"She said to the people"-Sermon for Lent 3, John 4:5-42
Blood siblings…sorely divided…but, in this moment, connecting. A Jew asking to drink from a Samaritan’s cup. A man in a theological conversation with a woman in a public place. Things we consider ordinary like a simple cup of water are described as something else entirely…something extraordinary like a well gushing up to eternal life. The places considered holy are being wiped from the face of the earth. Instead, God’s life-giving Spirit is fully alive, not in buildings or rituals or a particular group of set aside people, but in ordinary human lives…every ordinary human life. The one smeared with a scarlet letter and a heart broken at least five times becomes the evangelist…the bearer of life-giving truth…perhaps heard and seen for the first time in a very long time…and not just heard…but listened to as one speaking a truth as important as anything that is. And, the one so long-awaited, so long that perhaps some even stopped looking…stopped hoping, has arrived.
In these almost 40 verses of scripture from the Gospel of John that sit before us this morning…in this one story…everything has changed. The world as it is known is utterly turned on its head. The entire gospel, the good news of God’s love resurrecting, restoring, reconstituting, recreating the world, is made alive in one extended scene of one human encountering the divine…followed by the amazing good that naturally flows from just such a life-changing encounter. We get to hear and see this morning the world being set to rights…not really turned upside down…but right side up with love on the very top.
You see, Samaritans and Jews didn’t fellowship…didn’t get along…didn’t see the world through the same lenses…if not enemies…surely there was great enmity between them. They didn’t share things in common…most especially things that touched something as intimate as lips. Men did not publicly engage with women on an equal footing…no daughter of Eve was deserving of such respect. Water may assuage one’s thirst…but that is all there is to it. God lives only in sacred places not in broken human lives and his, for he is assuredly a he, his wisdom is meted out by religious leaders who stand above all others as superior in their religious and ethnic purity, moral fiber, and intellectual capacity…spoon feeding the masses with just what they deserve, which is, of course, far less than what they actually deserve.
And then there is this beloved woman married five times and now living with a sixth man out of wedlock and certainly in sin…perhaps walked out on…perhaps divorced…but clearly no longer any good for polite society…not worth the time of day. And, if we have any doubts about that, we only have to consider why she is collecting water at a well in the middle of the day, the hottest and most uncomfortable time of day to be carting around heavy loads of water. For the only reason I can think of for a noontime visit to this very well is because no one else will be there or should be there…like there surely would be at a cooler time of day like at sunrise or sunset. That is no one else present to give her smug glances or push her to the end of the line…or worse. And the idea that such a woman would rush into town, gather people’s attention, tell them that a prophet, or perhaps even God’s own Messiah, God’s anointed one, just happened to be standing at the local well and they should all stop what they are doing and rush out and see him…and they would listen to her and do just as she says…well that is utterly absurd.
For we know how the world really works…enemies are enemies not friends…to be avoided at all cost or, if need be, fought. Men rule the world. Water is just water. God surely does not love everyone. Class systems are good for they keep order in our world. Religion must be ruled by the professionals. It would be dangerous otherwise. And, the morally compromised are incapable of telling the truth and are worthy of our suspicion. And maybe not in every way…but in many ways…this world order still rules our own day. These descriptions of life in our broken world should not sound unfamiliar to any of us, as we make our way through similar societal systems that order our, supposedly enlightened, 21st century world.
But, as I began, not so in the story that stands before us today with Jesus, the one so long expected, sitting at the center. For he acknowledges the Samaritan and woman that he meets at the well as wholly human…entirely worthy of making friends with…talking about the most important things in the world with…right out in the open for the whole world to see. Jesus presumably drinks the water that the women provides him…their lips sharing a common cup. And he uses the ordinary, a simple cup of water, to describe the extraordinary…a living water, whose source will never dry up, which is God’s love alone, that has the power to quench a thirst that goes well beyond some biological need. Jesus describes a sort of metaphorical water that when one drinks of it they shall have life gushing up to eternal, abundant, and everlasting life. A living water that does not belong to some sort of priestly cast, some sort of special or set aside class of people, to then be distributed at their own whim…controlled and rationed…by the powers that be…but a living water gracefully showered upon all of humanity…all people…that is God’s love…overflowing in abundance on all sorts and conditions of people who hope for and desire the experience of God’s life-changing, life-filling love…that transforms all who seek it from living a parched and cracked sort of life into a garden-like sort of existence full of growth and meaning…direction and purpose…new life that even sin and death cannot conquer.
This is the living water that Jesus offers both the woman at the well and each of us who, following her lead and example, engage with him…connect with Jesus. And, then, through her own engagement with Jesus, this woman is empowered and unafraid to reenter her own community…to speak with authority and truth, no longer as one clouded by her past, hamstrung by her own choices and societies judgement of her lifestyle or gender, but a fully-alive, whole human who becomes an evangelist, long before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write down their gospels…an evangelist…that is one who witnesses to the good news of God’s love to her own community…and she is, again, heard and seen, not ignored and castigated…for John tells us that, after her own divine encounter with Jesus, the woman left her jar of water at the side of the well and rushed back into the center of town and said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done…[and] they left the city…and were on their way to him.” And John continues, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony.”
And, here is my point in all of these musings, in this precious moment in time, in this divine encounter between this woman and Jesus, we are given a glimpse of the world as God dreams. All of God’s people, whatever blood flows through their veins or religion they practice or tone of their skin or language they speak, are made friends. Men and women, who are all in the same moment broken and breathtakingly beautiful…both created in the likeness and image of God and still very much a work in progress…standing side by side as co-equal partners and companions…as altogether God’s own heart and hands in this world. We see a spirituality that is not ruled by a religion governed by rules and a top down male dominated authority, but ordered by God’s love alone, which is discovered in relationship and equally available everywhere and to all people who seek after a living water that transcends this material world. We see the one who was cast down lifted up, as one entirely worthy of being respected, heard and seen, listened to and followed, as God’s own loving witness to those among whom she lives, moves and has her being. This story is a precious snapshot of the world that Jesus intends to create in the life he lived and died for. This is the kingdom of God come so very near to the world in which we also live, move and have our being.
And this is just the sort of world, the sort of shared life, that we, who connect with Jesus in our own day, are to continuously work toward…right now in our own still profoundly disordered 21st century world…a shared life empowered by God’s grace…empowered by our own divine encounter with Jesus…in bread and wine…in prayer, worship and fellowship…in this community we have forged together…this family of faith in which God’s living water is, indeed, gushing up to eternal, abundant, and everlasting life.
Though it will be unique to our own context, we are to recreate this scene, over and over again, in the life we share and live together…a living vision given as a gift to the larger community around us of God’s own beloved community…where enemies become friends, where all things are held in common and shared most especially with those in need, where God’s love is available to all and shared with all without distinction, where everyone is heard and seen, valued and listened to…where the distinctions that create an us versus them sort of world begin to melt away…where God’s grace is extended to each of us so that we can then extend it to each other…where our differences become, not what divides us, but what makes us interesting and multi-faceted and nuanced and colorful and effective.
This very scene we are called to create, over and over again, in our own shared life and continually extend to others and invite them into, is the hope of the world…it is the promise of the kingdom of God come near…it is what Jesus our Lord’s living, dying, and living again are to both demonstrate and call us into…together…the world set to rights…not really turned upside down…but right side up…with love on the very top. All of us standing side by side…all of us filled with the overflowing living water of God’s inexhaustible love…a wholly different vision of what it means to be human’s living in community…God’s dream alive…God’s kingdom come near…in and among us. Amen.