July 20, 2014
Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
Gathering at the Well
Each morning, as the children arrived at Vacation Bible School this past week, they gathered here in our sanctuary. It was an awesome sight to behold! The decorations made the room look festive and colorful. There were the four tents named The Cloud, The Rain, The Wave and The Rainbow; and of course the ‘Well’ that the children built brick by brick during the week! As a back drop there was an ‘artistic creation’ of the earth showing off all the seas and all the water that covers the Earth. And of course, the large beautiful scene: with the colorful bow of the rainbow over everything! All in all it was a wonderful event filled with laughter, song, even a tear or two. Yet, mostly there were joyful activities that we all prayed filled their hearts and minds with a richer and more meaningful understanding of God’s Creation and the sacredness of water in so many and varied ways!
This event, this year’s Vacation Bible School opened up to all those that were involved there were many amazing moments. Even more amazing is that our leaders did not question their ability to accomplish their goals. Actually, they displayed a great deal of faith that they could, ultimately, get the job done! And they did, relying on God’s help and the good hard work of a team of willing volunteers! Their accomplishment cannot be understated! It was as magnificent as it was significant! Without question, they were “simply amazing!” Surely they realize that: “Our God is Amazing!” And our response must be: “Praise God!”
As the week progressed through the creation story, to Noah and the flood, then onward into the river Jordan, as Jesus was baptized, the amazing thing is that we were able to prevail thus get through the stormy seas as Jesus stilled the waters. By the time Friday arrived we were all ready to hear the invitation thus learning all about the woman at the Well from our scripture lesson today. As we begin to delve into the meaning of the Samaritan woman at the Well… we can only imagine how refreshing that cool water from the Well must have been for Jesus, as he completed his journey from Galilee that day; perhaps much like all our dedicated and loyal volunteers felt after having prevailed through Sunday’s set up, Monday’s registration, and then ever onward till we gathered at this symbolic Well here in our Sanctuary today!
When we consider the ancient culture, that Jesus lived in, we find that what is really amazing about the story is that Jesus asked to receive the water from this Samaritan woman. You see, at that time in history Samaritans and the Israelites did not interact together at all! Actually, the Jews and the Samaritans, they created social barriers between each other. There were also rules that said a Jewish man like Jesus ought not to interact with the Samaritans and especially not a Samaritan woman! It is simply amazing that Jesus crosses this boundary and uses his interaction with this woman to put forth an even larger message.
The ultimate message of our passage revolves around the symbolism of the water representing the living water that Christ offers. Clearly, Jesus is speaking of the ‘waters’ of salvation that his ministry ultimately brings…. to all of humankind that are willing to receive it! Thus, Jesus is saying that the water we drink (the water that the Samaritan woman gathers from the Well) only quenches our thirst for a short period. However, the waters that Jesus offers: the ‘living water’ is symbolizing the gift of salvation. This ‘living water’ shall quench our human desire for forgiveness. Ultimately, God’s grace and mercy grants release and recovery and our deliverance and liberation through Christ shall last throughout eternity! This message is clearly one of those: “Our God is amazing!” moments.
It would be good if you were to respond to this thought: “Our God is amazing!” with: “Praise God!” Let’s try it: “Our God is amazing!” Your response is: “Praise God!” Listen carefully, as we may do that again today.
I think it is important to get into what was going on at the Well that day. It wasn’t as if the woman had set off to meet Jesus. Much the contrary, she had set off to the Well, by herself, to simply get some chores done. Fill the water buckets to take back to her home in the village perhaps and possibly to bath and do some wash. The Well was also a gathering place. She may have been hoping to run into some of her friends, other woman doing the same tasks, where she would be able to chat and socialize with them for a while. Although, as the story unfolds it is also possible she simply wanted to be alone at the Well and was hoping she had picked an ‘off time’ when no one else would be there. Whatever the case, she was surprised to encounter Jesus and was shocked that he was willing to talk with her and even more amazed that Jesus asked her to dip into the Well with her bucket and get him some water, to quench his thirst.
