Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

March 12, 2023

Exodus 17:1-7                                    Psalm 95                              Romans 5:1-11                                   John 4:5-42

I know the scriptures teach us that whenever two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is in the midst of them.  What we are taught and what we experience can be two different things.  This past Wednesday we hosted the Lenten Luncheon with the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics, and leading up to our worship together, there was some concern as to whether or not we had enough food.  It was the second gathering in this series of luncheons and it was the second time that we had more in attendance than were expected.  We ran out of bulletins.

Still, as I began leading us in the Stations of the Cross, I experienced Christ’s presence when we said the Lord’s Prayer together.  Not only did I feel Christ’s presence, I was aware that he was uniting us.  Our theological differences melted away as we joined our voices together and prayed to the one true God and creator of us all.  In that service we placed aside our differences and joined our voices together in prayer to the one true God and creator of us all.  This is something that does not happen enough today in our world which is divided in so many ways. 

After the service, we began serving the meal and I admit to feeling a bit anxious.  The week before, the host had run out of food and had to leave to get more.  We did have enough and I want to thank all of you who helped.  Thank you.

This experience, the nervousness and anxiety I felt, helped me connect, in part, to the people of Israel in today’s reading from Exodus.  They were afraid they did not have enough water.  Not having enough water when in the wilderness is much more significant than running out of soup.   

They are in a place where water is scarce.  Finding water in such places, can be the difference between life and death. So, when this tribe of people are thirsty, they complain to Moses saying, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 

They are afraid; their trust in God is wanning.  Up until now, God has provided what they have needed – but they are wondering if God will continue to do so.  They have doubts. I dare say we all have moments of doubts and experience times when our faith is weak. For some of us, these times may last for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Moses turns to God for help and is instructed to strike the rock at Horeb with the same staff he used to strike the Red Sea.  There the sea parted and the people were able to cross to the other side leaving slavery and Egypt behind them.  Here, at Massah and Meribah Moses strikes the rock with his staff and water begins to flow from the rock.  Once again, God is providing the people with what they need to sustain life.

In our gospel reading, it is Jesus sitting at a well in Samaria when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water from it.  It is a deep well and Jesus does not have a bucket, so he asks her for a drink.  In doing so, he is disregarding what a “good” Jew has been taught.  He is crossing a line by speaking to a woman in public, and a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation at that.   Like the sinners and tax collectors he has associated with, Samaritans are considered less than.  According to the teachings in the synagogues, he should not so much as speak to her.  The hatred between the Orthodox Jews and the Samaritans is great. 

          But, Jesus disregards the “rules.”  If he was in grade school, he would be the kid who draws outside the lines.  The lines on the page are there for us to draw a picture that someone else wants us to draw – but what if that isn’t the picture that is in our minds?  Jesus wants us to see a picture that is much different from what society teaches us to see.  The image Jesus wants us to see is the kingdom of heaven where boundaries that separate us from our neighbors do not exist.  In the kingdom of God boundaries of race, gender, gender identity, religion, and political divisions do not exist.

          At the well, Jesus sees a person who has lived a troubled life and responds to her with love and compassion.  He offers her a world in which she can truly experience life.  The living water that Jesus offers is one of love and forgiveness.  He does not approach her with judgment.  He is not critical of her.  Theologian William Barclay says, “She had at last met someone who was not a critic but a friend, one who did not condemn but who understood.” She is so excited that she rushes back to her village and tells everyone she has found their savior, the Messiah. 

          Barclay also says, “Here is Jesus breaking the barriers of nationality and orthodox Jewish custom. . .   here is God so loving the world, not in theory, but in action.”  If you believe, as I do, that Jesus came to teach us the way to life – here it is.  We are not to be critics; we are to be friends. 

This is another example of Jesus developing a relationship with a person that others might reject.  He destroys the barriers others have placed between people and God.  Barriers that are used to separate us from others, barriers that should not exist.  Jesus teaches us to ignore that which divides us from our neighbors.  Here, Jesus teaches us to move past the theory and theological and put our faith into the practice of loving the people whom God created. 

Love is meant to be expressed through our actions.  Love is more than wishing the best for someone, it is about developing non-judgmental relationships.  Not only does Jesus listen to this woman’s story, he agrees to go into the village where she lives and Jesus stays there for two days. Later Jesus will be rejected by his own people, but here, we are told that the people of Samaria come to believe in him and say, “we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Lent is a journey, and if we are like the people of Israel in the wilderness, we need to learn to trust God.   The woman at the well, did not leave when Jesus spoke to her as others would have.  She stayed and talked with him. She listened and her life was transformed.  Listening is an important part of our journey through Lent – and so is trust.  Even if we have doubts, even if we are afraid, God is present, offering us the living water of life in Christ. 

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for your presence in our lives.  Help us, we pray, to be mindful that you are always with us that we might put our trust in you.  Fill us with your Spirit, that we might share your love with others in real and tangible ways.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.