March 15, 2020 (also March 23, 2014 and March 26, 2017, with some variations)
Note: This is a first person narrative, told from the perspective of the Samaritan woman Jesus meets at the well in John 4. While most messages can be given by either a man or a woman, this one needs to be heard in a woman’s voice.
[Wear a scarf that covers all hair, carry a ‘water jar’ containing about a cup of water. Have the baptismal font placed in the center of the chancel, and have two large stone jars on the altar or a table near the font, one empty and one with some sand/pebbles in it.]
I live in Sychar – you also probably know it as the city of Shechem, in Samaria. I don’t really live in Sychar, but just outside of town. Jacob’s well is about a mile from Sychar, and I probably live closer to the well than the town square. You can actually see the well from my doorway.
One day, about lunchtime, I saw a group of men walking toward the well. I could tell they were Jews, even at a distance. They looked like they had come a long way, probably taking the shortcut back to Galilee from Jerusalem.
Most Jews crossed the Jordan and traveled around Samaria, so Sychar wasn’t really “on the way” between Jerusalem and Galilee, unless you were trying to avoid the crowds on the roads.
I could tell that they didn’t have anything with them to draw water. They probably had no idea how deep the well was. Anyway, I picked up a water jar and headed toward the well. If I hurried, I could get there first, leave the jar for them, and be out of the way before they got there.
But I wasn’t fast enough. By the time I got to the well, only one man was there. I guess the others had headed into town to buy food. I lowered my eyes, and started to draw some water.
Out of the blue, the man spoke directly to me! This was unheard of! I could tell he was a Jew, and Jews do not speak to Samaritans if they can help it. Not only am I a Samaritan, but – as you can see – I’m a Samaritan woman. No self-respecting Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman.
But he did.
“Give me a drink,” he said.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I asked him. It was risky, answering him that way, but he had spoken first, so I took a chance.
“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.”
Well, that explained it. This Jew was apparently a crazy man. No wonder he had no trouble speaking to a double outcast. He was probably an outcast himself. But I decided to humor 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?”
He said, “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.”
Right, I thought. He’s definitely crazy, but probably harmless.
I said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
That’s when the joking and the banter stopped. He looked me right in the eye, and said, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
Maybe he realized he had overstepped some boundaries. To continue this conversation, a male relative really should be present.
But he had raised a question that I was embarrassed to answer, so I told him the simplest truth: “I have no husband.”
I thought that would end the conversation, but then he said, “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!”
How could he possibly know that?
Now, you are probably thinking I am some floozy who goes through men the way water goes through a strainer. You might think I’m an adulteress, or a prostitute.
But you’d be wrong. If I had committed adultery or prostitution, I would have been stoned to death for it. You don’t know my story. You don’t know if my five husbands died, or divorced me because I burned the toast, or left because they couldn’t keep up with my study of scripture.
For all you know, the man I am with now could be my brother-in-law, who took me into his household after my last husband died, according to levirate law. He would only be fulfilling his brotherly duty, and wouldn’t consider me his own wife, but his brother’s.
You don’t know my story, but this man did! Maybe he wasn’t crazy after all. Maybe he was a man of God.
So I tested this idea. I said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Answer me this: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
He answered, “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.”
He’d lost me somewhere after “salvation is from the Jews.” I didn’t understand what he said about worshiping in spirit and truth. Maybe he was just crazy, after all. But something in me really wanted to hear more.
I couldn’t put my finger on the feeling at that moment, but now I know what it was. Hope was starting to wake up in me, and at the same time, I was afraid of that hope being dashed. We Samaritans have lived with disappointment for a long time. Better to lower my expectations. Better to not get my hopes up.
“I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ),” I said. “When he comes, he will teach us all things.”
Then he said something I will never forget:
“I who speak to you am he.”
…. (let this sink in….move from confusion to awe to excitement)
I saw the others coming back from the village, but I couldn’t wait for them to get to the well. I left my water jar for them, and I ran into town as fast as I could.
I went to the town square and shouted to all my neighbors, “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done! You don’t think this could be the Messiah, do you? Come and see!
And they came. They all came. They left their lunches, their work, whatever they were doing, and the whole town came out to the well to see this man, this Jesus. Many of them believed in him because of what I had told them.
As we gathered around the well, he taught us about the Kingdom of God. And he told us we could be part of that Kingdom, even though we were Samaritans!
