March 12, 2017













Lent 2 - Year A

A Sermon Preached by Rev. Wilma Jakobsen


I was ordained as a deacon almost twenty nine years ago, in South Africa, when the Anglican church did not yet have women priests.  It was a very challenging time in the church as we debated and dialogued about this, and also in the country, as it was the evils of apartheid were coming to an end and the struggles against it intensified, and life was turbulent.  in the Anglican church, the church did not obey the laws that segregated people where we lived, and I was sent to a large, black township called Mitchells Plain, about half a million people, nine Anglican churches, all of them with a thousand or couple of thousand members.  I was the only woman deacon in the diocese, and one of maybe three or four white people who lived there.  It was a permanent adventure!  It was a place of great social need, unemployment, gang violence, families struggling to make ends meet, and a place of raucous humor, cutting jokes, and great strength of character for good and for ill.

My parish and I loved each other deeply, and I laughed and cried almost every day.  When we got to know each other, we discovered that we attended the same churches growing up - except that they were evicted from their lifelong homes to places at least a half hour drive away and no transport.  It was a very painful experience that they kept grieving forever.  I learned so much as a rookie deacon, stories of pain, heartbreak and courage that I would never had known if I had not met them.  It was crucial for us in South Africa to find ways to cross the divides that apartheid had made to separate us.

It was also challenging being the first woman in the diocese and the only one for two and a half years.  There was a lot of support, and opposition, and a lot of the supportive folks were completely quiet at the moments I could have used their vocal support.  It was lonely.  I had to be strong in my faith and trust that God had called me, and in my study of Scripture and theology, believing in the equality of women and men, believing that God called women to be priests.  There were many particular arguments about why women could not be priests, ranging from biology and hormones, to specific Bible texts that seem to say that women cannot do this, to church history and more.  We can discuss those afterwards if you are interest to hear why I think that feminism and the equality of women and men is supported in Scripture, though not in the cultural context.  We can look at some Scriptures and have some good discussion.  I had to learn to talk with people whose views I completely disagreed with, and figure how to get along with each other in the same church.

One of my favorite women in Scripture is today's Samaritan woman at the well, because she connects us to the struggles I encountered and we still encounter so deeply - race religion and gender.  Her encounter with Jesus is all about crossing the divides.  Race and religion - Samaritans were looked down upon by Jewish people, seen as a half breed, background about Samaritans and Jews.  Jesus went straight through Samaria because it was the most direct route, but most people avoided it and went the longer way to avoid the Samaritans  Jesus went to the well, Jacob's well, not just any ordinary well.  This one had symbolic importance.  At noon there should have been no one there.  But there was the woman, there precisely because no one else was, avoiding others because of her reputation and past life.  Jesus should not have been talking to a woman in public, engaging in conversation - this was not allowed in Jewish social culture.  he should not have been talking to a Samaritan.  he should not have been talking to someone who had five husbands, a woman of risqué reputation.

The woman was not shy, and engages in theological conversation with him - it is the longest conversation with anyone, recorded in the gospels.  Note that Nicodemus in chapter 3 is named in their conversation, but this woman, like so many in Scripture, is not names.  Jesus meets her where she is, shows her the depths of life for which she is thirsting, and the encounter is life transforming for her.  She becomes an evangelist for Jesus and tells others to come and see ....

The disciples return and wonder why Jesus was talking with her - we can imagine, there he goes again, breaking social norms, doesn't he know he shouldn't be doing this!?  Jesus does this over and over again - particularly with women.  He offers them his time, his understanding, his respect, his love, and shows them that as women, they are equally beloved and deserving of God's love and mercy.

In these Len Sundays, each week there is someone who encounters Jesus, encounters the light, encounters Jesus seeing them and they see Jesus.  Jesus helps her see her faith, her theological understanding differently.  She sees Jesus differently, and comes to know him as the Messiah which Matthew is trying to get his readers to understand.  She sees faith and life and religious history differently.  Because Jesus crossed the divide.  He went through Samaria, the dangerous, unacceptable way, in order to meet her and talk with her.  This story is powerful and invites us strongly, challenges us, to reach across the divides of race, religion and gender.

All of these divides are still strongly in place in our times, and we can add politics to the list.  There are many divides for us to cross.  Politics.  Religion.  Race.  Gender.  Have you an experience of this?  There is an organization of Palestinian and Israeli parents whose children were shot - called the Parents Circle - Family Forum, which promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.  There are community groups very close to home.

I want to offer some questions for your reflection - perhaps we can sit a couple of minutes in quiet.  Today - how do you see Jesus and how does Jesus see you?  Can you know and feel that you are valued, you are respected, you are loved, you are beloved?  Can you see that Jesus is one who encourages us to dig deeper in our faith, to cross the divides that separate us?
How might you personally be called to cross the divide?  Have you had an experience of crossing the divide?  Maybe in your family there are differences of political opinion.  Maybe God is calling you to do something that you wonder if you can de because you are a woman, or perhaps because you are a man?


How is St. Stephen's called to cross the divide?  If you are already reaching out and are connected in the interfaith community, how are you reaching out across the racial divides that plague us in this country and in our communities?  May Jesus accompany us each and all on the journey as we ponder how we are called to cross the divides.  Amen

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