Transcribed from the audio.
Gracious God from whom every good gift comes, send your spirit into our lives and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words and to go beyond speech, praising you in the silence deep within our hearts. Amen.
“Come and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” Unspoken from this morning’s gospel lesson: “Come and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done and he loved me anyway. He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”
On this third Sunday in Lent we find ourselves at roughly the midway point on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. And today, we find ourselves in the unlikely land of Samaria. It’s a story rich in detail, richer still in meaning. And there’s a temptation for any preacher to try and walk through all the really fascinating bits of the story which, by my calculation, is probably about twenty sermons. But I am going to try and exercise a little restraint this morning and, hopefully, offer one. That’s at least my plan. To do that, I invite you to enter deeply and personally into the story.
In Ignatian spirituality, there’s a practice called composition of place and the idea is that you open wide the throttle of your imagination, you engage your senses. In this story, you place yourself right at the well with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? How does this story work its way through you, giving you insight and meaning and addressing you personally, not as a passive observer, but as an active participant?
As I prayed and reflected on the story, I had an insight of something I’d never really noticed before. Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman find themselves at the well because both of them have broken the rules. They have stepped out of what was conventional practice in their day. You’ll recall that in that time Jews and Samaritans were essentially enemies; they were the “other.” And they would go out of their way to avoid any contact with one another. In the few verses before the gospel lesson that you heard this morning, we know that Jesus is making his way from Judea back to Galilee. Any Jew in that day would’ve gone around Samaria, through the Jordan Valley, thereby avoiding any contact with Samaritans. Jesus has purposefully made the decision to go straight through the middle ensuring that he will engage with people that he is supposed to avoid at all costs. Therefore, he finds himself at the well.
The Samaritan woman is taking a very different approach in that it was the convention and practice in that day that the women of the village would go early in the morning to draw water from the well because it was in the cool of the day. You wouldn’t go in the heat of the day. No one did that. Yet, the Samaritan woman makes a decision to go at noon, the peak time of heat in the day. Why would she do that? We get a hint of it in the conversation between Jesus and the woman. When in the process of revealing who he is to this woman, he states the fact: “You have had five husbands and the man with whom you are currently living is not your husband.” Notice there’s no judgment in his stating that. His intention in doing that is for her to realize he knows something about her that he would never have any opportunity to know. And she calls him a prophet. The hint is, there must be some shame that she feels about her background. We don’t know the circumstances of the five husbands. The Scriptures are silent on that but, by virtue of the fact that she’s come by herself, one can surmise that she didn’t want to run into anyone; she purposefully went when she felt she would be alone. There’s some shame associated with that. And haven’t each one of us done something in our lives about which were not particularly proud, something for which others have judged us and condemned us? I suspect the woman had heard it all before and didn’t want to feel or hear that judgment one more time. So she goes by herself and there she encounters Jesus.
What’s interesting in the story is they’ve both broken the rules and end up together. They continue to break the rules in their conversation: rules surrounding gender, rules surrounding ethnicity, rules surrounding culture. They overcome those artificial human barriers to be in relationship—the others, who would otherwise avoid one another at all costs. And it is because they engage in that relationship that transformation is made possible. The woman calls Jesus a prophet. He takes her a step deeper and said, “I’m more than prophet, I am.” The divine name of God that she would’ve known; they share common Scriptures. She would’ve known that he was invoking the divine name of God that dates back to when Moses was in conversation with God and God said,” I am who I am and I will be who I will be.” And then she dares to believe that maybe she has, in fact, encountered the Messiah and she drinks deeply of the living water that he offers her to touch the parched places, the sore spots in her spirit. And this woman who had gone to great lengths to avoid other people from Sychar, can’t get back fast enough to tell them what’s happened. “Come and see a man who told me everything I’d ever done and loved me anyway. He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” And the people come and they experience that living water for themselves. And you know how the story goes. They proclaim that, surely, Jesus is the Savior of the world.
When was the last time you drank deeply of the living water that Jesus offers to all who would receive it, that touched your parched places, the sore spots in your spirit? As I was praying about this, I felt led to share a personal story. I do so with trepidation because I don’t want you to misconstrue this. This is a story about God, not me. It’s about God’s love that surpasses all understanding, despite me. It was in this very place last Ash Wednesday. The day began as most Ash Wednesdays have begun for me with an early morning Eucharist. We then went on to offer “ashes-to-go” at a Metro stop; then came back for the noon Eucharist and then on to the evening service. And like most Ash Wednesdays, I was fasting but I didn’t exactly suffer in silence. Any one of my clergy colleagues who were with me that day can tell you that it seemed everywhere I turned I saw food that I wanted to eat and I was not very quiet about it. I kept talking about how hungry I was and here was all this food. Let’s just say that I was not the poster child for proper piety on Ash Wednesday.
But I came to that table and when I received communion something deep and profound happened to me. Maybe it was because I had emptied myself enough to leave a little space for God to work with even me. I was filled with this incredible sense of love. I know my human capacity for love; I have more than a passing acquaintance with it. This was different. It was as if God took my little kernel of love and multiplied it exponentially in a way that I can’t really quantify. So that after receiving communion, I stepped down off the platform and when I offered everyone who came forward the Bread of Life, the living water that Christ offers, I was overwhelmed by a sense of love for friend and stranger alike. In a way that was unmistakable to me that had never happened to me before. And it’s something I’ll never forget. You see, I think that Jesus always offers us that opportunity to drink deeply, to be touched in the parched places in our soul.
There are many ways that it can happen. This morning, shortly, you’ll be invited to come forward to receive the Holy food and drink of Jesus Christ. In writing about communion, Nora Gallagher, in her book The Sacred Meal, said “It’s dangerous, opening your hands. You don’t know what will end up in them. This may have been the smartest thing Jesus ever did. He must have thought, How can I make them step into the unknown? How can I get them to let in some surprise? I know, I’ll figure out a way for them to put their hands out in front of them, empty (p. 45).” Empty to receive all that God in Christ intends for you.
It is my prayer and deepest hope this morning that within this worship service and our time together that you will drink deeply of the living water that Christ offers to all, to have your parched places quenched and the sore spots in your spirit healed. It’s God’s gift to you. It’s yours for the taking. And may you leave this place with your own version of the Samaritan woman’s witness: “Come and see a man who knows everything about me and loves me anyway. He, surely, is the Messiah and the Savior of the world.” Amen.