Sermon Lent 3A

March 28, 2011 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

John 4:5-42

It was about noon.
The gospel writer never puts in these details for no reason.
It was about noon –
and a woman comes to draw water from a well.
For those of us who have never drawn water from a well,
for those of us who have never known what it’s like to live in a place or a time
when we don’t have running water all the time,
we have to have the point driven home to us.
You don’t draw water from a well at noon.
You draw water from a well early in the morning,
and the women of the community meet at the well
and wait their turn, and swap stories, and maybe complain about their husbands,
and talk about what their kids did yesterday,
and then head home, carrying their full jugs of water on their heads,
enough for one more day.

This woman comes to the well at noon.
Is she a late riser?
Has she already used up her supply of water for the day,
and simply needs more?
Maybe she’s a klutz.
Maybe in the course of her work that day
she wasn’t watching what she was doing,
and her foot accidentally brushed the jug,
and it was just enough to tip it over,
and now she’s got to come all the way back to the well.
Story to tell the other women tomorrow.
There’s no story to the others tomorrow,
because they don’t want to speak to her.
She is an outcast.
The reason that she’s at the well at noon
is not because she uses a lot per day,
nor because she knocked over the jug,
nor because she slept in that morning.
The reason she’s there at noon is that no one wants her there at daybreak.
They can’t stand her.

We all are thirsty for something that satisfies us.
Connection, love, relationship, purpose, fame, identity, recognition –
and the search for something that satisfies has all gone wrong for this woman.
It would be so easy just to call her promiscuous –
and too hard to recognize that the world has ways of drawing us
into choices and lives that are self-destructive.
Whatever life this woman lives,
where she has had five husbands,
and the man that she has been living with now is not her husband,
she lives this life in a community,
that ultimately enables and judges this life.
It would be too easy to call her the ‘worst sinner’ of the village.
It’s simply that her sin is the hardest to hide
and the easiest to point out –
the most vulnerable.

We see it on the so-called ‘reality shows’ that dominate our nights,
where would-be pop-idols or master chefs or dance champions
show their stuff on national television,
with their one chance at living the life that has always been held up as the prize.
We see it on a show called Toddlers and Tiaras
where women who cannot realize their dreams themselves
live them through their children,
who are too young to realize that they are being taught
to thirst for something that will always be just beyond their reach.
We see it on the most popular show among teenagers – Glee,
where what is being celebrated is not so much music,
but the perennial teenage longing to make a connection –
with the audience, with the young man or woman that catches their fancy.
We see it later on at night, with half-hour infomercials
and a spot for a juicy hamburger just when a college student wants that fourth meal
and we see it on those channels that most of us skip over
but some of us don’t –
those channels are available not just at night,
but twenty-four hours a day.
We are thirsty.
Thirsty for connection, thirsty for recognition, thirsty for acknowledgement,
for love, for excitement, for something they know not what.

The conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus,
like last week’s conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus,
occurs on two levels.
Jesus speaks of spiritual reality,
and the woman of physical reality,
Jesus asks the woman for a drink to cool his throat,
and tells her of what he can give, that can soothe her soul.
For we long for something that satisfies us,
not for a day, not for an hour,
not something that we have to keep coming back to
and that loses its charm over time –
we long for the consummation,
for something that no thing, no one human being,
can give us,
unless that one human being is also the living God.

The Jesus in need offers us in need the thing we most need –
the knowledge that God is with us,
the knowledge that whatever paths we have chosen
or that have been chosen for us,
whatever ways we have tried to slake our spiritual thirst,
or to dull our pain,
whatever sins we have committed on our way,
he desires to give us the living water,
the life that we can’t name but have always wanted.
More than fame, more than success in romance or career,
more than health for the moment or victory in war or politics
or a life that is at ease,
he desires to give us the life that he shares with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Eternal life, not simply an endless succession of days on the calendar,
but the life that was meant for us from the beginning;
a relationship of love with God and with others,
an eternal life that begins for us at baptism
and is brought to perfection only in the life to come.

The outcast woman makes the perfect evangelist –
for the people of the village are thirsty, too.
They are outcasts as well – Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
They are waiting for something more,
for a Messiah who will make God’s promises come true.
They are thirsty to worship God in spirit and truth,
and the thirstiest of them all leads them to him.
Let us be thirsty, in these days of Lent,
for the peace that passes all understanding,
for the Spirit of God that is love,
for the justice of God that is mercy,
for the image of God that is Jesus.
Let us come to the well, whether it is early, noon, or almost night for us,
for Jesus is there, waiting for us to ask him
to quench our fevered thirst for God.


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