3 Lent

The Rev. Mary Grambsch

Your Word, O Lord, is a lantern for our feet and a light upon our path; In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I want to begin this homily by reading to you again the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent.  Please feel free to follow along in your bulletin.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Very often we miss really hearing the Collect of the Day because it comes at the very beginning of the service and we are not quite in ready to hear it.  The Collect of the Day is important for setting the tone of the service and giving us a clue to what is coming in the scripture readings.  Today, we pray to God to “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls”; in other words, to feed and keep safe our bodies and to shield and comfort our souls. 
The Israelites in our Old Testament scripture lesson make the same prayer and demand on God.  They complain to Moses about the hardships they are enduring in their wilderness wandering, on their journey from bondage in Egypt to their freedom in the Promised Land.  They are hungry and thirsty and frightened that they may die in the wilderness, they are on the verge of panic, and God understands that people who feel that way do not behave well (think of a whole group of hungry, thirsty, tired two year olds!)  God provides water and food for them in a miraculous way, tending to them “outwardly in their bodies” and showing them that he is near to them; “keeping them inwardly in their souls” by caring for them, comforting their fears and giving them courage to go on with their journey.

God has always shown that he will defend his people from every hardship and adversity, standing between us and all that would destroy us in body and mind.  We, like the People of Israel, tend to forget that fact when we are faced with calamity and hardship.  We flail around in panic, behave badly and ultimately blame God for our troubles, just as they did.  Instead of condemning us for our hard heartedness and short memories, God has also shown us his forgiveness in sending his Son, Jesus, to teach us and lead us back to him.  Jesus teaches us and satisfies our hunger and thirst, both “outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls”.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus had a conversation with a woman at a well and changed not only her life but ours too. The conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman is the longest he had with anyone; Jesus spoke more with this un-named woman than he did with any one of his disciples or followers, or with any Jewish leader or Roman Governor, or even with his own mother.

Who was this woman?  She was an outsider in everyway; firstly, she was a Samaritan.  The Jews and the Samaritans had the same family root, had the same ancestors, but had disagreed and diverged for several centuries.  They hated and mistrusted each other, they worshiped in different places, followed different customs and each thought the other were ungodly atheists, following a false god. Secondly, she was a woman.  Women, like children, had no status at all in Samaria or in Israel.  Thirdly, she was a woman with a past.  The fact that she came to the well at noonday, instead of in the morning or early evening when all the other women would come, indicates that she knew that she was held in contempt and derision by others and would not be welcomed by them.  Women in Samaria could not divorce their husbands; only a husband could divorce his wife.  This woman had been scorned and rejected by several men and was currently living with a man she was not married to.  She was sad, broken, rejected by her people and thirsting, yearning, hoping for a different life, a life worth living.

I’m not sure Jesus could have picked anyone more controversial to speak with!  Notice, that Jesus spoke to her out of his own need, not out of hers; Jesus asked her to draw water for him so that he could drink.  He let her minister to his need, he let her be the helper, the one who provided what was needed. Jesus gave her status and respect.  She in turn entered into the conversation of her life! 

Like with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus we heard last week, there is misunderstanding about what is said.  The writer of John’s Gospel often used such misunderstanding to uncover true meanings.  Nicodemus thought what Jesus meant by “you must be born from above” to mean you must be physically birthed again.  And here also with the Samaritan woman, she thought the water Jesus was offering to her was well water from Jacob’s well, but Jesus was offering the Living Water of baptism, a washing away of a sinful past and a new life in him.

She also, at first, misunderstands the most important element of her conversation with Jesus.  She believes that Jesus is a Prophet because he knew “all that she had done” without her telling him.  She later comes to realize that what is important is not what Jesus revealed about her, but what he revealed about himself.  Jesus revealed that she was a broken, sinful person who was yearning, thirsting for a different life, a new life; Jesus also revealed that he is the Messiah, the one can give her that new life, the Living Water she is thirsting for.  Jesus has changed her life outwardly by accepting her as a human being and inwardly by offering her the Living Water of eternal life she was thirsting for.  The woman leaves behind the old water jar and goes to share the new Living Water she has bubbling up inside of her.

The Disciples, when they return to Jesus, misunderstand as well.  They only see Jesus talking with a foreign, and therefore disreputable, woman.  They are astonished that he should do so.  They don’t understand the gift Jesus has given the woman or recognize her joy as she goes to share the Good News she has received. Neither do the Disciples understand when Jesus speaks of having “Food to eat”.  They are thinking of physical bread and meat and Jesus is speaking about being nourished by doing God’s will.  I am sure the Disciples were aghast when Jesus talks about sending them out “into the harvest”, in other words, on a missionary trip to preach repentance to the hated, despised Samarians.  They do not realize that the Living Water that Jesus offers can overcome even centuries of hatred and enmity, and bring Samaritans and Jews back into relationship again.
God created all human beings with a deep well inside and Jesus fills that well with Living Water.  As followers of Jesus, we are washed in this Living Water in baptism, and we, like the Samaritan woman, feel the bubbling up of Living Water in our souls.  We feel the Living Water when do God’s will in loving our neighbors as we love ourselves; in acts of kindness, in doing justice, in forgiving those who hurt us, in being compassionate (especially when we don’t want to be!), in trying to understand others who are different from us.  We feel the Living Water gushing up in the hundreds of thousand ways that God keeps us “outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls”.

I hope and pray this Lent will be a time for you to feel the power and grace of the Living Water of God’s love in your life.  I pray that Jesus will quench your yearning and thirsting for a changed, new life with the same Living Water he offered to a lonely, broken, sinful woman, coming to draw water at a well in Samaria.  It is the same Living Water Jesus offers us today and always, and its power to heal and change us is as fresh and potent now as it was for the Samaritan woman so long ago.  AMEN.