Collect: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Scripture readings can be found here: The Lectionary Page
A Sermon prepared for 2020 Lent III by Jane Weber, Brad Cresswell, Jennifer Vasquez, and Paul Board
This sermon was planned prior to suspending church services. The worship leaders thought we could offer a meditation on the Gospel story, The Woman at the Well. Imagine Jane, Brad, Jennifer, & Paul sitting around a table and reflecting on how the Gospel speaks to us. Now that worship has been suspended, imagine yourself at the table. Listen to our voices and add you own. Your comments are welcome on Facebook.
The Gospel of John 4:5-42
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (NRSV)
Whenever I’m grappling with understanding a thought, a new concept or idea, and just don’t quite get it, it often helps me if I turn it into something that I can better understand, that’s a bit more relevant to me in my own personal world. After I read today’s gospel lesson, I found that the thought of a strange man asking a woman to draw water from a well was giving me just that kind of trouble. I thought I might better understand it if the “woman at the well” became “Jane at Kroger”.
So in my newly created contemporary scene, I am now at the store, and checking out a bag of apples in the fruit department. I am approached by a man who asks me to buy an apple for him. I respond, “But you have your own money, so why not just buy your own apple?” He tells me that his hunger is a different type of hunger. Well, that makes me a little nervous, and I consider quickly leaving, but he continues, and calms my reservations by saying that he can cure my hunger and make me a better person at the same time. That sounds like a potential diet plan, so I continue listening. “You’re saying that if I buy this product, my craving for chocolate peanut butter sundaes will be satisfied? That sounds good to me!”
But apparently he wants to share this product with others, so he asks if my husband is also in the store. He goes on to tell me all kinds of information about my family and personal life, and I begin to think that this guy might have some sort of mystic skills, kind of in keeping with the Long Island Medium!
I’m really impressed with this man, so I text a few friends, Kathy Greene, and Stephanie Mattoni, and tell them that they have to come to Kroger and meet this guy who has the ability to know details of my life, without ever meeting me before today. Plus, he says that it’s not just about what we eat and drink, and he adds something about believing in the spirit of God, which is pretty powerful. They come, and they listen too, and are equally smitten. They hadn’t believed what I had said until they came and heard it for themselves.
The “Jane at Kroger” scenario worked pretty well for me up to this point, except for one section of today’s reading that I just couldn’t quite fit into this contemporary version of the story. Unfortunately for me, I then realized that the section that is the most difficult to understand, is most likely the section that is the whole reason that this story exists. I was too far into this action play to quit now. After considerable thought, here’s the section that gave me the most trouble, followed by how I interpreted it: “You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” My contemporary Jesus at Kroger is actually saying, “You really haven’t thought this through.” The gospel reading continues, “ …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” My Kroger version translates that to a much simpler and shorter response from Jesus, “ But I HAVE thought it through, and if you believe in what I’m telling you, then you’re just the person that I want to be a part of this.”
I respond, “Here’s what I know, I’ve been waiting for someone to guide me in how to be healthier and how to grow in spirit.” He responds, “I’m your guy.”
“Give me to drink.”
These are the first words that Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well. A conversation-starter, to be sure, which will open the Samaritan woman’s eyes to the gift of Living Water and set her on the path to righteousness.
But I believe it is much more than that. Jesus’ words – even the most mundane of his interactions – are almost always significant and packed with meaning. If we don’t pay careful attention, important messages can easily be overlooked.
“Give me to drink.” A request. A need. An invitation. A call to action. A call to worship. All these things and more.
We live in a world of “us vs. them.” Familiar vs. foreign. Liberal vs. conservative. Good vs. evil. It’s reached a breaking point in our lives, exacerbated by the human temptation to sensationalize the world around us, for better or for worse. Often for worse – or at the least, it serves as an obstacle to living the sort of life Jesus is asking us to.
The parable of the Woman at the Well speaks directly to this. Who does Jesus choose to share his message? A woman. A Samaritan woman. As you know, the Jews and the Samaritans viewed each other with disdain. They did not congregate. They did not interact, and they certainly did not speak to one another. Yet, to her surprise, Jesus directly engages the woman – and not just a Samaritan woman, but a woman who suffered under a bad reputation among her own neighbors. A scorned woman among a scorned people. “Us vs. them.”
“Give me to drink.” Quench my thirst, and I will quench yours forever. Jesus does not need anything from us. Rather, he wants something. He wants our faith, our belief, our worship. And in return, he gives us eternal life. It’s a transactional relationship, but this is the way. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The greatest gift of all.
The easy part is accepting this gift. The hard part is living up to it. “Give me to drink” is not only a call to worship, but a challenge we must face continually. A living faith.
My faith has always been a work in progress. Often day to day, sometimes hour to hour, or even moment to moment. I suspect this is true of many who follow the Christian path.
I love the fellowship we share every week. I love my time with the choir, sharing music with congregation, and recharging my faith every Sunday. That should be the starting point, not the finish line. But I will admit for me, it is more often the latter instead of the former.
I’ll give you a couple examples.
