Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, March 20, 2017

Living Water for a Parched Life

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

Today we again find ourselves reading from the Gospel of John and meeting a very memorable character along the way. Last week we met Nicodemus, a prominent religious leader a powerful Jewish group called the Pharisees. This week we meet a woman with no name, a member of the wrong religion and ethnic group, a person who the disciples would never want to be seen with. And yet, we see Jesus do something shocking. He talks to her.

Lately I have been reading a great novel called “Wonder” by R J Palacio. It’s about a memorable character named August who was born with a severe face deformity. When we meet him, at age 10, he has endured many surgeries, and has been homeschooled by his mom. Until now. August enters directly into the anxiety of middle school, you all remember what that’s like! Only August faces his peers with the added disadvantage of a face that causes people to stare, making him a person that no one seems to want to be friends with.  

On his first day, he enters the cafeteria with his lunch, looking for an empty table and praying to be left in peace. But after he sits down, someone joins him. Her name is Summer, and together they decide that the only people who can sit at their table are other people who have names that are associated with warm weather – you know, like Summer and August. This conversation is seemingly about nothing important, but there is something else going on beneath the surface. Wonder of wonders, on his first day of school, August makes a friend.

by Chinese artist He Qi
The Gospel of John also has a lot going on underneath the surface. And today is no exception, with Jesus and his surprising encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Surprising because it was not acceptable for respectable men to talk with women unless they accompanied by their husband, brother, or other male relative. And yet, Jesus strikes up a conversation.

She was also a Samaritan, “strike two” against her, since Jews did not interact with Samaritans, because of a long history of bad blood. Samaritans were related to the Jewish people but had intermarried with other groups and worshiped God in different ways. 

If that were not enough, this woman has a third strike against her in being married 5 times and living with a man who was not her husband.

Was this woman sexually immoral, promiscuous, or “loose,” as centuries of male theologians and preachers have led us to believe? 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 at all over their own lives. We can never really know what her life was like, but there are other options besides being “loose” woman. She could have been widowed five times and now considered cursed. She could have been unable to have children and so cast off by each husband through divorce. Perhaps she lived with the sixth man because, by then, no one else would take her in and take care of her, since she would not be allowed any kind of job to support herself on her own.

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 who came when it was much cooler, in the morning of evening. By doing so, she could avoid the shame of knowing no one wanted to associate with her. But even that didn’t help. She is still being whispered about and stared at, two thousand years later, by preachers and theologians 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 parched too. Her relationships have failed her; her culture has failed her; and historians and preachers throughout the ages have failed her. She might have wondered if God had failed her too. Her world had become a harsh desert of shame. 

So the last thing she expected that day was to have a conversation with the savior of the world. The last thing she expected was to be a part of the longest theological discussions with Jesus in any of the Gospels. The last thing she expected was to be offered living water to quench her parched life.

To Jesus, she is not defined by her past, 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 thirsty people in need of living water.

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 won’t wait to give US living water once we’ve gotten our lives all in order, because, frankly, that’s never going to happen. We’re too weighed down by the past, or too overwhelmed by the present, or too afraid of the future. We desperately need Jesus and the living water he provides.

That living water is a relationship with Jesus and a place in the community that Jesus has been called to save. It is a gift that will never expire, a well that will never run dry, a light that never goes out. And WE, just as we are, are invited to be part of this community, this family.

You are enough. You are loved. You have a place here in the family of God. That is news that the world desperately needs right now. That’s exactly where Jesus meets us, at the deep well of our need, and offers to us something way better than anything else out there. And that’s also exactly when Jesus turns us into bubblers.

Now, what’s a bubbler? Its what people like me from Wisconsin call “drinking fountains.” A bubbler does what it sounds like – water bubbles up out of it for us to drink. That’s what living water does, too. It bubbles up in you, sometimes quietly, sometimes with gusto, and always spilling 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 THEN send us OUT into the world to splash other people.

And that’s exactly what happened to this 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. In fact, she converted her entire town! All because she left her jar at the well and splashed the entire town with living water.

The Samaritan woman didn’t have all the answers. But instead of being paralyzed by confusion like Nicodemus last week, this woman invited people to wonder with her. She invited everyone she knew to meet Jesus for themselves.

Like the woman at the well, we are invited to lay down our empty jars, so that we can be filled with living water. Like the woman at the well, we become the vessels Jesus needs to carry this water to a very thirsty world. Like the woman at the well, we all get to be bubblers by sharing the living water from Jesus.

That’s right – we may not be back in middle school, but I’m giving out homework.  

Tell one person this week about where Jesus has met you at your well and gave you the living water to sustain you. I

t can be someone you know well, or it can be someone you don’t know. 

Be a bubbler during coffee hour. 

Be a bubbler in ACME to a cashier having a hard day. 

Be a bubbler at the dinner table with your kids or grandkids.

The world needs us. It’s time to be bubblers for Jesus. Amen.

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