Exodus 17: 1—7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1—11; John 4:5—42
The Gospel story of the woman at the well stands in sharp contrast to the story of Nicodemus we heard last week. Last week, the encounter took place under the cover of night, in secret. This week, it is mid-day, at the well, where everyone could see. Last week Jesus spoke to a leader in the religious community, this week he talks with someone at the margins of the margins of society – a woman, with a past, and a Samaritan. Nicodemus has a name, the Samaritan woman is never named.
So the differences are striking, and intentional. We are to understand that rank and social/religious status have no bearing on one’s ability to understand the Good News Jesus came to share. Nicodemus leaves as quietly as he came, the Samaritan woman becomes a disciple spreading that Good News and telling the whole town what has happened.
This is a theme that is familiar to those of us here at St. Paul’s. We try very hard in our word and action to make this community as open and welcoming as we possibly can, and we are always stretching to figure out how we can do more and for whom. This truth undergirds the banners on our front lawn, the invitation to communion and even the planned renovations to our spaces. No matter who you are, God loves you and calls you into community for the sake of the world God made.
I don’t think we can ever hear that enough. There is an expression that every preacher really has only one sermon. I pray that that is mine. If it is, I’m okay with being redundant on that point.
But scripture, being the living Word that it is, always seems to reach from the pages on which it is written into my heart to confront me right where I am today, in this moment.
Did you notice that the woman does not first ask something of Jesus, but him of her? Unlike many of the other stories of Jesus’ encounters with people it is Jesus who initiates the interaction with the woman. Less like Nicodemus, and more like the first disciples it is Jesus who seeks her out because, guess what, Jesus needs something from her. This encounter begins with Jesus, God on earth, reaching out to this outsider because God needs something from her in order to live.
Jesus, tired from his journey, asks her for a drink.
Jesus is right next to the well, but needs the Samaritan woman to access the abundance of water it contains, much like she will need him to access the abundant water of life Jesus promises.
Now, one might wonder why Jesus couldn’t just lower his own bucket and get his own darn water.
And while that might be an important critique of this text, it misses the world-upending truth that God needs her, God needs us, to care for the body of Christ in very real and concrete ways.
Jesus at the well teaches us that God has no hands in this world but ours, no voice but ours.
If this is where the story ended, I would say that this, too, is something St. Paul’s understands and tries to live into in every way we can.
Responding to the concrete needs of the Body of Christ is at center of our Faith in Action ministries. Next week we will, quite literally, give food to the hungry body of Christ and water to the thirsty body of Christ when we make and serve lunch to serve to Boston’s unhoused community on the Boston Common.
But it’s not where the story ends.
After the conversation about Jesus needing physical water for his physical body, he tells the Samaritan woman that he has something to offer her; spiritual water for her soul.
There’s a connection the Gospel makes between serving Christ with our hands and receiving Christ in our hearts. The two are dependent on one another in this story, it is a give and take between us and the God who loves us. We are meant to serve God, through our service of others. The promise here is that, when we do, our souls and spirits are fed; we are nourished and sent on our way to tell others what we have found at the well of life.
This is something of which I need constant reminding. When I am serving others, I am serving God. And when I am serving God, God fills my soul until it is running over like a bucket from a well.
It isn’t about me. It isn’t just about the one I serve. It is about the God who speaks to me through those with whom I minister and serve. When I forget this, I end up doing a lot in an effort to earn that sense of God’s abundance. When I am doing a lot, but not connecting it to doing something for God, I am often left depleted, overwhelmed, exhausted by the very work that is supposed to make me feel closer to God.
This is how I was feeling a couple of weeks ago. I wrote down every activity we had planned here at St. Paul’s between now and the end of the program year and began cutting anything that the staff and I thought was staff-centered; one more thing you, the congregation, felt obligated to do, to attend.
Then, this past Tuesday, a surprise snow-storm hit and I was given the unexpected gift of time in my home office to organize, clean and get things ready for the busy season ahead.
As I was reorganizing my bookshelf something -- let’s say God -- led me to create a prayer space. Each morning this week, rather than reading email and news over my morning coffee, I brought my morning coffee to my prayer space and sat with God. It was just for 15 minutes, and it has only been less than a week, but I will tell you, I have begun to drink from the well Jesus offers the Samaritan women in today’s Gospel and it has taught me that I had no idea just how thirsty I was.
You all do so much for the Body of Christ. But I wonder, do you hang out at the well long enough for God to quench your thirst? Are you trying to quench your thirst for God by doing, but never sitting with God long enough to receive it?
It is clear from this Gospel that God needs us. There is no question. The Body of Christ in this world is thirsty, and hungry, and homeless, and alone, and in prison and needs us.
AND, God invites us, in our doing, to understand who it is we are actually serving.
Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
Do you know who it is who needs you? Do you know who it is you serve when you serve, or teach, parent, volunteer, feed?
Are you tired, or overwhelmed, wondering if you can ever do enough, or how you can sustain yourself for the work ahead?
Maybe start by staying at the well for a bit. Sit at the well. Create the well. Remember who it is we do all of this for. If we are to continue to care for the Body of Christ in this world, we must also take the time to lower our buckets into the well of God’s grace and love and drink to our soul’s content.
© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[i]
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .