“Crossing the Barriers”
John 4:5-26, March 15th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Third Sunday in Lent
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter four, verses five thru twenty-six.”
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
“Having listened to this ancient accounting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, let us consider how we interact with ‘others’ in our current society in which we live.”
“Crossing the Barriers”
Having to set our clocks ahead, last Sunday, left many of us needing to scramble to get up and get dressed while we rushed to get where we needed to be. Some of us, however, where late – while others of us – arrived early. Life around us, the situation, the setting… has shifted a great deal since last week. Now we are more fixated on the fast spread of this new illness named coronavirus! As we brace for the impact of it, we shall all need to take extra precautions to protect ourselves and each other. We implemented some simple commonsense changes at our worship service last Sunday. Less handshaking and more concern for the necessity to be conscious of honoring each other’s personal space… as we seek to limit the spread of germs from one to another. If we think we are coming down with flu like symptoms or even a cold, let us stay home and call our doctor for advice. None of us want to come down with the virus, thus it is essential that we each take precautions as best we can. Furthermore, this is a time when we truly need to pray, pray for others, especially those who are infected, and pray for all the health workers who are trying their best to help individuals and the general public through this international danger.
As we reflect on the state of the world all around us, let us now take this time to look toward our scripture lesson which comes from the writings attributed to the gospel account according to John. I stumbled upon this commentary writing from a theologian in the late Nineteenth Century. Rev. Barton W. Johnson, he was born in 1833, in a log cabin on a clearing in Tazewell County, Illinois. /Wikipedia/ During his years of teaching and preaching, he raised up an obvious point regarding the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans, at the time of Jesus, which sheds some light upon our gospel lesson for today. “The (hostility and dislike) between the Jews and Samaritans was so bitter that they were never inclined (to be welcoming to one another).” Simply put: “They didn’t care for one another and kept their distance! Rev. Johnson went on to say: “The (Samaritan) woman’s reply is not a refusal of (Jesus’) request, but an expression of astonishment that a Jew should ask a favor of a Samaritan.”
So right away we see that Jesus has crossed over that threshold of social boundaries of that time period. Stepped over this dividing line, smashed open the gate and stepped into a situation that puts him squarely into a position to compassionately reach out to her as the Messiah, the Savior, who shall fill her thirst for righteousness and salvation itself! We live in the Twenty-First Century and we still have these barriers between different ethnic groups, different social customs and traditions. We have seen a rise in tensions between those with differing views regarding the rights of women, especially when the topic of abortions come up. We see sharp divisions within political circles over human rights issues, especially when it comes to immigration practices. We have always had political diversity, yet social boundaries have been breached so sharply it is difficult to have a polite discussion on many of these topics, plus many more, with our own neighbors and even our own families. Oh yes, “Jesus we need you to come into our communities and our homes and help us relearn what it means to listen to others concerns; and to make it safe to once again drop the barriers, the hurdles and the stumbling blocks, which obstruct us from bringing you into all areas of our lives.”
Where do we go from here? Right back to basics is where we need to go. Jesus taught that we are to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. A great building block, a foundation stone that shall take us to new heights. Who should put the first stone in place? That is something we need to ask God about, yet, it didn’t appear that Jesus waited too long to start rebuilding. Jesus crossed over all the barriers the moment he spoke to the Semaritan woman at the well. One might wonder whether it was Jesus or was it the Semaritan woman who is truly thirsty in this scripture lesson, as they both have spoken about being thirsty. Jesus, having been traveling and waiting for his disciples was most surely in need of a sip of water to quench his human thirst. The woman even begins her conversation by pointing out how shocked she is that he dares to even speak to her, while she chastises him for coming to the well without a proper ‘bucket’ to draw up the water from the well! Yet, the divine Messianic essence of Jesus was speaking of the thirst for salvation which he clearly offers up for the woman to receive; which is a much more important aspect of this story; albeit the questions about barriers, prejudice and unresolved hard feelings between Samaritans and Jews was and still is a important conversation that we can and shall also address.
Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer puts forth an interesting and perhaps revolutionary observation about our text today. “What transformed this woman (this Semaritan Woman at the well) could transform our world. The woman at the well was despised by her village, which was also scorned by Judeans, whose ancestors had been humiliated by Babylonians. From generation to generation, humiliation, resentment, and violence were passed down by people keeping the score, so that they could seek to even the count. Jesus sets aside all score-keeping by treating all of us – as if we all were forgiven, he makes forgiveness possible – even for self-righteous sinners like us.” This scholar has dragged us into the center of the discussion regarding all the things which we as a church and most certainly as our denomination, the United Church of Christ, stand for! Social Justice is of what we speak! So, let us take a closer look at what is barely a scratch on the surface of this topic.
Thru the scriptures we are reminded that we are not the first to be forced into situations and conditions that are less than ideal. The Jewish nation was under the rule of the conquering nation of Rome. The Jewish leaders of the time, namely the Pharisees, the Sadducees, they were under pressure to stop, the gathering crowds, which were increasing in size because of the charismatic teachings of Jesus, combined with the miracles and the healings which Jesus was reported as having done. The pressure was building, and the ministry of Jesus was spreading quickly as he continued to teach and heal not only the hearts and souls of those who listened but for many, Jesus healed their very bodies. Frequently, Jesus was quoted as saying it is ‘your faith’ by which you are ‘healed’. As we face this new pandemic type virus, ‘right now’ we need to strengthen our commitment regarding our own faith, our own willingness to turn to God for help. It is times like these when our very faith may be the most durable and robust resource and strength we have! With doubt, indecision and insecurity in the air, let us remember whom it is we have been putting our trust in!
We are approaching our annual remembrance of the trials and tribulations of those who came before us. In so doing, we are called upon to remember the ministry of Jesus and his teachings. Teachings such as this one regarding the Semaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well. We are also called upon to remember how Jesus was treated by those who were entrusted to guard and protect the Old Testament writings that prophesized who the Messiah would be, and what the Messiah would bring to the people of God! Surely, they ought to have been the ones – raising Jesus up – and recognizing him as our Messiah! Yet, their hearts were hardened, and fear took over as Jesus was arrested, persecuted, and ultimately crucified for simply loving us with all his being!
As we go through these next few weeks we ought to be consoled as we recall what the first Easter morning brought! Just as the song from ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ an action-adventure disaster movie which reminds us: there always is “The Morning After!” Clearly, Easter is the morning after the disaster! This epic song, which punctuated the theme of the movie, was written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn and sung with such powerful emotion in that 1972 film! Let us be reminded: we too shall be greeted with the miracle of Easter; for there must always be, there always is: “The Morning After!” There is: just so long as we do not lose faith! Rather we must trust God as we do our earthly part in these coming days and weeks.
Our message today, which comes to us from our scripture lesson, is about salvation and righteousness, yet it is about so much more. Jesus breaking down the divides that keep us apart from one another and ultimately from God. It is about people reaching across the isles within our social structure to work together for the common good, led by the driving force of God’s love for humanity. This is our calling and our challenge! Truly, I pray we shall all seek God’s guidance, as we reflect on our own need to trust God more each day. Surely, we all thirst for a way through this difficult time. Take heart and have faith, a new day is coming! Allow your journey through these next weeks to bring you through the valleys of life. Truly, the mountain-top experience of being in the presence of the ‘Holy One’ is well worth the journey!