A recording of this sermon can be found here.
Sermon Lent 3A
It is a strange Sunday – only coincidentally, the ides of March,
but strange nonetheless.
We are dealing with the unfamiliar territory of a pandemic
and all the confusing and sometimes frightening news stories that come in a crisis.
We’re using unusual phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.”
Then there’s the odd discovery that the word COVID,
when translated into Hebrew on Google and then retranslated back into English, gives you the word Kobe. Which, of course, proves …
? That the virus we’re fighting was named after our beloved basketball star who died last month? Of course not.
It just shows you how much time people can waste on their computers.
Yes, this is an odd day, a day of paradox.
We are worshipping apart from one another,
yet we are together through the wonders of technology;
tech is that wonder we love except when we’re hating it…
funny now in our time of isolation, the thing we’ve blamed for not being able to communicate in person anymore, is what we are relying on to help us connect.
We are in many different places and yet
our very separation reminds us of the joy we miss in being together.
St. Luke’s long tradition of passing of the peace is a good example;
if you’ve been here for church, you know I’m using LONG intentionally,
as our “peace passing” is more like intermission.
There’s whole conversations going on, not just hellos.
The first few times I was here, I wondered if I needed to flip the lights on and off to gather us again.
It is in our times of separation,
we feel more poignantly the need to love on one another.
It is strange indeed when we actually live into the paradoxes of life. …
we realize the deeper truth they hold for us.
I saw a short video yesterday on my computer,
while taking a break from this sermon, no less. The video was of a skier who saw something odd on the slope below him
and went to discover what it was about. Upon getting closer he saw a person’s two legs, flailing about frantically. A woman had fallen into a soft pile of snow and it collapsed on her, leaving only her legs in the air.
Funny at first, but terrifying. This video reminded me of the way the old English cleric G.K. Chesterton defined a paradox:
He wrote, the paradox is “a truth standing on its head, waving its legs to get our attention.”
This is the genius of our gospel writer John,
Who uses paradox to give us a deeper look into Jesus’ truths.
Today John uses it in telling us the story of the Woman at the Well.
When we step back from this story and look at it,
we must see how unusual it is.
Jesus is having a long theological conversation, about worshipping
“in sprit and truth,” and about “living water,” with a woman.
Men and women in Jesus day did not often interact alone.
Bible scenes where men and women meet at a well usually signal a love story is about to start. Isaac and Rebekah meet for the first time at a well, so do Jacob and Rachel. Surely John is not telling a love story.
This woman is a Samaritan; she knows acutely how strange it is for her to be talking to a Jewish rabbi, let alone so intimately.
Expressing this peculiarity herself the woman asks,
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Adding to the layers of this story’s oddity, we also wonder
who comes to get water from the well at high noon, in the heat of the day?
The time for drawing water was usually in the evening;
Yet here we have a traveling rabbi and an unnamed woman
Who just happen to meet at this well.
Jesus needs water and she has the means of getting it.
Or … is it the other way around?
Last week we read about Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees,
a learned man who literally came in the night, looking for Jesus.
Nicodemus wanted to be sure he knew the truth.
But Nicodemus found out that, he was really in the dark.
He would need time to understand what Jesus was teaching and
courage to declare himself a follower.
From the story of Nicodemus we learn again the age-old paradox:
We must let go of our old ideas in order to learn something new.
This week the story is very different, and we are meant to see the contrast.
An unnamed woman, a religious, social, and political outsider
meets Jesus by chance in the middle of the day, she wasn’t seeking him, but she is no by-stander. The woman is curious, she discusses theology with Jesus and has no hesitation in asking for what he is ready to give.
Nicodemus and the woman at the well come from totally different places, their education, religion, social status, and their heritage could hardly be more diverse. One is a Pharisee and one a Samaritan. And yet, Jesus invites both of them into new life… these two stories encapsulate what we hear again and again in the gospel — that Jesus’ invitation to be part of the kingdom transcends religious tradition, transcends race, and sex, and education, and place.
John’s readers would certainly wonder, why does this woman get this role?
She seems to be exactly the wrong person
for Jesus to first disclose his identity to.
She is an odd person to be the first to proclaim Jesus as the anointed one.
Yet, this is the case. And it is the true paradox throughout God’s word.
God chooses the odd, the ill-fitting, the people who we often feel aren’t suited for the job, to do the life-giving work of the kingdom.
The church could surely use this information.
God wants all kinds of followers. God will embrace them and teach them.
God is not looking for conformity, but loyalty.
John’s story of the woman at the well asks us to stop and rethink;
to pay attention to the legs flailing in the air, the paradox before us.
In turning our ideas upside down, we can learn something new.
“. . . gentleness is stronger than severity,” one of my favorite characters once said, “water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force.”
So backwards, so true.
The story of Jesus with the woman at the well
has one big truth yet to tell.
Jesus tells the woman he knows her, all her life he’s known her…
he knows how many husbands she’s had and who she is living with now.
Jesus offers her no reprimand, no forgiveness, he must think she needs none of it—we have no idea what she’s been through, but Jesus does.
Jesus sees fit instead to offer her himself, as living water.
He says to her, “I am he,” and it empowers her to become an apostle.
Jesus then stays there in her hometown
sharing food, water, the good news and himself.
I suppose this story of their meeting at the well is a love story after all.
Thanks be to God.