The sermon from last Sunday at Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA!
On January 12 of this year, Jeff and I found ourselves standing with approximately 40 others around Jacob’s well. We had driven into the West Bank that morning, leaving Israel behind for a time and entering the Palestinian Territories. We were driving through the crowded city of Nablus, thought to be Biblical city of Shechem or Sychar as it’s called in the Gospel. Our bus driver pulled over to the side of the road for us to get out, and looking up, I noticed that we were at a walled monastery. Upon entering, we saw gardens and cats – there are lots of cats in the Holy Land – and a fairly large church, with statues and mosaics. We entered the church, gazing at the gorgeous iconography and proceeded to the front of the sanctuary. From there, we headed down stairs, toward the crypt, where Jacob’s well is.
Once at the well, being a good tourist, I took out my camera, but was promptly told that we weren’t allowed to take photos there. As we squished in the room, located beneath an altar in the church, our guide lowered a bucket into the well. When it reached the end of the rope, he began the task of cranking it back up, bit by bit, creaking, creaking, creaking, until it reached the top, some 135 feet later. At that time, one of our fellow travelers, a pastor from Maryland read the passage of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
As she read, those closest to the bucket, grabbed some of the tin cups sitting nearby and ladled out water. They drank and passed the cups around our group, some drinking out of the cups, others cupping their hands to receive the water. We each drank, listening to the story, feeling the cold water against our lips, refreshing us and quenching our thirst in a dry land. And even more than that, it felt like communion – none of us took the water for ourselves, but rather received it from others, sharing what was given to us by passing it along to the next person.
The story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well is a wonderful one. A woman makes her way to the well at noon, hoping to draw enough water for her needs and she ends up getting way more than she bargained for. But who is this woman? She is clearly not integrated into her town social network because she’s coming to the well at the hottest part of the day – at high noon – to draw water. The well was the hang out spot for women, but this woman comes alone. So she’s isolated and outcast, living on the margins and hoping for life-giving water so she can just make it through her day-to-day life.
But she arrives at the well to find a Jew there. She must have been thinking, “oh give me a break! I just wanted my water and now I have to deal with this guy?!” And what’s worse is that Jesus asks for a drink. He breaks the silence and steps across the barrier between Samaritans and Jews, asking for some water. This, of course, sparks the now famous conversation at the well. It’s two thousand year-old water cooler chat!
But what I find most intriguing is how this conversation ends. There is a turning point in which they discuss the woman’s marital history and current living arrangement. And I’d like to point out that Jesus does not pass any kind of judgment upon this woman, but rather shows that he knows her. He knows about her life and he knows why people in town whisper about her. He reveals that he understands her deeply – far more deeply than anyone in her village. And then they begin to talk theology. They talk about who God is, and when the Messiah will come, and then Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah.
Enter the disciples. They come traipsing to the well and they see their teacher chit-chatting with a Samaritan. And not just any Samaritan, but a woman! “I mean, come on, Teacher, we all know Isaac and Moses met their wives at wells, what’s going on here?!” But they don’t say anything, and the woman runs back to the village, leaving her water jar by the well.
Back in the village, this woman who no one liked – whom everyone regarded as separate – as an outsider – bursts onto the scene shouting about her encounter with this strange Jewish man at the well. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”This exchange is shocking to me because why does she think that all of a sudden these people who have so disregarded her would listen? And yet, she goes. Becoming vulnerable with this group of people in order to invite them to “come and see” and to share the experience she has had.
And what’s even more shocking is that they respond. Not by mocking her or telling her she’s out of her mind, but by listening and suspending their disbelief. They, too, become vulnerable, dropping their guard and heading to the well in order to share in the encounter with this bizarre interloper. John’s Gospel tells us that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…” And that, “when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” This woman’s story caused some to believe and brought many people, quite literally, to Jesus. And from there, they were able to have their own personal interactions with the Messiah. After two days, these villagers are able to say to this bold woman, “‘it is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’” We don’t believe just because of what you’ve said, but also because we’ve had our own face-to-face interactions and experiences with this person. What started as a conversation between two people at a well, became a movement in the Samaritan village.
The Samaritan woman’s life was changed by an encounter she had with Jesus. And once she had that encounter, she wanted to share it with people – even those who didn’t normally want anything to do with her. She went and invited others to “come and see” and to be in conversation with her about who this man was and whether or not he could be the Messiah.
We, too, have had encounters with Jesus. Or, if we haven’t, maybe we are looking to have one. Maybe we’re wondering what such an encounter with God would look like. Or maybe we’re struggling to figure out how God is speaking to us. These are the things that keep us coming back week after week, listening to God’s Word, receiving forgiveness, and tasting bread and wine.
But we, like the Samaritan woman, cannot remain at the well, but we are called to go and tell others what we’ve experienced. We’re called to invite others to “come and see,” but how often do we remain silent, keeping our faith neatly hidden away?
Many of you know that I did not grow up going to church. I became a Christian in middle school, and for many years, my faith was something that I kept to myself. I became even more quiet about it after having a negative experience with a very conservative evangelical church in high school where the emphasis was largely on converting people.
And yet, I knew that followers of Christ were called to speak about Christ with others. But what would people say? Would they think me foolish or childish for believing in God or miracles? I’m sorry to say it, but I was ashamed of my faith and nervous, really, really nervous, about sharing it in a public sphere. That began to change, however, when I went to church in Germany and spoke with Pastor Christof Schorling.
When I talked with him about the struggle I was having, he told me this which has stuck with me, and shaped my views on evangelism. He said: “Our never-ending task is this: to seek ways to ‘really’ witness to our faith. By ‘really’ I mean that we remain true to ourselves – that we do not disguise ourselves or simply repeat something we’ve learned by rote. That we learn to say what God means to us, where He is important, and how He helps us. When we practice that, we will notice that we are not laughed at.”
There was so much grace in his words. They showed me that it wasn’t so much about having the right words, or the most articulate theology, or even being able to answer all the questions someone might ask of us. It was about sharing our experiences of God by being our authentic selves. By bearing witness to God’s action in our lives by being the people we were created to be and trusting that the Holy Spirit was at work in the midst of it all.
Sharing our faith with others means being honest about who God is and what God means to us. It means listening to others’ experiences and questions about God and life, and being open to what they have to say. It means being able to say “come and see” and leaving people free to respond to the invitation. We cannot control how people respond, but when we can speak truthfully and humbly about what God means to us, and maybe that will speak to them.
And maybe they’ll be like the Samaritan villagers, accepting the invitation only to have their own encounters with the Jewish man at the well. The one who is not so fond of societal barriers. Faith is deeply personal. That’s true. But it is also public. We gather in community. We confess together belief in a God who lived, taught and was crucified in the public sphere. A God who was also raised from the dead, appeared to many, and is at work in the church – the body of Christ.
As we have our thirst quenched here week after week, how can we invite others to the well to encounter the living God? To come and receive living water? Who else is thirsty and might be longing to receive a drink? How can we be so filled with excitement about what God is doing in our lives and here at Community that we want to run and tell others about it?
At Jacob’s well in January, our tour group shared water together in community. And what began as a conversation between Jesus and one woman in that place has become an experience and an encounter that affects many. There’s no longer one marginalized outsider at the well, but a global community drawn together by living water. Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.