Sermon Archives

Sunday, March 19, 2017
The 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
God's Living Water - Forgiveness, Redemption, Embrace

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I don’t why she’s come now, at mid-day, in the heat of the sun to draw water, but here she is.  Perhaps she feels ostracized by her community because of some notorious sin and can’t face the other women at the morning hour, so she comes daily at noon to avoid the talking crowds.  But it’s just as likely that he’s come today at noon, because this is her first chance – perhaps she as a sick son or daughter at home, who’s just fallen asleep after a long, torturous night and now’s her chance to refill the water jars.  Perhaps, she has failing mother or sister she is looking after, and has two families of worth of water to carry, and so this is her second, long draught of the day.

What I do know is this:  it’s hot.  It’s the noon day in the late spring or early summer in Israel, and that means it’s hot.  No one wants to be drawing water right now, now is the time to rest in the shade.  And so, while we don’t know why she’s come at this odd and off hour, we can assume one thing – things aren’t right for this woman.  Perhaps its shame, perhaps its worry, perhaps it’s a life that is too burdensome to manage, whatever the reason, she’s come at the height of the noonday sun to do a wearying task in what is likely an already wearying situation; one more burden upon many others.

And while none of us has to draw water under the hot noonday sun any longer, we do know the feeling of weariness.

We know the feeling of being weary after a long, hard day.  It might be in the garden or yard or around the house, or it may be at work, or with the kids, but we all know the weariness that comes for putting our shoulder to some hard work for the bulk of a day.  We know the weariness of schlepping our kids from here to there and back again, while making a healthy dinner, and helping with homework, and folding endless laundry.  We know, too, the weariness that comes with the demanding professions whose email is both our morning alarm and our bedtime reading.  These are the complexities of human life, and they are exhausting.

Even more, however, we know the weariness that comes with the brokenness of human life.  We know the weariness that comes with the age-old questions of the human heart and soul:  am I good enough, smart enough, attractive enough? Am I worthy of love (broken and sinful as I am)?  Will you still love me when I fail you, when I hurt or betray you?  What about when I stop producing, when I stop giving to you as I once did – will you love me then?  What am I when all that I’ve been begins to fail:  what am I when my body begins to fail, or my mind no longer works the way it once did, or my youthful beauty fades. 

Sure, we don’t know the noonday sun of Israel, but we do know weariness, human weariness, don’t we?  

Now, sometimes in our weariness it’s all we can do to keep on keeping on; to do whatever the next task is simply to get through the long, withering day or night.  Sometimes we don’t have the time or energy for long questions or new tasks, we just have to get it done.  And so, none of us would be surprised if the woman simply poured out some water for Jesus and went on her way – we’ve all done it ourselves. 

But we also know that, sometimes, in our weariness we realize that something’s not working and that, try as we might, what we’re doing isn’t fixing it; it may not be getting worse, but it’s not getting any better either. 

It seems to me that’s where this woman is.  For whatever reason, she’s drawing water at the noonday when no one wants to be drawing water, but she knows that the thing she really needs isn’t at the bottom of that well!  She knows intuitively, that water, essential as it is, is only part of her need; she may not know the solution, but she knows the problem is more than simply an empty water jar. 

Jesus knows this, too.  In fact, it’s perhaps the greatest thing that Jesus knows – that what we need isn’t simply water which sustains life, but something much more fundamental that gives life.  And what is it that is so fundamental that God himself must provide it:  forgiveness, redemption, restoration, healing, worth.  Of course, these are all Love by another name.

Let’s go back, just for a moment, to the story itself.  On the surface of it is both odd and remarkable.  It ends with the woman abandoning her water jar – the original purpose of her journey! – to go back to the city to tell her community to come and see!  And what caused such a bold and abrupt act?  On the surface of it, nothing really.  She’s got no water to show for her journey, she’s still thirsty, she still has jugs to fill and haul back to town, and she’ll have to go back tomorrow . . . All Jesus did was speak to her and confess that he knows she has had five husbands and is now living with a man who is not her husband.

Yet, in that exchange, she realized something – she wasn’t entirely sure, but she suspected something profound – that in that encounter she had encountered the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen one of God.

What was it?  It wasn’t a miracle, it wasn’t the holy mountain or a heavenly voice, and it wasn’t that her life was made perfect.  No, none of that is what matters to God.  In this encounter, all the things that separated her from others, and perhaps even from herself – the shame of her life situation that may have separated her from other women in her community, an economic divide between herself, one who must draw water and this travelling foreigner who has followers who seek out food for him, the gender divides that separated women from men, the  racial and ethnic and religious tensions that divided Jews and Samaritans, and the educational divide that would prevent an uneducated women from approaching let alone engaging in conversation with a rabbi – each and every one of these barriers was torn down. 

She was worthy.  What sin she had committed, it didn’t prevent this man from talking to her, engaging her, valuing her.  Whatever social stigma existed that would prevent a woman from talking to a man, an un-educated person from discussing faith with a rabbi, or a Jew receiving help from a Samaritan – none of that existed for this foreign man from Nazareth.  For this brief time, none of the divisions of her world mattered.  Through this brief encounter, she understood that she was, in fact, forgiven and redeemed; for a brief moment she knew her eternal worth.  For but the briefest of moments, she had dipped her feet in a river of fresh, living water, and she came to know a relief she had perhaps never known before. 

Friends, what we do today is not about religion, it’s about dipping our feet into this same, fresh, living water.  Already, you have heard, not merely with your ears I pray, but also with your hearts, among the most important words you will hear this week and this year:  you are forgiven.  No matter what brokenness or hurt you have caused in the past, be it this week or 5 or 50 years ago, that is not who you are.  Whatever harm you have done, to yourself, your spouse, your children, or the world – you are forgiven.  In God’s eyes, in God’s heart, you are redeemed!

And in just a few minutes, you will have a chance to come to the well of life yourself.  As you come to the altar, as you stretch your hands, know what is being offered to you.  Know that all those barriers that we put up that separate us from others, from ourselves, and perhaps even from God, are torn down here.  Race, creed, gender, wealth, education, sin, beauty, youthfulness or age, health or and illness, productivity, goodness, and worth (and I’m sure the list goes on and on); all of these are torn down by the One who is God, Jesus the Christ, who proclaims one simple and eternal truth: you are forgiven, you are received, and you are embraced by God.