Sermon from March 27, 2011
Scripture provides us with countless wonderful stories. Sometimes, however, we miss the true treasure of these stories because we try to think our way through them instead of trying to step into the world the story shows us. As someone who stands up and preaches on a regular basis, I’ll be honest and admit that sometimes it’s the sermon that gets in the way of the story. I hope that doesn’t happen here today.
Today’s story speaks of Jesus, exhausted from traveling, sitting down next to a well. He meets a Samaritan woman there, and something life-changing happens. As we enter into this story together, I invite you to consider what this story might sound like if it were being told by that woman. To help us hear this story from that voice, I invite you to listen to it again, this time from the mouth of a woman:
To be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known—and Jesus does both for this Samaritan woman by the well. Entering into this story, we are invited into the same experience ourselves. I’d like to let this story surround you today by asking you to consider a few questions that I pray will draw you into this story without the sermon getting in the way.
Can you see yourself in this story? Can you see yourself meeting Jesus in this way? Some of us may be able to connect with her as a woman. That may be less of a connection for the males reading this. Maybe. I’m pretty confident that no one reading this is from Samaria and can connect wither her because she is a Samaritan. Are there any Samaritans here today? I didn’t think so.
Often, when we hear the word “Samaritan” it’s easy to think it refers to a good person; a kind person. We’ve all heard the story of the “Good Samaritan” and have probably used the term “good Samaritan”. In the Bible, however, a Samaritan was simply another ethnic group. A group that was generally excluded—on the outside—which is why Jesus made the good neighbor a Samaritan in that other story. For today, however, being a Samaritan was reason to be avoided and excluded.
So, what makes you a “Samaritan”? The Samaritan woman is surprised (I’d even say shocked) that Jesus asks her for a drink of water—that Jesus even interacts with her. She says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” and we read that Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. The message that she was used to was that who she was was not good enough, and there was nothing she could do about it. It’s just the way that the world was set up: with her on the outside.
What makes you a “Samaritan”? What are the ways that you feel that you are excluded? We sure have encountered plenty of ways that we exclude ourselves from one another. Perhaps it’s that separation of men and women—of gender. Perhaps it’s separation based on race or ethnicity or sexuality. Perhaps it’s your age: you feel excluded because you’re too young, or because you’re not young enough anymore. Perhaps it’s because you don’t live on the right side of the tracks. Perhaps you don’t have the right income. Perhaps you’re not strong enough or smart enough or healthy enough.
What are all of the things, beyond your control, that define you as being on the outside? What makes you a “Samaritan”? Think of all of them, and then realize the surprising, even shocking, truth that Jesus still comes to meet you at the well.
The surprise that this woman feels in the story actually goes beyond the reality that she is a Samaritan and a woman. As the conversation continues, it becomes clear that there is even more getting in the way and excluding her. There is more that comes not from the reality she was born into, but from the things that have happened during her life up to that point. We learn she has had 5 husbands and lives with one who is not her husband. Some see this as evidence that she was a sinful woman and call her a harlot (or worse), but her history (which is laid bare in the story) may be more about being abandoned and rejected, even mistreated. Jesus describes all of it to her: all of the things that cause her to be convinced that she personally is not worthy to be included—whether it was her own mistakes or harm inflicted by the world around her. Jesus describes it all to her—every bit of who she is. Jesus tells her all about herself.
I invite you to ask yourself today: If Jesus told you about yourself…what would it include? What are all the things about you that would be included? All the hurts, the mistakes, the sin, the shame. What are all the scars that you’ve picked up along the way that tell the story of who you are? Imagine all of those things, and then hear Jesus describing all of it to you. To hear the stuff identified may bring pain or fear. But as Jesus describes it, you can rest in the truth that Jesus knows you.
The good news of this story is that Jesus knows you—and to be known by Jesus is to be loved by Jesus. Jesus offers living water to you, just as you are, so that a new life—a new identity—can begin within you. The woman recognizes not just who Jesus is, but what Jesus offers: Jesus offers dignity. Jesus invites you to not be defined by your circumstances. Jesus offers you a new identity that lifts you above every other thing that tries to define who you are.
When the woman realizes that Jesus knows her and loves her, she drops everything to go back to the city to find the other Samaritans and tell them about Jesus.
I want to leave you today with two last questions to consider. The first one is Who are your “Samaritans”? Who should hear what Jesus has told you? Who should see what Jesus has shown you? Who should taste what Jesus has given you? Who should feel for themselves the forgiveness that you have received? More importantly, who is it that can now encounter Jesus because you have encountered Jesus? The Samaritan woman goes to other Samaritans. Who are the people that struggle just like you do, that are most likely to meet Jesus through you?
The final question is what does it mean for you to “go to the city”? What does it mean for you to run back to town? Where is God’s love for you compelling you to go today? As we experience the good news that God loves us, we are sent out to take that good news with us. We are sent back to town to share it with others just like us, who need to be known and loved—by God and by you. What does it mean for you to “go to the city”?
What’s great at the conclusion of this story is that all the woman did was share what she had experienced. She simple shared her own story—God does all the rest.
The other Samaritans who came to believe said to her, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” Once they hear for themselves, God does the work. It is not our amazing charm, wit, or sermons that make it happen. God does all the work. We simply tell our story so that others can come to the well and drink the living water for themselves.
Take this story with you today. It is not just the story of one Samaritan woman at a well—it is your story, it is our story. Let this story shape your life so that the story can reach others and bring them the living water that comes from the good news of the gospel. (Amen).