Belonging Begins with…Knowing Who You Are in Christ

Sunday, September 24, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

John 4:5-30, 39-42


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true identity. Amen.

I learned a few years ago that our former neighbor boy was color-blind. It’s nothing you would know if you looked at him, or course. He was an active, athletic kid. One day his parents bought him a pair of full-spectrum glasses, that allowed him to see the pigments that are missing because of his color-blindness.

They took a video of him walking around the yard without the glasses on. He pointed to brilliantly colored flowers or bright-green grass, or bold-colored chairs telling others what colors they see. The flowers were brown, the grass was orange, the chairs were black. Then he slipped the glasses on and as he did the boy’s face lit up in total exuberance. It was so incredible for him to see all the colors that he burst into tears at the overwhelming beauty of the world around him. Then he walked around to those same objects he had pointed to before and exclaimed, “Is this really this color?! It’s so beautiful!” It’s difficult for many of us to imagine living in the world not being able to perceive it as it really is. Or is it? Most of us may not be physically color blind, but we all have had experiences that have muted or distorted our perception of ourselves and others.

That seems to be how the woman that Jesus met at the well was living. She wasn’t physically color-blind, but circumstances in her life stripped away the some of the receptors of beauty and truth that are part of life. Whatever happened in her life, she wasn’t able to see herself the way Jesus saw her. She came to the community well at noon, alone.

Collecting water for the household was typically a communal act, done first thing in the morning. It was the time to get together to share the news of their families and community, where they met to celebrate milestones and support each other through the trials of life, and take care of the daily work, knowing they weren’t alone in task.

That actually sounds like a pretty good definition of Church, too, if you ask me.

But, coming alone meant she likely didn’t belong. For some reason the women who gathered at the well early in the morning made it clear she wasn’t welcome. It doesn’t take too much exclusion anywhere for it to affect the way someone starts showing up in the world. Perhaps her shoulders slumped, her face focused downward or because of her rejection she wore a steely expression that said loud and clear, “Don’t mess with me.” Perhaps the color and beauty of the world started draining from her sight, and life looked a lot more muted.

Maybe you know someone like the woman at the well? Maybe you’ve resonated with her at some point in your life? Or have seen this happen to someone you care about? We all have probably had some experience with this, right? Parched for life and not able to see the truth and beauty of who we are in this world. I wonder too about those who exclude, which is also all of us, to some extent or another, and how exclusion mutes and distorts how we see ourselves and the world around us.

Jesus paid no attention to all the external signals that told him to steer clear of this woman. The labels she wore were from others, not from God. He knows her story, all of it. All the things that others have assumed about her and put upon her. All her gifts. All her hopes. All the ways that her life had not turned out the way she hoped. All the ways she carried grief, and misplaced shame. Amidst all this, Jesus sees her in full and living color, and as one who has something to offer. “Give me a drink” he says, “and I will give you living water.” His statement is not a demand, but an invitation to claim her identity in light of the one who stands before her. It’s an invitation to set down the buckets that are full of all the things that keep her from seeing herself as Jesus sees her, and drink deep from Christ’s life-giving water.

Today, 18 young people stand before our congregation to affirm their faith – even as it is still forming and evolving as they mature. Even as they continue to shape their identity and wonder if the promises of God are sometimes too good to be true. Confirmation is simply a “yes” to an ongoing, unfolding of God’s presence and power in one’s life. Today, they say “yes” to the living water of Jesus. Today, they say yes, to an identity that is shaped by God’s grace and mercy, and that calls them to let their light shine.

Those (of you) confirming their (your) faith meet Jesus at the well today. You know the ways others define you. You know and see the burdens that places on your lives. Here, Jesus says, “set all of that down and drink deep from this wellspring of life. Live in the truth that you are so much more than what others put on you. Trust that when you follow me, you’ll always see yourself, others, and the world in all it’s splendor.

Your identity, though layered and ever evolving, begins with knowing how much you are loved by Christ. And Jesus is saying to you, to all of you who are baptized, you have something to offer. I see you. I know everything about you. I know the light you have to offer the world.

When our confirmands came into the sanctuary, they brought light in with them. It’s a sign of the light that they were given at their baptism when the pastor lit a candle and spoke the words from the gospel of Matthew: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to God.” Today, they have placed each of their lights around the pascal candle where that light first shined for them and where you first heard Jesus say to you, “Let your light shine.” And as they leave this place today, they are better prepared to bring the light of Christ with them wherever they go.

None of us figure out how to let our light shine exclusively through a three-year confirmation curriculum, or even in a one-time chance encounter with Jesus. It is shaped by the ongoing, unfolding of faith that happens by God’s grace, when we are part of a community who bear the light with us and for us. It happens in the ways parents and family share their light and practice faith and forgiveness together. It happens through the time and dedication of Sunday school teachers, confirmation small group leaders, and Lenten mentors. It happens through teachers, coaches and friends who have met Jesus at the well and continue to trust that Jesus is the Messiah “Who knows everything about us!”

When we commit our lives to following Jesus, we commit to striving to see one another for who Christ has made them. We show up for each other and remind one another that our identity is not only determined by what we are or what we’ve done or not done, by whose we are in Christ. It’s like putting on those glasses that allow us to see the world in full, living color – in all its beauty and truth. And trusting that belonging, for all of us, begins with knowing who we are in Christ. Amen.

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