Third Sunday of Lent – March 27, 2011
Lectionary for Fourth Sunday of Lent:
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Invocation (in unison):
Holy and awesome God, we come this morning for hope that will sustain us in times of fear and confusion and doubt. Wash us today with the living waters of your presence so that we may accept your mercy and your grace for ourselves and, in so doing, be able to offer them to others. Open us to the possibilities of encountering you in unexpected ways and of sharing your love and generosity in unexpected ways with those whom we encounter. Amen.
Prayer for Guidance: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised. Amen.
Prayer of Confession (in unison):
Patient and ever-faithful God, we confess that we can be an unsatisfied people. When things do not go as we wish, we murmur and complain and doubt. We lose hope in the people around us, and we lose hope in you. We put you to the test rather than trusting your loving kindness. Forgive us, we pray. Let us quench our thirst through you. Amen.
The Lord be with you/ and also with you
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
May your name be praised!
Come, let us worship!
Sermon for 3.27.11, Third Sunday in Lent: “Living Hope”
Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42
Please pray with me: May my words help turn our hearts to you, Dear Lord, and may the Holy Spirit add its blessing. Amen.
From today’s Gospel: “Jesus replied, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’”
Such an unexpected thing happened to me on Tuesday night. I was on my way back to Connecticut at about 9:45 and thought I’d stop on 9W to get gas and a hard roll. But when I walked into the station, not one roll was left. “Not one roll anywhere?” I moaned because I know the people who work there. “Not one,” they said. Then behind me, I heard a lovely male voice, “Rolls? You want rolls? I have rolls.” None of us knew him, but he was apparently making his delivery rounds for the next day—not to the station where I was, however. When I followed him outside, he opened the back of his truck, handed me a bag and said, “You may have two.” Inside, the women were waiting with butter. “Dinner on the world tonight, pastor!” We were all laughing, and I certainly had what I’d longed for.
The Children in the Wilderness had a far greater need than mine, but an unexpected blessing was waiting for them too. They’re stranded miles—even years—from nowhere and there is no water, for them, their children, or their livestock. Moses was to hear this story over and over again. Whenever anything went wrong, they would grumble and complain, “You couldn’t just have left us to die in Egypt!” God, who’s heard it all before too, of course, provides them with real and good water in the most improbable way—by having Moses strike a rock. This was not the first time God, through Moses, had given them living hope. They might have remembered the parting of the Red Sea. Still, God’s people are easily frustrated and frightened. Who can blame them? The story can really come alive because of the many places today, including Japan and refugee camps, where people don’t have good drinking water. The point is that God still loves those wandering in desert places and does not allow that love “to be soured [or] frustrated” by short memories.1
The woman at the well in the Gospel of John, on the other hand, certainly didn’t know what it was that she needed. In the middle of everyday chores, a thirsty Jewish man suddenly asks her for water. She’s perfectly aware that Jews and Samaritans have had religious differences for centuries and that they regard one another as outsiders. But this one is thirsty and she has the water bucket. Because of her five husbands, the usual interpretation is that she is a loose woman and, when she begins to ask Jesus questions, bolder than she should be. But John is clever; he’ll tell you one thing—and it will be true, but only partially, for it will also have another meaning.
So we need to look at something else here, and that’s why I wanted Ed and Lisa to read together this morning. I wasn’t type-casting them as Jesus and the Samaritan Women. For one thing, they’re married; they’ve made a covenant with one another. Well, where did boy meet girl in ancient Israel? In case we’ve forgotten, Jacob is mentioned three times at the start of this very passage! And Jacob fell in love with Rachel at the well! There were usually onlookers, so one had to behave, but the conversation could begin. When Lisa and Ed read, they were playing their parts, but the truth of who they really are underlies that, and we here know it. In this case, who they really are adds to our understanding of the passage.
So too with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus is the thirsty traveler and the Woman has the bucket. And then the roles reverse and a love story of sorts begins. Unlike Nicodemus, just one chapter earlier, the woman does not back off. She begins to engage Jesus in real conversation. She asserts herself as a Samaritan and defends the authority of her ancestor, Jacob. But she is a good listener and only a few verses later, she asks for the water that Jesus is offering to her. Notice that Jesus doesn’t chide her for being literal, or make fun of her, as he did Nicodemus. He could have considered her an outsider, a woman, and therefore invisible. Instead, he talks to her and offers her eternal life. As she begins to understand and accept this hope, as she starts her new spiritual life, he keeps the conversation going. He is not condescending, but amazingly reveals himself as God, as the “I am.”
The woman is as overwhelmed by his respect and his kindness as by his revelation. Leaving her water jar behind, she rushes into the city to proclaim her Good News. She cannot keep her experience to herself. “He told me everything I have ever done,” she keeps repeating, and with no suggestion of having been found out or disgraced. “Come and see,” she says, echoing the words used by the first disciples as they recruited others. She essentially becomes a disciple herself and “many Samaritans …believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” They proclaim him “the Savior of the world.” They are ready to accept his new covenant.
We don’t hear more of the woman’s story, but we know that Jesus has started her on a serious journey and that a covenant of faith has been established between them.2 Faithfulness between God and God’s people is often described as a marriage. It is certainly a mutual relationship, for if Jesus has offered her a living hope and shown her the face of the Messiah, she has accepted his words, become his apostle, and already begun living the hope he has given her. She has begun to embody that hope for everyone she meets.
We too are people who hunger and thirst. Like the Children in the Wilderness, we may lose hope because we think God does not love us sufficiently. It may be easier to hold onto our Massahs (places of testing) or our Meribahs (places of quarreling) than to do the hard work of turning ourselves around. Or we may try to tough things out ourselves without developing that closer relationship to God that the Woman begins to realize she longs for. We may also forget that Jesus offered living water to the Woman through patient and kind conversation, through a caring relationship. We can live that way with others as well.
We meet the Woman as she begins her discipleship. We see the Children of Israel in the thick of crisis. The walk to Golgotha that we are invited to take with Jesus during this season of Lent is not easy, but if we persist, we will not only develop endurance and character, as Paul tell us, but we will begin living that hope with which Christ longs to fill all hearts. He carries the burden of our utter helplessness and he carries it with immense love for each one of us. His immense love and the peace that it brings are as inexhaustible and sometimes as surprising as a spring of fresh water that suddenly gushes up from the earth.
Let us pray: Dearest Lord, give us the courage or the humility—whatever is required—to know that you are waiting for us wherever we are in our lives. Let us not reject your love or take it for granted, but let us long for it and cherish it. Let us take time, each day, to be with you. And if you surprise us with your presence, let us, like the Samaritan Woman, respond by seeking to know you further. Finally, dear Lord, let us live our hope in you. Let others feel your grace pouring through us. Amen.