We asked him to stay with us, and he did. Jesus and his followers stayed two more days. Many more people came to believe in him because of his teaching.
After he and his students had headed back to Galilee, some of the people from the village stopped by my house and said, “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.”
Friends, this is the Good News, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
(Move to font, touch the water.)
I see that you have a water jar, too. What’s in your jar? Is it filled with Living Water that splashes out and bathes you in baptism? As you drink of this Living Water, is your thirst for God satisfied? Does the water in your jar fill you and nourish you, and spill over into the world around you?
(Pick up jar with sand.)
Or is your jar filled with other things, so there is no room for Living Water in it? Do the cobwebs and dust of old grudges and hurts keep you from tasting the Living Water that Jesus offers? Has your jar filled up with the dirt of self-importance and pebbles of worry, (pour a little sand into your hand, and back into the jar.) so there is no room for God to fill your jar with the Holy Spirit?
Or, (pick up empty jar and shake it upside down) … Is your jar empty?
We live in a world of “not enough.”
There is not enough time,
not enough money,
not enough patience,
not enough love,
not enough hope,
not enough … life.
Our whole lives are “not enough.”
We can talk about what needs to change; we can plan new programs and start new projects. But if each new program just replaces the one before it and nothing really changes, hope dies. We dry up.
Yet, Jesus tells us that he came so we could have life – not just barely-scraping-by life, but real, abundant, full-to-the-brim life.
As you set your jar at the feet of Jesus, can you give him everything that is in it – your desire to be “in control” and your pain and your doubt, your emptiness and your worry, all that you are and all that you have?
Just as surely as Jesus knew everything I had ever done, he knows you. No secret is too terrible, no sin is too dark for him to wash it away with Living, life-giving water.
It’s time for you to stop carrying a heavy jar filled with things that will not satisfy the longing of your soul. It’s time to put your jar down at Jesus’ feet, and let him look you in the eye as he tells you how he loves you.
And then it’s time for you to go tell someone else who Jesus is.
You see, it was on the way back to town that I realized I had already decided to trust this man, this Jesus. He never asked me to repent of my sin, as I later learned he would ask many others who met him. He never asked anything of me except to give him a drink, something I certainly was able to do.
But once he told me who he was, my life changed in that instant. As I ran into Sychar to tell the others, still not completely believing I had met the One, the Messiah, I was already being transformed into something new, someone different.
As I told my neighbors, “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done,” I was still in shock: this man couldn’t be the Messiah, could he? And yet, the very act of calling the others to come meet him was forming my faith in this man, the Son of God.
I was being filled with Living Water.
How could I not share that with everyone I knew?
I know there are stories of Jesus meeting other people. You have heard the story of the respected teacher, Nicodemus, who found Jesus in the middle of the night. But Jesus came to me at high noon, in the middle of the day.
Nicodemus was an important religious leader. Jesus told him “You must be born of water and spirit if you are to enter the Kingdom of God.” Here I am, a poor Samaritan woman, yet Jesus talked to me of worshiping God in spirit and truth, and he offered me Living Water.
Do you see the connection? In water and spirit, Jesus meets us wherever we are. He offers us eternal life that begins immediately, not just after we die. He offers us the life-giving water of his own spirit.
This is why the act of baptism is such a sacred event. It uses water to show how God fills us with his Holy Spirit, flooding us with his love and protection.
When you are baptized in this church, the congregation is asked if it will guide you, through teaching and example, to profess your faith openly, and to lead a Christian life.
Then, as part of the very Body of Christ that promised to guide you, you also promise to teach and guide others to profess their faith openly, as they lead a Christian life.
You teach others to profess their faith by professing your own,
just as I learned to believe that Jesus was the Christ by announcing it to my neighbors.
In Hebrew, the word for “well” is the same as the word for “to see.” Imagine yourself by the well, looking down at the water. The water is like a mirror. If you look closely, you can see not only yourself, but this community around you, filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Jesus offers living water to each of us, not only for ourselves, but for us to share.
I can see us offering this living water to all we encounter. I can see God transforming the loneliness, pain, and despair in our community into streams of just, restoring, living water – and doing all this through us.
So, pick up your jar. We have water to share.
Permission granted to use this sermon in part or in its entirety,
with attribution to Rev. Jo Anne Taylor, http://www.pastorsings.com.