Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

Mar 15, 2020

Passage:John 4:5-42

Preacher: The Rev. E. Courtney Jones

Series: Lent

Category: Reconciliation

Keywords: reconciliation


Who do you hate?
Now, I know that this is church, and we aren't supposed to hate anybody.  "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these."  
But when I ask who you hate, it's not a trick question.  
I need you to think about who you would go out of your way to avoid.  
  • That one passive aggressive colleague.  
  • People who say "Well, actually" and then explain something to you that's  in your area of expertise. (THE WORST!)
  • People who are rude to servers.
  • People who cough directly on their hands.  
But I'm not just looking for you to think of the people that really get under your skin.
Who do you deeply mistrust?
Who would you worry about making decisions for you?  Who would you hate to see running our country?
Is there a group of people who believe differently than you, and because of that, you mistrust them?  
Conservatives?  Liberals?  Socialists?  Moderates?  Evangelicals?  Atheists?  Millenials?  Boomers?
Who scares you?  
I need you to channel some defensive energy here, because normally the first thing people think of when I say "Samaritan" is "GOOD."   And if you think "good Samaritan" when we approach this story of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, you're going to miss the radical nature of this conversation.  
Who do you hate?  Because that's who the Samaritans would have been to Jews in Jesus' time.
In Jesus' time, the Samaritans and Jews hated each other.  They had been in an intense disagreement for centuries over who was God's true chosen people and where God could properly be worshiped:  Jerusalem, or Mt. Gerazim.   Each believed that the tribes they had descended from where superior to the other.   Each believed that the other was unclean and impure.  If at all possible, Jews would avoid traveling through Samaria.  
Today's Gospel reading, in addition to being QUITE LONG, contains quite a lot to unpack. 
I am not going to attempt to unpack everything in this Gospel, because someone wise once told me that there's a fine line between a long sermon and a hostage situation.  
But one thing that I think is fascinating and instructive to us today is that John, the Gospeler, at the beginning of this account, really plays up the DIVISION between the Jews and Samaritans.  
  • How is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?   
  • Jews don't share things in common with Samaritans.  
  • Are you greater than OUR ancestor Jacob?
  • We worship on this mountain, but you Jews say Jerusalem.  
So this Gospel starts with playing up division, but by the end of this pericope, ends in mutual hospitality.  Jesus' Jewish disciples and the Samaritans of Sychar spend two days in hanging out together, and are all convinced that Jesus is "truly the savior of the world."
A simple conversation between two people who shouldn't be caught dead talking to each other changes everything for two whole communities.  
But John, by way of symbolism, let's us know that it's not just because they had a conversation that opened up this space for mutual respect and enemy love.  
In this story, at least in the Greek, John has Jesus sitting ON the well.  
If you're worried about him falling in, don't.  Most wells like this would have been a deep hole in the group covered up by a large stone.  
John places Jesus ON the well to make a theological claim about who Jesus is and what Jesus does for us. 1
See, at the time that this Gospel was written, there was a prevalent  oral Jewish tradition that the waters of creation flowed up out of a well and gave life to the world.  This is not necessarily scriptural, but is part of the tradition of the time -- over this well of life  Noah built his altar.  Over this well of life, God's shekinah glory tabernacled with God's people.  Over this well of life the foundation for the holy of holies of the Temple was built.  2
So the well in this story is a symbol for a source of life.  The source of God's creative energy, God's wisdom, God's glory, flows out from a well.  
John is saying that where Jesus is THAT'S where God's glory dwells.  Where Jesus is where God's wisdom dwells.  Where Jesus is is where we will find the waters that bubble up and lead to life.   
So it no longer matters which mountain the groups worship on, or who's ancestors were greater, or which people are clean or unclean.  
John is symbolically suggesting that in Jesus they will find the true source of life they have been looking for and fighting over for years.  
It's as if the Samaritans and the Jewish disciples are two points on a line.  And Jesus is somewhere in the middle of them.  As each group draws nearer to Jesus, they cannot help but be drawn nearer to each other.  They can't help but have their hearts opened to a new way of living.  A new, deeper, more abiding life.  
It's no longer going to be about loving God and loving their neighbors.  The more deeply they move into the love of God, the more people will BECOME their neighbors.  
When these Jewish disciples and Samaritans drink from the wellspring of eternal life that is found in Jesus, THEN they can be restored into healthy relationship.  
And that's good news for both groups.  
But perhaps the best news in this passage is that Jesus was not lost when he went to Samaria.  Jesus was not taking a shortcut.  Jesus was the one who intentionally went to enemy territory.  Jesus was the one who initiated the conversation with the woman at the well.  Jesus goes out ahead of his disciples to make reconcilation possible.  
Now, we can sit here and think:  How silly of the Jews and Samaritans that they had a centuries long fight about which mountain to worship on.  How odd it is that they hated each other for things that don't seem like a big deal to us  . . . which mountain, which tribe they descended from, which conquering empire put them into exile . . . 
But I'd suggest to you today that we are willing to be divided from each other over far, far less.  
We have a whole slew of "little hatreds" that we carry around about others.  They range from little things like our frustration with people who don't use their blinkers, to generations-deep things that make us mistrust people who don't look like us or act like us.  
This isn't a new thing.  It seems to be the human condition to define ourselves by how we are different from other people.  
We'd really like to be a little better off in God's eyes than the next guy.  We're not quite as bad of a sinner.   We're a little more "woke."  We're a little more sophisticated.  We're definitely less judgmental.  We're a little more prepared.  A little more responsible.  
It becomes part of our identity to define ourselves by "Well, at least I'm not like those Samaritans!"
And this kind of thinking drives a wedge between us and others, and before we know it we're looking around and saying "Man, we live in such divided times!"
What might it look like if we took some of the energy that we put into trying to differentiate ourselves from others and put it into loving God?  
In this time of division, and now, in this time of great uncertainty:  How might the world be a better place if we very intentionally take up practices that help us to be drawn closer to the source of the living water we so desperately need?   
I understand that we don't control what others do, and so there will be old wounds that won't get healed, reconciliation that won't happen on this side of eternity.  
But as we move closer to the source of our salvation, we will fnd that we can't help but be drawn nearer to each other.
We can't help but have our hearts opened to others.  
We can't help but find that more loving, more joyful more hospitable life is possible now.  
As we follow Jesus into unknown territory, we can't help but experience a deeper, and more expanded life.  
1  Lecture, " The Easter Johannine Texts", The Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson, Backstory Preaching Collective 2/24/2020
2  Coloe, Mary L. “The Woman of Samaria: Her Characterization, Narrative, and TheologicalSignificance.” In Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John. Library of New Testament Studies 461 (182-196). Edited by Christopher W. Skinner. London: Bloomsbury, 2012.