Sermon for Lent 3, Year A
Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42
Certain scriptures take me back to my time in the Holy Lands – and this gospel reading is one of them. With rare exception, our course instructor would say, “This is where tradition says Jesus . . . fill in the blank. ” More often than not, the actual location of a Bible story cannot be determined, given the sparse amount of information that is shared with us. That has not, however, stopped Christians from identifying and marking the “exact” spot in which Jesus was born, where he performed miracles, was crucified and entombed. In fact, his last footprint on earth is enshrined, and a church is built over it, marking the spot of his ascension into heaven. Churches have been built throughout Israel to mark his life and provide the faithful ample places to pray and remember the wonders and deeds that Jesus performed.
We do, however, have reason to be confident that the site where tradition says Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well is indeed the site where today’s story takes place. A water source is essential for a village, and the well in question has been in place for thousands of years. Though, it is now in the basement of a church of an Eastern Orthodox Monastery.
Our class was able to draw water from the well and drink from it. So, putting aside the fact that we were not outside, it was an amazing experience to drink from the same well that I do believe was written about in the Gospel of John.
Nearly two thousand years after Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, I drank from that well and I was moved. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be her. I was where he was, she was with him. Jesus ignored the social and religious norms of the day, and had an intimate conversation with her about her life – then he offered to quench her thirst.
She was so excited, that she left her jar and returned to the village to tell everyone about Jesus. Today’s passage tells us:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Note that some believe because of what the woman told them, and many more because they went and listened to what Jesus said – “his word.”
We all have our reasons for being here. Some of us believe in Christ because of the testimony of others, some of us because of a personal experience that convinced us of his love for us. Most of us though, I dare say, have experienced God’s love through others whose testimonies may or may not have included words. My own belief comes from having experienced God’s presence at worship and at various unexpected times in my life. These experiences were like gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, nudges, that pushed me to alter my course in life. Sometimes a nudge comes from a stranger who surprises me with kindness.
Friday, the meditation from the Society of St. John the Evangelist was on God’s call to us to love the stranger. In Br. Almquist’s message he says, “There are no strangers to Jesus.” This is clear in today’s Gospel. At the well Jesus meets a woman for the first time and knows all about her. He is a stranger to her, but she is not a stranger to him.
That he knows her life’s story may be something we are not capable of knowing when we meet someone for the first time, but it is possible for us to know others as Jesus did. First, we simply need to remember that we are related to every single person on the earth. Then, when we see others and ourselves as children of God, we will know they are worthy of God’s love and of our love. Br. Almquist talked about how, if we get to know what makes a person who they were, we will have compassion for even those who repulse us. I believe this is true. In Exodus today, we are told, “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages.” Elsewhere we hear that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness, but here we are told it was the “wilderness of sin.” We know from their story that after being freed from slavery, they were filled with doubts and continually did what they were forbidden to do. The whining to Moses itself was a sign that they lacked faith. And, we don’t have to look at our own lives too closely to see that we are like the people of Israel. We do the things we ought not to do – as the apostle Paul says of himself.
The names in this passage from Exodus may be difficult for us to pronounce, but they add meaning to the text. The people are camped at Rephidim, which means refresh – so they are in a resting place. Instead of resting, they “quarrel with Moses.” Moses goes to the Lord for help, then after the Lord gives them fresh water from a stone – Moses names the place Massah and Meribah, which means “test” and “argument” because the people test the Lord and argue with Moses. So, rather than give the place a name celebrating God providing them with water, Moses assigns a name to that place that remembers the people’s failure to have faith.
At the well, Jesus remembers the woman’s failures, but then offers her a drink of “living water.” She leaves not only refreshed, but full of excitement. She carries the good news of Christ to others. Br. Almquist asks us what is the core of the gospel, which means good news, for us? Or, put another way, what is the good that compels us to be Christian?
The good that compels us is the good news that we have to share with others. What compels me, is an understanding that we are all children of the one God who loves each of us and wants us to drink the living water he offers us. Paul writes in Romans, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
We can be refreshed and find the peace Paul talks about if we accept the living water. And, when we experience the peace Christ has to offer, we can “boast in our hope,” which is to say, we can share the good news with friends and strangers in ways that just might alter their lives.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the friends and strangers who have helped guide us in our lives, that we might walk the path you have set for us. Give us, we pray, an awareness of the good that compels us to follow Christ, and strengthen us to carry your love to others. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.