Posts Tagged ‘samaritan woman’

He Sees Me 3-19-17

This week’s sermon is based on John 4:3-42. Here Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and they have a rather lengthy conversation. Her perception of Jesus changes, while his perception of her never wavers. He sees her from the get-go.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you are probably aware that I fall under the category of second career pastor. I lived some life after college before I started seminary. Likewise, many of you know that when I started seminary, I was living up in the Okoboji area…juggling a full time job and my family…and I completed the first half of my seminary education through a distance program.  This first portion of my education took me about 2.5 years, and during that time I grew quite close with a group of fellow students that were all doing the same thing. Most of our work was done online, but a couple times a year we would gather on campus for intensive classes.  In the realm of seminary education, those people were my community.

But then, right about the halfway point, opportunity took my family to the Twin Cities, and I switched from the distance program to completing my work on-campus…and with this switch, I found myself outside of the community that I had developed. Most of the on-campus people had been in classes together, and so when I started off the spring semester that year, I felt amazingly isolated.

But it wasn’t long before one of the other guys recognized this sense of isolation that I was feeling…and he made a very solid effort to get to know me. He asked me a lot of questions. He was always intentional about asking me how my day was going when we’d bump into one another. In short…he made the effort, which meant a lot to me.

Now after that first semester, we all went off for our year of internship, but when we got back for our final year of on campus work, he picked right back up again…and pretty quickly invited me into a group of other guys…they became my community during that last year…3 or 4 of us…each of us unique in our own ways…each with a different approach towards ministry…but bonded together over one thing we all had in common…a love of having a couple beers on a Friday afternoon while playing random video games for a couple hours.

I’ve always appreciated this particular guy, not only because of his invitation into this community…but also because of our mutual respect for one another. Because while we had a lot in common, we had some very real differences as well…especially in terms of ministry. I’m very laid back in many ways, including worship…you’d call me very low-church as I don’t put a lot of stock into ritual and tradition…He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum…he loves all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional liturgy.  You’ll find him all decked out in the clergy gear…the collar, and the robe, and the decorative vestments. Me, I’d stand up here in a t-shirt and jeans if I thought I could really get away with it. (pause) Now those are just a couple differences…but they were never a problem…and I loved how our branch of the body of Christ…our denomination had room for both of us. And we were able to see past our differences to see one another as people of worth. (Pause)

Now I bring all this up, because the idea of being seen is on full display today. That was a long story…but a familiar one…as Jesus has an encounter that illustrates the truth of what he told Nicodemus a week ago…that God so loves…ALL…the world that he gave his only son.

Jesus goes hiking through Samaria…and long story short, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense at best…and more often than not they just avoided each other. And yet, as Jesus is traveling back from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north…he is compelled to go right straight through enemy territory…and now at noon…tuckered out from travel, Jesus has sacked out by a well in the heat of the day, while the disciples headed off to town to find lunch.

Now we could go back and forth about the intentionality of Jesus being here at this particular moment…but regardless of all that…he’s there, and the woman shows up with her bucket to grab some water. Jesus asks for a drink…and their dialogue is off and running.

Admittedly, I wish we knew a little bit more about this woman.  There’s been a lot of speculation about her over the years…most of it really bad assumptions…but all of them aimed at the question of just why she’s there alone in the midst of the day…the norm would have been to come with the other women of the nearby city when its cool, in either the morning or the evening…but never alone in the midst of the day…when we partner up this odd situation along with the realization that she’s had 5 husbands and is now living with someone who isn’t her husband…we have the tendency to think that she’s got a “past,” that she’s…sinful. But you know what we need to throw that out the window…because there’s no mention of sin or the need for repentance in this story. What’s likely going on is that the woman has been either widowed or abandoned 5 times over…which at the time…happened…they even had laws that dictated that it needed to happen in certain situations.  So whatever assumptions we want to make about her…we are probably wrong…but then we all know what happens when we assume don’t we?

All that being said…the woman arrives here…at noon…probably used to whatever stigma has been applied to her because the situation she finds herself in…and it seems that she’s accepted it…and as she walks up on this particular day…there just happens to be a man sitting there at the well…and all it takes is one look at his appearance to know…this is no local…he’s a Jew…so she thinks she’ll just ignore him. (pause)
I can’t help but think that the Samaritan woman…one who has been on the receiving end of assumptions of character…she seems to do the exact thing…and we see it in the way that she addresses Jesus once he asks for a drink.  How is that you…A JEW…asks me for a drink.

