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March 5, 2017

Sermon for March 5, 2017- “Living Water” by Dan Fowler 

John 4:5-30 

 

On this day when we recognize the gifts of women in faith and ministry, it is appropriate that we have this passage of scripture of the Samaritan woman at the well. What must it have been like to be this un named woman who met Jesus at the well? Who was she? I will attempt to reveal more about her through this retelling of today’s passage, even though I truly don’t know more. Plus, I am a man writing about how a woman might feel, so this character study is a best a stab in the dark. Hopefully at the very least, it will reveal more to us about this woman of faith. 

 

What can we learn about her from this passage?  We know that she wasn’t wealthy, for no one of status went to draw water from a well in those days. She must’ve used the same dusty road each day to get to the well of Jacob. On her way out of Sychar, did she draw stares from others? Whispers about her sordid lifestyle? She’d probably heard it all before- “GO ahead, Stare,” she may’ve thought. “It isn’t like any of you really care about me anyway.” This day was just like all the other days, heading out of town, enduring the looks and cold shoulders, walking on the hot dusty road to get water for the day. This day was just like all the other days that had come before, and like all those that would follow. 

 

On her way to the well, she met a group of strange men- Jewish men who looked at her with anger. She was a Samaritan, an ages old enemy. It was one more hard look thrown at her, like all the other looks she had gotten from the townsfolk. She said nothing as she passed the 12 men, and went on her way to the well. She thought about how Samaritans and Jews had hated each other for centuries. She thought about how an army of Jews had destroyed their place of worship on Mt. Gerazim almost 100 years ago, and about how they had been looked down upon as a people because they had mixed with other races, other religious groups. “So much energy and emotion, so much hostility and fighting, all for what?” She thought to herself. This was one of many sore spots for her emotionally, and so she tried to think about something else. 

 

 

 

When she finally arrived at Jacob’s well, a stranger was there, a Jewish man of all people, at this well of her ancestors. “So much for thinking about something else,” she thought to herself. Her heart raced, and she hoped he didn’t want to cause trouble. She just needed to get the water, and head back to town. But there was something different about this man. She found herself drawn to him. As she came closer, she could see by his dress he was a rabbi. “Give me a drink of water,” he said. “How is it that you, a Jew, would speak to me a Samaritan woman, and ask me to give you a drink?” she said. Then she thought- “How is it that you, a rabbi would even talk to a woman out in broad daylight?”- Clearly, this was beginning to be a day unlike any other she had experienced. 

 

Then he said something about how if she really knew who she was talking to, she would ask him for a drink, a drink “of living water.” “How can you get water for me? You have nothing to draw the water with? Are you claiming to be better than our father Jacob?” She wondered out loud. 

The stranger said- “You misunderstand. I’m talking about a different kind of water- living water that if you drink of it- you will never be spiritually thirsty again. This living water leads to eternal life.” 

 

“Sounds good to me!” She said. Then the rabbi changed the subject. “Go and call your man, then come back here.” The rabbi hit a sore spot in her life, a place that was spiritually dry as the desert. “I have no man,” she said. “This is true, for you really have been with 5 men, and the man you are with now is really someone else’s man, isn’t that true?” She knew she was in the presence of a prophet, one who spoke for God. His words were true, and yet, somehow, they didn’t cut her deeply, like all those others who talked about her in town. “Sir, I detect that you are a prophet,” she said. This was her chance to talk with a rabbi who was more than just a teacher, who spoke directly for God, and so she asked about the main issue that had kept Samaritans and Jews apart for hundreds of years. “Our ancestors worshiped at this mountain for many centuries. (“until your people destroyed it” she thought to herself) Yet your people say that Jerusalem is where God lives. Which is true?” 

 

“Neither one” replied the prophet. “A new way to worship is now here- worship in spirit and truth. You do not need temple sacrifice anymore, for what I will do will make a new way. The spirit of God is upon me, and I will be the one you worship” She became excited as she considered his answer. For so long her people had waited for messiah. This man was no ordinary prophet. Could it be...? “I know that one day, Messiah will come, and when he comes he will show us all things.” Her heart raced as she waited for his reply. The man said,  “I am the one, the messiah of which you speak.” 

 

Suddenly, her heart was full. She understood that living water was not normal water. It nourished the parched, dry spirit inside her, and she found new hope and meaning. She felt joy inside for the first time since, well since she could remember. 

 

The group of 12 men she had passed earlier showed up at the well, once again staring at her, but this time, perplexed that she was now talking out in the open with a rabbi, whom they seemed to know. Although their eyes were as wide as saucers, they said nothing. 

 

She knew what she had to do- She needed to run back into town, and tell others that their wait for messiah, their wait for hope was over. She left quickly, so quickly, that she forgot her water jar. This errand was more important even than getting water for the house- She was on a mission to tell others about the living water she had just experienced. 

