Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

At the Well

Sermon from 3-23-14

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Rob Bell’s latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk about God, is one of my most favorite books I’ve read so far. I think I’ve read it about three or four times now, including re-reading to lead our last week’s women’s book group. And I think I can say that we had a very good discussion.

However, I have one beef with Rob Bell’s book. On the surface this may seem a minor thing, easy to overlook, except it speaks directly to the story you just heard us read oh so dramatically just a few moments ago. Bell lists by example some of the many times Jesus went to the margins to encounter people who were despised, ignored, and outcast. One person he lists is a “thirsty, loose Samaritan women he wasn’t supposed to talk with.” It’s easy to think, what’s the big deal, Pastor Lydia? Isn’t what he says true? So please bear with me, because we just might find that Sesame Street was right, of these things just doesn’t belong.

Was she a woman? Well, yes, she was a woman at a time where it as not acceptable for respectable men to talk with respectable women unless accompanied by their respectable husband, brother, or other male relative. And yet, Jesus still talks to her.

Was she a Samaritan? Yes, and this is “strike two” against her, since Jews did not interact with Samaritans if they could help it. There was a long history of bad blood between the two groups. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a kind of inferior, a watered-down version of themselves, because Samaritans intermarried with other groups of people, and they also had worship practices that were very different from that of the Jews. This woman belonged to this group. And yet, Jesus strikes up a conversation.

Was this woman thirsty? She almost certainly was. This was way before running water, which now we turn on without even thinking, whenever we wish a tall glass of cold water. If you wanted a glass of water at that time, or wanted to wash your clothes or your dishes or yourself, you had to carry a big jar of all the way out to the community well. And if you’ve ever gone camping or done gardening, you know that even just a little water can start to get very heavy, very heavy.

But was this woman “loose”? Or was she actually more of a loser in her own culture and society? This woman lived before no-fault divorce. She lived before women could vote, or have jobs outside the home, or control their own bank accounts, or have much say over their own lives. We can never really know what happened to her, but there are other possibilities besides being a serial bride - she could have been widowed five times and now considered cursed. She could have been unable to have children and have been cast off by each husband. Perhaps she lived with the sixth man because, by then, no one else would take her in and take care of her, under any circumstances.

In any case, she was judged by the other people in her community, so much so that she would prefer to carry her heavy water jar in the heat of the day – alone - rather than face the whispers and stares of the other women. But she is still being whispered about and stared at, two thousand years later, by preachers and theologians and writers who continue to hang the label of “loose” on this woman like a scarlet letter.

When this woman came to the well that day, she was not just physically thirsty, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Her relationships have failed her; her culture has failed her; and we may have failed her. She might have even wondered if God had failed her too. Her world had become a lonely wilderness, a harsh desert of shame. So the last thing she expected that day was to have a conversation with the savior of the world.
To Jesus, this woman is not her past. To Jesus, she is not defined by what she has or hasn’t done; she is not defined by who she’s with; she is not defined by gender or race or creed. To Jesus, she is a thirsty person in need of living water.

To Jesus, we are not defined by our past, or by what we’ve done or haven’t done, or by who we’re with or our race or gender or if we believe the “right” way. To Jesus, we are a thirsty people in need of living water.
Where we find her story in Rob Bell’s book is a chapter called “For.” Not the number four, but the preposition “for” - as in, to be in support of or on the side of or being concerned for the well-being of someone else. In this instance, Bell is making the case that God is for us. Through Jesus, God shows this woman that God is for her, that God has not forgotten her. Through Jesus, God also shows US that God is for US too, and has not forgotten us, either.

In this chapter, Bell writes: “The good news insists that God doesn’t wait for us to get ourselves polished, shined, proper, and without blemish – God comes to us and meets us and blesses us while we are still in the middle of the mess we’ve created. The good news isn’t us getting it together so that we can have God’s favor; the good news is us finding God exactly in the moment of our greatest not-togetherness.”

Jesus didn’t offer this woman living water once she’d gotten her life straightened out into something more socially acceptable. He offered her living water at her moment of greatest need.

Likewise, Jesus doesn’t wait to give us living water once we’ve gotten our lives all in order, because, frankly, that’s never going to happen. None of us have it all together, at least not for much longer than about 30 seconds. We’re too weighed down by the past, or too overwhelmed by the present, or too afraid of the future. There is no way that any of us can carry the deep well of burdens in our little water jar, at least not without falling over, over and over again. And we would rather suffer alone than face the humiliation of someone else seeing us in our weak moments.

But what if Jesus is FOR us? What if Jesus meets us right there, at the deep well of our s troubles, and offers to us something way better than anything our little bucket could ever hope to hold? What if Jesus turned us into bubblers?

Now, what’s a bubbler? It’s what people from Wisconsin call drinking fountains, like the ones we have over by the bathrooms. When I’m in an unfamiliar building and want a drink of water, without thinking I might ask for a bubbler. And that’s kind of what living water does. It bubbles up in you, sometimes quietly, sometimes suddenly with gusto, and almost always spilling out onto your shirt and out onto the people around you. This is the joy that Jesus gives us, that he called us as his beloved children and followers, and send us out into the world to splash other people.

And that’s exactly what happened to this abandoned and outcast Samaritan woman. She leaves her water jar at the well in her haste to tell others about this man who just might, maybe be the Messiah, the savior of the world. She became an evangelist, a preacher for her community, sharing her encounter with Jesus. In fact, she converted her whole town! All because she left her jar at the well and splashed the entire town with living water.

Because once we’ve tasted of the living waters, we just can’t keep it to ourselves. It’s time for you to become a bubbler, too. That’s right – I have a task for you to do! Try to tell one person this week about where Jesus has met you at the well and gave you the living water. It can be someone you know well, or it can be someone you don’t know. You can even use this sermon as an excuse, and say “One of my pastors told me to!” Call a friend, write a letter, write a blog, tweet it - It doesn’t matter how you do it, or when, or where, or to whom – they just might listen, and they just might also come to know Jesus, giver of living water, savior of the world. AMEN.

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