The way we address one another is telling isn’t it? The way we refer to one another…and the fascinating thing about this long back and forth encounter…is the way the woman addresses Jesus throughout the course of the narrative.

It starts off…Jew…he wants nothing to do with me and I want to do with him. But when Jesus does…well, whatever it is that Jesus seems to be so good at doing…and he engages with her in the way that only the Son of God seems to be able to do…that perception begins to change.  They start off talking about water…and being thirsty…and somehow that shifts over to something that Jesus calls living water, whatever that might be…and during this part of the conversation she calls him…sir a couple of times…no longer A JEW…but now, sir. (pause)
Now at this point, Jesus makes the random request for her to go get her husband, leading to the truthful revelation from Jesus that he knows her marital situation…in short that he knows her…and she realizes that God must be with this guy…he must be a prophet…and so, in order to impress the prophet, she starts dropping some religious knowledge as they banter about places of worship…and she starts talking about the Messiah…and what’s really interesting, is that she uses the Hebrew word. I’ll impress the prophet by speaking the old language…and its not until she finally goes into town, utterly changed by the encounter…when she’s breaking the cultural boundaries to do the inviting to everyone she encounters…that finally she calls him the Christ. (pause)

I don’t think any of us would argue that this was a long encounter…it was a long conversation with a lot of twist and turns…and amazingly, it took this long for her to begin to see Jesus for just who he really is. He went from a Jew to be ignored….to the Christ…God’s anointed one…and it didn’t happen because he shamed her in anything…it didn’t happen because the clouds opened up with heavenly proclamation.  It happened because they took the time for her to eyes to be opened to the truth about who he is….that this is God standing before her.

But on the flip side…this entire conversation happened because Jesus sees her from the get go. He doesn’t see Samaritan…he doesn’t see woman…he doesn’t see stigma…he sees someone of value…someone of worth…he sees an individual lovely made in the divine image of the Father…and she realizes this when he speaks the truth about her existence…not condemning her, simply SEEING…her.

Now you’ve often heard me speak of how God uses the unexpected person…and this woman is a perfect example…but her story lines up perfectly with the encounters that Jesus has with the first disciples.  Andrew asks where he’s staying…Jesus invites him to come and see…which Andrew does…and then he goes off to find Peter, inviting him to come and experience the Messiah for himself.

The woman does the very same…she spends time with this man…and gradually her eyes are opened to the truth of his identity…and she issues the very same invitation…come and see. This woman…who so many, including us, have labeled according to our assumptions about her…she’s an apostle…she is one sent by Christ with a message.

But perhaps most wonderful of all…whatever stigmas had blocked her from community prior to this encounter…we hear at the end of the story that those stigmas are gone and the gift that Christ has given her is relationship with her community.

Now I think that’s significant for us to recognize…that Christ makes it possible for broken people to look past the things that separate and to join together over what we have in common…we are all broken people…each one of us…and because of that brokenness we are really good about demonizing the same brokenness in others…we are really good at seeing only that which separates us…and hating each other because it…and that is a truth that has dominated our society, and even though I fully recognize my own part in that…I am sick of it….I’m sick of it in our regular day to day lives and I’m sick of it here in the church.

I’m tired of the church only being known for what we hate…when Christ has called to be his body here on earth…He has looked past our brokenness to see each of us…he sees me…he sees you…and he loves you…and that is what we need to focus on.

We come together today…and in just a few moments we will gather around this meal…broken people gathered around the table of Christ to hear a word of forgiveness…a word of love…a word of acceptance…and it is my hope that the church…Christ’s church…not just our congregation or our community or our denomination…but the entirety of CHRIST’S body will realize that there is room at that table for all us…and may we all be united in the knowledge that we are broken people…and yet because of what Christ has done…because God has come among us as one of us…we are no longer separate by that brokenness…we are no longer defined by it…because each and every one of us are a beloved child of God…each of us. Even those that look different, or think different, or talk different…everyone is made good, bearing the divine image of God, whether we want to believe it or not.

And so as we walk out of these doors today, having heard the proclamation that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and poured out not only for us as individuals but for all people…will we hold to the truth that we have a God who sees past all the junk that we get stuck on to see the person…and will we recognize that this table that we gather around is big enough for everyone? Because if we truly believe that, then maybe we’ll walk outside these 4 walls and invite those that we encounter to come and see that they have a place here as well…and if we can that, then maybe, just maybe all people will begin to see the truth, that when it comes to God…HE…SEES…ME. Amen.

