- Giving Up Superiority
- John 4:5-30, 39-42
- Lyndol Loyd March 4, 2018
Today is the third Sunday in the season of Lent, which is the forty days, not counting Sundays, that lead up to Easter. Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and simple living. It is a time we as Christians intentionally set apart so that we can be mindful of all that Jesus Christ went through on our behalf as He suffered death on a cross and then rose again so that we might be able to know and experience eternal life.
One of the most common practices of Lent is that people will often give up something such as soft drinks or chocolate or social media during this period of time. The idea is that by giving up such things each time we desire to have a coke or eat an Oreo or update our status on Facebook, it will cause us to pause and consider Christ’s sacrifice.
In theory, the idea is that by giving up something we make room in our lives — our very busy, crowded hectic lives—and this in turn gives us space to take in more of Jesus Christ.
While it can be a powerful experience to give up things like Diet Coke,which I did just last year, this year we are challenging folks here at LakeRidge to consider giving up some more non-traditional sorts of things.
We began by examining the idea of giving up control and then last week looked at the idea of giving up our expectations. This morning we are going to look at how our faith would be impacted if we were able to give up superiority or status.
If you were here for the close of our series on the Lord’s Prayer, you will remember that we went extremely deep theologically as I shared the thoughts of one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Seuss, from his great work, Yertle the Turtle. This morning, as we examine the subject of superiority, once again we find that Dr. Seuss has some keen insights. This time we look to the classic, The Sneetches.
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.
If there has ever been a story about superiority and status it is The Sneetches. But the story doesn’t end with there simply being an “In” group and “Out” group. When status is what drives us it can cause us to do some pretty crazy things and so it was with the Sneetches.
An opportunist business man named, Sylvester McMonkey McBean, shows up with a machine that promises to achieve the very thing the plain belly sneetches feel they need. For a fee it can put a star on their bellies as well so that all the sneetches look the same – no more differences.
But then, the Sneetches who originally had stars on “thars” are incensed that now they are no longer special. There is nothing to set them apart and to prove their superior status to the world.
Ultimately McBean sees another opportunity and, for a fee, offers them to go through his machine to have their stars removed so they can once again be set apart from the others.
Before they know it, Sneetches are going in and out of the machine having stars added and removed until no one has any money left to have another thing done. McBean drives out of town with a big fat wallet full of cash as he proclaims,
“They never will learn. No. You can’t Teach a Sneetch!”
But McBean was quite wrong. I’m quite happy to say.
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day.
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches.
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars and whether
They had one, or not, upon thars.
You can’t tell me that Dr. Seuss isn’t a theologian. To write a story like that it is quite clear that he understood a spiritual truth the apostle Paul wrote about to some of the earliest believers in Rome.
You see, it isn’t just Sneetches or children who struggle with the desire for status and how we allow it to define ourselves and others. Just like there were those in your middle school and high school days who would seek to form themselves into a “cool kids” club, there are also situations where the need for status rears its ugly head once we become adults, even for those of us who are seeking to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
Romans 12:1-5, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
When we understand that whatever measure of faith we have comes to us from God it prevents us being prideful. All of a sudden we are able to see whatever abilities and graces we have as a gift from God.
Hopefully it allows us to see ourselves with a sober judgement while at the same time helping us to recognize and appreciate the gifts of others that have also been placed in them by God.
God doesn’t see any of us as being superior to another, so why would we want to construct a hierarchy where some of us are seen as better than others? Rather, Paul is clearly calling us to give up any sense of status so that we no longer live based on the way the world does things, but we choose to live by God’s standard.
Our example for doing this is Jesus. Think about it, if anyone ever had the right to claim his superiority it was Jesus; but status wasn’t a barrier for Him. He was willing to humble Himself and left his place at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven to come as God incarnate.
He was willing to pull on skin as God incarnate to come and live amongst us, fully human and fully God. He loves people so much that He was willing to come to us even while we were in the midst of our sin.
A great example of how Jesus lived into this is found in what some of you will know as the story of “The Woman at the Well.” It is found in John 4:
5 Eventually (Jesus) came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
We don’t know her name or age, but her conversation with the Lord is his longest one-on-one chat recorded in Scripture. Reason enough to give this unnamed woman from Samaria a fresh look.
It was high noon on a hot day. Jesus, tired from traveling, chose a sensible rest stop—Jacob’s well outside the town of Sychar—while waiting for his disciples to go into town for food. When our unnamed woman appeared with a clay jar in hand, Jesus made a simple request, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7).
Uh-oh, Jews weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritans. Men weren’t permitted to address women without their husbands present. Rabbis had no business speaking to shady ladies such as this one.
Jesus was willing to toss out the rules and give up His status, but interestingly enough, our woman at the well wasn’t. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman,” she reminded him. “How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). In other words, “You have status and I don’t.” She focused on the law; Jesus focused on grace.
10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”
28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him.
The story of the woman at the well teaches us that God loves us in spite of our bankrupt lives. God values us enough to actively seek us, to welcome us to intimacy, and to rejoice in our worship. John Wesley would have called it prevenient grace, the fact that God pursues us when we don’t know Him, don’t care about Him or are completely unaware of Him. God gives up His status of being holy and seeks us out when our lives are a mess, when we don’t have it together and when we are still in our sin.
As a result of Jesus’ conversation, only a person like the Samaritan woman, an outcast from her own people, could understand what this means. She suddenly understands that she is wanted and cared for when no one, not even herself, could see anything of value in her—this is grace indeed.
See what else happens as a result of Jesus laying aside his status and reaching across social barriers to impact this woman’s life. Not just her life is impacted, but the lives of an entire village.
39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
When we drop our status, it makes it possible for Jesus to be made known, not just to us, but to all of those around us as well. One of the hardest things for us as human beings to give up is a sense of superiority or status. However, during this season of Lent I encourage us to do just that. For in doing so it makes it possible for us to connect with Jesus, and who knows, it just might make it possible for multiple others to do the same.