St. John's Episcopal Church


Sermon for March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Carol Hancock                                 

St. John's, Centreville
March 19, 2017
John 4:5-42
3 Lent A
     May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
     Most of us like the status quo. We like things, usually, the way they are. We don't like change because that often means we have to change. And change is uncomfortable. But Jesus is known through the gospel stories to disrupt the status quo. He changed people's way of thinking. He talked to people he was supposed to shun. He touched people he wasn't supposed to touch. He loved people he wasn't supposed to love.
     We have just read the longest recorded conversation Jesus had with anyone, and it was with a woman from Samaria. This is significant because Jews and Samaritans were arch enemies. They despised each other. Most Jewish travelers went out of their way to take the long way around Samaria rather than to walk through it. But not Jesus.
     Men were not supposed to talk in public to women they did not know. It was a cultural thing. Men did not talk to women they weren't related to. But Jesus did.
     This Samaritan woman was an outcast even among her own people. It is said that she had five husbands and the one she was living with now was not her husband. We are not told if the previous husbands died, or divorced her or deserted her. But any way you look at it, this woman had had a hard life. But her own people just saw the scandal of having so many husbands and they rejected her. That is why she was at the well at noon, the hottest part of the day, when presumably no one else would be there. She would have to subject herself to their silence or their taunts or their ridicule if she went when the other women did, in the cool of the early morning. It was hard to carry the water jars back home in the heat of the day, but she would rather do that then be judged by her neighbors.
     But Jesus didn't care about her background. He knew she had had five husbands and he didn't seem to care. By talking to her - a Samaritan woman with a sketchy past - Jesus disrupted the status quo. He didn't judge her, he didn't degrade her. He spoke to her with dignity and respect.
     And she is not afraid to ask this strange man some questions. First of all, why are you even talking to me, a woman from Samaria? Jesus wants a drink of water but he has no bucket and the well is deep. Surely, he couldn't be asking her to share her bucket and ladle. That, too, would break social norms. Jesus replies that he has living water that he could give her. "How can I get this living water so I won't have to keep coming to this well to draw water," she asks. He is talking theologically and she is talking practicality.
     Then comes the problem of where to worship. The Jews say that one must worship in Jerusalem. The Samaritans say worship should be done on Mt. Gerizim. But Jesus replies that it does not matter where one worships geographically. True worship is characterized by the total giving of one's life to God, worshipping God in spirit and in truth. One by one, Jesus is breaking down barriers.
     The woman knows that at some point, the Messiah will come and will proclaim all things. Jesus replies that he is the one, he is the Messiah. With that, the woman leaves her water jar at the well and runs into town to tell everyone she meets that they need to come and meet this Jesus who told her everything she has ever done (a bit of exaggeration). She tells even those who have treated her badly. Come and see for yourself and make your own decision. Could this really be the Messiah?
     Many Samaritans came to see Jesus at the well and they believed he was the Messiah. They came to believe at first because of the woman's testimony, although she was the one they had shunned for so long. And because they believed, they invited Jesus to stay with them, and he stayed for two days.
     This woman's life was changed, was transformed, by the presence of Jesus. Perhaps she could be more accepted by her neighbors. Perhaps they could stop judging her for her past and remember that she was the one that led them to Jesus. She was the evangelist. She brought these other Samaritans to believe. Maybe she wouldn't have to come to the well at noon, in the hottest part of the day, but rather could come early in the morning when it was cool and socialize with the other women who were drawing their water from the well. Maybe she wouldn't feel so ostracized, so rejected. Jesus had changed her life. He had changed the status quo.
     What part of our status quo needs to be changed? How can Jesus transform our lives? Perhaps we can be more accepting of people who are different from us. Perhaps we could stop being the judge of other people and leave that job to God. Sometimes the status quo is not morally right and is an affront to God. Perhaps we could look at different ways we have always done things, or the ways we have always treated our neighbors and see if there might be a better, more loving way. Lent is a good time for that introspection, to shine a mirror into the darkest corners of our lives. How can we change? How can we be better disciples of Christ? How can we tell others about God and God's love for us?
     Jesus breaks down barriers of culture, gender, religion and ethnicity. He treats the woman at the well with dignity and respect, enabling her to be transformed and find a new identity as a child of God. The good news is available to anyone who responds in faith. It is not up to us to keep score and decide who is in and who is out. No one is outside the bounds of God's love. No one.
     With Jesus' help, this woman moves from outsider to witness, from a nobody people ignored or disdained, to a somebody who encountered the Messiah and goes to tell everyone that he is sitting there at the well. Jesus uses this sinful Samaritan woman to bring the gospel message to this group of Samaritans. It doesn't matter that Jesus is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. It doesn't matter that she is a woman he doesn't know. It doesn't matter that she has a checkered past. Jesus tells her, and others from the city, about living water, about the gospel message, so they will never be thirsty again.
     May we question the status quo that we live by and search for ways that constructively disrupts those ways that are not the ways of God. Amen.

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