Going to Samaria
When my wife and I were first married, she had a heart for ministry with kids in jail. I thought it was a nice thing, and I certainly wouldn't want to interfere with her "call" from God. But I was not interested in wasting my time on such kids. These kids, after all weren't just disadvantaged, they were the ones who took advantage of others.
I had grown up in a community where the tracks were plainly marked. And it was clear to me that most of the problems in our community came from those on the other side. I had also been jumped enough times by that same band of hoodlums during my growing up years, that while I wouldn't discourage my wife from ministering to them - as long as she was careful - it wasn't where I was going to waste my efforts.
I had some internal boundaries. And over time, I was forced to face them.
Jesus addresses those boundaries in Acts 1:8.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
I think most churches do reasonably well in equipping members to reach their Jerusalem—those in close proximity like neighbors, co-workers, fellow soccer parents. And in Judea—people residing in other parts of the country or world, but who are mostly like us—relatives, fellow employees in other locations, or the guy in the seat next to you on a plane. And we engage lots around the ends of the earth these days, as record numbers of us head off to Haiti, Guatemala, or Africa on short term mission trips.
Where is Samaria, anyway?
But when is the last time you were challenged to reach into Samaria? And by the way, where is Samaria, again? For Jews living in Jesus' day, Samaria represented those half-breed "dogs" to the North who were in love with their pagan idols. And so stories like The Good Samaritan that might have a nostalgic ring to contemporary ears came off to first century Jews as a contradiction of terms at best, repulsive at worst. Perhaps it would be analagous to a modern-day sermon entitled: The Good Al-Qaeda Member. For most contemporary listeners, the terms good and Al-Qaeda could not legitimately appear together in the same sentence.
Now we're getting the point of it. Samaritans represent the outcasts. They are the people we are most repulsed by and want nothing to do with. For Jonah it was the Ninevites. Not because he was afraid of them, but because he was afraid God would forgive and bless the scumbags (Jonah 3:10-4:2)!
Where is your Samaria?
I recently returned from speaking at a church in Long Island, NY. After walking through the town and speaking to several parishioners, it seemed that for Long Island Christians, Samaria is the Wiccan community. Many were not happy about the new series on TLC called Long Island Medium, and how that labeled what was going on in their backyard. There was scarcely a block in that quaint downtown area that didn't have a Psychic reading stand or some sort of New Age shop. Obviously, these two groups—the Church and the Wiccan community—were not intersecting much with one another. On Long Island, Wicca was Samaria. Imagine delivering a sermon at that church where The Good Samaritan is replaced with The Good Witch. It could you get run out of town. And now you're getting to the point of it.