This sermon was written for Kerr Presbyterian Church based on John 4:3-30, 39-42 by Rev. KJ Norris.
Return to the At Home Worship Service for August 9, 2020.
How many hours do you spend carrying water each day? 1 hour? 2 hours? What? No one in this room carries their water from a spring or outside source into the house? I don’t think that anyone listening on this podcast does either.
For the most part, we Americans take for granted that we will have access to running water. And not just running water, but clean, drinkable running water. We know that sometimes this doesn’t happen in America and we stand with those who live in Flint, MI and other places where families cannot get access to clean running water because we know that this is a basic life need.
Without clean, drinkable running water, we cannot cook, we cannot safely bath. For those of us who have experienced our water being shut off for hours or days, we know that it disrupts everything to not have water–we cannot go about our day focusing on our work or school or plans because water is essential to our lives.
But we usually take our water for granted. As Americans we are so privileged and often we don’t see it. But if we could fill this room with a true sample of the world’s population. If we had a person here today from every part of the world and I asked the question, how much time do you spend carrying water, 3 out of 10 people would say they spend more than 30 minutes walking for water every time they make a trip. If they make two trips in a day, which is common, 1-2 hours of each day is used just carrying water to and from home.
Much of the world still carries water to their homes. According to UNICEF 844 million people. Every day. Most of them women and girls. And 2.1 billion people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water. (https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation)
I think when we turn back to this old, old story of the Bible, one of our favorites, the story of Jesus sitting down with a woman and having a conversation on a hot summer day, we are prone to lose sight of her story. It’s hard to imagine her story, perhaps, because in some ways it is very different from ours. We don’t carry water so we might not be familiar with what is happening here.
We are told that Jesus sits down at the well about noon. If we did have one of our global siblings in Christ here with us today, they would explain that if Jesus sat down by a well at noon, he would be sitting all alone. No one goes to the well at noon.
Water carrying is very hard work. Water is heavy. Each gallon weighs 8 pounds. And they are in a very hot, arid part of the world so you don’t want to be doing that kind of heavy labor at noon. So everyone gathers at the well first thing in the morning. They share news; they laugh together; they help one another to draw water from the deep well. It’s a morning social activity, not an afternoon job. At noon is when everyone takes a break and has lunch, out of the sun. By noon, you want to have your water at home so that you can use it to cook and clean and be refreshed. No one goes to the well at noon.
Yet, Jesus is not alone. One woman has come to the well. One woman has come alone. No one else is there to help her draw the water. To share news with her. To laugh with her. She comes in the heat of the day when she knows all the others are tucked in their houses. And yet today, she is not alone.
“Will you give me a drink?” Jesus asks?
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” she replies.
We get the picture that this woman is rarely spoken to. She has been shunned by the community. She is not welcomed when others are around and has to come when she will not be scorned.
But on top of that, Jesus here is breaking all the rules. In their culture, men rarely ever talked to women, not about important things, at least, not unless the man was a brother or husband. Women were not considered equals. They had not rights to an education or to property ownership or to choose who they would marry or divorce. It was highly unusual for a man to even talk with a woman as you can see by the disciples’ reaction when they return in verse 27—they were astonished that he was speaking with her.
And not only that, Jesus and the woman were from two different religious and ethic groups. Though both groups considered Abraham to be their ancestor, the Jews traced their lineage to the people who had been taken into captivity in Babylon and then later had returned and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans in contrast had never experienced deportation, they had been the ones who were left behind when the exile had come. And they had learned to worship where they were instead of worshipping in a building after the Temple had been destroyed.
These two groups of people hated each other. They had much in common, but you couldn’t tell them that. So when Jesus starts talking to her instead of just ignoring her or treating her like she’s the gum under her shoe she’s astounded.
Now at this point, many preachers will tell you that the woman at the well is a prostitute and that the destitution and isolation she is facing is of her own making. But here’s the thing. There are a lot of prostitutes in the Bible. There are. Rahab, for instance, who is the great, great, super-great, grandmother of Jesus. The Bible doesn’t hid from telling us the truth about people and who they are and what they have done. We all are who we are before God. We’ve all done what we have done and that cannot be hidden from God. But if you read this story carefully, you will see that that term is never used here.
