Sunday 29th March 2020
“The Woman at the Well”
Introduction and Welcome
Good morning everyone, it’s hard to believe it’s just over two weeks since Leo Varadkar announced that schools were closing and gatherings of more than 100 people should be suspended. So much has changed in such a short period. And yet for many of us with our social distancing, I’m sure the time seems to be passing very slowly and his announcement feels like it was months ago. So I hope that our service this morning will be a welcome distraction, bring a sense of normal routine, and help you to feel connected to one another, to God and to our world.
When our Taoiseach made his announcement, I was sitting in the church office preparing my sermon about an unexpected encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Given the circumstances, I immediately changed tack and prepared some thoughts on Psalm 23 that I thought were more appropriate.
Two weeks later, I think it’s time to revisit this wonderful story of the woman at the well. But before we do, let’s pause for a moment in prayer…Let us pray…
Gracious God, once more we meet together during this season of lent. We come in the name of Christ, remembering again those lonely and testing days he endured in the wilderness. We come recalling how he deliberately spent time there alone, reflecting on who he was and what you wanted of him. We come reminded of the courage, the faith, and the commitment he showed during that time - qualities that were to characterise the rest of his ministry.
Gracious God, at this time of our wilderness, caused by the Covid 19 virus, help us to use our time wisely. May we draw closer to you through it, understanding more of your nature and our own. May it deepen our faith, strengthen our commitment and confirm our sense of calling. May we learn what it means to follow Christ and what it means to serve you. May we recognise more clearly the true cost of discipleship but equally the rewards. May we understand more fully why you have put us here, what you would have us do, who you would have us be, how you would have us live, and where you would have us go.
Gracious God, prepare us through this time of worship, this day and this difficult season, to understand and celebrate more fully all you have done for us in Christ. And so may we love you more truly and serve you more faithfully, to the glory of your name, Amen.
Join with me now as we thoughtfully and sincerely say the Lord’s prayer together. And so we say…
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Introduction to Reflection
This morning, rather than separating the bible reading from my reflection, I would like to weave the reading through my thoughts. If you wish to follow the entire reading you can find it in John’s gospel Chapter 4 and reading from verse 1 through to verse 26. This is the account of an unexpected encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. John introduces the encounter by explaining to us why Jesus left the Southern region of Judea where he was ministering to travel further North towards Galilee.
“So when the Lord learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptising more disciples than John ( although it was not Jesus himself who was in the habit of baptising but his disciples) He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the Sixth hour (Noon).”
Reflection Encounters with Jesus – ‘The woman at the well.’
Due to his thought-provoking speeches and the miraculous ways he was transforming lives, large numbers of people were flocking to Jesus and his followers and asking to be baptised. Naturally this had caused the Jewish religious leaders to become worried and a little jealous. So in order to stir up trouble they had begun to question Jesus about his understanding of baptism. Anxious to avoid unnecessary controversy and debate at this stage in his ministry, Jesus took the decision to move on further North to Galilee.
In his gospel, John describes this unexpected journey with the one liner- “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.” In actual fact, there were two ways of getting to Galilee from Judea in the South. Yes, the quickest route was through Samaria. But since the Jews and Samaritans despised each other, Jews travelling Northwards would always take the longer route, by-passing Samaria entirely. Unless there was some sort of road block that we are unaware of, the only reason Jesus ‘had to pass through Samaria’ was because God the Father had told him to – As always, Jesus had that sense of Divine purpose.
I wonder do we? Do we realise that God is very real. That He loves us? Do we understand that our birth was no accident, that our lives are of deep worth and significance? Do we know that God has a purpose for us? That life is a journey of discovery?
In his book, ‘Man’s Search for meaning’, the famous Jewish Psychologist Victor Frankyl describes his experience of the holocaust. In that book Frankyl suggests that the main thing that kept him alive while so many around him were dying, was his mental determination to somehow find purpose within this darkest of situations. The purpose that Frankyl discovered was this – “I am going to survive this because when I do, I will be able to help people through their own traumatic life experiences.” It was that necessity to find purpose in suffering that formed the basis for the rest of Frankyl’s work. Frankyl spent the rest of his life encouraging people that they did not have to be a victim of their past but that in finding purpose for their lives they could move beyond their past and find fulfilment in the present.
So let me ask you, in the midst of our current circumstances what is your purpose for today? What does God want you to do today?
