Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5-24; 39-42

Today is the third Sunday of Lent. Though we will not be able to worship together in our sanctuary, I want to offer a word to you.

Our gospel lesson is the story of the no-named Samaritan woman who comes to Jacob’s well and meets Jesus there. She is one of my favorites in all of Scripture, so I want to give her voice (or at least print). Perhaps you can imagine me speaking about her. As a matter of fact, I have titled this sermon: “A Story Worth Telling,” and indeed hers is.   

We all have our story – many little stories or excerpts – rolled into one giant story that spans a lifetime. And each of our stories is wonderful, unique, and precious, even when we are unaware, or it doesn’t seem to be spectacular in any way. There are triumphs and losses, comings and goings, joys and sorrows, fears and hopes – our many movements that lead us back to our true selves and our true home toward God. There is no question that this week will likely hold many stories for us – where we were, what we were doing, how we felt, how we managed to get through COVID-19 Coronavirus by God’s good grace.  

That the woman comes to the well alone in the middle of the day suggests that she wanted to avoid the crowd of other women who gathered during the early morning hours. She is isolated and detached. Sound familiar? She encounters Jesus who is sitting alone, thirsty with no bucket to draw water.   

“Give me a drink,” he asks her. [1] With these few words he reaches across gender, racial, geographical, cultural, and political boundaries and all the biases and prejudices that separate and divide. How is it that he, a Jewish rabbi, could be on public display in the middle of the day conversing with a Samaritan Gentile woman?  It would have been scandalous to say the least, the talk of the town, a gossiper’s dream, and I can imagine all the dirty little alternative facts that might have been thrown in for special effect.     

Perhaps she too is thirsty. Thirsty in the ways that life sometimes leaves us all: dry, parched, worn out and down, alone, and lonely. She stands in for all who thirst for more. Even Jesus would feel this in just a few more days when he hangs on the cross and whispers among his final breaths, “I thirst.” 

What could be more ordinary than water? What could be more necessary for human existence? And right there, in that moment, the doors to life swing open.   

Why would Jesus bother to go through Samaria at all given the complexity of the situation and shared hatred between the two cultures? Why not find another route or prepare ahead of time? Surely Peter, James, or John could have found a bucket for drawing water and would have gladly managed such minor details.  

But no, Jesus sends them on ahead and engages this woman on this ordinary but transformative day. He meets her where she is, where she lives, and in the reality of her human need. He asks for water because drawing water is what she does. It is what she knows. He neither condescends, condemns, nor tries to convert, but simply states his own conviction: water is available.   

“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… Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” [2]

And then, the woman said what each of us has likely said at some point in our own way (though we may not have fully understood at the time), “Give me this water.” [3] Like her, we simply need to ask and believe. 

She sets down her water jar in order to run back to the village and tell others the good news. The heavy water jar can represent all the things that we carry around but need to let go of in order to make space for ourselves and others.   

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” This man knows about her life. He knows about those five husbands. He knows everything and sees her completely as she is without judgment. He loves her and makes room for her.  

And let me just add a word about those husbands. Much has been written and discussed about them. Some seem to have an indelible proclivity to scandalize her.  It is likely in the context of those days that there could have been any number of reasons. What I know for sure is that five husbands for any reason represents a whole lot of risk and loss, grief and heartache. She knows what it is like to live in a man’s world and to be alone. We ourselves may be ready to judge her, but I caution against that. For she also shows us what it is like to be open to a new thing; to not be so afraid or so victimized that she will not try again. She gets what others miss. And that’s what makes her story so amazing and so worth telling.   

The gospel writer John makes a point to tell us that many believed her, though some would not. And I guess that’s just the way it is. Perhaps all they could see was that she is a woman, a Samaritan, a person who sits at the well in the middle of the day, an outsider shunned. But to me, she is among the most beautiful and most worthy of all proclaimers. She is me and she is you.       

What I am most clear about is God’s unwavering determination to love us all. It is God’s gift so beautifully displayed in Jesus Christ whose way breaks down all barriers and transcends ethnicity, geography, gender, tradition, culture, history, even religion – denominations, churches, synagogues, temples, everything.   

And here we are in this fine hour in which the world has slowed; this incredibly unchartered, anxiety-ridden, and fear-based moment that has arrested our attention in such a profound way. There are limitless opportunities to tell a new and fresh story about our shared humanity and who we truly are: people of faith, courage, sharing, and loving our neighbors.  

Sometimes, only a word or two, a gesture, a brief conversation, is the only thing needed to start something new. To let someone know that they are seen, heard, recognized, loved.   

This is our story and it is worth telling.

[1] John 4:7b
[2] John 4:10b, 13-14
[3] John 4:15a