The following sermon was to be preached in Jerusalem today (Sunday 15th March), however due to Coronavirus restrictions this was not possible.
Exodus 17:1-17 | Romans 5:1-11 | John 4:5-42
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer.
In our world we see divisions between and within communities: divisions in families caused by some argument which, left unresolved, is now a festering wound, damaging individuals and the whole family; divisions between the political factions of countries preventing leaders working together for the common good; divisions between nations caused by political, racial, or religious differences that have hardened into prejudice and the hatred that causes wars, terrorism, and oppression.
Within our own communities people get left on the edges because of their lifestyle, the disadvantages they were born with or the disadvantages that their life experiences have brought them. We may not actively create the division but something in us prevents us reaching out to them as valued members of our community.
In our reading from Exodus, the Israelites are camped out in the desert and thirsty. They turn, not for the first or last time, against Moses for his leading them there.
In Romans, Paul is offering encouragement to the church in Rome by reminding them that through Christ we have already “gained access” to God’s “grace in which we stand.” Grace signifies God’s life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. Grace continues to bring new and more abundant life into the world to and through Christ’s followers. By living Christ’s obedient life of faith and faithfulness in our own circumstances, we experience God’s life-giving grace that can bring us joy and peace at work, at home, and in every context of life.
In our Gospel reading, as Jesus meets the Samaritan woman we see him reaching out across the divisions of his world which are not so very different from the divisions of ours. Jesus shows us a way of love which draws people together, uniting them and restoring to fellowship the rejected and outcast.
There are several reasons why Jesus should ignore the Samaritan woman when she comes to draw water from the well where he is resting. Any other respectable Jewish Rabbi would have done so.
First of all, no Jewish Rabbi should even greet a Jewish woman in public and he certainly shouldn’t be getting involved in a long conversation with a Samaritan woman as Jesus does.
The division between Jews and Samaritans is deeply entrenched. John tells us, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”. In fact the differences between the two groups on theological and ecclesiastical matters had hardened over many years into overt hostility towards each other.
It also seems that this woman has a dubious reputation in her community otherwise she would have come to the well with the other women earlier when it was cooler. Perhaps her numerous husbands and present lifestyle have pushed her to the fringes of her society.
Her conversation with Jesus sends the woman back to her city in excitement to tell others about Jesus who she now believes may be the Messiah. Jesus has ignored the barrier between Jew and Samaritan and between men and women and has enabled this woman to reach out across the barrier between her and her community. Suddenly others want to hear what she’s saying and to discover for themselves who Jesus is. They too reach out across the religious divide and invite Jesus to stay with them. Their personal experience leads them also to believe that Jesus “is truly the Saviour of the world”.
Jesus tells the woman of God’s gift of living water, a gift that Jesus himself has received, the Holy Spirit, flowing through him, enabling him to reach out to others.
Jesus reaches out to the woman because the Holy Spirit takes no notice of religious or gender differences. With humility Jesus asks the woman for a drink and establishes a relationship with her in which he accepts her as she is; talks with her of the things they have in common (their ancestor, Jacob and the expected coming of God’s Messiah) and reveals to her that he himself is that Messiah.
This conversation and revelation fill the woman with a desire to reach out and share her news with others. The living water of the Holy Spirit takes no notice of reputations.
At our baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, the source of the living water that Jesus offers. What has happened to that gift within us? Perhaps we prevent the living water from flowing through us because we are afraid of other people, of rejection and of loss. Perhaps through prejudice and hate we have built a barrier to hold back the flow of the living water of truth and love.
If this is so we need to ask for healing and forgiveness so that the gift within us can be released and allowed to flow again. Reaching out to others as Jesus did requires courage, humility and the grace of God. We risk rejection, hurt, hatred and ridicule just as Jesus did. But it might also be that our reaching out is met by a shared willingness to receive, to reach out in response and to dismantle the barriers separating us from each other. Like Jesus, we could bring new hope for peace in our divided world.
South American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez in his book We Drink from our Own Wells writes:
The image of a well is used here because a spirituality is indeed like living water that springs up in the very depths of the experience of faith. John writes: “He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” The life signified in the image of water comes to us through encounter with the Lord: “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In these texts “living water” refers to the gift of the spirit that Jesus makes to his disciples. Drinking from one’s own well, then, is a “spirit-ual” experience in the fullest sense of the word. To have this experience is to live in the age of the Spirit and according to the Spirit.
If we knew the gift of God we would ask him and he would give us living water.
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.