The woman at the well was… well how might I put this, she was a troubled woman. If we were to continue reading, thru verse thirty of chapter four, we would witness how this story uncovers the aspect of her troubles. It seems she has been married, not once, but five times and was living with a man that was not her husband. Thus, one could easily say she was one of the “Bad Girls” of the Bible; certainly when we put ourselves back into the social setting of the First Century! So as Jesus asked of her and then accepted from her a drink of cold water from the well the implications are very dramatic! As the story progresses it is unveiled that because of this encounter the woman comes to believe in Jesus as her Savior. Truly, this was an ‘amazing moment’ for her.
So what about you and me? Can we find ways that we too can identify with the woman at the well? Can we, like the children begin to realize that God will accept us, just the way we are; even without flaws, our pimples of humanness; even accept us with our deep dark secrets? Or perhaps we identify more with Jesus… that is the human man Jesus. We have traveled a long hard journey and we are tired and we are thirsty. We long for the freshness of the cool water from the well. We long for someone to talk with, even if they are from the other side of town or live in a housing development that we are not particularly fond of. Do we have what it takes to be accepting of others as Jesus is? He was willing to allow this “Bad Girl” this woman to serve him and talk with him. Not only was the moment of rest and refreshment good for Jesus, it was good for the woman who felt accepted for who she was.
As this story pokes at our consciousness we may find ourselves considering how it parallels our own personal lives today. Today, we do have a Well around which we can gather at, but there are other gathering places. Our church is always a gathering place. As is the public library and any number of restaurants or ice cream parlors. Our public beaches are so spacious they too offer a meeting place, as do our many parks and picnic areas. Oftentimes, I find myself down by the river near my home walking out on the piers or just along the sidewalks. No, in our society we don’t gather at the Well like they did in Jesus’ time, but we gather and we have a number of places we do so.
Sometimes when we go to such gathering places we are hoping to indulge in the community aspect of it and at other times we simply want to be alone. We may go because we are feeling lonely. At other times we go because we just want to get away from it all and we try to avoid others. As your pastor I pray that occasionally you want to go off and be by yourself to pray or simply feel the awesome presence of God. Yet, I do know how hard that can be at times. Sometimes the last thing on one’s mind is the love of God. That may have been the case for the Samaritan woman at the well. She may have been feeling down about her broken relationships and unsure about how she was currently living her life. The details are sketchy we can only speculate. Yet, we know she did not expect to meet Jesus that day, but she did! She did not expect a Jew, a man such as Jesus, to speak with her. And she never expected him to accept a drink of water, from the Well, from her (a Samaritan woman) yet he did!
I believe that the living God of the Twenty-First Century is just as amazing, just as unpredictable and just as gracious as the man Jesus was that day at the Well in Samaria. This woman wasn’t looking to be saved that day. Perhaps she did just want to be alone, as she did a few of her choirs, left alone to her own thoughts and her own doubts and concerns. You and I, we get up every morning to face a new day. Hopefully, we remember to ask God for a bit of help as we start off. Inevitably, somewhere in our day, at some point, we probably stop thinking about God and get tangled up in or lost in the real human world we live in. We begin to think that no one cares about us or we begin to feel that we can overcome whatever life offers on our own. Either way, we are not looking for or expecting God to intervene in our day to day lives. We are alone in our thoughts as we go about our daily activities. It is in these moments of our day, when we least expect it, it is at these moments when we most need God to touch our lives. Yes, “Our God is Amazing;” Do I hear a “Praise God!”
Look for God in the word or the smile of the next stranger you meet at your favorite quite space or gathering place. Look for how you too can be accepting of another even if you both come from a different culture or part of town. Stay open to the amazing things that God still has in store for you! Salvation often comes when you are least expecting it! Stay faithful! You see: ‘Our God is amazing!’ Let me hear it a: “Praise God!”
1 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 4 He had to pass through Samar’ia. 5 So he came to a city of Samar’ia, called Sy’char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 There came a woman of Samar’ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into 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 Samar’ia?” For Jews have no dealings 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 nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”