Belonging is, I think, a fundamental need for all of us. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves; having a group of people who are like us, to whom we belong is easy to understand. It is what fuels everything from Scouts to gangs; people need to feel like they are a part of a group. It becomes even more important if someone doesn’t have close familial relationships. We all try to fill that need somehow, sometimes with good groups and sometimes not. I suspect all groups have some kind of requirements for membership whether they are obvious or not. I remember in middle school groups of girls who hung around together that wouldn’t dream of letting me hang out with them; I never really understood what the requirements were, but I knew I didn’t meet them. It can be kind of lonely to be left out. Fortunately I had other friends and groups I could be a part of. None of us can do it all. Some of us have tried and failed.
Love might be the only thing that transcends social requirements. We have all heard stories about that one family member who is different from the rest and yet is still at the family gatherings despite their weirdness because that person is loved. Maybe we are the ones who are there because of love. Love is the great requirement that goes above and beyond the rest. Hopefully it is the requirement that helps us to belong in small ways and in large ways.
The kingdom of God, both the kingdom here as the church and the kingdom outside the church is one such place where love is the only requirement; at least that’s how God desires it to be. Sometimes when we get in God’s way we can make a mess of things.
I am always in awe of the gospel stories where Jesus shows others what the kingdom of God looks like. The story of the Samaritan woman is one such story. She was an outsider in so very many ways, and her encounter with Jesus was pretty remarkable. Even she understands what perhaps others do not. Jesus smashed the social boundaries, requirements if you will, of interacting with this woman. It seems in God’s world there are many relationships that are formed at a well. And while this particular meeting at a well didn’t end in marriage, it ended in something much more important and life giving.
Samaritans and Jews had a long history of hate and division. A Jewish man would not have approached a Samaritan woman to ask for a drink. Jesus engages her and even though she is a Samaritan, a woman, and a woman who has had many husbands… Jesus looks beyond all of that, not judging her situation or even her cultural and religious upbringing in order to speak with her. And, as is always the case, her life is changed forever; and not just her life, but the lives of people in her city. Jesus chose this outsider, this woman, to reveal his identity to, and then she became an unlikely evangelist to others. It can be hard for us to realize just how incredible this is; Jesus removes social, political, and religious walls that normally would keep him and this woman enemies and brings her and others into the embrace of God’s kingdom.
Kingdom life is so very different from the lives we live in society and the rest of the world. The borders that separate us from God and from each other are created by us; created by humans who have put their own selfish desires ahead of everything and everyone else; it’s easy for us to get caught up in the ideas that separate us from each other and ultimately from God. Self preservation is a human trait that guides us in all sorts of ways and leads us to see children of God as the “fearedl other”. These fears are learned; we learn them from each other, we learn them from people and authorities that we trust, our children learn them from us. All of us have some person or group that is our “feared other”.
There is something that levels the ground and destroys those barriers. It is also a guiding principle in the kingdom of God. Our lesson from Romans this morning lays it before us. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. “
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God in the life of Jesus died in order to reconcile us, to bring us back into communion with God and each other, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God gave us the ultimate gift of belonging – the gift being members of the kingdom who are loved beyond their imaginations. Sometimes we forget just what an indescribable gift that is. Jesus gave his life for us when we didn’t deserve it and never would truly deserve it. That is what it’s like to love as God loves. We might try to love a few people like that, but everyone? Not possible for us, but it is possible for God. We have all been made worthy because Jesus is the only one who is truly worthy. Perhaps when we look at another person that we would just as soon push away, we should remember that there are no barriers in God’s kingdom, there are no requirements that we cannot live up to; there is just God’s mercy and God’s love poured into us.
The disciples were astonished that Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan women. Who might we speak to, whom might we see in the kingdom that would astonish us? May we each remember in those times when we might choose to reject, that in our lowest times, Jesus has never rejected us. May we go and do likewise.