John 4:4-30, 39-42
I am in my 8th year of being Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church.
That means you all have put up with me for nearly 8 years!!!
I’d say, that’s amazing, and thank you.
In all seriousness, there are real positive things about serving an active church in the same community for nearly a decade.
For one thing, we have gotten to know one another very well.
I trust you.
I know you.
I think you trust me.
You can’t help but know what makes me tick by now.
We love each other.
And, how couldn’t we?
We have been and still are involved in front line ministry together—ministry to the homeless, the least, the lost.
It’s amazing stuff.
Another cool thing about pastoring the same church for so long is that you really get to know the community.
For instance, so often, when I see some folks walking on an overpass or holding up signs by the road which say: “Will work for food,” I recognize them as someone who has been ministered to by this church.
I sometimes know them by name.
I know some of the things they are going through in life.
I know a bit of their story.
Perhaps they used to receive meals from us when they lived at the Superior Creek Lodge.
Maybe they still receive meals from us every Monday evening.
They might come to our small food pantry on a fairly regular basis, or we have put them up in a hotel room or have helped them in some other ways.
And they know us as well.
That doesn’t mean that they necessarily come and worship with us—but wouldn’t it be great—but they know this is a church that accepts them for who they are.
They know we are here when they need us.
They know we love them.
This is a place that Jesus does ministry out of, because…because…Jesus is doing ministry through you!!!
I hope people know…
…it is my prayer that this community will know more and more and more that they are not here for us, but we are here for them!!!
You folks prove over and over again that everyone is welcome in this congregation—and everyone is more than welcome to become as involved in the ministries of this church as they would like…
…and whoever becomes involved will be loved, treated with dignity—they will fit right in.
That’s what ministry in Christ’s Church is supposed to look like.
This church has to be involved in its community.
We have to reach out.
You know why?
Because that’s what Jesus does.
And we are following Jesus.
As we follow Jesus in John Chapter 4 this morning we come face to face with a person in great need.
And Jesus reaches out to this person.
Jesus offers this person new life.
Jesus calls this person.
And His call changes not only her life, but the lives of nearly everyone in her town.
But you know that by the cultural standards of His day—Jesus shouldn’t even have been at Jacob’s well in Samaria on that hot day.
Of course, our Gospel Reading begins with this: “Jesus had to go through Samaria…”
And that is only because Jesus is God.
God is Love.
And God goes where there are people who need Him.
Most Jews went “around Samaria”—they didn’t go through it.
Samaria was a dangerous place.
Jews were hated there.
Samaritans were apt to mug them, attack them or worse if they walked into their territory and along their streets.
And Jews didn’t like Samaritans either.
The two races hated each other.
So, in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”
Is there any place you have to go through even though you could more easily avoid it, go around it or completely ignore it?
Close to 20 years ago when HIV and AIDS were much more taboo than they are today, I felt God calling me to get to know the people living in an old hotel in Macon, Georgia which had been renamed “The Rainbow Center.”
It was a place for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS.
The majority of the folks had been prostitutes.
Some of them were people who had been disowned by their families due to their lifestyles.
I remember one man, he was mentally challenged, always had a great big smile on his face.
He had contracted HIV from being raped.
I started my relationship with this community by going and eating lunch at the Rainbow Center every Friday afternoon.
Before long, some of the members of the church where I was associate pastor started to come with me.
One guy started driving the church van down to the Rainbow Center every Sunday and bringing a van full of folks to this Upper Middle Class church every Sunday.
One woman in the church took particular interest in one man, named John, whose family had disowned him.
And when John went to the hospital with full-blown AIDS she stayed at his bedside day and night.
He went into a coma, and she would sit and read to him.
We were sure that he was a goner.
He seemed to have given up.
And then one day John opened his eyes and smiled at this wonderful saint of God who might as well have adopted him as her own.
John ended up joining the church and lived for several more years.
To follow Jesus, to be the Body of Christ, is to let Jesus be the light in our darkness and to ourselves be the light in the darkness of the world.
And we can’t do that unless we go there ourselves.
And as we do, we find Jesus is there with us.
When Jesus got to the city of Sychar, He felt tired and sat down near a source of water called Jacob’s well.
It was the middle of the day—when the sun was the hottest—and a woman came out to get some water.
