31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 15, 2020, Online
John 4:3-21, 28-30, 39-42
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Do you remember back to a year ago? A month ago? A week ago even? When we lamented how emotionally, socially, and politically disconnected we were. Red state, blue state, Bernie, Biden – remember when we thought those were walls that divided us, and now corona virus and COVID-19 have come and we find ourselves physically separated from each other out of concern and also out of fear.
We are not the first or last people to be afraid. Nor are we the first or last people to be separated by fear. Our Bible passage from John shows us a window into fear and separation in Jesus’ time.
As Jesus travels back to Galilee, scripture says ‘he had to go through Samaria’. Actually, he did not have to go through Samaria. There was another route, a longer route, a route most Jews would have taken because they thought it was safer, because they would not be exposed to Samaritans, these people they considered a religious cult.
Jesus was not forced to go through Samaria. He was called to go through Samaria and step across this boundary fear had created between the Jews and the Samaritans.
And he did not stop with this one boundary. In meeting the Samaritan woman, in speaking with her, he stepped across another boundary, a social one that seemed as solid as a rock – because this Samarian woman was not acceptable.
Most Jewish men would find it unacceptable to speak with her because 1) she was part of the Samaritan “cult”, 2) she was a woman, and 3) she was not even acceptable to her own people – which we know because she comes at the hottest time of the day to get her water, when the other Samaritan women would have come in the cool of the morning before they began their daily work.
In her conversation with Jesus, we discover the likely reason why she was avoiding (or ostracized) from her community. She had had five husbands, and she currently lived with a man who was not her husband. Before we judge her or condemn her with modern eyes, we need to be aware of the levirate marriage custom, which said that if a man died, his brother or next of kin would be required to marry his wife and raise any future children as the first man’s children.
Widowed five times, her husband’s next of kin might not have been willing to marry her, or he might have been afraid to marry her. The aura of tragedy can often isolate us. While tragedy is no fault of our own, people can become afraid. They can back away from us. They can disconnect in the fear that tragedy is contagious. In our hour of greatest need, we can sometimes find ourselves very much alone with no community to help or support us.
Like the rich man and blind Bartimaeus, Jesus sees the Samaritan woman, sees deep into her heart, sees her brokenness and her need. And Jesus offers her healing. He offers her living water.
The Greek is a play on words so at first she misunderstands. How is he going to draw the “living/moving” water from the spring below when he has no pail?
She doesn’t understand at first; however she does thirst for this water. She desires this water if it means she will not need to come back to this place every day, this place that reminds her of loss, this place that reminds her she is outcast and unwelcome.
No matter how much she might think she thirsts for literal water, she is actually thirsting for acceptance. And that is what Jesus offers to her – acceptance and love. Jesus steps right across all of those boundaries and divisions fear has created, and Jesus loves.
Jesus sees us, truly sees us, and Jesus knows that we really need. While it might not come in exactly the same form or exactly the same words, Jesus invites us all into a relationship of healing. Jesus invited the rich man to be healed by letting go of that which was strangling him and impoverishing his life. Jesus healed Bartimaeus by restoring his sight and his dignity. Jesus heals the Samaritan woman by offering her love and acceptance – just as she is.
Feel those words. Let that sink into your mind and heart. Loved and accepted for just who you are. No need to be perfect, to be improved, to be changed in any way. Loved and accepted for who you are and how you are at this moment. That is a love that heals, that heals our brokenness and hurt. That is a love that frees, frees us from the islands fear isolates us on. That is a love that transforms, transforms us into springs of water gushing up to eternal life.
Jesus offers to the Samaritan woman the living water of his Spirit, the living water of his love, and she accepts his acceptance and is transformed. Like a dehydrated plant being deeply watered, she comes back to life. She comes back to who she was before tragedy and fear separated her from community and life. She affirms her dignity as a child of God. She sees that she too is called to be a disciple, sharing the good news of Christ’s love. She understands that she is called to be living water, a spring gushing up to eternal life, nurturing and nourishing others with Christ’s love and acceptance.
And right away, she leaves behind her water jar. She leaves behind that task that earlier was so urgent, and she runs into the city to invite others to come and see Jesus. She invites others to be healed, freed, and transformed. She invites them into relationship with one who sees them for exactly who they are and loves them, accepts them for exactly who they are.
Every day, we are offered the living water of Christ’s love and acceptance. Every day, as we thirst for comfort, as we thirst for community, as we thirst for safety and security, we are offered the living water of Christ’s love and acceptance. We are invited to drink deeply, to be healed, and to become springs of water gushing up to eternal life.
And not just for us. We are called as disciples, we are offered living water, so we can nourish and nurture others, so we can invite them to experience and be healed by Christ’s love and acceptance.
Now, this is a ministry that is a challenge for most of us on any given day however in our world’s heightened state of fear about the corona virus, it seems an impossible task to step across the boundaries fear has created and share love.
I remind you though, we are not the only people in all of history to experience fear. We are not the only people to feel like boundaries of disconnection are being created all around us.
We do stand in a long tradition of Christians who faithfully follow Jesus, a long tradition of Christians who boldly step across the boundaries fear has created, finding new and innovative ways to share God’s love and acceptance.
See the potential in our current world situation. Look for opportunities to offer living water, nurture and nourishment, love and acceptance.
Send cards to people you know and people you don’t know in nursing homes, people who cannot have visitors. Let them know they are remembered and loved.
Pray daily for all of the medical staff around the world who are caring for those with COVID-19. Post those prayers on social media.
Use this times at home as an opportunity to call, email, and text your family and friends with jokes and reminders to take three deep breaths.
And if you are blessed to have additional canned goods, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and other emergency supplies, consider a donation to the food pantry at Zion Lutheran or Grace Baptist.
In this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we see all sorts of boundaries created by fear – and we see how Jesus steps across every single one of them, how Jesus invites us to step across them and to be living water, nourishing and nurturing all with Christ’s unconditional love.