Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: John 4:5-42
Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” (6-7 NLT)

He meets us

It can happen anywhere and anytime.  It happened near Bethlehem one night. A couple of shepherds were going about their ordinary everyday task of looking after sheep on the edge of town.  It was just a night like any other night and wham out of the blue, with no invitation, completely unexpected, something happened that changed their lives forever.  They saw and heard an angel with an amazing message and a whole choir of angels singing God’s praise. What was even more amazing was their visit to a stable in Bethlehem.  A few hours earlier, who would’ve thought the night would end like this?  They weren’t looking for the Saviour, God brought them to him.

A couple of fishermen were bending over their nets doing what they do every day.  They weren’t looking for him, he was looking for them.  They were looking for fish!  They were the ones who were hooked by the one who said, “Follow me!”

Saul was riding to Damascus scheming how he would capture more followers of Jesus.  He wasn’t looking for Jesus but Jesus was looking for him. 

This is the way the Bible tells the story of the dealings between God and us.  Rarely are we looking for, expecting, hoping for, or praying for God.  It rarely happens that we are the ones who move towards God, though when we do God graciously meets us.  Far more often it is God who moves toward us, who reaches out to us, who touches us and that’s simply because we can’t move anywhere because
we are down in the depths of despair,
we are so caught up in feelings of desperation,
suffering severe pain,
hurting from the way others have treated us,
or perhaps despairing because we think God has treated us unfairly.
Maybe we have given up all hope or
lost the ability to trust anyone because we have been let down so many times.
It’s just when all seems gloom and doom that God reaches out to us.  He speaks to us with such reassurance and comfort.  He strengthens us with his love and presence.

But, thank God, this can happen on happy and sunny days as well, when we are breezing along in life and everything is going along just fine.  We don’t have any particular need and life is just rosy and then it happens: God meets us.  We had no intention of meeting God.  We had no desperate need at that moment.  Life is fine and dandy.  In fact, we didn’t feel any particular need for God but out of the blue he reaches out to us, intrudes, interrupts, challenges, and invites us.  Like Moses who was happily minding sheep.  Suddenly, out of the blue, God interrupts his life and throws a mind-blowing challenge his way and things are never the same again.

It happens in today’s Gospel story from John 4.  A woman was just going about her very ordinary task of getting water from a well.  Something she did daily. She wasn’t looking for the Messiah; she wasn’t looking for anyone; she wasn’t looking for conversation like most of the other women who came to the well to catch up on who was doing what around the village. She came during the hottest part of the day to avoid everyone else.  She certainly wasn’t looking for a long-winded theological lesson from a Jewish rabbi who would show her no respect. 

When she got to the well what should she find?  Not only that she wasn’t alone but there was a man there. And would you know it – he was a Jewish rabbi.  I can imagine her giving a deep sigh and muttering something under breath as she took in the scene.  She wanted to get her water, ignore the man and get away.

The woman doesn’t know who this man is who is sitting by the well but she doesn’t expect any respect to come her way.  He is a Jew; she is a Samaritan. As far as the Jews were concerned Samaritans were unclean, heathens, under God’s judgment; they should not be associated with at any cost and no Jew would touch anything or eat or drink from anything that a Samaritan had used.  To a Jew, a Samaritan was like dog manure that’s stuck on the bottom of your shoe – the scum of the earth. 

As she hurriedly gets her water, thinking to herself, “What’s this Jew doing here anyway.  Jews don’t come to Samaria”, she hears someone talking. She’s thinking, “This Jew can’t be talking to me.  He must be – there’s no-one else here to talk to.  He’s asking for a drink of water and he doesn’t have anything to drink from.  That means he will have to drink from my bucket.  What a strange Jew this is!”

She didn’t expect it but she finds herself talking to a Jewish man who not only didn’t abuse her but actually cared for her as a person. And as the conversation proceeded she found out that he knew far more than she had ever revealed, and yet strangely, that made him care for her even more. 

The disciples came back from getting some food and they displayed the typical Jewish attitude of contempt toward the Samaritan woman.  But for some reason this didn’t faze the woman.  She could have been upset by their rudeness but this stranger at the well showed an unexpected love and understanding for her.  He had made this whole encounter at the well a special and holy moment.

We might rightly ask the question, “Why did Jesus want to meet this particular woman?”
Was it because she had the worst reputation in town? 
Was it because she was going through some kind of inner spiritual turmoil? 
Or was she just having a normal happy day and meeting Jesus was one of those times God interrupts our lives unexpectedly? 
We could ask these questions any time that God breaks into human history and in the end the answer isn’t all that important.  That woman could just as easily have been you and me; ordinary people going about our everyday routine at any point in our lives. 

She, like us, was a “sinner”.
Sin was causing havoc in her life just as it does in ours.
Evil in our lives causes us to fall short of being the kind of person God called us to be when he renewed and recreated us through the blood of Christ.  Evil in the life of the Samaritan woman was derailing her life.

Jesus loved her and cared for her.
He loved Samaritans.
He loves sinners.
He loves all people regardless of race, gender, background, morality or whatever. 

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 (meaning the water from the well) 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).

Saving, thirst quenching water is an Old Testament picture for the salvation that God brings to his people.  We cannot live without water.  It is essential for our health and our earthly life.  It washes away what is unnecessary and unclean.  Jesus is the water that gives life that will never end.  He is the water that flows up and floods over us and overwhelms
all that is evil,
all that is sinful, all that distresses and worries us,
all that causes us grief and sorrow,
all that bring death in our lives.
This is the water of life that quenches our thirsty souls now as we journey through life and it quenches the power of death and gives eternal life.

At the end of their conversation at the well, Jesus 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 had no idea that Jesus was looking for her and he interrupted her life and changed her in a dramatic way. 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 when we do that there can be no healing, no reconciliation, no swapping our guilt with the righteousness of Christ. 

But when the living Lord zeroes in, he touches us.
He gets very personal when he exposes our sin, 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 “life giving water that bubbles up into eternal life”.

The Samaritan woman didn’t go there expecting to be met by Jesus but that’s typical of the way God does things.  After meeting Jesus in her excitement the woman left her water jar at the well and went back to the village to invite everyone to come and see the man at the well, the Messiah. And she brought the whole village back to meet Jesus.

Jesus comes and meets us so that we can go to others.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd March 2014

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