The purpose in bringing Jesus through Samaria would shortly be revealed but for now, tired and thirsty, he sits down at a famous landmark called ‘Jacob’s well’ situated in the fork of the road leading to Samaria. The disciples had gone into town for provisions.
The writer of Genesis records that their Jewish forefather Jacob had bought this piece of ground, bequeathed it to Joseph on his deathbed and that Joseph had requested to be buried there. The well that had been dug here was 100 feet deep. It was fed by an underground stream and a leather traveller’s bucket would have been essential to draw water from it.
It was midday, the hottest part of the day, and Jesus sat down to rest for he was weary from his ministry and their travelling. After a short while, unexpectedly a woman arrived to draw water from the well. A clay pot was cradled in her elbow, its weight on her hip. In her other hand she carried a coiled rope and a leather bucket. Why she would come to that well was something of a mystery for it was more than half a mile from Sychar where she must have stayed and there was water there. It was also midday. Women would only come to the well in the morning or the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. As they drew water they exchanged news. There was talk of the weather, the harvest, the latest marriages, births and deaths. Why did she avoid the company of the other women?
There are few stories in the gospel record which show us so much about the character of Jesus as this story does…
John is the writer who emphasises the deity of Jesus more than any other gospel writer. Yet here he stresses the deep reality of Jesus’ humanity. We might have expected John not to mention that Jesus was tired and thirsty. But in including these details, John is deliberately highlighting for us that Jesus was as much human as you and me. Life was as much of a struggle for him as it is for us. He too experienced times when he was exhausted and overwhelmed but when he knew that he had to carry on.
I hope that’s an encouragement to all of us in the present circumstances especially to those of us who are shouldering the burden of working in our hospitals and care homes, our supermarkets or who are deeply concerned about the impact the current crisis will have on our jobs or family finances.
In Christ, God took on human flesh. That means he understands every human experience of life. He knows what it’s like to weep, to be afraid, to laugh and cry, to be in pain, to feel exhausted and thirsty, to feel angry and confused.
I can’t promise you that everything will turn out rosy. That’s certainly not been the experience of those who have already lost their jobs or their lives or family members because of Covid 19. But what I can promise you is that whatever your experience, however anxious or exhausted or angry or frustrated you feel, God understands and through His Holy Spirit, God comes near.
God is not the author of this virus. But God is the one who is beside you and who will give you the grace that you need for each unfolding day. Let me encourage you to let Him help you.
As she approached the well, the Samaritan woman would never have dreamed how this strange man, already seated, would help her. In his book ‘Unexpected Journeys,’ Eddie Askey describes her well, he writes,
“I wish I knew her name. It’s so impersonal to keep calling her woman or ‘she’… She comes into the picture preoccupied with her own troubles. Life hasn’t been good to her. She’s carrying burdens, not just a bucket. She’s had difficulties with relationships particularly with men. Sometimes there’d been a wedding ceremony at other times not. That’s according to Jesus’ words later on, and she never denied them. Why so many problems? The easiest and simplest answer is to dismiss her as immoral, a woman who despised convention and went wherever her emotions led her. In other words, to blame her. But that’s too facile, quick judgements often are. Prejudice is a weed with deep roots…”
She sat down. Whether she and Jesus exchanged a glance we’ll never know. But after a short silence he spoke, “Would you give me a drink?”
Astonished she turns to him in response, “I’m a Samaritan woman, you are a Jewish man. How is it that you ask me for a drink?”
This whole incident breaks every social taboo of the day and is pregnant with suspicion and suggestion.
In the A.N.E. a man should never have approached or spoken to a woman in public, nor a woman a man. After hundreds of years of animosity Jews and Samaritan’s hated each other. For a Jew to accept food or drink from a Samaritan would make them ceremonially unclean. Given the woman’s background, Jesus risked losing his reputation entirely, but equally in the circumstances, she was curious about his intentions.
Reading the story with the hindsight of our Christian experience, we know that Jesus deliberately broke all the rules of the day because he cared deeply and purely for this woman. He longed to see her find inner peace and healing through a new found relationship with God.
As I reflected on this story again this week I wrote down 2 questions that came to mind…Who are my Samaritans and what are my prejudices?