What Is This Living Water 3-23-14

This sermon came from John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I explore what Jesus is talking about when he discusses giving “living water.”

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. AS usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Ask anyone a simple question…What is the most important thing found on earth? You’ll probably get a variety of answers…but if you ask enough people…I’m guessing that there is one thing that you’ll start to hear repeatedly…water. (pause)
And rightly so. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. It covers roughly 72% of the surface…depending on what Google article you read. It’s vital to so many things…life as we know it would cease to exist without water…and you know what, so would several of our common expressions.
Has a lot of time gone by since some major event occurred? Well, good…then there’s a lot of water under the bridge isn’t there?  (pause) Something bad happen between you and another person in the past? Have they forgiven you yet? Well good…water off a duck’s back. Things looking a little bleak in the future…I guess your water glass is half empty…oh wait, not so bleak…then your water glass is half full isn’t it? (pause)
Water’s a funny thing though isn’t it? It can be good or bad…sometimes at the very same time.  Farmers…I bet you’re starting to look for the rain aren’t you…get some much needed moisture in the ground before planting time comes up?  But what if we get too much rain…then watch out…the fields will flood and we’ll be cursing it won’t we?
I can relate with that.  I’ve got some amazing memories that involve water…I remember a day long canoe trip down the Sioux River in the northern part of the state a few years back…that was a blast…but on the flip side, if you were here on Ash Wednesday you heard me tell a story of a time when water almost cost me my life…and just yesterday…not even 24 hours ago, I willingly jumped into water that was maybe 3 degrees above freezing…and let me tell you…there was nothing life giving in that experience.
But now that brings us around full circle…because water itself is life-giving isn’t it? We all need it…all of life on earth relies on it…but as life giving as water is…I have never heard of a way in which water itself…is living…until today’s gospel lesson.
Let me set the scene for you. The Middle East in the season when a person can survive walking all over the countryside…very likely midsummer….hot, arid…not exactly the nicest place in the world…and its noon…hottest part of the day…and we find Jesus, tuckered out from walking all day, hanging out by a well…probably really wishing he had a bucket of some sort…when along comes a woman with her water jar. (pause) Oh, by the way, did I mention this is Samaria?
We’ve got a few things happening here that are strange from the get-go. First off, Jesus, a Jew is in Samaria…a place where Jews did not like to go…let’s just say their dislike of Samaria and the people that lived there puts the rivalry between…say…Iowa and Iowa State look like child’s play…Secondly…we’ve got a man engaging with a woman…which was a big cultural no-no at the time…kind of makes you wonder how they ever managed to get to know each other before getting married, though that’s neither here nor there…So, we see boundaries getting crossed over here…something that Jesus was well known for in his day…but here’s the really odd thing…
Why was the woman coming to the well at noon in the first place? Obviously, she’s there to get water…why else would she go to the well, but the custom was for the women of the nearby town to head out to the well together…safety in numbers and all that…and to do it in the cool weather of the morning…maybe in the evening but even that is uncommon…so what is it that has this woman coming to the well in the heat of the day?
Many scholars will tell you a lot of different things about her, but the most common one has to do with her past…a matter we hear about in the story.  She’s had 5 husbands…and she’s living with a guy that isn’t her husband…SHOCKING! I know…clearly she must be some sort of harlot…sinful in every sense of the word and so she comes to the well at noon, alone in her shame…when no one else will be there to shun her or whisper behind her back.
Though that being said, I’m not all that sure about that…nowhere in this passage is there any talk of sin or repentance or changing her ways…nowhere…and so I think it’s important to throw out that assumption that there’s something wrong with this woman’s behavior…and instead focus on the idea that her situation is simply less than ideal…perhaps those 5 husbands died…or maybe they left her…we don’t know…and maybe, just maybe, the guy she’s living with now is her brother…or perhaps the brother of her last husband who would have taken her in, but she wouldn’t be considered his wife…we can speculate all day long…but in the end let’s just accept that she’s here, and despite the odd circumstances…she’s here for the obvious reason…to get water…that life giving water that flows through the well.
And imagine her shock when she comes walking up to the well…and finds this Jewish guy sitting there…and he has the audacity to ask for a drink…and when you exchange a little bit of banter…he throws this little tidbit at you…If you knew the gift of God standing before you asking for a drink…you would ask him and he would give you…living water.” (pause)
Living water. If this random Samaritan woman is anything like me, she hears that statement from Jesus and before answering him as she does…the thought has to go through her head…What the heck is living water?  I wrestled with this question all week long…and try as I might to just ignore that question in my mind, my old preaching professors voices kept popping up saying “if you have a question about something, that’s probably what you’re supposed to preach on.” They’d be so proud of me right now.
