Sitting at the Well: A Sermon on John 4:5-42

The sermon from Sunday, March 19, 2017 on John 4:5-42

I had an interesting conversation with someone during this past week about the fact that we talk a lot about Jesus here. That surprises some folks.

I have found that some people know of our inclusiveness around race and gender and gender identity and sexual orientation and economic status and ability status and so on – our commitment to justice and mercy for all people, to the inherent dignity and value of all people and the whole of the planet – and that makes some folks assume that we are somehow not fully and firmly rooted in the Christian faith.

Which is really kind of funny – in an ironic sort of way – because actually, our intentionality about these things is exactly a reflection of our commitment to our faith.

Of course, Christian faith is not the only way to come to have a commitment to inclusivity and justice. There are other ways – both religious and secular – to get there. Sometimes liberal folks think they are coming to a church like our friends across town, the Unitarian Universalists. Those are wonderful, inclusive people with a long and respected faith tradition, but as varied as our own beliefs are here (and our beliefs here are quite varied indeed) – we are different from them. We explicitly claim to be followers of Jesus. It’s here in the Beloved Covenant, right? We will walk together in the ways of Jesus . . .

So sometimes people of liberal faith or people who like to blend things together from different traditions are surprised at how much we talk about Jesus.

At the other end of the spectrum we run into conservative folks who for their assorted reasons believe that their rather narrow and punitive understanding of God and their rather narrow and individualistic interpretation of Scripture is the only legitimate way to be a Christian.

One of their critiques – and admittedly there are others – comes in the focus of my theology on the dynamics of power. There are a lot of people who like to cite Scripture and cite tradition in the service of the status quo, who like to use the Christian faith to defend a culture and a political vision wherein we protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless, where we spend our money and our energy and our expertise perfecting the technologies of the national security state –

  • private prisons, those temples of mass incarceration,
  • weapons systems, those idols of our pornagraphic obsession with violence,
  • surveillance processes, those rituals of our dehumanization of others,
  • mechanisms of resource extraction from the earth, that manifest sin of the exploitation of God’s Creation for human profit.

All that rather than national and local priorities of protecting the planet, nurturing creativity, tending the needy, and building inclusive community. That’s what worldly power looks like.

Then we have how Jesus does it. Ah,this story. In this wonderful story – which we could spend a month talking about – we have on the one hand the answer to the folks who wonder why we need so much Jesus – and need Jesus so much – and on the other the people who use religion in service to worldly power.

Look at power here in this story – we’ve been weaving the idea of the geography of grace into our Lenten journey – and here we have it 2 weeks in a row under such different circumstances. Last week we have the religious leader Nicodemus seeking out Jesus by night. Today we have the nameless woman who has stumbled upon Jesus right smack in the middle of the day while doing her routine chores.  

And we’re in Samaria in this story. We are in enemy territory. Imagine finding grace there. Are we surprised?

In reality, the geography of true grace is almost always a contested space. We think about gorgeous mountain vistas and beautiful church sanctuaries. Indeed we find both rest and challenge in such spaces. It’s not that there’s no grace in such wondrous spaces.

It’s just that grace often finds us like a cool drink from deep and ancient well at high noon on a hot and dusty day – and like an unexpected word from an at-first unrecognized Messiah who chooses to take his message to enemy territory and deliver it through the most humble of messengers.

A woman. A Samaritan woman. A woman who has struggled to have a reliable social place – and we don’t know if her husbands have died or left her or what – but the story makes clear that this woman has been denied the safety and security and legitimacy and respect and well-being that comes from stable marriage in this society.

Does Jesus care about that? He doesn’t judge her here. In fact, I believe we have to assume that he does care – he cares very much and that is precisely the reason that he chooses her as his messenger.

The disciples – as they so often are in the Gospels – are rather clueless – “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman”.  Well duh – you’d think they’d start to figure out pretty quick that Jesus opts to connect with the most marginalized among the marginal. Not only does Jesus speak to this woman, he asks hospitality of her – and he teaches her and puts her to work spreading the word.

Jesus teaches this woman. Sitting there together at the edge of the well, he deems her a worthy vessel to take word into the community.

She gets it. She has a genuine conversation about theology with Jesus. She partakes of the living water, the deep grace of Jesus’ message and ministry. In a land of scarcity, in a dry and hot and dusty land, she recognizes the promise of Jesus and drinks deep of his message.

And we need to get it too. In this story Jesus didn’t pull up to the mayor’s house. Jesus didn’t pull up to the governor’s house. Jesus didn’t pull up to the White House. Jesus rejects the norms of power and privilege to share a cup of water at Jacob’s well with an outcast woman – and he makes her his messenger.

You want to hear the truth in this world? You want to walk in the ways of Jesus? Well, that doesn’t mean you might never show up at City Hall or the State House or the White House. Or the conservative megachurch. But as we see as we travel the Gospels, when we show up in places of power, it must be to hold power accountable. In John’s Gospel, Jesus has already overturned the tables in the Temple. Those are the folks upon whom he casts judgment – not upon the woman at the well whom he sits with and teaches and puts to work.

When we wander in humble places among humble people, we must ourselves be humble. We must bear truths in our souls and be alert to the truths of the moment.

Even in Samaria.

Even when spoken by an outcast woman.

Especially in Samaria.

Especially when spoken by an outcast woman.

Because otherwise we might miss the truth.

We might miss the path, the path of following Jesus.

