Posted on Wed, Mar 30, 2011
Rev. Jim's Sermon Lent 3A
A Season of Overcoming Barriers
Rev. Jim Merritt
March 27, 2011
Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964. With the support of her organization, she challenged the all-white delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Speaking in front of the credentials committee, she described the personal cost to her for her attempt to register to vote. Furthermore, she described the atrocities inflicted on those who joined in that action with her. Finally, she delivered her now famous statement,
“…if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings - in America?"
President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to keep Hamer’s speech off the air by making a speech of his own. He sent powerful representatives to negotiate with Hamer and the NFDP, including Senator Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and J. Edgar Hoover. They offered a compromise that two members of the MFDP would be seated as non voting delegates. When Senator Humphrey presented the compromise deal, he urged members of the MFDP to agree to it saying that failure to do so could impact his ability to get his name on the election ballot, Hamer rebuked him sharply. She said, "Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people's lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I'm going to pray to Jesus for you." Fannie Lou Hamer knew something about overcoming barriers.
Today’s gospel is also about overcoming barriers. You just heard the very long story, so I won’t take us all the way through again. I will, however, highlight some important points. First, The Gospel story is a water tale. In the Gospel, the water that never runs out and can constantly refresh tired and discouraged people. The waster is symbolic of God’s grace which also never runs dry. This kind of grace is extended to an unnamed woman in the story. Of course we see the typical symbols: water which represents spirit, and a mountain that represents the divine presence. We also see Jesus affirming this woman who is considered an “other” and an “outsider.” How could he do that? This woman faced many barriers that she needed to overcome.
Samaritans are mentioned a few times in the Gospels. They are mentioned to signify God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love (e.g., Luke 10, Luke 17, John 4). The animosity toward the Samaritans by Jesus’ community had been going on for generations. Episcopal priest James Rowe Adams (founder of The Center for Progressive Christianity) in his book, From Literal to Literary: The Essential Reference book for Biblical Metaphors, tells us that according to tradition, about 900 years before the time of Jesus, King Omri established Samaria as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (in 1 Kings 16 we read that Omri bought the “hill of Samaria” for 2 talents of silver). 60 years later, the Assyrian Empire conquered Samaria and resettled it with people from various parts of the empire. The settlers picked up some aspects of the indigenous religion and eventually built a temple on Mount Gerizim. In Jesus’ day, the Judeans (descendants of the people of the southern kingdom) believed that the Samaritans were not truly Jewish because they may have been descended from those early Assyrian/Samaritan settlers. They were outsiders, too and they too had many barriers to overcome.
So, to connect the dots, Jesus associates with this Samaritan, and to make matters even worse, the Samaritan is a woman and Jesus hooks up with her in her neck of the woods! Imagine! Jesus offers her symbolic water that doesn’t run out So, like the water from Moses’ rock, Jesus’ water which contains grace, affirmation, encouragement, hope, and empowerment, seems to follow us around and never run out, always helping us be resilient in our times of need. That must have been a very profound message in the late 90s when John’s gospel is being written (almost 3 decades after the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed). It is also a profound message for us this morning.
It is true that we face many barriers and my sisters and brothers, it is also true that there is no barrier that our God cannot overcome. There is no river to deep, there is no ocean too wide and there ain’t no mountain high enough to stop you and God together from overcoming the barriers that are holding you back. You may face a gender-based barrier which means you can’t get the best job or the best pay of a job that has traditionally been reserved for members of one gender alone. I’m here to tell you this morning, God can overcome that barrier!
You may face a barrier because of the color of your skin. I used to cringe and sometime yell when people in New Orleans asked me what “shade” a baby was before they came in to consider her or him for adoption. You may be too light or too dark or too yellow, or red in the eyes of human kind and I want you to know something today, you are perfect, absolutely perfect in God’s size and you and God can overcome that barrier, too. What shade is she indeed!
You may be facing a barrier over money or age, or background or too much education or too little of it. I want you to hear me clearly, sisters and brothers; there is no barrier that you and God cannot overcome. This is your season to overcome your barriers. This is our season to overcome barriers together. Most important, this is God’s season to show us once and for all that with God’s help no barrier at all can stand in our way and hold us back from the goodness that God has in store for those of us who believe and call on God’s name in our hour of distress. Scripture tells us, If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, I will forgive their sins, I will knock down their barriers, I will heal them and their land and their country and their land. Why? Because there’s nothing that our God can’t do. One more time, there is NOTING that our God can’t do. Glory to God in the highest, hallelujah, AMEN!.
A Season of Overcoming Barriers; here is the bottom line. God wants to help you overcome whatever barrier you are facing that will hold you back from full relationship with God, from healthy relationship with your family and friends. God wants to open up a clear path for you to fully embrace what God is about to do for all of us all over again on Easter. A Season of Overcoming Barriers. Let’s break them down, in Jesus’ name.