SERMON 3/27/11 LENT 3A

                                                                                                                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.”

In the 90’s there was a Saturday Night Live skit, whose character made this line somewhat famous, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken was on the show a several years ago and his character Stuart was someone with whom many of us could identify . Stuart was obviously a man who struggled with a skewed self- perception that made him believe that he really was not good enough, smart enough and that people probably did not like him. Whether as a result ofhis own choices or the choices of others in his life, Stuart had a very low self-image. For this character, he had a history that brought him pain, and something was holding him in the bondage of self-defeat and destruction.

Sin is obviously connected to “those things done” and “those left undone,” but the deeper brokenness in our lives, comes in the form of a spiritual imprisonment of shame and guilt. Guilt and shame can be a result of our own choices, or the circumstances placed on us through the choices of others. Shame is as a huge weight cast upon us to carry and it becomes a debilitating struggle. Guilt can bind and imprison us with burdens that steal our joy and squelch our peace. The woman who met Our Lord at the well, was obviously carrying some form of burden, as she went about her daily chores.

In the middle of the heat of the day, the Samaritan woman came to the well to draw the water she needed to sustain her. However, the timing of her trip was a bit intriguing. In those days, drawing water and carrying it at mid-day, would be like mowing a lawn in South Florida, between noon and two o’clock, in the middle of August. It is just something we don’t do. It would be better when it is 90 plus degrees, hot and humid, to gather with your friends for a nice ice cream cone or milkshake. The Samaritan woman alone and without friends with her, when everyone else is in the shade staying cool, traveled to the well to draw water.

Her solitary water chore is a significant part of the story. You see, the well of any village, was a place to gather and socialize. It may be where we get the phrase, gathering at the “old watering hole.” This woman was alone gathering water. She wasn’t with all the others who came in the cool of the day, she came at a time when no one else was there. It is quite possible that she was not a welcomed member of the community. It could be that she was an outsider ostracized by the other women and as a result, she felt shame. She was imprisoned by her own sense of self and then, she meets Jesus who dialogues with her back and forth about water, but it goes much deeper than soothing a dry throat.

The importance of water to life is obvious. Civilizations have always gathered around bodies of water, because we cannot live without it. Our bodies are nearly 60% water. In breathing alone, we exhale 20 ml of water vapor with each breath and that depletion of fluid alone, must constantly be replenished. Water sustains life, but it also cleanses and refreshes. It washes away germs, grime and dirt. With the necessity for fresh, clean water to live, the water well in ancient times was as essential to life as was food and air. Water wells, were important places and the well from which the Samaritan woman came to draw water, had been there since her ancestor Jacob. People for centuries had come to this well for refreshment and life giving water. On this day, she received a restoration and refreshment, which she had not anticipated.

Jesus must have sensed something about this woman as she approached him. He must have known that she was carrying some burden, some sort of shame and guilt. In the narrative, Jesus reveals his knowledge that the woman had once been married to five husbands, and he further shared that the man she was with at that time, was not her husband.

Maybe that was the source of her sense of shame. It might have been related to the loss of a husband in death, and the pain of being passed on to the next brother, in order to carry on the family name. She may have experienced the tragedy of being cast out by previous husbands through divorce, and she had to face a broken heart and a shattered life. She may have had to turn to living in a relationship with someone who was not her husband, just to survive. Whatever the situation, we can assume from the dialogue with Jesus, she was burdened by the events of her current life however, Jesus offered restoration. At first, the woman did not want to discuss her circumstance, because she changed the subject a couple of times. Jesus however, continued to bring her back to the area of life in which she required grace.

Jesus spoke of living water, “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.” Jesus offered new life that would gush up like a spring; a life filled with joy, peace, and celebration. The woman wanted that water because the life she knew was one of loneliness, shame and guilt. She needed to drop the baggage of guilt and shame and accept the gushing waters of grace, mercy, joy, forgiveness, peace, and celebration. Jesus offers water that will refresh, restore, and reconcile us. Jesus offers water that will wash away brokenness. When we drop our junk, our baggage, our guilt and our shame and receive the “Living Water” Jesus offers us, we receive grace, mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness and we continue in a new life in the love of Christ.

We are a community knit together in a covenant of love. Through a water bath known as baptism, we experience that grace from God. God invites us to come to the well and fill our cup, our bucket, to fill our lives. We are invited to accept healing and reconciliation and receive the gushing fountain of everlasting life. Even in the midst of God’s Spirit stirring in us, which is an invitation to reconciliation, we may shy away from the issues; we may want to overlook the subject, like the woman at the well. Lent is the perfect time for us to drop the baggage, to shrug off the weights that bind us. It’s time to drink deeply from the well of reconciliation, to refresh our spirit, to live fully in the oasis of God’s love, mercy and grace.
Over the next few weeks, as you are confronted by the presence of the baptismal font as you enter the Nave, remember your own baptism. Remember the waters of baptism through which each of us has passed. Let it remind us that it was through these waters that we have been made a new people, that our lives have been restored, and that we have been set on a new path refreshed, filled, and reconciled. Dip your fingers in that water. Touch your forehead, your heart, your shoulders, and remember God’s grace is ever with you to strengthen you in the journey ahead.
The woman at the well, who experienced directly God’s restoration, had to go and share with others, her interaction with Jesus. She was so moved by her moment with Jesus, that she went to those who had rejected her, and told of her life-changing visit. Through her reception of grace and by her witness to it, others came to know and believe. We too are not mere recipients of grace, we are conduits and messengers and heralds of grace. We are fragile clay jars that carry in us a power so great that we must know that is from God and not ourselves. As that power of love is poured into us and flows over like a gushing fountain, it can and does pour from us abundantly into others. From our very lives, we are poured out into the world to bring joy, peace, grace, mercy, reconciliation and refreshment to others who are traversing the arid and dry deserts of life. It’s time for us to let the world know that we are accepted by the God, who with outstretched arms on the cross, proclaims that creation is “good enough, smart enough, and doggone it” God’s love for creation is never ending.
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