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Come Build a Church…in “Judea and Samaria”

Acts 1.4-8

When we last left the 120 followers of Jesus, he was giving them last minute instructions before he left them. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria….”

Now, maybe this is just my twisted mind, but I picture at that moment a Monty Python skit breaking out. In the back of the room, two of those followers have a brief conversation…”

One: “Samaria? Did he say Samaria?”

Two: “Surely not. Why would we go up to that rotten bunch of half-breeds? He must have said something else. Maybe Arimathea? Or Beersheba?”

One: “Yeah, but those are already in Judea. Maybe he said Bulgaria.”

Two: “Bulgaria? Bulgaria? Why would we go all the way up there? Besides, that won’t exist for another 500 years!”

One: Maybe he said, ‘Sam’s area’ You know, old Sam, he has that property up on the Jordan…floods every Spring. Must be that Jesus is telling us to go up to Sam’s area.”

Two: “What, and witness to the sheep? There aren’t any people up there.”

I can imagine the conversation going on like that for another 10 minutes or so. Of course, the Bible doesn’t tell us anything like that happened, but it does say over and over again that the people who Jesus was speaking to would have been completely incredulous that he told them to go to Samaria.

Remember your geography and your history. Judea is the place where they were standing. Close to Jerusalem. He told them to be witnesses first to Jerusalem…the place that they knew and were comfortable with. Then he told them to be witnesses outside of that comfort zone. In Judea, which was the region in which Jerusalem lay, and then also Samaria. For him to lump those together would have been completely unbelievable.  Remember, Samaria was the land just north of Judea, filled with those who had a similar background as the Jews, but diverged on a handful of theological points and thus became mortal enemies of each other. They could not even talk to each other.

Remember early in Jesus’ ministry? He and the disciples are heading from Judea through Samaria, and the disciples go get some food in town while Jesus sits down by the well. He starts talking to this woman there, and then the disciples come back and it says they are “astonished” that he is talking to this woman. And throughout his ministry, Jesus keeps pressing this point and the disciples keep being astonished. Even now, at the end of his ministry with them and the end of his time on earth, you have people standing up to ask when Jesus is going to quit messing around with these Samaritans and set up the kingdom FOR the good people of Judea.

Now, where does that lead us today? Here we are, on the other side of the world. Here we are, in a completely different time. A completely different context. So, clearly there is nothing about Jesus’ political statement that would be relevant today, would it?

What if I were to start uttering phrases such as “Border security. Border wall. Immigration policy. Sanctuary cities. Undocumented workers. Children separated from their parents and put in cages. ______-hole countries.” Anyone getting anxious about where the preacher is going with this one? Anyone’s blood pressure going up as I name those topics? Apparently, borders still matter. And if you are getting uncomfortable even hearing about some of these hard topics, you are starting to understand the discomfort when Jesus lumped together Judea and Samaria as if they were the same place. As if Jesus had told us to witness in “the Americas.” In “the western hemisphere.” In “North and Central America.” Would we start to get just as anxious about why would Jesus want us messing around on that side of the border?

But Jesus pointedly lumps together their nation with their mortal enemies. It is as if he erases this border that divides them. “Judea and Samaria” is part of one kingdom…the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is redefining the borders of that kingdom. He is redefining the borders of that reality. He is saying that “in this new kingdom, this new political and religious reality, that border between Judea and Samaria, that you feel is so important, is actually irrelevant. You will witness on both sides of your little man-made border and the Spirit will lead you to open your eyes to a new kingdom with a power that you can’t even imagine.”

Someone might say, “but those topics that you name preacher are all political, and Jesus wasn’t political.” Think again. Jesus walked right into the middle of a political firestorm and took it head-on. The woman at the well (in Sychar). The parable of the Good Samaritan. The 10 Lepers. He talked about these issues in Jerusalem, in the religious and political capitol, and it got him killed. And now, in today’s passage, he lumps together Judea and Samaria like there was no difference between them. Each of these stories suggest that Jesus was trying to do something political here by his work of personal, relational, healing ministry. He is making this radical point that everyone was eligible for his Kingdom. Not just those who were born on the “right” side of the border.

Now, what does this say for us today? Let me suggest that Jesus’ call to the disciples is ours today as well: we are still called to witness to a kingdom with borders-redefined. Jesus still calls us to engage personal, relatational, healing ministries, in which borders don’t stop us and ideolological differences aren’t the reason for creating mortal enemies. Jesus still challenges us to reach across those borders and take part in a ministry of healing, in which those on the other side, and those of us on this side receive mutual healing. Jesus asks us to witness to the Gospel truth empowered by the Holy Spirit. Do you believe that Jesus would still call his disciples to that work?

Twelve of us think so.

In June, twelve members of First Baptist will be partnering with American Baptist missionaries David and Laura Parajon in their ministry in Nicaragua. Over the course of the last eleven months, the congregation has been discerning if and how we might do a church-wide mission trip. Where would we go? When would we go? Should we go? Over those months, we discerned that the work of the Parajons, work that we have as a church supported for years, was worthwhile and meaningful. We have moved—like the disciples did—from “astonished” to “called.” We are ready to join that personal, relational, ministry of healing that is already going on in Nicaragua. And we invite you to join us on that journey, too.

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