Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Third Sunday in Lent, year A; text: John 4:5-42
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Part one: Samaria.
The day was already incredibly hot, one of those interminable days where the heat and humidity just suck the life out of you. You could taste the air, it was so heavy.
A woman walked to the well outside the village in the heat of noon, to avoid meeting the other women who crowded the well in the cooler hours of early morning. She knew they talked about her, so she stayed away from them. It was easier that way. They didn’t like her presence anyway, even on the outside of the group. This day, as she walked to the well with her empty jar, the oppressive heat and the difficulties of her life weighed her down.
As she drew closer to the well, she was disappointed to see someone there. She didn’t want to talk with anyone. But she could see it was a man, and a Jew, so he won’t speak to me anyway, she thought. That’s good. Jews can’t stand us. Being a Samaritan and a woman, I’ll be left alone.
So she was stunned when the man asked her for a drink. She was so surprised, she actually answered. “Why would a Jewish man ask a Samaritan, and more, a woman, for a drink?” His answer was bizarre. Something about how if she had known God’s gift and had known who it was she was speaking with, she could have asked him for living water!
Against all instincts, she kept talking to him, starting with the obvious: “You don’t have a bucket, and this is a deep well. How’re you going to get the water out? And what’s this ‘living’ water? Are you more important than Jacob himself, who gave my people this well?” Maybe that last bit was unnecessarily unkind, but she was irritated.
But then . . . the man said something that for the first time in a long time gave her some hope. He said, “Everyone who drinks of the water of this well will eventually get thirsty again. But if you drink the water I give you, you’ll never be thirsty again. Ever.” Now that would be something, she thought. Never having to lug a heavy jar to and from this well again. Never being thirsty again, in this awful, hot place. She surprised herself and asked, “Sir, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty again, and so I can stop coming to this well to carry water.”
And Jesus said, “Actually, I’m talking about what you really need, not what you think you need. I’m talking about living water. Life water. Life itself. You, know, why don’t you go get your husband and come back here?”
Why my husband? she thought in dismay. Why does he ask that? I’ll tell him I have no husband, leave it at that. And then this crazy man astonished her. He said, “You’ve spoken the truth. You’ve already had five husbands, and the one you live with now isn’t even your husband.” Now she was just scared. How could he know this? How could he have known she was three times a widow, and that two husbands had thrown her away, had divorced her? How could he know that she couldn’t bear to marry again and risk losing again, and that she would rather endure the scandal of living with the sixth man in her life without a marriage bond? This foreigner is a stranger, how could he know? She felt she could hide nothing from him, and it terrified her.
But she had courage. She kept talking. She told him he must be a prophet, or he wouldn’t know all that, but after all, he was a Jew, she a Samaritan, and they worshipped in different places, believed different things. And he said that was true, but that the day was coming when all people would worship their heavenly Father in spirit and in truth, and not worry about which mountain was God’s mountain. At last, she’d had enough. She gave up. Deeply confused, she said, “Look, I know that I don’t understand much. But I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he’ll explain everything.”
And the man said to her, “I am he, the one who is talking to you right now.”
And the woman returned to her village, forgetting her water jar at the well, forgetting that she wanted water, forgetting that the day was hot, forgetting that she was very tired. She told all the people to come and see this man. She really didn’t know if he was the Messiah, but he could see right through her, knew all about her, and still offered her life. Could he be the one? And, even though it was still very hot, she wasn’t thirsty anymore.
Part two: Minneapolis.
It is another Sunday after a long week of work, or simply a long week of life. The temptation was to stay in bed and not get up. Things are difficult in this modern age, life is hard sometimes. Family problems, financial worries, illnesses, lots of things. You got dressed and came here, maybe out of habit or guilt, maybe because you were actually looking for something. Maybe you have given up hope that coming to worship would meet any of the needs that really trouble you, but the music is beautiful, and this is a safe spot in a scary world.
Maybe you came expecting certain needs to be met. Maybe you were just hoping that that you’d find one thing here that would be uplifting, one thing to carry you through another long week ahead. And as you came, you realized you had been wondering a lot lately what God had to do with meeting bills, or rearing children, or dealing with complicated problems, or losing a job, or working long hours, or worrying about the future, or facing death.
And then, when you came here today, this Jesus came to you, looking for you, and said, “If you knew what God can give, if you knew who it is who is talking to you, you would ask me for living water. Water that, after drinking it, you would never be thirsty again.” And you thought, Now, that would be something. If God could meet some of these needs in my life, things would start looking up. If a few of these bills could be paid never to be paid again, for a start. Or if God could take away that pain that never leaves me. Or change that one problem that keeps coming back and make it disappear forever. If just one of the things I worry about, if that were gone, that would be something.
And Jesus said, “Actually, I’m talking about what you really need, not what you think you need. I’m talking about living water. Life water. Life itself. You forget that I know everything about you. All those things that you wish you could hide away, I know them. All the things that if your neighbors knew about them you’d be embarrassed, ashamed, I know. Everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever thought, everything you’ve ever thought about doing, I know. Let’s meet with honesty anyway. There is nothing you can hide from me. And still, I am offering you life.”
But you said, It’s just words, Jesus. For that matter, I don’t even see you. And Jesus said, “yes, you do. At my table, I come to you; in my people around you, I come to you.” There, Jesus? A scrap of bread and a sip of slightly sour wine? That’s supposed to fill me up? I’m going to need lunch after church just to get through the day. And I still won’t see you. And don’t start talking about your people: these are good folks who worship with me, but it’s not the same as actually talking to you.
And Jesus said, “You don’t understand. People spend their lives searching for things that don’t fill them up inside: wealth, possessions, power, food, drugs, alcohol. They try to possess, to hold, to control, so they can be happy. And even though they find many things the world says will fill them up, they are empty and in despair. Because being filled is truly a matter of the Spirit within, not the situation without.
“So I say to you again,” Jesus said, “if you knew who it is that I am, you’d ask to have me in your life every moment, every day. Let me abide with you, fill you up inside, and all the rest will take care of itself.
“Yes, after eating at my table and hearing my Word you will need more physical nourishment, sleep, shelter, lots of things. You will have sadness and pain. You will have needs and desires. You worry about much, my friend. And yes, I will change you, make you different, make you like me, and that worries you, too.
“But the food and drink I give you, the words I speak to you, the hands of my other friends that touch you, these are my gifts to you that never end. For I fill you up where no food and drink can, no paid bills and financial security, no possessions or chemicals ever will: inside. Where you hurt, and I know it, because I know you (remember, I know everything about you). Inside, where you doubt, and I know it, because you are my child. Inside, where you are sad and lonely and think you aren’t good enough and I know it because I know your heart. And inside, where you struggle to live by God’s will, and I know it, because I shared your struggle. This is where I fill you up, with this bread and wine, this Word, this living water that washed you and made you my child forever. This is how I embrace you, with these gifts and with these people I have placed around you. And that will be enough for you to get by in this world, and even the next, because I have defeated death. You will never be thirsty again, or hungry.”
And you said, Well, I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe if the Messiah came again, he would clear this all up for me.
And Jesus said, “I am he, the One who is speaking to you. Come, and find rest in me, real rest, so that you’re not so tired all the time. Come, and eat and drink, so that you are always satisfied, and your spirit is revived. Come, and I will light the dark places of your life with my guiding Word, so that you will walk in my light forever, and never be lost.”
Jesus said, “If you knew who it is that I am, you’d ask, and I’d give you life.”
What do you want to do?
In the name of Jesus, Amen.