This was actually an unusual thing.
Most people would go get water in the morning or in the evening rather than in the heat of the day.
But here she was.
And she was all alone.
Where were her friends?
Where were the other women from town?
Could it be that this woman lived on the margins?
Could it be that she was an outcast?
Could it be that she was the person that everyone else in town gossiped about, laughed at, scoffed at?
Was she bullied by her peers?
Over and over again, we see Jesus searching and finding those who are the outcastes, the marginalized, the folks who most people don’t want to associate with.
And what Jesus does when He finds these folks is He invites them into relationship—He offers them hope, love and new life!!!
The Samaritan Woman at the well must have been really startled or shocked to see a man at the well that day, and not only a man—but a Jewish man!!!
It’s likely that she had spent her life being used by men.
One of her thoughts may have been: “Oh No, here’s another man coming to take something from me.
Why else would he be here?”
Perhaps that is why she seems so astonished that all Jesus does is ask her for water.
Now, the rule of social behavior didn’t jive with men having a conversation with a woman.
I know it’s a bit hard to relate to in this day and age, but in Jesus’ day women were the property of men.
It was accepted far and wide that having a conversation with a woman was a “waste of time,” and there was a contemporary debate between men as to whether or not women even had souls.
To top this off, of course, is the fact that Jesus was a Jew and the Woman at the Well was a Samaritan.
Verses 7 and 9 read: “Jesus said to her, ‘Give me some water to drink.’”
“The Samaritan woman asked, ‘Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)
And then Jesus does something even more remarkable—He suggests that she should be asking Him for a drink.
He says that if she were to do so, He would give her “living water.”
Of course, that kind of freaks her out.
Do you know the literal meaning of “living water?”
Living water is running water, like in a brook or river.
It’s fresh water—it’s teeming with life.
The water in the well was not “living water.”
It was stagnant water.
So, the Samaritan woman probably thought Jesus was some kind of a kook when He offered her living water.
“Sir…” she politely and perhaps cautiously says, “Where would you get this living water?
You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you?
He gave this well to us…”
Then Jesus continues to offer her this different kind of water—living water that will “become a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
Of course, Jesus is not talking about water at all.
And the woman doesn’t know this at the moment.
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is talking about a spring which takes root in the soul of a person, bringing them salvation…not only in this life…but also in the life to come.
It gives people the strength, not only to get outside of the shell that has imprisoned them…
…it also provides us with the resources we need in order to minister to other people—to take food to the homeless, to love the unloved, to live this life to the full, to share the Good News of the Kingdom.
And although the woman doesn’t understand exactly what Jesus is talking about or Who He is—she asks Him: “Sir, give me this water.”
Jesus initiated a relationship with a woman from an enemy race…
…a woman who had probably never met someone—especially a man--who just wanted to be with her for her—not for some ulterior motive…
…not for what He could get from her…
…and He let her know that He knew her completely…
…sins, mistakes, warts, things she was ashamed of and all—and He loved her just the same.
She had never experienced such a wonderful thing.
First she calls Jesus a prophet.
And then, following a pretty in-depth theological conversation—the woman says “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ.”
And when Jesus tells her that He is the Christ and He has arrived, her moment of revelation and transformation takes place!!!
She immediately puts down her water jar—no longer caring why she had gone to the well in the first place.
All her priorities change.
She finds a new reason for her life and a new mission and she rushes back to the city where she has been so abused and ostracized—no longer concerned about what the people think or say about her.
And after the woman goes telling everyone she can find about this Christ at the well—“the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them…”
He stayed for two days, and “many more believed because of his word,” exclaiming: “this [man] is truly the savior of the world.”
That’s what happens when Jesus offers and we drink His “Living Water.”
It bubbles up to eternal life!!!
As followers of Christ, we are called to take the time to get to know people…not pre-judge them.
We are called to break down the barriers—not build more…
We are called to be Christ to this world—to this city no matter their race, class or social standing…
…no matter how sinful we may perceive them to be…
…and in doing so we will truly be living what we pray…
…that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
As we come together in Communion with God and one another, let us remember who we are and Who we are called to follow.
And in following, may we leave this place today with a renewed sense of our need to reach out in love and mission to the people of this community who so need to know that Jesus loves them.
He has not forgotten them.
And neither have we.