days with Jesus…and change your life forever.