Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sermon for March 23, 2014: "You don't know this man" (John 4:5-42)

John 4:5-42 (NRSV)

So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”


You don’t know this man.
You don’t know where he’s been or where he’s going.
You just know there’s a man, a Jew, hanging around your village well,
asking you for a drink as if it’s normal,
as if Jews and Samaritans ever share anything,
as if your people and his people haven’t been scowling at each other over holy books for centuries,
as if there aren’t clear boundaries between your towns that no proper person would cross.

You don’t know this man.
You don’t know that back in Jerusalem, the holy city, his holy city,
he’s been debating with the religious elite, challenging their power,
working miracles and teaching about God despite their disapproval.
You don’t know that one of these men, a Pharisee,
snuck out to see this man under cover of night,
snuck out to say “We know that you are sent from God,”
snuck back with his head full of wonder about being born from above, about the invisible untouchable force that changes everything, about the Son of God sent into the world not to judge and condemn but to love.
You don’t know this man, Nicodemus.
And you don’t know this man sitting at your well.

You’ve come at noon, the hottest part of the day, expecting no one.
You don’t come in the morning with the other women.
You are tired of the way they look at you, that spun-up mixture of pity and horror,
of the way their eyes count the five empty spaces that haunt you.
You are tired of being reminded that you have been passed from man to man.
“She’s had five husbands,” their eyes say, as if you had a choice.
As if divorce wasn’t as simple as a certificate, for reasons as wide as bearing no children to a poorly cooked meal.
You’re tired of the way the women’s eyes reflect your empty home, your empty purse, the man who keeps you now but will never marry you.
You’ve come at noon, expecting no one.
Instead there is a man, a Jew, with dirty feet and thirsty tongue,
and some kind of golden fire to his gaze, some sort of eternal light flickering in his eyes.

You don’t know this man.
And you don’t know what he’s talking about, this living water,
something to quench your thirst forever.
You only know you want it.

You don’t know this man,
but he knows you.
His dark eyes call on you and he sees exactly who you are
and everything you’ve ever done.
Somehow the way he looks at you is different from the looks of the other women.
Somehow the way his eyes fall on you sets all your shame on fire, till there’s nothing left of it but ashes.
Something inside you begins to bubble up.
Somehow, when this man looks at you, you no longer feel the boundaries between you --
Samaritan and Jew, woman and man, divorcee and prophet.
You know his people and your people disagree on almost everything.
You know a woman has no right to question a man.
But the words are falling from your lips like water from a tipped jar.
You’ve come at noon, expecting no one,
and now you set aside your water jar
and take up your questions.
The questions you have carried like a weight, the wonderings, that inscrutable want to know and understand -- they are pushing through your long-built dam of quiet.
You don’t know this man, but when he speaks of God
you are hungry in a way that feels unquenchable.
When he says that we will soon worship God in spirit and truth --
not in a place but in person, not in a city but in heart,
not by religion but by relationship --
when you mention the Messiah and this man says I am he --
you leave behind your water jar,
because there is something bubbling up in you
like a spring of living water.
You want to catch the eye of every person you’ve been avoiding and say
Come and see!  Come and see.
There’s something going on here that I can’t explain and you need to see it for yourself.

You don’t know this man, but he knows you, and you want everyone to know it.
He knows you, everything you’ve ever done, everything that’s ever been done to you,
and in those dark eyes there is not judgment or pity but kindness and compassion.
This man, this Jew, this prophet, this Messiah has appeared at your well
and talked to you, like you are worthy, like you are wanted,
like you are capable of being a witness
as much as a trained scholar of Jerusalem.
This man wants you.  Not like the men who have married you and left you
but because he sees something in you -- sees your questions, your pain, your joy, your hope
and welcomes them.  Wants them.
Wants to hear what you have to say.
Wants you to be filled so much that something bubbles up inside you
and quenches your longings, something like living water -- something that gets you so excited
that you forget your water jar, your regular work, and you run off to tell everyone you know
that this Messiah wants that much joy in you.
And amazingly enough, they believe you.
They believe you about this Jewish Messiah,
and with you they sit at his feet and learn.

You don’t know this man.
You don’t know that he just left Jerusalem,
that he left a confused Pharisee in the dark about this place called God’s kingdom.
You came at noon, expecting no one,
and in the brightness of the day you’ve found yourself filled.
In the days to come you will still have to come back to the well,
but you will go in the morning, with the other women.
They look at you differently now.
They no longer see the space where a husband ought to be,
but the space a prophet filled,
the place where there is something bubbling up inside you
like a spring of living water.

Come and see.

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