This sermon was preached by the Rev. Nancy A. G. Vogele on Sunday, March 19, 2017, Third Sunday in Lent. The Gospel reading was John 4:5-42.
A little note on this sermon: At the beginning, I’m going to ask some questions – they are not rhetorical questions – I want people to answer them. At the end of the sermon, I’m going to ask some questions. They are deeper, reflexive questions. I don’t expect anyone to answer them – unless of course you are moved by the Spirit and inspired to say something. OK? Let’s begin.
When was the last time someone recommended something to you?
Like a movie or a restaurant or a book? What was it? Why did they recommend it to you? Did you follow through with their recommendation? Why or why not? If you did, are you glad or disappointed that you did?
When was the last time you recommended something to someone else?
What was it? Why did you recommend it to them? Do you know if they followed through with your recommendation? Are you glad you recommended it?
How did you end up coming to Our Savior Lutheran Church? Did someone recommend it to you? If so, what did they say that resonated enough with you that you came? And what has resonated enough with you that you stayed?
Have you ever recommended this church to someone else? Have you ever told someone about Our Savior Lutheran Church and invited them to come? How did you do it? What did you say? What was the result?
Something resonated so deeply about the woman at the well’s conversation with Jesus that she left her water-jar behind and went in to the city to tell everyone about this Jesus she had just met. She said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” What a recommendation!
The salient thing that this woman took away from her conversation with Jesus was that he had told her everything she had ever done AND that this was, in turn, important to tell everyone in town. What was so significant about Jesus telling her everything she had ever done?
Well, first of all, it was significant that Jesus even talked to her. Sure he was tired from the journey and thirsty, but the woman was understandably taken aback when Jesus spoke to her for several reasons. There was enormous enmity between Jews and Samaritans. In 722 BC, the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and in order to decrease the possibility of future rebellions, they moved some of the people out and imported foreigners into this region which became known as Samaria. Unlike in other regions, the foreigners intermarried with the remaining Samaritan residents. To the rest of the Jews, the Samaritan Jews therefore lost their religious and racial purity. The Jews despised Samaritans so much that they would rather take a lengthy detour around Samaria than go through it when travelling from the south to the north.
Furthermore, Jewish men were not to speak with women in public.
And why was she drawing water at midday – the hottest time of day? All the other women would have come at dawn or dusk when it was much cooler. Everyone stays inside in the heat of the day.
Perhaps she was shunned for having had so many husbands and for now living with a man who wasn’t even her husband. Perhaps, on the other hand, all her previous husbands had died and her grief was so great that she just couldn’t commit herself in marriage to another man. Perhaps her pain is too great to socialize with the other women. For whatever reason, she came alone to draw water and she came at midday – both usual.
In speaking with this woman, Jesus was breaking down many barriers: barriers of class, of race, of religious, and of sex.
And he didn’t just ask her for a drink. Over the course of their theological conversation, Jesus revealed more and more who this woman was and who he was. You can see her understanding expand more and more as Jesus explains and reveals more and more.
Jesus might have condemned her for having had so many husbands or for worshipping wrongly or for just being a Samaritan, but he didn’t. One commentator wrote,
“Jesus simply holds her in a space where he acknowledges who she is and then declares who he is, despite her [supposed] ritual and religious “unworthiness” for such an epiphany.
This commentator goes on to write, “Isn’t that all any of us need for our healing? A space, unbearably hot as it might be, where we can allow ourselves to acknowledge who we are, and in that moment be graced by a Savior who does not turn away from our [grief or] shame or failure, but who floods our lives with his quenching living water.”
“I also notice how she goes back to the very people of her village, who have judged and jostled her, and owns who she is in front of them, because despite her failures Jesus’ thirst quenching encounter has validated her as a human being.”
(From Peter Woods – Pastoral Counselor, Conflict Mediator and Newspaper Columnist, “High Noon at Jacob’s Well, March 24, 2011, https://thelisteninghermit.com/2011/03/24/high-noon-at-jacobs-well/)
Just when she was expecting to be looked over, ignored, and condemned, she was instead seen and known and engaged and validated.
No wonder she left her water-jar behind and went and told everyone in town about Jesus.
And no wonder the townspeople wanted to see for themselves who this Jesus was (John 4:28-30).
So I have a few questions for you:
The first is this: What are you thirsting for? Do you even slow down enough to be in touch with your real thirst?
Jesus knew that the woman at the well was thirsting for spiritual refreshment to quench her spiritual thirst, but she didn’t know that – at least not at first. Water quenches thirst. It’s crucial for survival. And there are deeper things we are also thirsting for?
What are you thirsting for? It’s important to know because people are spending billions of dollars in advertising and technologies of all sorts, to get you to think that you are thirsting and hungering for food and drink that is just junk or TV or facebook or video games or addictive little apps for our smartphones – or our smartphones themselves! Will those things satisfy the real thirst you have – or are they keeping you for getting your real thirst quenched?
What are you really thirsting and hungering for – deep down? Take the time to think about it and invite Jesus into that thinking. It’s a question to keep asking yourself because each time you answer it, it’s like peeling away another layer of the onion until you start getting at some deep answers.
Here’s a second question: How are you hoping to get your thirst quenched by coming here, today? Is there anything about this church that helps you get in touch with your thirst and quench it? What is that?
Are you willing to share that with others? Are you willing to just share it with a fellow parishioner? Are you willing to go beyond us, like the woman at the well, and tell someone what this Jesus has done for you? Or how this church has been the place or a place for your deep thirst to be quenched?
Last Sunday, I went and visited Evelyn Johnson. In our conversation, she mentioned that she had traveled all over the United States. I asked her what were the occasions of her travel? And she told me that, when she was young, she served as a Field Missionary for the Lutheran Church for 5 years. As such, the church sent her all over the U.S. In every town she was in, she would have a list of names and she would visit each family and ask if they were already affiliated with a local church and, if not, she told them about the Lutheran Church and would extend an invitation to them to attend.
The Church doesn’t have Field Missionaries anymore to do this work. It is up to each person now. It is up to you.
And so, if like Isaiah, you are ready to say, “Here I am. Send me.”
If you are willing, I have some lovely little cards: on one side is an assortment of photos of this community in action and on the other side is information about the church, including our website, telephone number, and worship times.
If you are willing to go and recommend this church or this Jesus to someone, please take a card and give it to that person. Tell them why this place is changing your life and then just simply say, “Come and see.”
Even if you don’t know who you would invite or what you would say, if you are willing to just ask God to guide you – to let you know who and then what – feel free to take a card. But keep it close at hand because God will guide you that person.
And if you wouldn’t or couldn’t do that, why not? What’s missing? What would need to change so that you could and would be passionate about telling others and inviting others to, “Come and see” just as the woman at the well did?
Our Savior Lutheran Church is at an important point in its life. But let me make something very clear: you are not being called to “find a new pastor.” You are being given the gift of time and space to think about who you are…who you are to God and who God is to you and what God is inviting you to become so that your thirst may be quenched and how, together, you can help facilitate that for one another as well as for those yet to come – including your new pastor.
This is not about survival. This is about allowing God to create a place that changes lives – yours and mine – and then going and passionately inviting others to “come and see.” Amen.