Message for the fourth Sunday in Lent,
March 19, 2017
Based on John 4: 5-42 The Samaritan Woman
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips bear witness to the good news of Jesus and to the power of his life giving and holy conversations in our stories from scripture this day. Amen
For this morning's reflection, I have some questions for your consideration:
When was your most recent life-altering conversation with Jesus? Who was there with you and what happened? Did the conversation happen by the dark of night or by the heat of the noonday sun? Who was changed as a result of the conversation? Was it you or was it Jesus? What looks different in your life and in the life of the world as a result of that holy conversation?
These are all questions that came to my mind as I moved through the journey of preparing for our reflection this morning.
I say 'journey' because the time it takes to prepare the reflection for Sunday morning is a journey or a pilgrimage of a sort - something like a mini version of our Lenten pilgrimage only squished together in 7 day sound bytes. With that in mind, I have come to realize there are some assumptions I need to shake off in that preparation.
The first assumption I had to shake off was that I was done with the story from Nicodemus' conversation with Jesus we reflected on last Sunday. However, as I came to the preparation of listening deeply to this morning's story from scripture-the story of the unnamed woman at the well (a.k.a. “The Samaritan Woman”) and her conversation at the well with Jesus, I came to see that Nicodemus’ story was not yet done with me.
Hindsight being 20-20, I suppose this morning's story of the woman’s conversion will continue to sit with me through the coming week with yet another story of encounter and conversion coming in next week’s readings. Following on from there, I also expect to be changed by the story of Lazarus’ rebirth on the fifth and last Sunday of Lent.
My second assumption is that I am not on this journey alone and that we are all travelling along that rugged road together.
My third, and last assumption this morning is that each of you are also on a journey with me this season and as such, have taken on or let go a sacred practice for the season. For example, some of you might have taken on the challenge of praying for our church during this year.
Others of you may have taken on the task of exploring more fully our Lenten Appeal this year. Still others of you may have decided to attend one of the two weekly community bible study sessions being offered by the other clergy in the wider community this season.
Or, maybe you’ve taken it upon yourselves to enter deeply into the discipline of praying over the names on our prayer list in the News and Notes; said 'yes' to lighting the Christ Candle and the global candle of concern in silence this season; or even have risked saying 'yes' to the placement of our Lenten symbols on display on our communion table each week of the season of Lent.
If this morning is the first you are joining us or if you are not in the habit of taking up a practice or letting one go for the season of Lent, this good news for today is this: There's still time to sign on for any one or all of these practices as we are now only at the midpoint of our journey to the cross with Jesus for this year!
Indeed, there is still time to consider what goal your governance team might prepare for sharing at the leadership event here at Knox on Saturday, April 8th. If that's not what's calling to you, there is still time to sign up for the workshop on amalgamation taking place at Crossroads United Church that same day. And, of course, there's still time to attend one of the Lenten Luncheon Lecture series presentations hosted by our Exploring Faith team here for the next three Thursdays!
Last but never least, there's one opportunity each week to read the scriptures on offer in advance of Sunday so as to add meaning and colour to your faith journey this Lenten season. With that in mind, let us turn to the reading itself.
Like last week, our reading from John's gospel today brings another example of a holy and life-altering conversation between Jesus and a familiar biblical character. Like last week, our character is changed or we might say she's 'converted' as a result of this holy conversation. However, there are some distinct differences between what happens to each of them.
Last week, we recall Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, esteemed religious leader, who seeks him out by the dark of night leading to their private conversation about being born again. Set in the epicenter of religious and political power in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the importance of two such men meeting for serious conversation required some considerable confidentiality. We recall how Nicodemus is changed by this conversation with Jesus in gradual ways. We recall how he later advocates for Jesus for a fair trial and how still later, he goes to the hill at Golgotha with his friend, Joseph of Arimathea, with spices for Jesus' burial after his brutal death on the cross.
Gradual as his behavioural shift is, Nicodemus continues still to offer a worthy example of conversion as a model for our own faith journeys even to this very day.
By contrast, this morning's conversion story takes place at high noon just outside a dusty village as a lonely woman comes to draw water from an ancient well dating back to the time of Jacob in a region known as Samaria. Hardly, the epicenter of religious or political power, we might call Samaria the hinterlands of the region-a location of longstanding danger and hostility towards the likes of Jesus and his disciples. It is a region thought to be populated by those needed avoiding or shunning at all costs.
We might well wonder what it is that has brought Jesus to return home from Jerusalem by this road? Happenstance? Coincidence or a deliberate and conscious choice?
Who knows? What we do know is that he is here alone sitting by the well, a place where men might go to meet women, a place where we might expect romantic liaisons to occur (think Moses and Sephora, Jacob and Rachel, for example).
Here today, however, we find Jesus seeking out water from none other than this, the Samaritan woman. And who is she exactly? Well, clearly, she is a person of no status.
The story tells us she is an unattached woman, a person without family or other means of support. She is identified as one marginalized because of her circumstances, especially as one coming to the well when no one else from the village is around. We might say an identifying marker for her is her watering jug and her sense of isolation. But all that will soon change.
Did the Samaritan woman imagine Jesus a potential suitor? Perhaps that's what the disciples thought when they find her there with Jesus; but that would be making unnecessary assumptions, yes?
Whatever the woman's initial thoughts, her conversation with Jesus moves quickly from his simple, concrete, and pragmatic request for a drink of water to a much deeper and meaningful, holy conversation about God's cleansing and life giving water that brings healing and wholeness.
This holy conversation between the two not only affirms the woman as a worthy individual, it also makes space for Jesus to reveal himself as the 'I AM', the one sent from God, the longed-for Messiah, the Christ.
It is most interesting to me that Jesus chooses to name his own vocation here in this most hostile of territories and to an unnamed woman no less! A woman long used to being shunned by her own people.
Unlike Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman's conversion is anything but gradual.
Rather, her conversion is swift and her response to him immediate.
The woman’s previous marker of identity, the water jug sits now sits desolate at the well site as the unnamed woman runs back to her village to proclaim what she has seen and to invite others to ' come and see' what she has experienced through Jesus.
From there, the story shifts as Jesus enters into another holy conversation, this time with his disciples. Reminding them they are not the only ones called to bear witness to the living, loving God, Jesus reminds them that the harvest has ripened this very day in the region of Samaria. With that, we are told Jesus is warmly welcomed into the community for further holy conversation, all this ensuing from the one with the Samaritan woman.
Coming full circle from where we started this morning, we return to the questions of who Jesus is for us and who we are for Jesus.
Let us continue, then, to ponder how our stories from John’s gospel might continue to inform our own experiences of gradual or immediate conversion and how we choose to respond to the challenge of bearing witness to the presence of Jesus in our lives as a wellspring of living water.
As our Lenten journey continues to unfold we give thanks for our stories from scripture.
Thanks be to God and may it be so, amen!