I want to encourage you to write those 2 questions down this week and to honestly reflect upon them in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Like me, I think you’ll be unpleasantly surprised…
In his book ‘Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes’ I found these conclusions from Kenneth Bailey particularly interesting…
“The new movement centred around Jesus, elevates the position of all women. Jesus talks directly to the Samaritan woman and chooses her as an appropriate audience for profound expositions of the nature of God and the nature of true worship. She becomes an evangelist to her own community and foreshadows the women who witness to the men regarding the resurrection…”
“A Samaritan woman and her community are sought out and welcomed by Jesus. In the process, ancient racial, theological and historical barriers are breached. His message and community are for all.”
Jesus cared deeply for this woman. He knew that her greatest problem was a spiritual one that only he could meet. So he says, “If you knew the free gift that God offers and who it is that’s talking to you, you would have asked and I would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir you have no bucket to draw water and the well is deep. Where does this living water that you have come from? Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well and who drank form it himself with his children and cattle?”
To a Jew the term ‘living water’ was brimming with meaning. It was used figuratively to describe a flowing stream. It was also used spiritually to describe how only God could quench the thirsty soul or spirit.
Jesus is trying to use imagery to teach this lady a spiritual lesson. But like Nicodemus the lady misses the point because she is trying to understand Jesus’ words literally.
She knows the only water around is at the bottom of Jacob’s well. It wasn’t flowing water, and he had no bucket. Was he just trying to poke fun or make out that he was somehow better than the Samaritan’s beloved ancestor, Jacob?
Jesus presses the point further. He replies, “Everyone who drinks of this well water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water I give them will never thirst again. The water I give them will become like an internal well, springing up to give them eternal life.”
“If that’s true,” she says, “Them give me this water so that I won’t be thirsty and won’t have to come back to this well ever again.”
I’m not sure if the woman is really beginning to understand what Jesus is trying to say or if she is just being sarcastic at this point.
Suddenly, yet gently, like a loving parent, Jesus cuts to the chase and points out where the woman has a problem. This issue had caused this woman untold sorrow and yet she still clung to it like a limpet. “Go and call your husband, then come back.” He said. “I’m not married” she replies. “That’s right” he says, “You’ve had 5 husbands and you’re not married to the man you’re currently with.”
Being fully God as well as being completely human, Jesus knew every detail of this woman’s life. He knew her relationships with men were spoiling her life and affecting her spiritually. Like a prophet he was pointing this out, to help her, not to condemn her. This was an opportunity for her life to be turned around…
The Covid 19 virus has already proved devastating for many people in different ways. But in a strange, almost prophetic way, it has also provided many of us with invaluable opportunities. Opportunity to get some jobs done that we might otherwise not have had time to do. Opportunity to spend time with our families. Opportunity to think of others rather than just ourselves. Opportunity to step off the treadmill of our manic schedules and reflect on what really matters most. Opportunity to see the issues and that going forward perhaps there is a different and better way to live….
So they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can hear the birds again.
Satellite images show huge areas of our atmosphere now clear of smog and the waters of Venus are running clear.
Hotels are offering free meals and a delivery to the housebound and people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
Crime rates are down to unprecedented levels.
Take time to reflect on your life, how you have been living, where your priorities lie and the impact your choices and actions are having on the world around you.
You may not get this time to reflect again. So make it count, not just for the next number of weeks, but for the remainder of your life. That way, you will leave a footprint that future generations will be proud to follow.
Uncomfortable at the moral inadequacies Jesus has confronted her with, the woman cleverly tries to change the subject even though she realises there is something especially holy about the man to whom she is speaking.
“I see you are a prophet,” she says. “Our ancestors said Mt Gerazim is where we should worship but you Jews say Jerusalem is the place.”
Whether she was really wanting to know where she should go to offer sacrifice for her sins or whether she was just raising a new topic of religious controversy to distract Jesus form her promiscuous lifestyle we ‘ll never know.
But in response, again Jesus cuts to the chase and redirects her to the main point.
He says, “A day is coming when we won’t worship God in Gerazim or Jerusalem. The day will come when we will worship God in spirit and in truth. For those are the sort of worshippers that God is looking for.”
Here Jesus emphasises that not only can God be worshipped anywhere because He is everywhere, but above all he is looking for honesty and sincerity of heart.
Squirming at the thought of the all seeing eye of God, the woman grabs at one last straw of hope that Jews and Samaritans held in common. That one day the Messiah would come.
“I know that one day the Messiah is coming,” she says. “I know that on that day he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus replies, “I myself am, him.”
