Robert W. Henderson: Where does God want to take you for a walk?


The Rev. Robert W. Henderson, senior minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., delivers his sermon “Out of Step” Sunday, July 18, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Walking has long been part of each day for the Rev. Robert W. Henderson. “My wife of 33 years, Suzanne, and I tallied our mileage and we have walked the circumference of the earth at least once. And we are on our second lap,” he said. 

Henderson preached at the 9 a.m. Thursday, July 22 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Step Into the Breach.” 

The Scripture reading was John 4:5-15.

He mentioned several life-altering walks — including walking in the Matharé Slum in Kenya, and walking with his children through the wall being built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 2005 to take the children to a Christian day camp. He also mentioned walking through a refugee camp in Nablus that nurtures young people through Tomorrow’s Youth Organization.

According to the Scripture, Jesus was going from Judea back to Galilee and decided to go through Samaria. 

“He didn’t have to go through Samaria. It’s like driving from Chautauqua to Pittsburgh via Newark,” Henderson said. “No one went to Samaria unless they had business there.”

Jesus seemed to have a compelling reason to go to Sychar, the town in Samaria where he met a Samaritan woman at a well. 

“Maybe he had to see someone, like the woman — or maybe he wanted to invite the disciples to a new understanding of the world,” he continued.

Samaria and Judah had separated, as in a family fight, over who had the right temple, the right religious practice and the right racial heritage. 

“One group began to see the other group as lazier and stupider than they looked,” Henderson said.

While Jesus’ disciples went to look for food, Jesus sat by Jacob’s well and talked with the Samaritan woman when she came to get water. Jesus asked for water and the two fell into a banter about religion, morality and status. 

“They were like George Burns and Gracie Allen,” Henderson said. “The disciples returned and were astonished and horrified that a rabbi was eating and drinking with this woman, let alone talking to her. There seemed to be a love connection. After all, this is the well where Jacob met his wife. The disciples had to deal with the experience of being challenged on religious and social norms.”

Henderson told the congregation, “Jesus walked into Samaria to teach by demonstration. It was the simplest way to demolish religious bigotry and racial and sexual exclusion. Jesus challenged the norms of his own people.”

He continued, “When I hear about new hate crimes or mass shootings, I try to take uncomfortable walks to encounter those outside my purview.”

Father Elias Chacour, who served as Melkite archbishop of Galilee from 2006 to 2014, founded the Mar Elias Educational Institution, which educated Christian, Muslim, Druze and Jewish young people. 

One day at an Israeli market, a suicide bomber killed himself and 16 others, wounding 86. Blood supplies were running low, and Father Elias contacted the hospital where the wounded had been taken, and offered 300 pints of blood from the students and staff.

The hospital sent 15 ambulances, staffed by Jewish nurses, to take blood from Christians, Muslims and Druze. The ambulances returned to the hospital with 350 pints of blood.

“They gave life to 86 Jews,” Henderson said. “Father Elias said they had to do it. Like Jesus, who had to walk through Sychar, what walk do we have to walk, where do our feet have to take us?” 

The Rev. Natalie Hanson presided. Deborah Hazlett, an actor and teacher from the Baltimore-Washington area, read the Scripture. The Motet Consort provided the prelude, “Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano,” by Joseph Musser. “The Trio” was written in memory of Richard Kemper, who founded the Motet Consort. Barbara Hois, flute and Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, Kemper’s daughters, performed with Musser. For the anthem, members of the Motet Choir sang “Like as the Hart,” with music by Herbert Howells and words from Psalm 42: 1-3. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played “Paean” by Percy Whitlock for the postude. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : John 4:5-15morning worshipRobert W. Hendersonscripturewalkweek four

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.