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Greetings All,

This weeks 'thought' comes from the late Michael Yaconelli, in his book, "Messy Spirituality" -- a short read, but well worth your time. It has to do with the grace of Jesus when he encounters people who are moral disasters and can't seem to escape their past or the consequences of the poor choices they've made. Though present day examples of such individuals abound, he finds a biblical example of such a person in the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-38).

She's a person who is apparently subject to relationship idolatry. A person living under the fanciful misconception that someday she'll find that "perfect man" who will make her happy -- not knowing that what she was really yearning for and searching for so relentlessly, was God.

I believe Yaconelli's insights are both challenging and well worth your earnest consideration! Enjoy.

"Our search for love, for meaning, for happiness, is often our search for God in disguise. When the bottom falls out of our lives, when we come to a dead end, when there is no place to go, we often get in touch with our longings for God... What this [Samaritan] woman expects from the Messiah is a lengthy critique, an enlightening lecture on what she should do, a harsh and justifiable reminder of the consequences of her destructive choices on others. What she receives instead is compassion, gentleness, kindness and a way out of the ruins of her life."

[Yaconelli then shares the story of a prostitute named Marilyn, who, like the Samaritan woman, expects condemnation, but instead receives compassion and understanding.]

"Based on their experiences with religion, both Marilyn and the woman at the well were prepared for cold, recriminating judgment and condemnation. Neither one of them was happy with their life choices; neither needed to be reminded what they had done wrong; neither would have been helped by rubbing salt in their wounds.

What they desperately needed, what they desperately wanted, was for someone to recognize what they were looking for, not what they were doing. Notice, I did not say they wanted to be legitimized. They weren't looking for someone to condone what they had done; they were looking for someone to accept them. What normally happens to notorious sinners is rejection, distance, separation, and withdrawal. Most people don't like sinners, don't want to be around them, and whether they recognize it or not, make their disdain for the sinner very clear...

After her conversation with Jesus, the woman at the well begins a whole new way of living, though none of the facts of her life have changed. She is still living with a man who isn't her husband. She has still been divorced five times. Her reputation is still a disaster. Jesus often told people not to talk about their encounters with him, but not this woman. Her faith is only a few minutes old and already she has become an evangelist, already she is having a huge influence on her community.

What does she say? Not much. 'Uh... come see a man who told me everything I've ever done.' Everyone in town knows what this woman has done. Big deal. What she says is underwhelming. But the fact that she publicly talks about her shameful past is overwhelming. Her words are few and seemingly insignificant, but her saying them at all is very significant. In effect she says, 'I know you know who I am, but I just met someone who liberated me from my past, from my reputation, and I am no longer the person you think I am. I am no longer a hostage to my bad choices. I am free. I am free.' Still, nothing has changed. But everything has changed. Her neighbors can hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes. Her words are all they need to race to the man she describes. For reasons they don't understand, who this woman is now seems more relavant than who she was then.

The implications for us are overwhelming. Those of us who want to move on from our past, those who have come to the end of the road, can start with our unchanged life, now. We don't have to wait until we are 'mature.' We don't have to move to a new town or convince others we are serious; we simply start. We begin. We take the first bumbling, stumbling steps toward the spiritual life, even if we're not very good at it... Jesus can redeem our past, no matter what kind of past we bring with us; failure, mistakes, bad decisions, immaturity, and even a past which was done to us."

Preaching through Luke for over two years now has made one thing very clear: The way Jesus dealt with notorious sinners and the way His people often deal with them, are often world's apart.

It's been a reminder that we need to take (or relearn) our lessons from the Master -- to love the unlovely, watch the transformation that takes place in such people (and us) as a result, and then pray that God would completely remove that religious spirit in us that tends to move us in the direction of rejection and protection, rather than love and grace and the risk of reaching out.

With prayers for God's blessings on your endeavors to do so,

Pastor Jeff