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Fifth Sunday of Epiphany – February 4, 2018

John 4:1-42 and Psalm 42:1-3

The term “lateral thinking” was coined by a man named Edward de Bono. He presents seminars in which he helps people think more effectively. He often begins his speaking engagements with a funny personal story to illustrate what he means by this term and I’m going to share it with you.

In his younger years, Edward was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, quite a bright young man indeed. One night he attended a party in London. The party went on late, and he got back to Oxford after the gates were closed. Hmmm? Now he had a big problem, he’d have to climb the wall to get inside the college grounds.

There were two walls and he said, “I got over the first one and it wasn’t hard. Then I came to the second one. It was about just as high as the first one. I climbed that, jumped to the other side, but then found myself outside again.” He had climbed in and out over a corner of the wall.

He tried once again, this time making sure he knew where the second wall was. As he was examining it more carefully, he saw there was a gate in the wall. The gate was lower than the rest of the wall, so he decided he would climb over it instead. He got to the top, swung a leg over and was sitting straddled across the gate, when it slowly opened. The gate had never been locked.

De Bono said he learned a valuable lesson or two that night. No matter how good you are in climbing a wall, you should always pick the right one. And when he applied that to solving a problem, he coined it “lateral thinking.” Instead of facing problems directly, instead of trying to climb over them just because they are there, try thinking laterally. By saying that he means try the not-so-obvious solutions. Don’t attack problems just as you see them. Take detours, move laterally, or sometimes even move back, until you find that “gate” that no one knew was open.

I applied what I’d call “lateral thinking” to the text of John 4 which we read today.

Samaria was a place that was a write-off in the eyes of the Jews. But Jesus persisted. He’d go out, crossing boundaries, against all odds, teaching the disciples (and ultimately ‘us’) that we need to go out in all kinds of circumstances and try to make a difference. Last week we heard of Nicodemus and the impact Jesus did not immediately make on this man who was searching for more meaning in his life. This week we’ve heard now about at the woman at the well. Why she came to the well is something of a mystery. Maybe she was barren, or maybe she had been widowed. She certainly had a troubled history. But there she met Jesus this one time in her life, she found someone who would care enough to reach out to her, to respect her, to love her with an un-condemning love. She didn’t try to hide who she was, she continued on to seek God’s promise and mercy. Yet we as a society often judge and stifle people like this woman because of how we think they should be.

Might I add at this point, Jesus often went where conditions weren’t so perfect. He didn’t just take the easy route, He didn’t just “preach to the choir.” I attended a wonderful retreat in Calgary yesterday on the need for all of us, to reach out to people outside of the church, merely doing it as Christ-followers.

At this point, I’m going to make some connections with the scripture reading and each of us here today. I’m going to suggest three things:

One, there is a Samaria in all of our lives.
Two, there quite possibly could be a ministry to be done in Samaria.
And three, Samaria is to pass through, not to stay in.

First, there is a Samaria in all of our lives.

You see, Samaria is not always a place, it can be an experience. Maybe you are in the middle of it right now or maybe have already passed through it. A downturn in the economy might be the Samaria you’re experiencing. Maybe it’s something that is happening within your family, a relationship with a spouse, a child or another relative. Or your Samaria might have to do with a serious accident, a major health challenge, an addiction. We’re hearing almost daily in the news about horrible things that have been happening especially to women, the severe abuse of power and discrimination. Samaria comes in all types of life experiences and we all have to deal with our own Samaria.

Second point, there is often a chance for us to serve in Samaria. Just as Jesus crossed borders and took chances in an area that was highly volatile, look at the lives He affected. We all need to keep our eyes and ears open while in our deepest Samaria. There can be a ministry to be found. If you will stay open, Christ will call you to it. People who have “been there” can help others who are presently experiencing the same. Try to remember that your pain may be able to help others. There is often an opportunity to serve in Samaria.

An example of a ministry in our Samaria can be seen in a campaign that runs this month. February is Mental Health Month. There are many survivors of suicide who participate in fundraisers or organise speakers where they are trying to help prevent further suicides. I personally know a fair number of parents who have lost a child to suicide, sudden illness, or a car accident and they somehow turn their horrific grief into ways they can help others.

The third and final point about our spiritual journey, is that our Samaria is to pass through, not to stay in. We can often get “stuck” in our Samaria—fill ourselves with self-pity and loathing. Sometimes we get guilt-ridden and blame ourselves. Sometimes we blame others for our Samaria and sometimes we even blame God. We simply need time and strength to get through. This, too, will pass. It is the Gospel promise, have faith in the sentiment of Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.”

In closing, as we journey through life, we will all have a ‘Samaria’, and most likely more than one. In these very challenging experiences, you may find an opportunity to minister to others and actually be their support. Perhaps that is where you will find depth and meaning in your spiritual journey. Above all, please remember we need to pass through and not stay in Samaria. Be faithful that God will give us the grace and strength to pass through.


Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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