The words that Jesus uses here are literally translated “I, myself, am.” In Greek these are the very same words that are used in the Greek translation of Exodus Ch 2 and Ch 6 where God reveals His divine name to Moses. In other words Jesus is saying – “I am Divine, I am the Messiah!”
You know all of life is spiritual, all of life is a gift from God and to be enjoyed. Our work, our family, our pets, our hobbies, our holidays, the environment. But in all of this for all of us there is one inherent danger. We can be so busy living the life that we forget the God who gives us life. We forget to talk to Him, to thank Him, to respect Him, to ask Him for help and in doing so, the things of life fail to satisfy us the way they should. That’s because deep down inside we all have a soul or spirit. As well as being physical we are spiritual beings. That means we were created to have a relationship with God. Until we find that relationship or if we neglect it after we have discovered it, there will always be something missing. We will always feel thirsty, aware of a gap in our lives. One rock singer described it as an emptiness deep inside, a woman described it as a deep, deep void and a young person spoke of a chunk missing in their soul. Whatever else we try to fill it with –money, drugs, sex, hard work, music, sport, success, sooner or later we will find that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger that exists deep inside every one of us. Until that hunger is satisfied, until that thirst is quenched, we will never find true happiness or true contentment in all of the things that we are supposed to enjoy in life.
That’s why Jesus came. He is the living water and the bread of life. He died and came back to life so that we could have the wrong things in our lives forgiven and our relationship with God restored. It is only as we maintain our friendship with Him each day by talking to Him and reflecting on His words that the rest of life falls into place and becomes truly satisfying.
So let me ask you, how is your relationship with God? Do you know Him? Have you allowed the worries and disappointments of life to cloud your friendship.
Then let me encourage you to use this time of social distancing to bring you closer again to God.
If you do that and continue to keep coming regularly to the well, I promise you that like the Samaritan woman, you will be able to share with anyone who cares to listen what a difference Christ is making to every aspect of your living.
Introduction to Prayers for others
We are going to spend a few moments now praying for others. Our focus will be particularly for those who mourn and for those who are sacrificing so much, to serve us in these days. Please feel free to include those people who you are particularly concerned about….Let us pray…
Prayers for Others
A Prayer for those who mourn – Loving God, you have promised your special blessing to those who mourn, your comfort to those overwhelmed by grief, your joy to those enduring sorrow. So now we pray for all those facing sadness, those burdened by misery, those weighed down by despair, those who have lost loved ones and who are striving to come to terms with the emptiness and heartbreak they feel. We think particularly of those who have lost family members to the Corona virus.
Loving God, grant to all who grieve your special blessing. May they know that your hand is upon them, your arms encircling them and your heart reaching out to them.
May all who mourn, discover the comfort you have promised and find strength to face tomorrow, until that time comes when light shall dawn again and hope be born anew.
A Prayer for those who serve – Lord of all, we pray for those who in different ways spend much of their lives in the service of others, those whose work offers us the care, the security, the opportunities and the support that we often take for granted in society. We think of those in hospitals, hospices and care homes, in the Gardai and police, the armed forces or emergency services, In voluntary services and charities, supermarkets, welfare offices, aid agencies, in social and community work, in schools, colleges and universities, in the church or mission field, in local, national and international government.
Lord God, we thank you for those who provide service in so many different ways especially all those who are working night and day to help us during this period of pandemic.
Strengthen and encourage them in their work. Keep them safe and in good health. Give them all the support, inspiration and resources they need and work through them to express your love for the world. In all their work, Lord, uphold them, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Again it’s been my joy and privilege to serve you by leading you in worship this morning. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it to be encouraging. Please do take time during the week ahead to reflect more deeply on those things that we have considered this morning. Like our food, it’s often only when we take time to really digest that we get the benefit of the spiritual truths that we hear or read. Don’t forget to look at our church website or on facebook for latest information and to log on to listen to another broadcast next Sunday. Amidst the chaos, I hope to restore a bit of structure and normality to our lives as we reflect on Palm Sunday that leads us into Holy Week. Easter Sunday and the resurrection are only around the corner. May that be true for our current situation also. So let me close with a benediction after which, as always, I invite you to join me in saying the grace together…
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and may God's love, grace and truth, be poured out endlessly upon you, may they well up in you like a stream and flow from your life like a river. So may you bring blessing to all you meet and praise and glory to God’s everlasting name…..
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.