March 26, 2017 (updated from March 23, 2014)
Note: The preacher wears a large scarf or shawl for the beginning of the message. A large pitcher or stone jar also makes a good prop.
I’m from 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 cross the Jordan and travel around Samaria, so Sychar isn’t really “on the way” between Jerusalem and Galilee, unless you are 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! 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 this 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. So I played along.
“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. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you 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. Oh well, it didn’t matter. Maybe he was just crazy, after all. But I knew that someday, I would have answers. So I said, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will teach us all things.”
Then he said something I will never forget:
“I who speak to you am he.”
[…. pause and let this sink in… change from attitude of wonder to high alert!]
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 left, headed back to Galilee, some of them 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.
[the “woman” addresses the congregation now as preacher, not storyteller, but still in character]
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?
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, so there is no room for God to fill your jar with the Holy Spirit?
Are there rocks of “I’m not good enough” crowding out the space that could be filled with Living Water?
Or, … 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 try new initiatives. 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, your feeling that you don’t deserve God’s love, 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. 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 wondering to myself: 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, 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 share 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 share their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life. You teach others to share their faith by sharing 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 whole 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.
[remove scarf, become the preacher]
You know people who need Jesus. You know someone who needs a changed life. Next week, you will receive a card to give away. It’s an invitation to attend worship here at First Church during Holy Week. We can put it in the newspapers. But that won’t be nearly as effective as giving it to you.
This week, I invite you to pray about this invitation, and ask God to compel you to give it to someone when you get it next week. Be ready to just hand it to someone. Ask, “Would you like to come to my church with me on Easter Sunday? I’ll pick you up. There’s a breakfast before worship, and I’d love to have you come with me.”
It’s really terrifying for people who don’t go to a church to walk in these doors. It’s like the first day of Kindergarten all over again. They’re scared to death of all the weird, holy people in here! Your invitation to be with them makes it so much less scary. This invitation and a little conversation is your ticket to changing someone’s life.
After Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, he preached to his disciples. He said to them, “Look around you! People are so ready for the gospel! All you have to do is bring them in.”
Look around you. Who are you going to invite to church for Palm Sunday or Easter? Will you go and pick them up? Share a meal with them? Introduce them to a group of friends?
This week, talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Or, talk to someone you chat with all the time, but this time, talk about your faith. You could start a conversation that will change someone’s life. Think of it as practicing up for next week, when you will invite someone to come to church with you.
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 people in our community, turning their pain and despair into streams of healing, restoring, living water – and doing all this through us.
So, pick up your jar. We have water to share.
Sermon first given at First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, MN on March 23, 2014
© 2014 Jo Anne Taylor
Updated and invitation to Holy Week (italicized text) added for March 26, 2017
Permission granted to use this sermon in part or in its entirety,
with attribution to Rev. Jo Anne Taylor, http://www.pastorsings.com.