Unlikely Believers

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
March 15, 2020 ● Third Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Gospel: John 4:5-42

Mother Hymes’ sermon at WCEC this morning, “Unlikely Unbelievers” (John 3:1-17).

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, March 8, 2020

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water that, through Jesus Christ, has become within us the spring of water gushing up to eternal life—Amen.

Last week, the gospel invited us into a private encounter under the cover of the darkness of night, between Jesus and an unlikely unbeliever, Nicodemus—a Jewish religious leader. Today, we enter into another private encounter in broad daylight (around noon), between Jesus and an unlikely believer, the Samaritan woman at the well.

It is important for us to understand the context in which this encounter took place. The Samaritans were Israelites who intermarried with foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion.  Although Jews and Samaritans practiced similar religions, they were universally despised by the Jews, and considered ritually unclean. Jesus’ disciples had left him to go to the city to buy food for fear of ritual contamination. But, it’s the water, not the food, in this story which becomes the focus for this unlikely encounter, washing away the societal conventions that made it impossible for a Jewish man, let alone a Rabbi, to initiate conversation with an unknown woman—a Samaritan woman.

Jesus was already sitting by Jacob’s well, tired from his journey when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. As the woman was going about her normal routine, Jesus interrupted her saying, “Give me a drink.” Of course, the woman wondered how it was that this Jewish man was requesting hospitality from her. Jesus’ response was, “If you only knew the gift of God and who was asking you for a drink of water, you would have asked for the water for yourself and would have received living water.”

Trying to make sense of what was being told to her in the context of the temporal world (much like Nicodemus last week), “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to hold the water from the well; where exactly is this living water; are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well?” We know that the water Jesus told her about was unlike any water that she could have ever imagined. If the woman only knew who had asked her for the drink of water, she would have asked to drink herself.

And, while the woman may not have fully understood who Jesus was, and the gift being offered, she did ask Jesus to give her the living water, and she remained in conversation with him—showing an openness and a willingness to learn more so that she might better understand and receive the gift of which Jesus spoke. Because she remained in conversation with Jesus the woman recognized Jesus as one who knew everything about her, without her having told him, and received Jesus’ statement that made plain his identity. The woman affirmed her faith that the Messiah was coming and would proclaim the truth to her people. And, Jesus responded, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” (v. 26).

The woman left her water jar, and went to her city with a testimony that urged the people to “Come and See.” This unlikely believer’s testimony—one person—mobilized a city of Samaritans to invite Jesus to stay with them.  The woman made the initial connection, but it was the people’s personal engagement with Jesus which led them to believe that he was truly the Savior of the world. It is significant that the woman left her water jar as she went to the city. That seemingly insignificant act shows us that she finally had clarity about the water she had initially come for and the living water that Jesus was offering her. The water, of her choosing, could never be contained in a vessel made from human hands.

As Floridians, we are confronted with the threat of hurricanes from time to time, and are familiar with the powerful symbol of anxiety and uncertainty—the empty water shelves at the grocery stores. The symbolism of the empty water shelf is powerful. Without water, the human body will surely die. The threat, today, is not a hurricane, yet the very anticipation of water scarcity creates the actual scarcity.

In our Old Testament reading, Moses, at his wit’s end, pleaded to God to give the people water to drink. For their anxiety, in the midst of their uncertain journey, threatened Moses’ safety. God answered Moses and told him to go to the rock at Horeb with his staff in hand; to strike the rock and water would come out of the rock for the people to drink.

God said, “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb” (Ex 17:6). God assured Moses that he would be there to ensure that the water needed for the Israelite’s survival would be provided. God was there. Our Collect began with, “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves…” God knows that we are powerless to help ourselves, but do we?

As anxiety grows with the inability to access water and even toilet paper, our Collect reminds us that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. God says to us, as he said to Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you,” for Moses could not produce the water without God’s presence.  And Jesus says to us, as he said to the Samaritan woman, that the water He gives becomes, “in them,” (v.15) a powerful water spring gushing up to eternal life.

There is the external water that the human body needs for survival, and there is the living water, associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit, that the human soul must drink in order to have eternal life.  As we journey through the wilderness of Lent, humanity today is challenged with great anxiety rooted in great uncertainty.  Might we, who already live with the gushing spring of water of eternal life within us, use it to invite others to drink of the living water that quenches all thirst?

The world’s health crisis has, in many ways, mobilized Christians to stand in front of the anxious and the fearful, as God’s instruments of grace in this world, saying “Come and See!” Having fear does not mean that you do not have faith. Our faith enables us to move through fear, and to strengthen our trust that God will be standing there in front of us, just as he stood in front of Moses, when we come before him seeking deliverance from this health crisis. In their great fear and anger, the Israelites quarreled and repeatedly tested the Lord as they wandered in the wilderness, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7).

No matter what we may see and experience as we are tested in our individual and collective wildernesses, remain in conversation with Jesus and invite him to stay with you.  For there are those within the church, and without the church, who are asking, at this critical time in humankind’s shared journey, “Is the Lord among us or not?” God’s faithful people are compelled to leave our water vessels behind; show up in the world; and proclaim unequivocally and enthusiastically to all unlikely believers, “Yes, He is.”