So, what do you all think about our reading the Gospel today as a drama, to more feel like it is occurring now. It would be really long for one person to read, and we want to help out Deacon Joyce when we can. (There are a lot of longer Gospel readings coming up in the next few weeks.)
I preached on these same readings three years ago, and I felt it was one of my best sermons ever. (Yes, I know—short career as a preacher and all! But it was really fun to do then.) I had maps and pictures and brought up lots of history about Jacob's well, at that time and it's significance now, and compared the totally different interactions of the woman at the well and Nicodemus from last week's Gospel with Jesus.
“The well still exists today and is an important tourist spot to visit, surrounded by an Eastern Orthodox monastery. It is about 125 feet down to the water, the well is fed by underground springs, and its water is fresh and cool. Because the water is moving and not from a cistern, the ancient peoples called it "living water" -- a term to which Jesus gives new and special meaning.”
“Nicodemus is sneaky and quiet, his head is bowed and he wants to ensure that no one sees him going to see Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader of religious Jews who teaches and exemplifies Jewish law. He would have a great deal to lose if anyone caught him with Jesus. On the other hand, the Samaritan woman is a total religious and political outsider, she has no name or standing in her society or religion at all, she is actually looked down upon with contempt in her community, and she meets Jesus at noon, in full daylight.”
I found myself this time wanting to do something different with the readings for today—and I found it! There is another big difference in these two stories and characters—it is how they deal with their conversations with Jesus: Nicodemus narrowly sticks within what he knows about his religious system and thinking, while the Samaritan woman gets outside her own religious expectations and gets into it with Jesus in a theology discussion. How often have you seen so-called Christians display their shallowness and lack of flexibility in their faith by declaring some scriptural verse by itself without any context of history or culture and claim it applies to their life (and, of course, your's too!) today? If we were to be as inflexible as some, we would not have Bible studies of the type we do here at St. Mark's—we would just listen tosome priestly man and lean on his every word as holy and factual and above reproach.
The epitome of this is the Westboro Baptist Church, whose founder and leader pastor Fred Phelps just passed away this week; they believe very narrowly about what they read in the Bible and apply those beliefs in horrible ways, such as picketing funerals of military soldiers and other celebrities with signs like “God hates fags”. What the women at the well didinstead of the Nicodemus or Westboro Baptist mindset was to look at her circumstances that day and think about why it was different—a man talking with her at all, a man asking her for a drink, a man talking about religion with her, a man offering her something special in a religious way (she probably thought to be only for men). She realized she was in very special company, and that company transcended her faith practices. And, she reacted by running to tell others, with such conviction, that they realized she had been in a very special presence and they needed to experience it too.
Another thing I noted with these readings today is in Exodus—why are the people so distraught and up in arms with God and Moses over the lack of water in their journey? These are the chosen people of God, and Moses has shown them again and again that God is with them, but at any sign of trouble they just complain. Earlier they complained about the lack of food, and God gave them “manna from heaven”, and later quail, which they also got tired of and complained some more. Some even wondered why they had to leave Egypt for this—when as slaves in Egypt their lives were really awful! Where have we seen this today? As our Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley put it in his message this week: “Their sense of blessedness in the wilderness was dehydrated by their "what-have-you-done-for-us-lately" perspective for God in a desert of ingratitude. They were quick to complain and to forget and slow to request and remember. Yet God's provision abounded. But their hearts were small and demanding without being filled with gratitude. Their time in the wilderness was supposed to be a time for them to soak in their relationship with God to develop a reservoir of blessedness and gratitude for divine provision.”
For some, Christian faith is fleeting—depending on when things are good, or on not so solidground when times are hard. Some will even tell you that in becoming a Christian your life will be wonderful and all will be great and prosperous and happy—except when it isn't! Then it must be because you have sinned, or not prayed enough, or did not do enough for God, or... Just complain some more!!
The reality is that this divine provision from God, including that “living water”, is there for our use to fulfill our needs, and as we act as the woman at the well did—take that living water (the spirit of life) and share it with others around us in whatever ways we can. Whether it is helping an elderly or sick person get to the doctor, giving a hand or even just acknowledging and listening to a homeless person, helping with teaching kids, coaching kids, being active for those who have no voice, fighting for our environment, and pushing for help for others to have basic needs fulfilled—these and many others are ways to give out that living water from God. We've all done these things before—and we will keep doing it, both as individuals and as a church community!
So as we continue through this Lenten season and prepare for the Easter time, let's think and plan new ways to give away this living water! AMEN!