Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: John 4:5-42
Jesus answered, "Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life"(13,14).

The Unusual and Extraordinary

She lived 2,000 years ago. We don't know her name. She was descended from a race of people who had intermarried with the foreigners who had invaded her country. She was one of those who believed that God's holy mountain was Mt Gerizim and worshipped in a temple they had built there rather than in the temple built on Mt Zion in Jerusalem. She was a member of a nation that plotted with the enemies of the Jews of Judah, and so was hated by their southern cousins. She lived in a region of the world to which most of us have never been; she was from a city most of us have never heard of; she's a Samaritan woman from Sychar.

The Gospel writer tells us a bit about what kind of woman she was. There is a strong sense of the unusual here in this story.

First she goes to a well to draw water at a strange time of day. John tells us it was midday when Jesus sat down by the well, tired and thirsty from his long trip. Nobody went to the well at high noon, the hottest time of the day. The women of the town always went at sundown because it was cooler. They would meet at the well to tell stories of what happened during the day and catch up on the latest news. But not this woman. She went at high noon.

She went at that time because she was thirsty but there was another reason - she wanted to be alone. She had heard the whispering, the looks and the sniggering among the other women the last time she was at the well. She didn't want to be hurt again. She wanted to be alone.

And why did she want to be alone? We find out later in the readings that she had been married 5 times and now she was living in a de facto relationship. Living with a partner may be an accepted arrangement these days in our society but not in the society in which Jesus lived.

She was a "sinner". "Sin" means "to miss the mark", "to fall short of a standard". - She had fallen short of her personal standard.
- She had fallen short of the standard of the culture in which she lived.
- She had fallen short of her religious standard.
- She had fallen short of God's standard, and she knew it!
It's no wonder tongues wagged when she came to the well. It's no wonder she wanted to come alone. She was feeling ashamed, feeling bad about her life and cut off. She just wanted to be alone!

Can you relate to that? I can! Whatever our sin -
outbursts of anger,
a critical judgmental spirit,
giving in to temptation too easily
or something else -
it weighs heavily on us, we feel ashamed and we want to hide. Doesn't that sound like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had disobeyed God's instruction not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden? As soon as they had eaten, they were ashamed and went and hid from God. They felt separated from God; they didn't want to face his judgement; they wanted to be alone. It is no different with us. When we sin we fall short of God's standard. We fail ourselves. We feel ashamed.

And just as God went out of his way to look for Adam and Eve in the garden calling out, "Where are you?" Jesus had to go out of his way to meet the woman at the well.

The Gospel writer says, "Now Jesus had to go through Samaria..." To understand what is being said here you need to know a bit of geography. The Jews lived south of Samaria in Judea and north of Samaria in Galilee. When travelling on foot the shortest route is often the best, but not in this case. No Jew would take the shortest route and cut through Samaria. Because of their hatred for the Samaritans, they would always take the longer trip and skirt around the Samaritan border. It would be like us taking a trip to Melbourne and because we disliked the people of New South Wales we would head inland, travel through the Northern Territory, South Australia and then into Victoria. That sounds silly but that's what happened.

Remember I said earlier, there is a sense of the unusual and abnormal in this text from John's Gospel. And here we see it again. A Jew goes into Samaria. John says, Jesus, a Jew, a rabbi "had to go through Samaria". He decides to go against the social norm and the devout religious traditions of his day, and to purposefully make contact with sinners.

So he leaves Judea and takes the short route through the city of Sychar with his disciples. Why? Because there is this sinful, shameful, separated woman that he's got to go find! Because there is a whole nation of sinful, separated, shameful, despised people just across the Samaritan border. Jesus goes out of his way to find sinful, shameful, separated people? He goes out of his way to find us.

At the well we are faced with the unusual and abnormal. No self-respecting Jewish man would be seen talking to a woman alone, let alone a Samaritan woman with very suspect morals.
And no Jew would drink from a vessel that is unclean, especially one that had been used by a Samaritan. But Jesus is not perturbed by any of these things.
In fact, he is teaching his disciples a valuable lesson here -
- that God loves Samaritans too,
- that Jesus died and rose for all people,
- that God wants all people to be a part of his kingdom,
- that God loves the all people regardless of race, gender, background, morality or whatever.

Jesus is teaching his disciples that even Samaritans can be saved and for this to happen they must make contact. I imagine that this whole scenario was quite disturbing to the disciples but they were challenged to see God's big picture. Jesus has come to save even the Samaritans and if Samaritans can be saved so can Romans, Greeks, the tax collector, the prostitute, the thief, and all those we wouldn't normally associate because of their suspect morals and way of life. This might mean breaking with some prejudice that you and I might have. This might mean stepping out of our comfort zone. This might mean going where they are and meeting them on their own turf. Whatever it takes, we are to make contact and share with them the love of Jesus their Saviour.

Here we have Jesus at a well with a woman the disciples wouldn't have been seen dead with. It's not that Jesus doesn't know all about her. He can see in her heart the pain. He could see her thirst that yearned for understanding, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, the assurance that Godís love for her was not lessened in any way because of her lifestyle. She tries to hide all this from him. But he knows.

And that makes this story even more unusual. As a Jew Jesus should have avoided her, even called down God's judgement on her, but instead accepts her. He accepts her not because she is good and has her life all straightened out, but because she is not good and her life is a mess.

Jesus accepts sinful, shame-filled separated people. He says to this woman and he says to us:
- I want to give you a gift.
- I want to give you life!
- I want to give you myself!

Jesus says, "Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never be thirsty again. The water I give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life" (John 4:13).

Then at the end of their conversation, he says:
I am the messiah you have been looking for.
I am the one who can forgive your sin and set you free, and give you eternal life.
Can you see the extraordinary thing that is happening here? In midst of her sin and shame and separation Jesus says, "I want to give you life! I want to give you living water. I want you to be free of your sin and have life forever".

The woman didn't go to the well looking for God. She may not have known she even needed him but he found her. It's only when Jesus finds us and gets personal with us that we realise that we have a need. We would prefer to sweep our weaknesses and sin under the carpet and forget about them. But to do that means God's judgement.

But when the living Lord zeros in, he touches us in our vulnerable spots,
our anger,
our jealousy,
our incredible need to be centre stage,
our unkind criticism,
our neglect of God and worship,
or whatever.
He gets very personal and it's embarrassing. He brings everything out in the open. He helps us realise our need for forgiveness. Our guilt and our failure are highlighted. He wants to make us really well. And he does. He gives us
- forgiveness of our sin,
- a fresh start and a new beginning, not just once, but every day,
- a restored relationship with the God who gave his Son for us on the cross,
- a place in heaven to be with God forever,
- the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to make changes in our lives and to start living as one of God's saved people.

We, like the Samaritan woman, have all kinds of secrets hidden away that we are ashamed of and yet Jesus still loves us, still wants us to be his disciples, still wants to forgive us and give us fresh clean starts. When we get to Good Friday we will recall again, and celebrate and thank God for the length that he went to give us all this. He "loved the world so much that he gave his only Son."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
27th February, 2005

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