This is part of a backlog of sermons that I have written since our collective social distancing and self-quarantine due to COVID-19 began in earnest on Sunday, March 15. This sermon and each one that follows are also recorded on Facebook live @Our Savior’s South Hadley MA.
Artist: Jorge Cocco Santangelo
I thought I would be giving this sermon to you in person, but here we are. This sermon is one of many things I’ve had to re-write this week.
This Lent is going to be an unprecedented journey, and all I ask is that you be patient and gracious with us. We are all human, and none of us has lived through something like this before. While you may find our actions extreme, trust that we are acting on the latest information and doing the best we can. Also understand that we are human. None of these decisions was easy. We are all tired, all stressed, all hurting. There is currently no guidance for what church leaders should do; we simply did what the majority of churches our size are doing today. Those who are not closed this week will very likely be closed next week.
And now the good news. That’s what Lutherans might call a sermon.
“God on the Way.”
Today, we continue with our Lenten theme of journeying with the woman at the well. The story is meant to be in contrast with Nicodemus. He met Jesus by night; she meets him by day. He gets a name; she doesn’t. He is an important religious leader; she is a Samaritan, one of “those” people. He’s confused by Jesus’ riddles; she comes to believe and tell others. By the end of the story, Nicodemus will be a believer himself, because, like we discussed last week, “The Son did not come into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:17, the best verse in the Bible, in my estimation, which is naturally just after the most quoted one.
The first week of Lent, we talked about the journey to find our identities — who we are, and who we will be in these times. Last week, we talked about Nicodemus and the journey for knowledge.
The woman at the well isn’t trying to figure out who she is. She’s not looking for knowledge. She’s not even looking for Jesus.
She comes looking for water.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us are doing that these days. We’re looking for water so that we can wash our hands. We’re also, incidentally, looking for hand sanitizer and toilet paper and groceries.
If you’ve started panic buying anything, stop. Notice the woman at the well didn’t drain it. We’re all in this together.
Like the woman at the well, when we venture out these days, we’re on a journey for what we need. On that journey to find what she needs — water — she finds what she didn’t know she needed, Jesus. God, as always, was on the way.
Like many people, I’ve been venturing out much less in recent days. When I do go out, it’s on that journey to find what I need, like food, or exercise, or community, or work.
In thinking about the woman at the well, I’ve noticed something: that if I know how to look, I rarely come back with only the thing that I needed in the first place. I go out to exercise nearly every day. Rarely to I come back with only a workout. At the gym, there’s much needed community and advice. On the running trails, there has been beautiful weather, and this beautiful Valley we live in always greets me kindly and rewards me with her beauty for coming out of the house to see her. A trip to the Big Y for food will often yield the kindness of strangers, or a much needed smile.
And then there’s you. A pastor’s life is a funny one, because our church community is also our workplace. You make things less confusing by your sheer kindness, your humor, and your sense of fun. I come here seeking what I need — work, and a purpose — and I leave with new memories of how funny, how smart, and how wonderfully logical and practical and kind you are. I leave with a renewed hope in humanity after spending far too long with my face in social media feeds where people seem only concerned about their own health and safety.
You’ve restored my faith in humanity and in the church more times than I can count, and we will be back together soon enough, healthy and whole.
“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.”
She was just coming to get some water from the well. There was a man there, but she didn’t pay much attention to him. She could tell that he was a Jew, and she knew all too well what Jewish people thought of Samaritan people, and vice versa. So she did what we all do when we see someone who’s one of “them” — we stick to our business. She dips her bucket in the well.
Then he speaks.
“Give me a drink.”
I wonder what she thought in that moment. “Get it yourself?,” maybe? Or maybe she’s just flummoxed. That’s what her response indicates. Because she knows that no good Jewish boy is gonna go drinking from a Samaritan woman’s bucket.
She points this out to him.
He responds, “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.”
She looks him up and down. “You ain’t got no bucket. Where you getting water from?”
He keeps talking about living water. She’s convinced. Without any sign, without any miracle, she believes. She asks for the living water.
Then they have a brief exchange about her male companion. Long story short, he shows her that he sees her — really sees her. He doesn’t mention sin, because unlike people in our own time, she almost definitely didn’t choose to have five husbands, but was most likely the victim of divorce or, more likely, being passed from brother to brother as each subsequently died. Now she’s found a man to take care of her, but he isn’t her husband. Who knows why. That’s not the point. The point is that he sees her. Jesus does that a lot in John — tell people all about their lives before they tell him anything. It’s one of his coolest tricks.
“Okay,” she says, “I see you’re a prophet.” She points out the religious differences between her people and his, which are mostly geographical. She wants to talk theology. This wasn’t terribly common for a lady.
One day, he assures her, worship won’t be about geography. She says she knows the Messiah is coming. “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”
Then Jesus does the thing he does that English translators always seem to miss. He doesn’t say “I am he.” The real words are so much better.
He says, “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.”
I AM. In Hebrew, Yahweh. I am, as in “the great I am.”
“I AM is speaking to you.”
She comes to find what she needs — water — and she finds God on the way. Or I guess, more accurately, God finds her. She went to find water and met her maker instead, but in a good way.
Then she goes and tells her whole town, and they come to find him, and they believe. She, this nameless woman who just needed water, becomes the first preacher of the Gospel.
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
In John, the disciples are many more than just the Twelve. The disciples are the ones who believe. The disciples are the new kind of family that we talked about last week. And it’s this disciple, the woman at the well, who is the first disciple to utter Jesus’ key invitation: “Come and see.”
Her name is lost to history, but she is a saint in Christ’s church forever.
All because she went to find water.
Beloved, these days, we’re all keenly aware of what our bodies need. We need to wash our hands. We need to stay out of crowds. We need to not touch our faces. We need good food and water and exercise to boost our immune systems.
In Italy, where the outbreak is far ahead of our own, people are mostly only allowed to leave the house for essentials, like water or food. But one thing has happened. Italians have started singing out their windows.
They harmonize with their neighbors. They entertain passersby with national songs of pride and opera and songs about how they’re going to beat this virus together. And people who are on the way to get what they need experience this holiness in harmony.
May we do the same, providing kindness and beauty to one another along the way.
Let the woman at the well be your guide. Go and find what you need. Go about your business and take care of your errands. Go find what you and your family need, in the most mundane of ways. Take care of yourselves and watch over your health.
But don’t forget to look up, in the midst of all of this, and look for what is beautiful and holy. Look strangers in the eye. Take care of others. You never know who might be speaking to you, and you never really know where God might find you. Maybe in song, maybe in sunshine, maybe in the kindness of someone you know or the grace of someone you don’t.
On the journey to find what you need, be well aware that God might find you.
Make sure, like the woman at the well, that you’re ready, that you ask questions — that you talk back.
And, as we all go looking for water, often, to wash our hands, remember, as my colleague reminded me this week: Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.”
We are apart now so that we can be together later, and God is with us, on the journey, now and always.