John 4:5-29 NRSV
With United Methodist Bishop William Willimon, I believe that the Bible is not so much an account of our search for God, as it is the amazing account of the extraordinary lengths to which God will go to search for us. Whether we know it or not, or can even begin to understand it or not, we are here this morning because we have been sought, we have been called, and we have been summoned. We are here because God has reached in, grabbed us, and led us here. We are here because God has pursued us. God is even now persuading, prodding and pulling us.
And I believe that the purpose of our worship is to condition us to pay attention to this, to admonish us to look over our shoulder, to help us to notice those little coincidences in our lives and those strange happenings.
For they may be a part of God’s continuing attempts to wrap God’s loving arms around us.
And these things, these coincidences, these strange happenings can occur anytime and in any place. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The Spirit of God, like the wind, blows where it will”—whether or not we’re ready for it, looking for it, or even want it.
So, it would behoove us to stay alert, look, listen, always pay attention.
I believe the woman in our scripture lesson this morning teaches us how to pay such attention.
That fact alone teaches us something about the way God works. In the male-dominated society in which Jesus lived, especially in the area of faith and religion, Jesus uses a woman to teach us theology. Talk about the spirit of God blowing where it will!
In Jesus’ day, mainline Jewish rabbis simply did not speak to women about faith. However, Jesus was anything buy mainline. But one who always, very radically and counter-culturally, valued women and men equally.
Which brings us to another surprise. She was not only a woman; she was a Samaritan woman. And we know what Jews thought of Samaritans. They were known as pagans and foreigners. They were victims of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry.
Here, the radical words of the Apostle Paul are being fleshed out: “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
During her conversation with Jesus (which, by the way, is the longest recorded conversation that Jesus ever had with anyone), we also discover that she carries the stigma of divorce, as she has been remarried several times.
And, of course, she is astounded that this man, a Jew, talks to her, a Samaritan. In her eyes, she’s the wrong gender, wrong race, wrong religion. Yet, Jesus meets her where she is. Jesus initiates a conversation with her. Jesus reaches out to her. Jesus engages her.
And of all places, at a well!
It is important to understand that she isn’t there for Sunday School. She isn’t there for the 8am or the 10:15 worship service. She’s not even there for CWF. She is there doing the most ordinary of everyday tasks. She’s simply drawing water.
So, the first thing this woman teaches us is that God speaks to us, God reaches out to us, and God engages us when we least expect it, where we least expect it, and how we least expect it. God comes to us, unexpectedly, undeservedly in the most ordinary of ways.
Jesus then begins to teach her about something called living water and then tells her that he knows all about her; all of her failures, all of her disappointments, all of her grief which has been so much a part of her life.
She then runs all the way back home to tell everyone, “Come! See a man who has told me everything. He can’t be the Messiah. Can he?”[i]
Willimon has said: “She—Samaritan, woman, husbandless—thus becomes the precursor, the very first of all of us later preachers. She was the first to run to tell everyone about Jesus.”
And all she meant to do that day was to go out and get a bucket of water!
And here is the amazing part. She didn’t all of a sudden understand everything about who Jesus. She didn’t run back home singing the Gloria Patri and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. She merely left her encounter with Jesus with a simple, but very profound question: “He can’t be the Messiah. Can he?”
“He can’t be the Messiah. Can he?” Do you hear it? Listen again, “He can’t be the Messiah. Can he?
No, it’s not the words of some religious fundamentalist who has it all figured out. It’s more like the words of a innocent child. “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”
Fifteen or so years ago, during the weeks leading up to Christmas, when my children would misbehave or fuss, when they were not looking, I remember making a fist and knocking on a wall or under the table.
Carson and Sara would immediately stop their fussing and ask, “Who is that? Someone’s knocking on the door.”
I’d get up, go to the door, open it, look around, and of course, not seeing anyone, I would shut the door and say: “It must have been Santa Claus! Don’t you know that this time of year he’s always watching?”
Sara Beth would say, “Nah uh! That wasn’t Santa Claus!” But a of second of silence later, she’d ask, “Was it?”
Can’t you hear it? Like an innocent child, full of surprise and wonder and an unbridled hope, the woman at the well said: “He can’t be the Messiah. Can he?”
