Sunday, March 19, 2017
Third Sunday in Lent
In today’s gospel the Samaritan woman asks Jesus for water, an image of our thirst for God. Jesus offers living water, a sign of God’s grace flowing from the waters of baptism. The early church used this gospel and those of the next two Sundays to deepen baptismal reflection during the final days of preparation before baptism at Easter. As we journey to the resurrection feast, Christ comes among us in word, bath, and meal—offering us the life-giving water of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Prayer of the Day
Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the rock in the wilderness
Romans 5:1-11 Reconciled to God by Christ’s death
John 4:5-42 Baptismal image: the woman at the well
Sermon: Our Thirst-Quenching Savior
Imagine yourself the greatest outcast of the only hometown you’ve known. Imagine being cut off from all social interactions with any of your neighbors. Imagine a load of shame and rejection too great to bear. So distance is created from the ones who are the closest. Walls that isolate are built where there should be windows and doors to interact freely. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine the world of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well that day.
Last week Nicodemus met Jesus in the dark of night, hiding from his fellow Pharisees who would have criticized him going to the controversial teacher. This week, Jesus meets the woman at that well in the blaring sunlight of noon day. Like Nicodemus, she is hiding from those who would criticize her. But she hides under the cover of the bright sun. For the women of the city would have been at the well in the cool of the morning. They would have gathered there to collect enough water for the day so that they could avoid the oppressive heat of midday. They also would have gathered for the morning news, the morning gossip. It was the View, the Chew, and the Real, all rolled into one social interaction. This was prime time for building relationships, connecting with neighbors, and community organizing.
But the woman that Jesus met did not go in the cool of the morning. She didn’t want to encounter that gathering of women, because she was probably one of the main subjects of their gossip. She was judged harshly and criticized whether she was present or not. Why subject herself to such ridicule? She might even have to face one of the women whose husband she stole, or borrowed. So her daily routine takes her to the well at noon.
And it is precisely at noon that Jesus takes a seat at the well. Surely he knew that he wouldn’t find the greatest gathering there at that hour. Surely he knew there would just be one or two stragglers there. The shepherd always knows where to find the lost sheep. Jesus asks for a drink, but it is he who satisfies this woman’s deep, deep thirst.
It’s not easy going down. He confronts her with her painful truth. But he doesn’t criticize like the rest of the community does. He doesn’t judge like her accusers do. He satisfies her thirst like only he can. He welcomes her like only he can. He speaks words of peace and life as only he can. For this Jesus who is speaking to her is the Messiah, the promised Christ of God.
The recently freed Hebrews were pretty thirsty themselves. In this morning’s reading from Exodus these former slaves are so thirsty in the wilderness that their oppressive past, enslaved in Egypt is looking pretty good to them. They’re ready to go back. This freedom thing is quite challenging. But with a strike of the very stick that parted the waters of the Nile and brought them to freedom, God delivers water from a rock. God answers their question: “Is the Lord among us or not?” with a satisfying stream of thirst quenching water.
In the ancient church, Lent was the time that catechumens were preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. There were fasting and studying in preparation for this blessed event. They were learning of our new life in Christ through baptism and they longed for satisfying pool. They saw the community of believers and they were thirsting to be a part of it. This story of the woman at the well must have given them a patron saint for their Lenten journey to the bath that would see them plunged into this life giving water of Christ so that they might never be thirsty again.
Where is your thirst this morning? Is there something that keeps you separated and even rejected from a community – be it family or friends, professionals or politicals? What journey has you dry mouthed and wondering “Is the Lord with me or not?” What promises of God do you need to hear anew so that peace might be yours, trust might abound, faith increased? What would help you respond to the psalmists’ plea: Oh, that today you might hear God’s voice?
It is so hard in the wilderness in which we are journeying. We hear the cackling of the judges around us. We see the fingers pointing. We feel the rejection. We are isolated by the shame that others inflict. We know we are not alone in our thirsting, as refugees and immigrants, homeless and unemployed, as racial and sexual minorities all cry out for satisfaction in the midst of their wilderness wanderings. As all ask the question “Is the Lord with me or not?” For many the thirsting is so profound that they ask the question “Is there a Lord who satisfies?”
But we are here. We know to stubbornly return to the well daily. Even in the scotching heat of noon day, under the bright light of God’s truth. We come to meet the one who tell us everything we’ve ever done, and who (in spite of all that) also tells us that we are loved. We keep coming back to the rock from which water flows. We come back to dip our finger in the pool that we were baptized in so as to remind ourselves of the promises that God made to us. To hear again that name that we were given – child of God. To once again drown our sinful selves so that a new creation might rise dripping wet from those living waters. To touch the waters that give us meaning, give us connection, that give us life.
And we see that these living waters of God made known through Jesus Christ – the one who is the well and the gushing rock – offers profound and life changing satisfaction. See the woman who could not bring herself to draw water from the well with the other women, now runs to tell her neighbors of this man Jesus. Embraced by the water-bringer, refreshed with Christ’s gift of mercy and grace she throws off her shame and isolation and does the work of an evangelist – telling the Good News.
From Saint Paul, in his letter to the church in Roman, we see that the one who once boasted about his obedience to the law, the perfection that he tirelessly worked to achieve, yet left him thirsty for a deeper relationship with God; now is satisfied and so boasts of the justification that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. This Jesus who reconciled the Samaritan woman to who neighbors, who reconciles us to one another; is the one reconciles us to God. This is the life that we are baptized into. This is the font that springs with living waters. This is the rock who gushes with water that satisfies our thirst as we journey in Jesus name.
Whoever you are – come to the well. However rejected – come to the well. However discouraged – come to the well. However feeling abandoned – come to the well. Drink, wash, splash, play, drown even, and rejoice – for the Lord is among us. Today, hear God’s voice say: “Welcome. Be satisfied. You are loved.”
The Rev. Mark Erson