 

She ran into town, down to the center of the main street and said, “Come and see a man who knows everything about me. He has told me all about everything I have ever done! This man, he could be the messiah!” At first, the townsfolk were skeptical. How could she know anything about something holy, especially with her lifestyle. But they saw the excitement in her eyes. They knew something profound must’ve happened. Some believed her right on the spot, and knew that messiah had come.  Others weren’t so sure. A big crowd followed her out to Jacob’s well. They came running, and stopped when they saw Jesus, and his followers. Some had heard stories of a miracle man, someone who had changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Could this be the man? He began to teach them, and they too experienced the living water. They asked him to stay in their village, and he was with them for two days, teaching them about this living water. When they saw her in the street, their mocking looks were gone, replaced with one of admiration. “Your words brought some of us to believe, but now we have heard for ourselves this man, and we now know that he is the one we have been waiting for- he is the savior of the world..” 

The woman was never the same. She had found what she was looking for- she found a way to fill the void that was in her soul- the void she had tried to fill with poor relationships and poor choices. People in the town treated her differently now. Thanks to her being willing to even come near an enemy of her people, her life and the world around her changed. And thanks to her telling the Good News about Messiah, many people came to believe in him in of all places, Samaria. Her understanding and example of faith changed the world in which she lived. In addition, she found living water, and her soul would never be thirsty again.(10:00- image of the church of the woman at the well/Jacob’s well in Sychar.) 

 

So ends the retelling our story for today. What does it tell us? 

Jesus’ ministry was often about breaking down barriers between people. Although he and the disciples went to Samaria in part to avoid the Pharisees, who were now paying attention to Jesus because he was baptizing more than John the Baptist, Jesus had other ideas as well. John 4:4 says that Jesus "had to go through Samaria". Jews normally avoided contact (and contamination by that contact) with their Samaritan neighbors by traveling other, longer routes. What so compelled Jesus that he "had to" travel through Samaria? It was time to tear down this wall of hostility between Israel and Samaria. Here was a woman who was an enemy of the Jews, and Jesus struck up a conversation. That Jesus would begin this breaking down of barriers by focusing on the Samaritans was one thing- that he would begin his outreach to a hated enemy by speaking with a woman was quite another. 

 

 Historically and traditionally, Jewish men did not speak in public to women, even their own wives. For a rabbi this would have been an even greater restriction. Women were not publicly taught the Law. A woman's place in that society was not even remotely similar to today. You may have noticed in my retelling of this story that I used the word “man” instead of husband. The word from the Greek translated as husband here really does mean man. It is likely that she was not married.  Jesus spoke out in the open to a woman of low moral standing in her society. But Jesus never did the expected. He never sought out the perfect moral people to spread his message. He never treated women in the expected ways of his culture. He talked with them. He taught them. He expected and trusted them to be able to proclaim the Good News. He told stories using women as his characters. He even gave an illustration of what God was like using the image of the woman searching for the Lost Coin. Jesus acted and spoke as if women and men were equal before God.  

 

So we can see that Jesus’ mission here was to break down barriers of enmity between sexes and between peoples. That mission is now our as well, for as Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.(1 Corinthians 1:11) Or as it is written in 1 Peter, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”(1 Peter 2:21)  

 

Jesus clearly believed in elevating the standing of women in society. This is a need that continues today. According to the American Association of University Women, “In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. …At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. But even that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152.” Also according to AAUW web site, In Oregon in 2015, the median annual earning for a full time year round position was $48,001 for men, and $38,774 for women. A woman makes 81% of what a man does for doing the same job in this state. Women may be able to talk out in the open with men now, but are from the equality Jesus demonstrated in his ministry. As Paul said, “There is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). 

 

This world is full of enmity between peoples-fueled by misunderstanding, racism and hatred. Consider this past week, in just 1 day, 16 Jewish community centers or daycare schools received bomb threats. Last Monday, a white man in Kansas shot 2 unarmed Indian men in a bar, killing one while yelling at them to “get out of his country.” And last week, our president continued to demonize immigrants in this nation, calling for a new task force to support families who had been attacked by immigrants, while deporting those immigrants with any criminal offense,and still putting plans forward to spend billions of dollars on a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In watching portions of the president’s address, the reactions of congress demonstrated the huge political divide in this nation. It is almost as if we have two distinct views of America. Progressives and Conservatives view each other as hated Samaritans.  Yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to build bridges of understanding between peoples and to tear down barriers that divide. 

 

This world needs the living water of Christ-His hope, love and wisdom so that all people can stand on equal ground and so that walls of hostility might be torn down.  

 

It all begins by risking to reach over those walls, so that bridges of understanding might be built, just as the woman at the well did. Ephesians 2:14-15 says, “The Messiah has made things up between us and God so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance…Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.” Jesus tore down walls, and invites us to do the same.  So, be a well of living water to the world. Be nourished at its source, so that you never run dry, so that hope is always present. Read scripture. Pray. Worship. Then your well will not run dry, and you, like the woman at the well, can change the world. Amen. 

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