Do you hear it?
With Willimon, I hear a playful openness, a light flickering in the dark, a wonderful willingness to consider that God was larger than her presuppositions of God. I hear a courageous willingness to be shocked, surprised, and intruded upon. I hear a thirst for something to quench a longing soul.
I believe this is the problem with us grown-ups, especially we modern, mainline, mainstream church-goers. We simply say: “That can’t be the Messiah…period!
There is no openness to the possible potential that it might be, may be, could be, probably is.
We are so smart. We have things so figured out, we never question, “Can it? Was it? Is it?”
Even when we are at church, in a Bible Study or in worship, there is no real expectation that Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world might actually show up.
To be honest with you, last Sunday, I was almost dreading coming to church. I was thinking: “Daylight Savings Time, Spring Break. Very few people are going to be at church today. And nothing good is really going to happen this Sunday.” I was also feeling a little disheartened that I had to make an announcement regarding our supplemental giving drive. Asking for more money makes me feel like I have perhaps failed at something.
The point is, last Sunday, when it came to church, I wasn’t feeling it.
But then, to my surprise, four people came forward during our final hymn asking to formally join the mission of our church to bless this community and world. One even offered to bless my family by taking us out to lunch after the service. And then, later in the week, I received a phone call with the news that someone believed in our church’s mission enough to make a sizable donation to be used anyway we believe God may be leading us.
And here it is, just one week later, and there’s this renewed, restored, replenished fullness in my soul. There’s this recommitment to share the love and grace of Christ with all people.
Now, I am aware many would say that those events were merely coincidences. Perhaps. However, as I have studied our scripture this week, like a light flickering in the dark, my heart has become open to the providential possibility that God was somehow involved. And the fullness that I feel in my soul is from this wonderful willingness to be shocked, surprised, and intruded upon by none other than the Messiah and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ himself.
Thinking on the words of the woman in our scripture this morning, I cannot help but to think: “It can’t be the Messiah. Can it?”
Can it possibly be that, here in this place last week, Jesus Christ was actually present? Could it be that he was coming to me through ordinary people, unexpectedly, undeservedly, bringing living water that quenches the deepest thirst of my soul.
Jesus, through this Samaritan woman, at the well, answers that question: “Yes, I am the Messiah. I am more alive and more present and more at work in this world than you ever thought possible. I am everywhere offering the wonder of living water, and those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
One of the greatest things about being a pastor is sharing not only times of immense joy with a congregation, like childbirth with the Weibling family this week, but also sharing times of immense sorrow, like with Charlie Heller last week.
I look around this room and see people here who have experienced much sorrow, so much in this past year. I am certain that even getting up this morning and getting to this place was an arduous task for you. Some of you have recently lost a parent, a sibling, a spouse. Some of you have lost a child. You all have lost dear friends. Some of you have been diagnosed with cancer. Some have had to make the difficult decision to place a loved one in a nursing home. Some are grieving broken relationships, broken dreams, broken lives.
And people, including me, look at you and are amazed. We say, “We don’t know how you are making it.”
And yet, somehow, some mysterious way, you are making it. At the very least, something or someone has given you the sustenance to make it to this place this morning to possibly hear a hopeful word.
I look at you with the wonder of a wide-eyed child. And I think of the wonder of that woman from Samaria, and I ask, “It can’t be the Messiah…can it? Can it?
Commissioning and Benediction
Now, let’s go and get out on the road
to encounter ordinary people doing the most ordinary of things.
They may be dining at a restaurant, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, learning in a classroom, waiting to see the doctor.
They may be the server in a restaurant, the clerk at the store,
the trainer at the gym, the teacher in the classroom, the nurse, the doctor.
Their gender, their race, their religion—it doesn’t matter.
They may be a victim of prejudice or a beneficiary of privilege.
Meet them where they are. Engage them. Listen to them. Bless them.
And may the eternal well of God’s love be found in our encounters.
May the grace of Christ shine brightly through us.
And may the Spirit be with us on every hill, every plain, and in every valley.
[i] If my memory is correct, the words of this sermon were originally inspired and gleaned from a sermon written by William Willimon, possibly entitled, Look over Your Shoulder, in 2005.