CALL TO WORSHIP:
Jesus offers to each one of us living water: water that will calm us, revive us, sustain us, remind us of God’s promises, empower us. So let us come together and be restored and renewed to a life filled with God’s spirit. Let us worship the God of new life!
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 17: 1-7; John 4: 5 – 42
MEDITATION: March 15, 2020 – Lent 3A – Come and See
St. Paul’s Congregational Church
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
These are extraordinary days – filled with anxiety, fear, discomfort, turmoil all around us. It’s too easy to get swept up by all this – I know that – but let’s take a break. Let’s breathe. Let’s center ourselves in the fact that no matter what, God’s love and care surround us – that doesn’t absolve us of doing our part however we can these days to curb the spread of the virus, to take care of ourselves, to look after each other however we can. But God is calling us….to “come and see.”
We’re hearing the advice from medical folks to stay hydrated, aren’t we. And today it seems especially meaningful to explore the images of water in our scriptures. We read in the Old Testament lesson from Exodus about Moses leading his people to the promised land: there was no water for them and they, of course, thirsty, complained. We hear the story of the rock at Horeb – where God promised to stand before them as Moses struck the rock and water came out of it, that the people might drink. The living water of God brought relief to Moses and his people.
Then we have the story of the woman at the well: thanks to one of my colleagues in ministry, Jessica Hainley of the Quentin United Church of Christ, I share this with you now, a narrative sermon telling this profound story.
“There I was, minding my own business in the middle of the day when I didn’t think anyone else would be at the well of my ancestor Jacob. Now, some of you may think it’s normal to get a drink in the middle of the day. Perhaps I was thirsty, you say. Perhaps I was not prepared, you say.
But, in reality, I went to the well in the middle of the day, not because I was underprepared, but because I was not welcome in the social circles of the women who came in the mornings to draw water. Nor was I welcome in the circle of women who gathered around the well at dusk.
I came in the middle of the day because I’m an outsider in my own town. I came in the middle of the day to get my water so I would be alone and not be disturbed by the hushed whispers and glaring looks the other women gave me at dawn and at dusk because of who I am. Because of who they think I am.
A woman with many husbands, they’d say. A woman who was loose and living with a man who was not my husband, they would whisper. A woman who had put her family to shame, they’d proclaim.
I had come many times before to this well in the middle of the day. I usually had it all to myself. Everyone else was tending house or tending to the fields. This, this was my safe hour to gather what I needed to be replenished. To sustain myself.
When, out of the corner of my eye I see someone who I do not know sitting right beside where I would need to go and draw water. A man, who I did not know, by the well in the middle of the day. Now, some of you may think that this is no problem. After all, I am in my own city, and this man, clearly is an outsider. Someone I do not recognize. Someone others in the town would not know. Two outsiders, at a well, in the middle of the day.
What could go wrong? We would both mind our own business!
He is the one who should be scared to be by this well – not me! People in this town know who I am! Who is this man? And what is he doing by the well at this hour in the heat of the day?
But, as soon as I make my way over to the well to fill my pitcher
under the beating sun, he stops, and looks and me and says, almost demands, “Give me a drink”.
Sir, I do not know you. I think to myself. But, then I realize, he is not one of us. He is not a Samaritan! He is the outsider here – not me!
Which meant only one thing – he must be a Jew. So, of course, I was taken aback. How could I not be?
A Jew, asking me, a Samaritan woman, in the middle of the day, by the well of myancestors – for a drink. Precious water, from the well of my ancestor. What would people say? What if someone sees him talking to me? People are already talking so much about me, what more do they need to talk about if they saw him, this outsider, talking to me – someone who is already on the outskirts of this town? How dare he! Can you imagine, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink! How dare this man even think it’s normal to talk to a woman in public! Why, he is not from around here!
It is not normal – not one bit! Doesn’t he know who I am? Doesn’t he know my people – the Samaritans and his people – the Jews don’t get along?
Why, all of us know that the Jews and us Samaritans, we don’t see eye-to-eye on things.
No one has to tell you that us Samaritans believe we can worship God and observe the Pentateuch, but how we worshipped God was not accepted by those of Jewish faith. In fact, when Jews traveled between Judea and Galilee would take a longer route than even consider passing through Samaria. But, not this man by the well who wanted a drink. Who did he think he was?
This man by the well told me that if I only knew the gift of God and who was asking me for a drink, I would not have spoken the way I did, but instead would have asked him for a drink of this living water.
But, I was confused, you can understand, because this man, by the well, did not have a bucket to retrieve water. He was speaking of living water – water that does not come from a well, but a spring of life that only God can provide! But, this could not be God, Christ, the messiah, sitting at this well in the middle of the day! How could God, the Messiah, be an outsider?
So, I tested him and told him I wanted a drink of this living water. I do not want to thirst and I do not want to keep coming day after day, in the middle of the afternoon sun to fill my bucket. He did not offer me water from the well. Instead, he told me to go and call my husband and to then come back to him.
