March 2020

Unclean and Untouchables

3rd Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2020
John 4:5-42

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, and fellow seekers, this is the first sermon you will read during this time of separation caused by the coronavirus. And during this time, we will do all we can in reaching out to you, hoping we can continue to embrace each other spiritually while physical touch is discouraged.

This virus poses both a frustrating and fascinating challenge. It’s frustrating because never in the relatively short history of our church has worship and programming been canceled for fear of catching a disease. Still, I can’t help but feel that Covid-19 is reflective of a spiritual virus that plagues and divides us on many levels. It, therefore, becomes the heightened yet fascinating challenge of our church to explore new and innovative ways of bridging the physical and spiritual breach that separates us from each other and God.

I cannot imagine a more appropriate text from which to base today’s sermon than the story where Jesus, a Jew, encounters a Samaritan woman. Jews and Samaritans had a mutual dislike of one another that, even in Jesus’ time, dated back centuries, and was evident in the fact that Jews regarded the temple in Jerusalem as the center of worship while Samaritans worshiped in the temple on Mount Gerizim. For this and many other reasons related to religion, politics and progeny, Jews and Samaritans were forbidden to associate with one another. Each considered the other unclean and untouchable. Jesus, himself, may have been a product of this prejudice when he instructed his disciples to avoid ministry among the Samaritans, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6) And Jews went way out of their way to avoid passage through Samaria in reaching their destination. However, for whatever reason, we are told that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:4)

Like the precautionary measures we’ve taken toward the coronavirus, there was definitely cause for caution in this encounter, especially from the Samaritan woman, alone in the presence of a strange man she immediately, possibly from his physical features, recognized as a Jew and, consequently, unclean and untouchable. But during the course of their conversation, a common spirit emerged that transcended gender, race, religion, culture and class, and made the woman aware that this divine messenger was the Messiah that could merge their defiant ancestral differences into a sacred union.

And while the disciples, returning from buying food from the marketplace in nearby Sychar, wondered why their teacher would sully himself in the company of a lowly Samaritan woman, this unknown, unnamed woman would drop her water jars and return to Sychar, replenished by waters of eternal life, to become an evangel for the Christ compelling other Samaritans, in her own words, to “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29)

More than ever, and especially during this time when an unvaccinated communicable virus renders us untouchable, we are called as Christians, in our individual encounters with spiritually disabled and disillusioned seekers, to be a nonjudgmental safe haven and sanctuary where the presence of God within, between and among us may touch us and lift us above barriers and boundaries to be the Christ for each other.

“The Lord does not see as mortals see,” said the Prophet Samuel; for we “look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7) “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” said the Apostle Paul. (Romans 5:5) And as that Spirit carried Jesus into the wilderness, and even to Samaria, let it carry us to wherever and whomever it chooses, in Jesus’ name. Amen.