We might miss the opportunity tap into a grace that’s much greater than ourselves.

Let us worship in spirit and truth.

Let us do our best to walk in spirit and truth.



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2017 Lenten Study Groups

Liberation Theology Study Group Sundays at 3 pm

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God

Liberation Theology Study group is currently discussing Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by the womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas. Local activist T. Marie King is co-facilitating the book discussion with Rev. Jennifer. All are welcomed to join the discussion!


Bible study Wednesday nights at 6 PM
Plenty Good Room: A Lenten Bible Study Based on African American Spirituals

This unique short-term Bible study combines an in-depth look at Scripture, American history, and the music and lyrics of six African American spirituals. The six-session study provides biblical, social, and historical analyses of  ‘Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” “This Lonesome Valley,” “Bow Down on Your Knees,” “Plenty Good Room,” “Ain’t Dat Good News,” and “Were You There?” Bible Study facilitated by Rev. Sally Harris at Beloved, Wednesday nights at 6 pm.


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Where is Your Wilderness? A Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

The sermon from Sunday, March 5, 2017 on Matthew 4:1-11. 

Let’s start with some context because the lectionary has done one of its confusing things. We’ve talked about the lectionary. It’s the weekly set of readings from scripture that we along with countless other churches around the world follow. Most of the time it’s pretty useful. Sometimes it’s pretty confusing.

Back in January we observed the baptism of Jesus. Then the lectionary skipped us forward in Matthew’s text to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the Sermon on the Mount.

This Sunday we take a step back. There’s a reason for that, which I will get to in a second, but for the sake of clarity, let’s locate this episode. We commonly refer to it as the Temptation of Jesus.

Continue reading Where is Your Wilderness? A Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

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Brown Bag volunteers needed Wednesday, March 15th

Volunteers are needed to help with brown bag hospitality on  Wednesday, March 15th and Saturday, March 18th, for our neighbors who stop by for brown bags. This program provides a bag of non-perishable food to 48 local neighbors in need. Bag packing lasts from 5-6 pm Wednesday, and hospitality lasts from 10-11 am Saturday. We serve food and fellowship with guests as they arrive.

Contact Molly Merkle to volunteer!

2017 schedule Wednesday pick-up Saturday distribution
March 15 18
April 19 22
May 17 20
June 21 24
July 19 22
August 16 19
September 20 23
October 18 21
November 15 18
December 13 16

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Dangerous Words: A Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48

The sermon from Sunday, February 19, 2017 on Matthew 5:38-48

When we read Scripture, we read it through the lens of our lives. We can’t help it. We take Scripture and we make sense of it in our lives. Who we are – as an audience for Scripture – matters.

When we preach from the texts of the Bible  – I or anyone else – we’re preaching to people who are in a particular place. There aren’t any universals. It matters how you preach what to whom. A lot of times preachers don’t necessarily take that into account. They preach like everybody needs to hear the same message.

Continue reading Dangerous Words: A Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48

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Photos from our February 12th Installation Service

Sunday, February 12, 2017, Beloved Community Church UCC celebrated the installation of Rev. Jennifer Sanders, the second minister to serve as head pastor of our congregation since our founding in 2000.

rev. jennifer

The service of installation celebrated the covenant between Rev. Jennifer, Beloved Community Church, the United Church of Christ and the wider community.

Continue reading Photos from our February 12th Installation Service

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Beloved Community annual meeting Sunday, February 19th

Join us this Sunday after the 5 pm service to vote on our budget and plan for the year ahead. All are welcome and invited to attend to the business of the church.

If you are not yet a member of Beloved, please make your membership (covenant) official to be eligible to vote! Read our church covenant, which is the basis of membership in our community, and talk to Rev. Jennifer to learn more about this commitment!

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Salt and Light: A Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20

The sermon from Sunday, February 5, 2017 on Matthew 5:13-20.

I begin tonight with a quote from one of my favorite theologians, the German writer and activist, Dorothee Soelle – “How to be a Christian is something you learn not from books or information packets but primarily from other human beings.”

You are salt and you are light.

Not you might be.

Not you could be.

Not maybe possibly one day you will be.

You are.

Salt and light. Salt which gives flavor and preserves and keeps. Light which illuminates and guides. Continue reading Salt and Light: A Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20

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That Which is Blessed: A Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12

The sermon from Sunday, January 29 on Matthew 5: 1-12

How do you preach a sermon about a sermon? That’s what we will be doing here in these next weeks as we look at the Sermon on the Mount. Our Gospel passage tonight picks up where we left off last week. Jesus has gathered his disciples and begun traveling around, healing the sick and proclaiming the good news.

Here is where we first to get from Jesus himself what that good news might be. We have this incredible moment of a long, important sermon. Matthew contains several of these long discourses. There are a lot of Jesus’ words in this Gospel.

This sermon, my friends, including the part that we focus on this evening, was written for times such as these. Jesus is telling us about what good living looks like here and he’s offering us the great promise of following in his path.

Continue reading That Which is Blessed: A Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12

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“In the Company of the Poor” study group Sundays at 3 pm

Our Liberation Theology study group is working our way through In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez.
Farmer is the founder of Partners in Health while Gutierrez is one of the founding voices of the concept of liberation theology.
Reading schedule:
February 5th: chapters 3-5
February 12th: chapters 6-7 and the afterward
Anyone is welcome. Our goal is to both make sense of the material together and to make sense of it in our own personal and communal contexts.

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