I spend time at church, I ponder over scripture and Paul’s sermon, I take communion and feel full of God’s grace and love. I get in my car, drive towards home. Boom! Someone cuts me off in traffic and all that goodwill evaporates.
I post an article online that vilifies an opposing political view. I engage in a battle of digital words with my perceived “enemies” – those who don’t see the world the way I do. Tensions grow, emotions heighten, sometimes friendships are lost. And all of it from the safety of my living room.
I succumb to the “us vs. them” mentality almost every day. But somewhere in the back of my mind is that quiet but persistent voice, saying “Give me to drink.” And I try to listen to it.
Does that mean no more driving, no more posting? Of course not. The woman at the well becomes an evangelist. She shares the news of the Messiah with her community. She does not shy away from her sordid past. In fact, it is Jesus’ acknowledgement and loving acceptance of her that leads her to the Living Water.
So, what can we do to follow that example? How do we become evangelists in our day-to-day lives?
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That includes not only the people we engage with face-to-face, but also that anonymous person who cuts us off in traffic. Those people we engage with on social media. Pretty much everyone, known and unknown.
For me the answer is love. But a love informed by our faith, our beliefs. A love that speaks truth, as set forth by the example of Christ. Sometimes that means speaking out, sometimes it means keeping quiet. But always, it means not giving in to the temptation of “us vs. them.”
“Give me to drink.” Sometimes that voice is hard to hear, but I’m getting better at listening. And better at remaining mindful of how I conduct myself – both inwardly and outwardly – every day. For me, those words hit home. They inspire me, they guide me. They remind me of Jesus’ gift of Living Water, and they renew my faith.
The word that actually jumps out to me in this gospel reading is “Jacob,” and that is interesting because I often find myself glossing over some of the references to Jewish law, identity, or geographic regions when I read the Bible. When we don’t have good understanding, or things aren’t familiar to us, it’s easy to ignore them. But Jacob is hard to ignore here because his name is repeated, even though the story seems to have nothing to do with him: “the plot of land Jacob had given to his son Joseph”; “Jacob’s well;” and the question, “are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and flocks drank from it?”
No one knows for certain why the Spirit leads them to certain words and phrases, but we reflect on possibilities. For me, the subtext behind these references to Jacob seems to be a defensive appeal to identity and belonging. The Samaritan woman is trying to assert that she and her community are as much a part of God’s chosen people as the Jews are. They also had the heritage of the patriarchs and matriarchs passed on to them. It is a plea for legitimacy; a plea to be seen and valued; and a plea for belonging and acceptance.
Over the past few years, I’ve become involved in a number of organizations that work with people from diverse cultures. Refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented folks, immigrants, people of color, all of whom have been suffering discrimination for generations. I recognize this plea from the Samaritan woman; I still hear it today. There is a desire for legitimacy, a plea to be seen and valued, and a plea for belonging and acceptance. “I am a person just like you! I have hopes, dreams, and a family, just like you! Why can’t you see me?!” Similar tensions are also being experienced in the political sphere.
And what I hear Jesus saying back to the Samaritan women is “I see you.” He knows her story. Even the less honorable parts of her story don’t take away Jesus’ offer of living water that extends to her, her community, and by implication, the whole world. Jesus’ offer of a spring of water gushing up to eternal life is for us all.
As we experience the coronavirus, something that affects all people, we hear Jesus’ offer of living water to everyone, despite our different backgrounds, and we can see it as an opportunity to pull together as the one human family, children of God and brothers and sisters. When we can see beyond our individual backgrounds and the biases that divide our communities, we experience our common humanity and we begin to open our hearts to each other in love.
My first question in this story leads to many other questions. Where are the disciples? Why is Jesus alone? Why is Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman alone? This is not proper in their culture. It is not appropriate for the woman to be alone at a public well and engage in conversation with a strange man. They both know it, yet they engage anyway. This is her well. Jesus shouldn’t be there.
We can speculate on the answers. The text doesn’t tell us why Jesus is separated from the disciples, except they show up later. They are apparently traveling, and the well is a natural rest stop. “Let’s meet at the well.” It is clear from other stories that Jesus often sought alone time. Jesus is an introvert and this is just another example.
The conversation is enriching, both for the woman and Jesus. She runs off excited to tell her people about Jesus. The disciples want Jesus to have lunch, but he is not hungry. He has been spiritually fed by his experiences in the day. He had his alone time on the road. He had a deeply personal conversation with the woman that transcends her life. It spoke to the history of Samaria and her people.
The story ends with an invitation from the town for Jesus to stay. He remained two days, presumably sharing and enjoying their hospitality. The story goes from solitude to community. It began with Jesus walking on road alone. Then Jesus had a personal conversation with a stranger. Then the stranger invited him, and his disciples into her community and he stayed. This is how the church is supposed to work.
Our isolation with COVID-19 is surreal. Whether we are social distancing or self-isolating, the experience is strange and trepidatious. I know I am an introvert. I am wonderfully happy in my alone time. But church is cancelled, and I miss our church family. We will be in community again soon. I am hoping this alone time will give us an appreciation for the community we love. Come back to church. I need you.