March 12, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "Waters of Hope and Healing"
Mar 12th | The Reverend Anna von Winckler | John 4:5-26
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Today’s lessons have us consider the life-giving water that God gives to two vastly different groups of people - the Israelites and the Samaritans. They are stories that deal with challenge and difficulty that come to us in our lives, about perhaps the hardest thing God asks of us, which is to trust, and finally of the life-giving water we receive through the Holy Spirit.
The Israelites can be seen as faithless people as they grumble against God as they wandered the desert, grumbling that they don’t have water. It would be easy to condemn them, but let’s look at what they have been through. They had been enslaved for a long time. Enslaved by a harsh and demanding Pharaoh. I can’t imagine the physical, mental, and emotional challenges they faced in their day to day lives. They grumble, but is it out of ingratitude or a sense of entitlement, or is it perhaps out of fear? They had lived in fear and uncertainty for so long and in that moment of being in the desert, that fear surely came over them - fear that they would die; wondering when their suffering would end. It had been so long since they felt safe that it was hard to trust.
I saw this in the work I did when I counseled foster kids. Children and teens who had been bounced around in the system, to finally get in a home that is loving and kind, but they act out. They’ve been let down so many times before, so they test. Will you still care and be there for me if I act out, if I’m bad, if I’m less than perfect. Where a biological parent may hold on to that child, determined not to lose that child to self-sabotage, the ties with the foster parents isn’t as strong, and they find themselves once again being moved.
But unlike human foster parents, or even some biological parents, who disappoint or even worse, harm their children, God holds on and continues to love and provide. God doesn’t let go. God provided for the Israelites. God provided daily water that was more than just to quench their thirst, it provided them with life, renewed life, life anew as I talked about last week. God gave water that provided hope; the hope that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is what the living water is that is given to us.
It is this same living water that is offered to the Samaritan woman, but her circumstance is a bit different from the Israelites. Unlike what is commonly thought of, that this woman was a prostitute, a degraded lowly woman, theologians see her not in that way. One way of looking at the story is where it is placed in the Bible, after the story of Nicodemus. As you remember from last week, Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus at night. He was a Pharisee, but locked into the traditions and struggled with letting go of his position and power to fully embrace Jesus.
Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at noon, at the brightest time of the day. Their conversation is held in the light. He engages her, but with respect, asking for a drink. He puts the power in her hands. For it is she who has the bucket to draw the water. He is the one who, like the Israelites, is parched and thirsty. He engages with a woman from a different culture, one who was at odds with the Israelites. There was much prejudice on both sides.
But here Jesus is, engaging with a woman who clearly understands the differences between the two religions as she questions him. She is no ignorant, lowly woman. What is shown in this dialogue is a woman who is a spiritual woman who is looking for the Messiah. She wants the Messiah in her life. She wants more than what she is getting from the religion she is a part of.
The Samaritan people had had various religions pushed on them since the time of the Assyrians. Five, as a matter of fact, and the sixth one, the one she was not married to, was the current influence of the Roman beliefs. The husbands were the foreign gods that were being worshiped. But Jesus tells her that worship is not in a place, but is done in the Spirit and in truth - and that was what he was offering her. Not a statue god, but a living, life-giving, God who loved and cared for her. And her life was transformed. She became an apostle and God used her to convert many to be followers of Jesus.
So what does all this mean for us sitting here today? On an individual level, I think we each need to be open to what might be keeping us from drinking deeply from the living water Jesus offers to us. What fear, anger, distrust of God’s beneficence holds you back? People think they’re okay, but there may be deep-seated issues, like guilt, shame, unresolved issues around abuse one might have suffered, either physical or emotional/mental, disappointments in life, which may cause resentment or bitterness, or unresolved grief issues.
When I was working on my Masters in Social Work I had a classmate who told the story of her mother-in-law’s dying. She was diagnosed with cancer and given just a few months to live. She was in her mid-70s at the time. When she found she was dying, all the rage she had accumulated over the years of not being able to fulfill any of her own dreams, always bowing to her husband’s wants and needs, led her to rage. Her final weeks of life were filled with endless raging at her husband. Her faith was of no use to her. She was unable to drink from that living water because of her anger. This may be an extreme example, but it is always good to be reflective, especially during this time of Lent. Ask yourself “what might be keeping me from drinking deeply from the living water? What do I need to work through and let go of?”
As a congregation, we need to look at what might be holding the congregation back from drinking long from the living water. Is it grief over the death of a long-serving pastor? Is it fear of how things are changing or might change? Is it an unwillingness to commit fully to the work of the church because of the demands it might make to your time or your resources?
And on both an individual and congregational level, what biases and prejudices are holding you back from embracing a community of other outside of these walls? As Jesus did with the Samaritan woman.
I hate the saying, “All lives matter.” I see that as a cop-out to not deal with the disparities in society and the biases we’ve been raised with that continue to perpetuate, even if on an unconscious level, that separate us one from another. Every life matters doesn’t take into consideration the pain that comes from being in the minority, and should I add, persecuted group, whether that be the black community, the lgbtq community, the Haitians, the Asian community. Whatever it might be. As much as we say and believe that we really do mean all lives matter, there are so many things we aren’t willing to give up to embrace the other. That keeps us from the living water.
In the 1980’s I went to a conference on AIDS. That was back in the day when AIDS was seen as belonging to the quote “deviant” - those who were either homosexual or drug addicts. There was a lot of prejudice against people with AIDS and they were the people who most needed compassion as the disease back then was almost always a death sentence and not an easy death.
At the conference, I met a pastor who had this extraordinary story. He said that one day as he walked the hospital corridor to a parishioner’s room, he passed a room that had a young man sitting on the bed looking quite despondent. He knocked on the door and asked if he could come in. He introduced himself and offered a listening ear. The man had AIDS. He had not only been rejected by his family, but he had seen several friends die of the disease. The two talked and the pastor offered to come again. He visited the young man until his discharge at which time he invited the young man to come to church on Sunday and told him he should invite his friends.
During the time he had been visiting the man in the hospital, the pastor had told his congregation about him. He told them he hoped the man would come and worship with them and said that if he did that he hoped the congregation would give him and any of his friends a warm welcome. The man did come with friends and the church did offer a big embrace. This led to a whole ministry not only to the gay community but to the AIDS community. A place where the societal outcast could find living water; where they could find and be a part of the family of God in love and with full acceptance.
The Samaritans, the outsiders, the less than society, as thought by the Jews, acknowledged Jesus as “Savior of the World.” Jesus showed that the living water was for all. There were no outcasts. There was no one higher or lower than another. He demonstrated a loving inclusiveness. Are you able to do that with whomever crosses your path, regardless of their race, their education, their economic standing, their sexual orientation?
In closing, I would like to have you consider these words from Professor Osvaldo Vena. He writes:
Community can only be built when we are not afraid of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us. The living water that Jesus promised the woman, symbolized in the water that Moses made come out of the rock in Exodus 17, is God’s purifying water, the Holy Spirit, which can purify our hearts of old hatreds and hostilities and form us into a diverse people of God on earth.
That is what God desires for us - a letting go of fear and anger, of pain, hurt, of prejudice, and biases. God wants us to trust God to provide for us as God does every day. For every day the living water is there, waiting for you to drink of it. Amen.
© 2023 Anna von Winckler
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