My stomach turned in a knot. Everyone in this town knows I do not have a husband. Why that’s why I was at the well in the middle of the day, under the scorching sun! I wanted to avoid the other women who came at dusk and dawn to fill their buckets. The woman who talked of my lack of a husband, and the many husbands I had had before.
And the man I’m with now, well, well, he’s not my husband. And they talked about that too. But, how did this man, by the well, this man I did not know – how did he know I had no husband?
Was he a prophet? I had to ask him, but I wanted to make sure – because there have been many false prophets before him. And so, I asked – where is the right place to worship God? Is it right that we Samaritans worship God on this holy mountain, or is it right that the Jews worship God in Jerusalem?
Instead of answering – on your mountain! Or, in Jerusalem at the temple! This man, by the well, tells me that worship of God will not occur in Jerusalem or on a mountain. But worship will be for God alone in spirit and in truth. I must admit, I was more taken aback by this than his living water that he offered! Who was this man?
I knew the Messiah was coming, in spirit and in truth! But, who was this man? Who was this outsider by the well? And, without me asking him – he tells me, “I am he – the one who is speaking to you”
I was speechless. Not knowing what to say or do. I just, stood there.
As I was standing there, some other men, people who seemed to know this man at the well, came and gathered around.
Astonished, dumbfounded, whatever you may call it, I went so quickly to tell everyone what I had experienced at the well with a man who I did not know that I left my pitcher of water there. I ran, as fast as I could to the tell everyone about this man by the well. And people believed in him, not because of what I had said, but because when they went and listened to him, they knew, in their hearts, who he was.
Looking back at this encounter with the man, with the Messiah, by the well, I can see I was blessed. An outsider, welcomed in. An outsider, seen and shown compassion by the Messiah.
I was an outsider who Christ, the Messiah, promised living water to.
I was an outsider who was not worthy of filling a cup of water for Christ, but who Christ found worthy enough to offer living water to!
Have you ever felt like an outsider in your community? Where you didn’t feel you belonged? Where you longed to be seen and heard, and yet, scared to be known for who you are? Is that why you come to this place you call church?
So you can be seen, your true self – in this place?
Christ saw who I was. And Christ still offered me the living water.
Christ saw who I was, and accepted all of the challenges I gave to him, and showed me love and kindness in return.
Is that what this place called church is supposed to be about? Is that Christ’s message to us? One of unencumbered love? One of inclusion for those who we might not think are like us? This world would be such a different place, if people talked like Christ talked to me that day at the well. Wouldn’t it. . .
If we talked of filling one another’s cups with things that gave life, with the living water of faith, of kindness, of compassion and care.
This world would be such a different place if we filled our cups with the living water of faith.
What do you have to share with those people, the people like me, maybe the people like you, that Christ met by the well in the middle of the day?”
We know that the apostle Paul promises in his letter to the Romans: I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including the Coronavirus!) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Receive the living water!
The power of the Spirit! The power of the encounter here – at the life giving well. It’s breathtaking. This encounter in the most unlikely place, between Jesus Christ and a most unlikely person explodes into epiphany. And it can be the same for us too.
We can’t help but think of those times when we have experienced, encountered, the very presence of God. Experienced that overwhelming sense of joy, of peace, of empowerment! Realized that this overwhelming gift is for each one of us too! For you! For me! That presence is available to each and every one of us – a gift of grace – if we will but see. Jesus waits for us too to bring us living water – life giving water.
For all of us, for you and for me, this can happen anywhere, anytime, any place we are willing to stop and say, “Lord, give me this water so I may never thirst again.” May we open our eyes that we may see. And then let us share love, share goodness and kindness. Share the hope that Christ has shown to us. Let us be living testaments of the living water of faith as we share that living water we have received. Amen.
Carey, Greg. Lancaster Theological Seminary: New Testament. November 9, 2016. Lecture.
Hainley, Jessica. Quentin United Church of Christ. Narrative Sermon: A Woman by the Well (John 4:4-52). Published March 11, 2020.
Neyrey, Jerome H. Book of John: Annotations and Notes. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha 4th Edition. pp.1888-1889. Michael D. Coogan, Editor. Brettler, Marc Z, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, Assoc. Eds. Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York. 2007. Print.
Let us pray:
Lord, here we are. We have come to worship, come seeking you and your will for us. We are here searching for you, seeking meaning for our lives, seeking a reason to go on living, hoping to discover purpose and direction.
Yet, today we discover that it is more accurate to say that we are here because you have been searching for us, waiting for us. You have been seeking us before we got around to looking for you. We are here because we have been called – we are here as those who have heard you. We are here, not because we have been so wise to look for you, but rather because you have been so loving as to seek us. Here we are. At last you have our attention. We await your Word.
Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another. Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace. Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth. Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. Jesus Christ, heal us.
May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much; may you fear God enough that you need fear nothing else at all. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be on you now and always. The worship is over, the service begins. Go in peace. Amen.