But seriously…living water? Just what does that mean? (pause) Perhaps the woman is asking this question as well, but when she questions Jesus…who is, by the way, the one we should be asking these questions of…she words it just a little bit differently…Sir…where do you get this living water? (pause) Not What is it? But WHERE…is it?
Now Jesus answers the question of where…but as per usual he does it in his own, slightly confusing way. He tells her…the water I give…so we know only that this so called living water…comes from Christ…but more importantly than that, we need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus says he will give it to those that ask him. (pause). Bear with me now…Living water comes from Christ and he gives it to those that ask for it….and when he gives it to them, it becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life. (pause)
Right there…I think that’s our first clue that Jesus isn’t really talking about water here…but something else entirely…but we need to keep on searching if we want to figure out what he’s really talking about…so let’s continue…stay with me now.
Jesus gave us a clue when he said that the water will well up to Eternal Life…but we have to ask the question of what he’s talking about there…and that’s a question that Jesus answers later on in the Gospel.  He says towards the end of John while praying to his father that “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (pause) Eternal life is knowing God and knowing that Jesus is God…eternal life is believing that Jesus is God…and that right there is the entire key of John’s gospel.
For John, sin is not believing that Jesus is God…that’s it…its singular…lack of belief…and through this lack of belief, denying the relationship that Christ has offered to us…a relationship that results in the forgiveness of our sin. (pause) Okay…still with me? I’m about to bring this all home I promise.
There’s another word that we use to describe believing what God has said…for believing the promises of God…and word is faith…and we hear in the book of Romans that like Abraham believing God’s promise that despite his old age he would be the father of many descendants…we can believe in the promise made by God that if we believe in Jesus Christ and that through his sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven of our sin and therefore, we will not perish but have eternal life. (pause)
Okay now…let me apologize for getting really heady there…admittedly, this has been pretty deep theological thinking…but through this process of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “living water” given to us by Jesus is…quite simply…faith…living water that wells up to eternal life is having faith in the promises of God…(pause)
So long story short…faith, is a gift from God…it is not something that we create ourselves…but it is given to us by Christ through the power of the holy spirit…and while you might not realize it…you profess that each and every week here in church…see if you recognize this…
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…(pause)…sounds familiar right? Well then, maybe so do these words from Luther himself…I believe that I CANNOT by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit as called me THROUGH the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. (pause)
We don’t do it people…and even more than that…the gift of faith does not make us perfect people. It does not answer all the questions, or quiet all the doubts…or alleviate all the fears…just as it didn’t for the Samaritan woman in today’s story.  When she finally comes to the point of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah…she immediately runs off to town to share what she has learned…to share her experience…but take a careful look at what she says to the other townspeople…
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done…He cannot be the Messiah can he? (pause)  2 important statements here…first off…Christ revealed “everything I have ever done.”  Faith illuminates our darkness…the light of Christ roots out darkness, exposing it for what it is…and our faith does the same thing…Faith recognizes our own sinful nature…our own shortcomings…faith doesn’t deny it…it acknowledges it and by doing so acknowledges our need for a savior…for a messiah…and secondly, she continues to ask the important question “He cannot be the messiah can he?”
In this woman’s wonderful example we see that faith can and does exist alongside questions and doubts…but more importantly it brings us into relationship with the one that can and does allow us to ask those questions…to experience those doubts…and who walks alongside us through the fearful experiences…and who truly is…the Savior of the World.
In this final important confession, uttered by the Samaritan people, we find evidence of the good news uttered by Jesus in last week’s lesson and hinted at again today…For God so loved…THE WORLD.  The Gospel is not for anyone specific…rather…its for everyone…regardless of age or culture or race or gender or any other division that we might want to create…its for everyone…including you…For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life…even when we might not think they deserve it…that’s the offensive nature of the Gospel…that its offered to the most vile person to ever walk the earth…because the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross…his brutal death that we’ll hear about in a few more week’s time…was big enough to cover over all sin…for all time…and he judges us as righteous…even when we don’t. Maybe this good news come to rest in you today and become a spring of living water, welling up to Eternal Life.  Amen.