And moreover, though there are lots of people who Jesus meets along the way who he blesses and forgives and sends on their way telling them to go and sin no more, Jesus never does that here. I do not think this person is in the situation she is in because of the choices she has made. I think something terrible has happened to her.
It seems that she got married and something happened to her first husband. Perhaps he died. In that culture, if your husband dies, you usually marry his brother. And maybe he died, too.
Whatever happened to her it ended in a terrible situation where no one will talk with her or even allow her to come to the well in the morning when it is cool and hear the news and get help drawing water. Whatever happened to her it seems that no man will marry her now and so she is doing the best she can, living where she can. Surviving the best she can. She’s broken. And hurting. And alone.
Have you ever been in need of a friend? Have you ever felt like the whole world has abandoned you and you are completely alone? Cut off from everyone else, perhaps not because of choice but simply because something awful happened. Maybe a global pandemic which made you physically distance for 4 months?
Jesus saw her. And befriended her. She wasn’t alone.
So they sit down together and begin to talk. They start by talking about what matters most: water. The basic necessity of life. Cool, refreshing water.
And then they talk about the second basic necessity of life: worship.
These are the two things we all need. We think we need a lot of things. But in reality, these two are the most essential. We need to take care of our bodies. And we need to take care of our relationship with God. Water and worship. The most essential things of life.
As they sit and talk together, Jesus and the woman discuss a very ancient argument: where should they worship? Do you need to worship in a building? Must you go to the Temple to worship? Is that where God is? Or is God on the mountain? Should one worship in Samaria instead?
We saw last week that Elisha the prophet found a third way when conflict arose and here Jesus does the same. The central question of worship is not about where they should worship—it’s not about whether they should worship in a building or on a mountain, the central question of worship is about how they worship. Are they worshipping in spirit and truth. This is what God is seeking, Jesus tells her. God desires that worshipers would come in spirit and truth, no matter where they are.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wise sage tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. This is an old, old story, a conversation which took place nearly 2,000 years ago. In some ways it feels so distant from us because we don’t share some of the struggles of this woman—her daily walk for water, for instance.
And yet, the struggles are the same, aren’t they?
We, too, find ourselves divided from one another. Perhaps the division comes because we think we know someone’s story and we judge. Perhaps the division is because of long standing hate between groups. Perhaps the division is because of religious differences.Perhaps the division is because of how we see gender roles.
But regardless of the barriers the world tries to place between us, Jesus does today as he did then. Jesus cuts through it all. Jesus knows us completely. Jesus knows our stories completely. And comes to us just as we are. Loving us. Listening to us. Joining us in conversation.
And inviting us to do the same. Inviting us to cut through all the boundaries that might divide us. Boundaries of gender. Boundaries of race or ethnicity. Boundaries of religion. Boundaries of place. We are invited to be ones who break through the walls that could divide us and to create new families. New connections. New relationships that others may not understand. To love beyond what is possible in the eyes of the world.
And the questions around worship are the same, too. We also are in a time when we are trying to figure out how and where to worship. Can we worship if we are not in the building? What does it look like to change our routines so that we can stay healthy and keep our neighbors healthy as well?
Jesus reminds us, worship is never about where. Worship in a building. Worship on a mountain. Worship through a computer. God is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where we are.
What does matter is HOW we worship. Are we worshipping in spirit and in truth?
We Presbyterians traditionally have been pretty good about worshipping in truth. We like to read the Scriptures. We come to God with our minds, wanting to learn, wanting to know what is right, wanting to seek truth and to go out doing what is just.
We have sometimes been called the “frozen chosen” though. We aren’t known for raising our hands in worship for letting our spirits soar, for getting swept up into the Spiritual fervor of our Lord. But Jesus reminds us that we are called to worship in the spirit.
Other denominations have struggled the opposite way. They have only experienced faith as a spiritual exercise. Some try to leave their minds at the door saying that science and philosophy have no place in the church. But Jesus reminds us that worship is an exercise in truth telling.
Jesus reminds us that when we come to worship, we are invited to come in spirit and in truth. We bring our whole-selves before God. God created our mind, body, soul, and spirit and expects that we will use all of it to worship God.
As we come to communion today, let us bring our whole selves to Jesus. To the one who is offering living water. A kind of refreshing spiritual truth which cools and calms our mind, body, soul, and spirit on a hot summer day. A living water which never runs out.
Return to the At Home Worship Service for August 9, 2020.