Text: John 4: 3—42
As you may notice from the program, I had planned to go with a different text for today. But with all of the uncertainty swirling around us in these past few days, I decided that maybe we could all use a trip to the well.
The writer of the gospel of John uses stories of Jesus’ encounters with others to engage in a larger discussion of what it means to be faithful, to see clearly. Towards the end of the gospel the writer states the purpose of writing it was “…so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Last week you heard the story of Jesus talking to Nicodemus about being born from above. This week Jesus is talking about living water and never being thirsty again.
As we gather here today, we may be feeling thirsty.
• Thirsty for some good news
• Thirsty for some clarity
• Thirsty for things to calm down, to get back to normal
Thirsty for the living water that Jesus offers.
What we are dealing with these days, is something both familiar and unique. There have been other viruses, other times that people flock to the stores to stock up, other times of dealing with scarcity. But we have not encountered something of this scope in our lifetimes. It is hard to know what is prudent and what might be an over-reaction.
Let me pause here, and ask—how are you feeling about all that is going on.
In times of uncertainty we often turn to what is familiar and what has helped us in the past.
And it is interesting to reflect that all of this is happening during Lent as Lent is a season that invites us to reflect on the core of our faith and what we rely on. Often people give things up for Lent as a way to focus on what brings meaning into their lives. The uncertainty that we are living with right now leads us in that same direction of focusing on what is most important and remembering where we find courage.
So let’s spend some time with this familiar scripture and take a trip to the well.
The text says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. It is true that the most direct route from Jerusalem where Jesus and the disciples had been to Galilee, where they were headed is through Samaria. But it would not have been the common or popular route as Jews did not want to have anything to do with the Samaritans. The usual or expected route to Galilee would have been to avoid Samaria at all costs. But Jesus decides to venture into this unknown territory.
So we too may have to travel on some unfamiliar routes getting to the well. Now, before you object saying was that was Jesus’ route and the women was in a familiar location, consider this. Yes, she is in her home town but the fact that she is coming to the well at noon is a sign that she is, as my father used to say “on the fringes of society” –somewhat of an outcast. The women of the village would normally come to the well in the cool of the morning or the evening. It was a time for gathering and catching up with each other, sharing stories, swapping recipes, and maybe engaging in some gossiping. No one would want to come at noon, the hottest time of the day. So the fact that this is when the woman chooses to arrive means she wants to avoid any unpleasant encounters with others.
On this day, however, there is someone else there, someone who had to go through Samaria to encounter this very woman. And as we make our journey to the well, Jesus is there to meet us right in the middle of our uncertainty, overwhelm, anxiety.
Once we arrive, the conversation begins. The woman is clearly taken aback not only by Jesus being there, but because he speaks to her, asking her for some water. She could have just left, but she is curious and so asks why he talking to her. Jesus’ response is not at all what she expects as he tells her that if she truly knew the gift of God, she would be asking him for the Living Water that he has the power to share.
She is, confused about how Jesus is going to access this water without a bucket and at the same time, is aware that Jesus is talking about something beyond literal water as she asks him if he is greater than their ancestor, Jacob whose well they are at.
And then there is this curious conversation about the woman and her husband. It seems clear that Jesus asks her to go and return with her husband knowing full well that she does not have one. It becomes a way for him to let her know that he sees her as she truly is. He knows that she has had struggles in her life and still there he is offering her living water.
This invites her more deeply into conversation–into a theological discussion about some of the points of division between the Samaritans and the Jews. One of which has to do with the rightful place of worshiping God. For the Samaritans it is the nearby mountain, Mt. Gerizum, and for the Jews, Jerusalem. Jesus responds saying that these matters that have been divisions between the two cultures for centuries are really not important because the hour is coming and is here now when we will worship God in spirit and truth.
What it mean to worship God in spirit and truth?
In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, he translates the passage this way:
“…the time is coming,” Jesus says, “it has, in fact, come – when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship.
What is important is who you are and the way you live. Jesus sees this woman clearly and accepts her just as she is. We come to the well, so that we too can be seen by Jesus just as we are. We may come feeling tired and worm down, or anxious and upset but all of that does not change who we are at our core, and it is that core that Jesus sees. He sees what is good and loving and compassionate in each of us. We come to the well to remember who we truly are.
The time is coming, in fact that time is here now, say Jesus. This language about the “coming time.” leads the woman and Jesus into a conversation about the Messiah and Jesus tells her, I am that Messiah—I am here and the time is now
Jesus has this same conversation with the disciples when they show up, using the metaphor of the harvest. He says, you say there are four months more and then the harvest comes, but I am telling you the reaper is already working gathering fruit for eternal life.
This is the message that Jesus had to bring to Samaria. He was on a mission to reach out to those who were thirsty to bring them a message that living water is available to them. It is the same message he has to bring to us today.
And so, as we sit by the well, this is the message that Jesus brings us.
• I see you just as you are with all of your strengths and concerns and I love you just as you are.
• And I am wondering if, despite all you are dealing with in this moment, you can accept this love I bring as a gift of God
• Because if you can, then lift up your face and feel the living water of God wash over you.
• Feel the cool clear water of God’s grace and acceptance. Know that God sees you clearly to your very core, the truth of who you are in spirit and light.
• There is nothing more you need to do, nothing to wait for
• The time is now, drink in this living water.
Now I wish I could tell you that this living water will be able to wash away all the disease and infection, but of course God’s grace does not operate in that way.
What I can tell you is that God’s grace is a gift that is always available to us, it is, as Jesus told the disciples, always ripe for harvesting. It holds us close in the midst of all that we deal with. And in this time of physically distancing ourselves from others, it reminds us that in all the important ways we are still connected, still a part of God’s holy community.
There is a poem by Denise Levertow
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace
Just as the water holds us when we float, God’s grace holds and sustains us no matter what we face.
As recipients of the gift, we may find ourselves, like the woman, leaving our water jug behind and running off to tell others –via electronic means or maintaining a 6 foot distance, that even though we are walking through uncharted territory and even though so much is uncertain and even though there are sure to be more hard times ahead, God is holding us and making sure the supply of Living Water never runs out.
This is an unlimited offer—a gift that is always available, God’s shelves are fully stocked, we just need to remember to visit the well, and to ask.