Sunday, March 19, 2017

Close Encounters with Jesus: the Woman at the Well

Lent 3 Year A
John 4:5-42

            It’s the longest recorded conversation Jesus had with anyone in any of the Gospels. 
            It is full of deep theology, humor, and human interest.  There is eager curiosity, there is misunderstanding, there is deep insight. 
            And it’s a conversation between Jesus – and a Samaritan woman.  He’s not supposed to be talking with her, and they both know it. 
            First, because she is a woman, and second, because she is a Samaritan, an outsider.  Jews and Samaritans did not have anything to do with each other.

            The Samaritans lived in the area which had once been the northern kingdom of Israel. 
            They were of mixed-descent and mixed religion. 
            The Jewish people considered them to have sold out the faith.  When the Jewish people had been taken into captivity in Babylon, and then were allowed to return home, they did not allow Samaritans to help them re-build the temple. 
            The hatred between the two groups was hard and fast. 

            It’s hard to choose from all of the threads in this long conversation. 
            There are so many and they are so rich:  the living water, the Holy Spirit, the God who will be worshipped in spirit and truth. 
            There is Jesus, who wants a drink of water, and the woman, who does not want to have to keep coming to this well, for some reason.
             But for today, I am most fascinated by this – the testimony of the woman, when she leaves her water jar and runs to her village.

            He told me everything I had ever done.  He can’t be the Messiah, can he? 

            What kind of a testimony is that?

            Maybe it is because I have been thinking so much about testimony lately – and I won’t stop either, at today. 
            We are having these “close encounters” with Jesus, lately, and testimonies come from close encounters with Jesus, don’t they?             
             I have heard testimonies in my life – maybe you have too – and often they sound like this, “I was lost, but now I am found.”
             “Jesus changed my life.”  “I know that I am forgiven because of Jesus.”   “God has given my life meaning and purpose.” 

            But here’s what the woman said, here’s the thing that really amazed her:  “He told me everything I had ever done.” 

            What was it about that that convinced her?

            Maybe it was the pure idea of prophecy.
             He was a prophet, and he knew all about her, things that no one else knew. 
            It was his ability to speak about her past and her present that made a difference. 
            He started out by teaching about the deep things of theology:  about living water, about the time coming when true worshippers would worship ‘in spirit and in truth’
            – but it was when he got to her life – that’s when the prophecy, that is when the truth finally hit her, that is when everything he said finally made sense. 
            “He told me everything I had ever done.” 

            But I think it was something else too. 

            When Jesus told her these things about herself, about her life, he didn’t speak in judgment. 
            He was just telling the facts – he didn’t say that she was the worst sort of sinner, and he didn’t even say she needed to turn around and live her life differently. 
            It’s not that he never said that to anyone.  It’s not that those sorts of things don’t need to be said, sometimes, either.  
            Sometimes the kindest thing you can tell another person is, “you need to turn around.  You are living dangerously.”  
            But all Jesus did was tell her about her life. 
            He told her the truth.  Without judgment.  Without looking down on her. 

            He knew her.  I think that was the feeling she had. 
            That deep down, he knew her.
             Maybe it was not just his words about her life, the whole, long conversation, that he was willing to talk with her, and to keep talking with her, and take her questions seriously.  He knew her, deep down.           He knew who she was. 
            He knew what her struggles were, he dreams, her fears. 
            He knew who looked down on her. 
            He knew what she was thirsty for.  Maybe he even knew why she did not want to keep coming to this well to draw water any more. 

            You know how rare that is, to be known – to be really known, by someone else?
             There are so few people who really know us, that we will allow to really know us. 
            There are so few people who know us – and who will walk with us, and keep loving us – no matter what. 
            We are blessed if we have a few of those people in our lives.  We are blessed if we can be one of those people for even one or two others. 

            Jesus met this woman – and it was a life-changing encounter – with Grace.   
            Here was someone who asked her for help – who took her seriously – who answered her questions – who knew her – really knew her, and who loved her. 
            Have you ever had an encounter like this? 

            I recently read a testimony on social media – a woman who became a Lutheran in her teens. 
            She came from another religious tradition, and even though all of Christianity is based on Grace – she had not experienced it before. 
            But she remembers sitting in a church service and hearing words of Grace – words of love – she doesn’t even remember now exactly what they were – but she felt such joy and freedom – it just washed over her.
            She said that she went to every service at the church for several months, just to make sure she hadn't heard wrong.

            In this congregation, she said, she had a life-changing encounter with Jesus – the pastor and the people from the congregation taught her and helped her to know God’s grace. 
            They walked with her and were there for her in a time of grief.    

            You know how rare it is to be known, to be really known, by someone else?
             To be known to the depths of our hearts – our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our sorrows --  Jesus knows us.  He knows our temptations and he knows our gifts. 
            He knows what we are hungry for – and he knows our spiritual thirst.

             He knows us, and so he alone can quench our thirst.

            There’s an old song that I sing with the children – maybe you know it….

            I’ve got peace like a river…. in my soul)
            I’ve got joy like a fountain (in my soul)
            I’ve got love like an ocean (in my soul)….

            It’s the water of life, isn’t it?  It’s the love of God.  That's what we need.  And it is deeper and wider than any ocean, overflowing our hearts, enough and more than enough.



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