Benediction Online

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Come Out and Keep the Water Flowing

John 4:5-42

Last week we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with a powerful man, the rabbi Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night so that he wouldn’t be seen talking to the rabble-rousing troublemaker. Today we hear Jesus in another conversation, but with someone completely different. The unnamed woman by the well is an outcast in more ways than one. She has three strikes against her.

To start with, she was a woman in a rigidly patriarchal society. It certainly wasn’t considered appropriate for a good Jewish teacher to be talking to a woman by himself. The disciples, we read, were astonished when they came back with food and found the two of them deep in conversation. But by now they knew Jesus well enough to keep their opinions to themselves.

Secondly, she was a Samaritan. There was bad blood between Jews and Samaritans; they didn’t speak. It was partly a religious thing and partly a political thing - their feud was similar to the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland or perhaps the Muslims and the Christians in northern and southern Nigeria. The reasons for the feud go deep but are almost inexplicable except when expressed in terms of religious conflict. Could God be truly worshipped on the hillsides of Samaria as the Samaritans maintained, or was the Jerusalem temple the only place of true worship, as the Jews believed? About the time of Jesus’ birth, some Samaritans had profaned the temple by scattering the bones of dead people in the sanctuary. Such acts, like the destruction of ancient Buddhist statues by the Taliban a few years ago, are not quickly forgotten. The woman herself asks, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"

And thirdly she was a social outcast among her own people. Women had to be part of a household with a patriarch. A woman living alone would have had no way to support herself. We don’t know what happened to this woman’s  husbands – whether they each tragically died or whether they abandoned her – and how she came to be living with a man who was not her husband, nor it seems her son. She came to the well in the heat of the day – at about noon – which is not a good time to be carrying water. Presumably she came then in order to avoid the other women of the village.

This woman didn’t seek out Jesus. She didn’t know he was a great teacher or healer. He was just a man at a well, asking for water. And in that liminal space outside normal society they had a conversation which resonates through the centuries. In that conversation Jesus came out to her. This is the only time before the trial when Jesus says that he is indeed the Messiah. For the Samaritans the Messiah was not seen so much as a political and revolutionary leader but as a great teacher, so it maybe that this was one place where he could use that term without fomenting insurgency.
Last week Donna talked about the questions of Lent. For Nicodemus the big question was how to receive the Spirit – how to be born again. What are the questions you hear being asked in this conversation? And what questions does it raise for you?

The woman at the well was so impressed and excited by Jesus that she went back to the city, and though she was hardly a community leader she brought people out to meet him and at their request he stayed for two days when originally he had just been travelling though the area returning to Galilee from Jerusalem. The big question for me is how do we let people know that there is living water to be found in Christ and in Christ’s body, the church?

Christianity has gotten a bad name, and we need to get the word out that the spiritual connection which so many people long for, is freely available. We need to get the word out not because we want more people in church on a Sunday morning, though that’s always wonderful, but because it’s what the world needs and because living water becomes stagnant if it doesn’t keep moving. Changing the image, we are fed by doing God’s will and we know from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus that God’s will is that all will turn to him. We are the body of Christ, we are God with flesh on in our community. It is part of our task to witness to God’s love wherever we are.

Fred Phelps, the hateful anti-gay crusader died this week. I trust he will find a nice surprise waiting for him in death, hopefully one with lots of rainbow flags. He has become a cultural laughing stock but that is because he is a caricature of what many people think Christians are – purveyors of God’s judgment and anger. We know a different God – we know a God whose justice rolls down like water and whose righteousness is an everflowing stream (Amos 5:24). That is the God that people need to hear about; the loving God whose heart is always open, who longs to welcome all beings into the reign of God.

The main reason that the tide is turning for gay and lesbian people in this country is because one after another we came out. One after another we took the risk to tell friends and family that we are gay. It was always a risk. It often still is. The percentage of gay, lesbian and trans people among homeless youth is much higher than you might expect. We still get thrown out for being queer. It is a risk. But coming out is a risk that we have to take in order to be truly who God made us to be.

Jesus came out to the Samaritan woman, and it was a blessing to her. Coming out is a risk that the Body of Christ needs to take if we are to be truly who God made us to be and to be a blessing to our community. Living water has to be shared, it cannot be stored because then it becomes flat; living water is like a fountain welling up inside us – and it has to go somewhere. If your supply of living water seems more like a trickle than a geyser there are two questions to consider: are you fully open to the source? Or are you damming the flow?

So these are the questions I leave with you this week, in addition to those that we discussed earlier:
Are you fully open to the Spirit, the source of living water?
Are you damming the water, holding it and making it still water, by not daring to share it?


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