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Sermon - 27 February 2005
Bible Verse: John 4: 1-42
(click the verse above to read the passage online)

The Man at the Well

Old enemities are so damaging, old prejudices even worse. They go deep through generations and destroy the world We have a choice to let the determine affect our actions or to start again, be born from above , let flowing waters bring new life.
John has two conversations set up, one with the in person, Nicodemus scuttling round by night and telling him that he needs to understand that the wind blew where it wanted to and he , a Jewish leader need to be born again, and the second is with a Samaritan woman who is offered water, flowing water. I find it fascinating that while born again has come to have a particular connotation of elitness, being given a drink of water, is almost too simple.
And maybe it is that simple, Jesus was thirsty and tired. They were on a shortcut through Samaria
The enmity between Judeans and Samaritans was centuries old by the time Jesus sat by Jacob's well. The weight of history was there.

2 Kings 17:
the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had foretold through all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities. 25 When they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, "The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them; they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land." 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, "Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there; let him go and live there, and teach them the law of the god of the land." 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel; he taught them how they should worship the Lord. 29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made,
. 32 They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 34 To this day they continue to practice their former customs.

A Samaritan approached Jesus the Jew. Would history determine what happened or are we looking at a new thing happening?.
And she is a woman, would that determine what Jesus did?
They were not even allowed to worship with men, whose morning devotions included the prayer, "Thank God I am not a woman." Women had no place in public life. They were not to be seen or heard, especially not by holy men, who did not speak to their own wives in public. One group of pious men was known as "the bruised and bleeding Pharisees" because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman coming down the street, even if it meant walking into a wall and breaking their noses.
And she might not be respectable? Will that determine what Jesus does?
She goes to the well at noon, when she can be sure to be alone.
Respectable women made their trips to the well in the morning, when they could greet one another and talk about the news. But this woman was one of the people they talked about, and the fact that she showed up at noon was a sure sign she was not welcome at their morning social hour. As Jesus soon deduced, she had been married as many times as Elizabeth Taylor and was living in sin at the moment, which made it all around less painful for her to go to the well alone, after the others had gone.
She comes in the heat of the day with her water bucket balanced on her head and sees a Jewish man sitting beside the well. He asks her for a drink,
Has he lost his faith, to be talking to her like that? The Jews have endless rules about what they may and may not eat and drink. She knows that much at least, and she knows this man will be breaking the law if she lets him sip from her bucket.

So they talk about it, and while it is never clear whether they are on the same wavelength, the woman understands that she wants what Jesus is offering her. "Sir, give me this water," she says, which is when he tells her to go fetch her husband. It is an abrupt change of subject, to which she might object.
"I have no husband," she says, and with that shred of truth from her, he tells her the rest of the truth about herself. Note that he does not pull away from her. If anything, he gets closer. He still wants a drink from her, and he wants to give her one too, only the intimacy of it all seems suddenly too much for her.
So she changes the subject back to religion again, trying to draw him back into an argument about Jews versus, Samaritans. You can hardly blame her. If he knows about all her husbands, there is no telling what else he knows about her, and she decides she would rather not find out. It is time to introduce some mental static so that the man with the X-ray eyes cannot read her so well, time to step back from him and cover herself up again.

But it does not work. When she steps back, he steps toward her. When she steps out of the light, he steps into it. He will not let her retreat. If she is determined to show him less of herself, then he will show her more of himself. "I know that Messiah is coming," she says, and he says, "I am he."
It is the first time he has said that to another living soul. It is a moment of full disclosure, in which the triple outsider and the Messiah of God stand face to face with no pretense about who they are. Both stand fully lit at high noon for one bright moment in time, while all the rules, taboos and history that separate them fall forgotten to the ground.

Jesus meets a woman who couldn't be more of an outsider, and he receives her as an insider, an intimate who has no cause for shame. He brings up her past, and her present, not to shame her, but to take away their power in showing how little they affect how Jesus and the God he proclaims receive her.

There are a lot of people who could be called "church-damaged," people who have had some of their most painful experiences of shame and humilation in churches, often in God's name. And there are Christians whose ability to function as evangelists, as people who proclaim Good News so that others can experience it, is seriously impaired by their concern to make sure that sinners know just how shameful their behaviour is, and that they be kept from the center of Christian community. "What DID Jesus do?"

Jesus received the Samaritan woman with such love and such grace that she was profoundly transformed. She had once accepted the village's verdict that she was so unfit for their company that she could draw water only at noon. After meeting Jesus, she's bold enough to demand (using the imperative!) living water from him. By the end of the conversation, she's left her water jar behind and is rushing into the very center of the village, demanding to be heard by those who were once her critics. And she IS heard; many believe in Jesus because of the woman's bold testimony.

What transformed this woman could transform our world. The woman at the well was despised by her village, which was despised by Judeans,. From generation to generation, humilation, resentment, and violence were passed down by people keeping the score so that they could seek to even it. Jesus sets aside all score-keeping, and by treating all as if all were forgiven, he makes forgiveness possible

By telling the woman who she is, Jesus shows her who he is. By confirming her true identity, he reveals his own, and that is how it still happens. The Messiah is the one in whose presence you know who you really are--the good and bad of it, the all of it, the hope in it. The Messiah is the one who shows you who you are by showing you who he is--who crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, drops all disguises--speaking to you like someone you have known all your life, bubbling up in your life like a well that needs no dipper, so that you go back to face people you thought you could never face again, speaking to them as boldly as he spoke to you. "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done."
And with the villagers of Sychar we say - this man truly is the saviour of the world.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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