3/23/2014: Third Sunday in Lent
The text for today’s sermon is taken from John 4:4-42. Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story we just heard from the 4th chapter of John has all the makings of a love story. A parched and weary traveler makes his way through the hot, dry desert of a foreign land. He arrives at an oasis well at high noon, the hottest part of the day. There he comes upon a lone woman. Although Samaritan women would be home at this time of day, she has come to draw water. The man speaks to her. She responds. The conversation continues, deepening with each exchange.
At this point, we envision the boy kissing the girl and walking off hand in hand toward the village, eventually marrying, then living happily ever after. But of course this doesn’t happen because this is a different kind of love story. It involves a boy who is Jewish and a girl who is a Samaritan and that makes the whole scene tantalizingly scandalous.
There were laws against unmarried men and women speaking to one another in public. And as if this were not enough to prevent such an encounter, no self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a Samaritan. They were considered to be unclean. They were unworthy. They were racially impure and we know what that means as far as relationships are concerned.
We’ve come a long way in the U.S. in dealing with racism, but we still have a long way to go. A little over 20 years have passed, but I vividly remember what happened when a black man named Rodney King was beaten unmercifully by white policemen in Los Angeles. Someone captured the crime on video tape. The acquittal of the police set off a firestorm of protests. On the other side of that tragedy, Rodney King asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” This is one of our greatest challenges and a question that has come down through the generations. Can the majority and minority races accept each other as full partners in the human family? Some thought Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would bring an end to that question, but it didn’t. Some thought the passing of the 13th and 14th amendments to the constitution would do it, but it didn’t. We have now elected a black president, but not even that can do it. You can’t legislate it because it is not just a matter of good laws or economic opportunity or better education. Racial issues are fundamentally moral and spiritual issues. As then Governor Huckabee of Arkansas was quoted saying, “It’s not a skin problem; it’s a sin problem.”
The people during Jesus’ time believed that the Samaritans, because of their racial impurity, were unlovable, even by God. But Jesus did not buy into the sun problems of his generation. And this story of the encounter between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman is no ordinary love story. Jesus, a parched and weary male traveler does meet a lone woman at the well at high noon. They do speak – in fact the conversation they share is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anyone, male or female. But their conversation, as scandalous as it is, is not flirtatious. It is empowering, freeing and life-changing or the woman who has been hardened by the life she has lived.
Some of the tough times this woman faced came as a result of her own choices and actions. Other times she was victimized by the circumstances of life. But most of all, she was a sinner, and not just your average run of the mill type of sinner. By her own admission, she had not been a role model for family values. Against social protocol and the laws of her time, this unnamed woman had been involved with a number of men throughout her life time. Yet, when Jesus confronts her with the fact concerning her five marriages and her present illicit relationship with yet another man, she doesn’t try to hide the truth. She doesn’t try to offer up any excuses – the facts are the facts. She is a woman; she is a Samaritan; and she is a sinner. Because of these facts, everyone sees her as unclean, unworthy and unlovable – everyone that is, but Jesus.
Jesus risks his reputation as a respected rabbi, a teacher of the law, in order to speak with this woman. Instead of spending time pointing out her sins of which she knows all too well, Jesus points out her salvation. Jesus speaks to her about the living water that will never leave her thirsty again. Jesus speaks to her about eternal life, living in the presence of one true God who shares love, joy and forgiveness freely.
This is a love story of the deepest kind. Jesus meets the woman at the well in the heat of the day. He scans her soul, breaks the rules, speaks to her about God’s love and a miracle happens. She feels the power of God’s amazing grace and is changed. Leaving behind her water jar and her sinful past, the woman rushes into town and faces the very people who whisper to each other about her sins. In her excitement about what has happened at the well, she shouts a message of hope and great joy to each of them as she invites them to “come and see…” Come and see the one who can look into a person’s soul and see their past, present and future. Come and see one who can bring wholeness to broken lives. Come and see the one who offers living water. Come and See!
For some reason, God only knows, the people of the city believe her. So they go to Jesus. They believe him because of her testimony. They go and believe, and these unclean, unworthy, unlovable Samaritans experience God’s love and acceptance and they too are changed.
My friends, this is the how and why of sharing the joy of God’s grace with those around us, even those who look down on us and those who call us the enemy. It is with passion, excitement and conviction that others are drawn to the love of God and learn that no one is beyond the redemption of Christ. God sees everything about us, everything we have ever done, and still God invites us to come and receive the water of life. In spite of who we are, what we’ve been and whatever we might become, we are included in God’s great love story – for while we were sinners Christ died for us. We have been forgiven by a gracious God and shown the way to everlasting joy and peace in his presence.
As we walk again on the journey to the cross, may we feel the power of that love at work in us. The cross, the body broken, the blood shed were all for us and our salvation. The empty tomb, the rising, the glory are all for us and for or salvation. This is Jesus’ love story for the unclean, the unworthy, the unlovable. It’s the story of his love for you and for me.
May we feel his love and grace each day and with the passion and excitement of an unnamed Samaritan woman, may we invite others to “come and see.” And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.