Scripture Reading - John 4:5-30
John 4:5-30 (The Message)
He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
But before we dive in to the text for this morning, look for a moment at the image on the front of your bulletins. It’s a picture depicting seaglass collected from a beach in Seaham Hall, a small town on the coast of the North Sea in the UK. The reason there’s such an abundant supply of seaglass - especially rarer colors like yellow, aqua, blue, and red - is because until 1921, Seaham had the largest bottleworks factory in England. It is no longer in business - but the company housed there - Londonderry Bottleworks, at the time would produce 20,000 handblown bottles every day. The practice was that at the end of the day, any discarded and waste glass was dumped into the North Sea - and so much of the sea glass that winds up on the beach is over one hundred years old.
Each bit of seaglass that is found has a story. Sometimes there are unique markings offering clues as to what it might have belonged to. Sometimes the glass is very old and it takes time and care and attention to find the truth behind it.
There is a power to truth-telling - to claiming and telling one’s own story as a path to healing. We see this in our Scripture reading for this morning and the story of Jesus’s conversation with a Samaritan woman. It’s a story that’s so familiar that upon hearing this text, it immediately brings to mind many assumptions about what’s going on - some of which are true, and some of which aren’t there in the story.
First is that Jesus is in Samaria, and that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along - which is true. There were irreconcilable differences between Jews and Samaritans - particularly in how they were supposed to worship God - and also because over their history, Samaritans - who shared the same ancestry as Jews - had intermarried with Gentiles, which Jews considered a violation of the law. However, as Jesus and his disciples pass through this village - the Jewish Jesus and his friends are the outsiders here; this is the Samaritan woman’s home turf - she is less of an outsider in this community than Jesus is.
Secondly - we often assume that this woman has a salacious past - she has had five husbands and the man she currently lives with isn’t number six. Because of this, she’s branded as a prostitute or a seductress, shunned by her community for her immorality. We think she’s out by the well in during the hottest part of the day because she wants to draw water when no one else would be around and thus avoid the derisive looks others.
However, there is no mention of this in the story. Jesus doesn’t condemn her for the situation she is in, nor is there any mention of sin or forgiveness. There is actually a long list of reasons she could have found herself in this predicament - she could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced (which amounted to the same thing for a woman in the ancient world). It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that this could have happened to her five times. As far as living with a man she wasn’t married to - this wasn’t necessarily an unsanctioned situation - women in this culture had to be dependant on someone - in most cases a man - in order to survive. There were also situations where she would be obligated to act as a wife to a man - to produce an heir or some other situation - but not be technically considered married.
Her situation is unfortunate, to be sure. Heartbreaking and tragic, most likely. She’s a woman with no agency, dependent on others - someone that in the biblical text isn’t even worthy of a name…but not necessarily a sinner - at least in terms of her relationship history.
Taking this view of our woman at the well, we see the conversation between this woman and Jesus unfold in a slightly different way. It’s noontime. Jesus, tired and hungry, sits down by the well - and when she comes near to draw water for herself, Jesus asks her for a drink. She’s surprised by this...not because she’s wearing a scarlet letter, but because Jesus is a Jew asking a Samaritan for water from the well.
This request, however, opens up the conversation around living water - Jesus tells her - “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman doesn’t quite see it yet, and still thinks Jesus is talking about literal water, and points to the history of the well -- this well that was dug by their ancestor Jacob (an ancestor that the Jews share as well). Jesus, instead, points out the difference between the water in the well and the water he has to give: “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman, intrigued, indicates her desire for this water...still not quite getting it because she’s still thinking about literal water and not having to come back to this particular well again.
So to make it clear that Jesus isn’t talking about actual water and that he is something more than just a random traveler, he asks her to go get her husband. When she replies that she doesn’t have one, Jesus says, “you’re right” and reveals that he knows about her five husbands and current living situation.
Then - she gets it. The moment of revelation for her has come. Jesus has “seen” her - he knows her and her past - he knows her vulnerability and dependance. She realizes that even though he knows all this about her, he has still recognized her and spoken with her and offered her something of precious value...and that in Jesus’s eyes, she is, in fact, someone of worth and value - someone worth time and attention - someone worth the gift of life-giving water springing up inside of her.
