John 4: 5-26, 39-42
The first reason why I went to church was because my parents took me. I’ve attended United Methodist and Episcopalian churches since I was very small.
The second reason why I went to church was that there were girls that I wanted to date. That’s how I attended Baptist and non-denominational churches.
It was at one of the second type of those churches where I heard God’s call on my life and was baptized. It only took 20 some-odd years. I accepted Jesus as my savior in the second type of church, but within the year, was attending one of the first.
People come to churches for many reasons, only some of which are spiritual. Some folks come because their parents bring them. Others come because they want to date someone who attends. Some come to church because it improves their business contacts—it’s good to be seen as a member of the “right” church. Others come for the music. Some come because it is the only time all week that they can be around other people. Some come for the message, and the need to get a touch of the divine in a week that is all too earthly. Some come to be reminded that there is more to life than just job and bills and homework and chores.
Most come because they need living water. They need to feel accepted someplace, and if that acceptance comes in the language of salvation and Jesus and Amen, then so be it.
Our story today is about a woman who is three-times rejected. First, she’s a foreigner. Or rather, Jesus is in a land that is foreign to his culture, as well as the perspective of the author. I could stand here and give you the history of hundreds of years that explains why this is true, but let it suffice that Samaritans are definitely a “Them”. Second, she is a woman, and men from the “right” culture are definitely not to have any dealings with women of the “wrong” culture. Third, she’s not exactly been chaste. She’s had five husbands, and she’s not married to the current man, the sixth.
That’s why she’s at the well at the middle of the day, scholars believe. Think about it—when do you need water the most? In the morning and in the evening, for cooking and for washing. But she’s showing up at the middle of the day, when it’s less likely that anyone will be around.
The original audience for this story would be definitely primed for a certain scene. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is a motif of women meeting the men they will marry at a well. Moses and Zipporah, Jacob and Rachel, Isaac and Rebekah all have this common scene. It’s like when we see a scene in a movie where there is a battle or large and dangerous task, and the best friend of the hero says “see you on the other side” or something like that; you know he’s toast. Women and men at wells in the Bible are the same deal.
And here’s this Jesus at the well with this alien woman who is culturally marked as someone, shall we say, “of experience”. In its own way, our hero is in some peril, the same as Indiana Jones sneaking around the Nazi sub base.
But here, John turns the motif on its head. Jesus is not expecting marriage, or any romance at all. Jesus knows her, one of the “unchosen”, if ever there was such a thing, and still offers her “living water”. She tells everyone she knows back in Sychar about this guy out at the well who knows everything she ever did, and they go have a look. The story ends with most of the village believing in Jesus as the Messiah, after his having stayed with them a couple days.
The living water Jesus offered the woman is the knowledge of the acceptance and the love of God. She found out from him that her three-fold banishment is not God’s rule, but the rules of people. She is as valuable to God as the richest most important man in the village.
We are the ones who are now called to be the face of Jesus to the world. Pentecost has happened, the Holy Spirit has come to both Jews and Gentiles, and we sit here this morning as the inheritors of that gift and responsibility.
Do we understand that living water to be for everyone? Do we offer it to the people who are three time losers in our culture? Do we offer it without condition? Do we say, “Jesus loves, you, you are a child of God”, or do we say “stop that behavior, change your ways, and Jesus will love you”?
It’s like the “about the author” page in the book Ark Building for Dummies that Evan is given in the movie Evan Almighty; God created the universe and has 7 billion some-odd children.
That is all the world’s population. Their point is that there are no people on this earth who are not the children of God.
We have pledged to be Christians. We are not inheritors of the task of chalking up believers in Jesus, like the big Mc Donald’s signs that used to count how many millions of burgers had been served. We are not called to keep score. We are, however, inheritors of the task of giving living water, God’s love to all.
Lent, as we have said before, is the time when we repent of the ways in which we have drifted off course. Do we still remember that God loves us? Do we still drink of that living water ourselves? Do we still offer that living water to all, without judgment of their lifestyle or the way they look or sound, or what they believe? That is the way of God, and to do otherwise; to lay conditions of our own making on the free gift of God is to have drifted off course. It too is a matter for prayer and repentance.
Folks come to churches for many reasons. Folks don’t come for many more. Whether they are here, on our home court, or we are with them out there outside the doors, the job is the same. We are the carriers of God’s love and acceptance. It is our inheritance from Mary, Peter and Paul, from the saints and the founders of this church.
Reflect on your personal witness; do you offer unconditional love and acceptance to the people you meet? All of them? Do you offer living water?
Yeah. Even them. And no, I don’t either. Let’s you and me do better, Ok?