Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent + March 27, 2011
The Gospel of John was written for people that were drawn to Jesus, but were not yet Christ followers. These people might have gone to hear about this Jesus, but held on to their place on the sidelines and their old beliefs. John’s Gospel highlights for these people, how Jesus flows from their religious tradition while challenging, breaking and fulfilling that tradition all at the same time.
Last week it was Nick at night we listened in on with his questions and doubt casting shadows in the middle of the night. This week we get a glimpse into a mid-day soap opera as a Samaritan woman, I’ll call her Sam, encounters Jesus at the well… or is it Jesus who encounters her? We listen in as Jesus in the heat of the noonday sun tells Sam and you and I the truth about who we are, about all of the dark corners of our past and present, and about who Jesus is.
The truth encounter with Sam takes place at the height of the day, at noon, the same time the ultimate truth encounter Jesus’ death took place.
- Truth in the well, living water that quenches all thirst.
- Truth in the light of the day, for all to see the light of the world.
- Truth in the hour of death, at the height of Golgotha, the cross of salvation.
Jesus names and claims us as he sees and names all of what weighs us down from the smallest regret, embarrassing failure, deepest longing, to the largest painful loss we’ve experienced. Jesus does this not to rub salt into ones wounds, but to wash them with living water.
Jesus intentionally encounters us, believer or doubter, villain or hero, on the ‘right’ side of the tracks or the wrong, saint or sinner. In these encounters, his presence whether in the flesh as Sam experienced, or in the other, someone reflecting the light of Christ, part of the Body of Christ. Jesus does this not to turn the spotlight on our doubt or status, but to wash those dark places with the light of his love.
Jesus lets everyone who encounters him know that they matter. No matter how deep the thirst for acceptance, understanding, or wholeness, Jesus is the spring gushing up to eternal life. No matter how dark ones past or present, and regardless of the things that keep one up at night, the Son shines the love of acceptance and forgiveness, satisfying ones deepest thirst.
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One of the remarkable things about the encounter at the well are all the boundaries that are crossed: social boundaries, gender boundaries, geographic boundaries, personal boundaries:
- Jesus, a Jew and Sam a Samaritan are from nations that despise each other (even more than Yankee and Red Sox fans),
- They are because of their gender in the first century not to speak to one another (especially alone),
- Jesus who was on the road would have as a Jew gone out of his way to avoid Samaria (it would have been on the state department travel advisory list),
- And Sam was quite forward in her questioning and tone, as was Jesus who answered questions about who she was (telling her everything she had ever done).
All of this was quite upsetting to the disciples, who when they showed up and saw Jesus with Sam were shocked. Shocked and yet they said nothing. Perhaps they were used to Jesus wandering off and crossing boundaries. Perhaps they were used to his breaking all of the rules and social norms. Perhaps they were worried about earthly things, pestering his to eat, and Jesus shaking his head and telling them that he had food eat that they did not know about.
Jesus wasn’t talking about a granola bar he has stashed in his robe. Jesus was talking about heavenly things. Jesus and you and I are fed by the will of God, who works through us and feeds us, quenches our thirst, and gives us living water to cross the boundaries of comfort and complacency to do God’s work with our hands.
Jesus keeps crossing boundaries to go…
- To those on the margins,
- To those who are the least,
- To those everyone else ignores,
- To those the world leaves behind.
Again and again Jesus shows up where and with the people we least expect. So we shouldn’t be surprised that he breaks all accepted norms and expectations of the day, including our own. In his encounter with Sam, Jesus doesn’t expose her sin and brokenness rather he names and touches her wound.
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Sam is a woman who gets a bad wrap. She is labeled a harlot or worse lumped in with the women the church has in the past pointed to as prostitutes. But her circumstance Jesus points to having had five husbands, that the man she is living with now is not her husband are just that, the facts. The truth of the matter is that more than likely she has been widowed, divorced, or abandoned five times and is now likely dependent on another for subsistence. Jesus is not pointing an accusing finger at her. Jesus is not chastising her. Jesus is not labeling her, cursing her, or calling her names.
The truth is love. Jesus is love and sees her compassionately, naming and understanding the fullness and complexity of her circumstances. For Sam the labeling and judgmental way she was treated by others more than likely had impacted the way she saw herself. For a woman with a history, a reputation, a label, the grace-filled moment at the well was that she encountered the Messiah, who knowing everything about her, did not judge, but welcomed, accepted, and shared the love of God freely, no strings or labels attached.
Jesus takes the heavy burden represented by that water jug off of her shoulder, her heart, her mind. He released her from all of the labels that had been thrown at her by others. And I think that the way Jesus encountered her in love, convinced her he was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Love that does not judge, love that was so deep God send God’s only Son, love that is unearned and unexpected, love that died for us and for all while we were still sinners.
Sam got this love. She saw the world in a different light because of this love. She dropped all of her burdens, left behind her water jug in the moment to go back into the city and be a disciple, a bearer of good news, a proclaimer of Christ’s redeeming love for all the world.
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So you thirsty people gathered here in the light of the day, around the table of God’s blessing, the font of God’s love and eternal living water…
- What burdens, worries, fears do you carry today?
- What expectations of others do you carry in your water jar?
- What labels have been thrown at you by others?
- What labels have stuck, defining, limiting, or oppressing you?
We keep our stuff, the burdens, expectations, and labels in the water jars of our lives. We keep pouring these frustrating and painful parts of ourselves into the jar. We hope and pray that they do not overflow, spilling into the lives we try so hard to keep in order. We hope and pray that they do not spill onto ourselves in ways that are seen by others, in ways that would embarrass, or make our lives even more messy or uncomfortable.
So thirsty people… what are you called to leave behind?
- What do you need to give to Jesus?
- What can those healing and live giving waters, unconstrained by earthly boundaries unburden you of?
- What will you pour from your jar into the gushing springs of Jesus who takes and washes it all away in love?
We are washed, quenched and given life giving water in the Word of God that come from the deepest well of God’s unending love. We are given Jesus the Word made flesh, love which passes all understanding who meets us at the well and calls us to leave our water jugs behind. We are given that water to trust more, share more and proclaim more to cross the boundaries in our lives.
We are sent to channel living water to all those who thirst. Amen.