She realizes, then, that he is a prophet...and in this new light, she risks going to the core question of what has divided her people from the Jews for centuries and what divides her as a woman of Samaria, from him, a Jew. The answer opens up a whole new way of being in the world - not just a pathway for healing the rift between Jews and Samaritans, but a pathway for each person to be in new relationship with God.
Jesus tells her that “the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter….It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. ... That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. ... Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.””
The woman eventually leaves the well to tell everyone in the village about her encounter with Jesus - about this life-giving water she had received...and because of her story, because of how she came to understand that her own worth relied on nothing but this God-given well of living water within her - many others came to that same knowledge for themselves. Her own story - her past - became clear as it came into contact with the life-giving water Jesus had offered her -- that her own belovedness as a child of God didn’t stand on whether she was Jewish or a Samaritan, a man or a woman, married or not, but simply on being herself before God - worthy just because - and that her worship of God was to come out of that authentic place of being loved - not out of duty or obligation or regulation...but out of her spirit...her true self...out of adoration. It was a moment of healing for her that lead to healing for the whole village.
When we look at a piece of sea glass, it has a frosty finish that clears and shines when it comes into contact with water.
What might become clear for us as we claim our stories and when our brokenness is met with living water - as when the Samaritan woman understood her story through her encounter with Jesus?
What part of our history - our stories - may we discover to be in need of healing when we experience the life-giving water that Jesus offers us?
What truths come to light when we see ourselves as a beloved child of God?
There is immense power and healing in coming face to face with our stories - particularly in the ways it allows us to notice God’s presence with us throughout our lives - even before we were aware of it. There’s a reason that people who have had traumatic experiences are encouraged to talk about it as a means of healing, or why people in recovery attend 12-step meetings to tell their stories, or why in the early part of the Methodist movement, testimony was so important because being able to own your stuff and name and share the ways God was working in your life helped you grow - both as a person and in your relationship with Christ.
We all have a story - and we all have parts of our story that we aren’t proud of...parts of our story that continue to wound us...and the main question isn’t “how can we hide our brokenness” so that we can feel like we have it all together, so that we can feel acceptable -- the question is “how can we share our stories - put our brokenness - in the service of others?” How can our stories be a source of healing to others?
The Samaritan woman - her story was well known in the village...and Jesus used that story to tell her the truth about herself as a child of God...even though she wasn’t a Jew...even though she wasn’t married...even though in her life she had seen plenty of heartbreak...and she used that story to let others in her village know about the love and power of Jesus and what life-giving water he could give them.
I’m going to invite us into a few moments of reflection…
Consider your story for a moment - in all its beauty and in all its brokenness...in all the places you still feel wounded...in all the places where you have experienced healing...and consider your story in light of God’s life-giving water...the well springs within you that never runs dry...what truths about you become clear? ...Think about these things for a minute...
As we sing our next hymn together, come forward as you are moved to do so to pick up a piece of seaglass and place it in the jar of water….as a sign of your willingness to claim your story in light of the living water Jesus offers to each of us...as a sign of your belovedness as a child of God - in all areas of your life, even the places that are yet in need of healing. Let us remain seated as we sing together, Water, River, Spirit, Grace, number 2253 in the black hymnal.
Water, River, Spirit, Grace,
sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced
in sculpting me in sculpting me.
*Hymn - Water, River, Spirit, Grace (FWS 2253)
Let us pray. (http://sacredise.com/prayers/type/intercession/around-the-well/, adapted)
We gather around the well of your grace, O God,
As those who thirst for friendship and love;
May we find here the living water of community and connectedness;
We gather around the well of your life, O God,
As those who thirst for joy and safety;
May we find here the living water of playfulness and protection;
We gather around the well of your mercy, O God,
as those who thirst for wholeness and peace;
May we find here the living water of comfort, healing and welcome;
We gather around the well of your presence, O God,
as those who thirst for meaning and connection;
May we find here the living water of service and worship;
May the life we have found in you,
be the gift we share
with all who hunger and thirst,
with all who are outcast and rejected,
with all who have too little or too much,
with all who are wounded or ashamed,
and, through us, may this corner of the world overflow
with you living water.
In Jesus’ Name
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.