Monday, March 24, 2014

Sermon for March 23, 2014

Rev. George Miller
John 4:5-42
“Samaritan Shuffle”
March 23, 2014

(This is a character sermon featuring Jacob of Genesis and the Samaritan Woman at the Well).

Jacob(coming from the left/pulpit side):

I wonder if you heard the story- of how years ago I was just a boy; a foolish boy who made a series of bad decisions; choices I now regret.

My name is Jacob. Once I tricked my brother Esau into selling me his birthright. Another time I tricked my father into giving me the family blessing.

These acts of trickery caused a divide between my brother and I. So much so that he wanted to kill me. So I ran away, as far as I could.

But God has a funny way of working through even our worst mistakes.

Eventually I arrived at this well in the field surrounded by flocks of sheep. A stone covered the well’s mouth.

And there, in broad daylight, came the most graceful, beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her name was Rachel and she was with her father’s sheep.

Immediately I went over and rolled away the stone from the well, and as her flocks drank, I rushed over and kissed her.

Her lips were sweeter than any water I’ve ever tasted.

Long story short, I ended up working for her father. I was tricked into marrying her sister Leah before I got to marry Rachel.

Though Leah and I had many children, it was Rachel I always loved and eventually we had a child of our own, named Joseph.

But things for our family were not easy. My father-and-law and I nearly had it out. My daughter Dinah was attacked and my sons sought out a bloody revenge. And then there’s what happened to Joseph.

People say you’re not supposed to choose favorites, but how couldn’t I? Joseph reminded me so much of his mother. He was an outspoken dreamer, foolish and full of life.

I should have seen it coming: his brothers grew jealous and one day they stripped him of his coat and cast him down a well. Then they sold him into slavery.

They lied to me and told me Joseph had died of an animal attack. I believed them and grieved his death for decades. When we discovered Joseph was still alive, I rejoiced, but a part of me is still dead.

Knowing my own history, it was foolish for me not to realize that my own children were capable of hurting each other in such a way.

I still carry the shame and the sadness of knowing that Joseph was cast into a well. What it must have been like for him to be down there, yelling for help, begging for mercy, but never receiving any.

It used to be that wells reminded me of when Rachel and I first met. But now they remind me of what my sons did to Joseph.

It used to be, that for me, a well represented life and unity, love and peace.

But now the only thing a well represents is death and inhumanity, unkindness and the war that is waged between brother and brother.

Can anything good come from a well again? Only God knows… (Jacob stands aside as the Samaritan Woman enters)

Samaritan Woman (coming from lectern side):

I wonder if you’ve heard the story. Of how Jacob built this well; how he gave this plot of land to his beloved son Joseph.

That would have been 2,000 years ago. We know all too well about Jacob’s experiences with wells.

One well is where he met his future wife, Rachel. Another well is where his son, Joseph, was cast down.

Time has erased for certainty where exactly that well is located. But sometimes I wonder if it’s not this one, the well from where I draw my water each and every day.

Just like Jacob, the history of us Samaritans is not so care free and easy.

At one time we were just like the Jewish people who live south of us in Jerusalem. We believed in the same God; we shared the same stories.

But 700 years ago we were attacked by the Assyrians. Those in the south said it was all our fault, that we brought it on ourselves by living a sinful lifestyle worshipping fake gods and not keeping the commandments.

Then 150 years ago the Jewish army came into Samaria and destroyed our place of worship on Mount Gerizim. It would have been the same as if we had marched into Jerusalem and tore down their temple.

Needless to say, the Samaritans and the Jews do not get along. For nearly 700 hundred years we have been seen as the enemy. They accuse us of consorting with their foes.

Things are so bad that people will avoid traveling through Samaria even though it is the quickest way from Judea to Galilee.

They call us unclean and will do anything not to speak with us or to touch us, afraid that doing so will contaminate them.

Can you imagine how that makes us feel?

Though we both worship the same God and claim to share the same Father, we are like divided siblings who can’t make up because our wounds are so great.

That’s what made my recent encounter at this well so fascinating.

Let me tell you what happened. I was at this well which Jacob had built. It was noon and the sun was out and it was hot.

I was by myself, because…well, see- I’ve been married five times before and the current guy I’m staying with is not legally my husband.

You know how it is. People talk. When people talk they say some of the meanest things. Because I had 5 husbands they think there’s something wrong with me.

Like I’ve done something bad. Like I’m to blame. Or I’m a black widow.

No one asks me my side of the story. No one stops to think that perhaps my husbands beat on me, or cheated on me or realize that if a husband dies sometimes the only choice a woman has to survive is to remarry.

Because of this, I am treated like an outsider…an outsider of the outsiders.

So I wait for all the other women to leave the well before I come out to get my water.

I get to the well, and there is this guy sitting there, alone. Clearly he’s not from around here, clearly he is a Jew, and clearly he’s a man.

Jewish men are discouraged from talking to an unknown woman alone. And I was all three of those things. Not to mention a Samaritan. Unclean.

But he speaks any way: “Give me a drink.”

This shocked me and I told him so. He spoke again, this time about the gift of God and of living water.

It was too hot and I was too tired to understand what he was saying at first. I thought he meant the kind of living water you find in a river or a creek, you know, the kind of water that moves.

Like the fountains that kings have in their palaces.

Oh, I thought, how wonderful it would be to have living water that flowed in my house; I’d never have to leave home again and face the judgmental looks of others.

But apparently this was not the kind of living water he was talking about.

He continued on, speaking to me. Speaking with me. Engaging in a conversation like no one had ever done before.

He had a gentle, steady strength that made it seem as if he was comfortable with who he was.

He acted as if I was smart. He acted as if I was worthy. He acted as if I was his equal and not a second or third class citizen.

He talked as if we were no longer Jew and Samaritan, male and female, but as if we were peers; brother and sister of the same Father.

I asked if he was greater than Jacob who gave us the well. He told me that whoever drinks this water will never be thirsty again, that they will experience eternal life.

I thought of the stories of our past, the common stories both he and my people shared. Of the spring that watered Eden. Of how the Israelites experienced water in the desert during the Exodus.

I thought of the songs that spoke of the Messianic Age when we will have more than enough water to drink and to be happy.

I thought of how he seemed to embody the Good News; that he carried himself as if he knew for sure that he was loved by God.

That’s when something inside of me clicked, and I realized who I was talking too. He may have had no robe, he may have had no crown, but he was certainly God’s own Son.

I thought to myself “Why is he here, talking with me, I am just a girl?”

But in his eyes, I felt like I was something more. More than just a girl, more than just a Samaritan, more than just a woman who had been married 5 times.

I felt like I was somebody, and I was someone. I felt like I was deserving of this living water he had to offer, whatever it may be.

So I was bold. I put myself out there, and I asked him “Give me this water so I may never thirst again.”

And he knew who I was. He knew my story. And he did not judge, he did not condemn. Nor did he demand I stay silent.

He asked that I believe him and know that the hour has come for true worshippers to worship the Father in spirit and truth.

At the well of Jacob, in the heat of day, I felt peace. I felt kindness.

I felt loved not for what I can do or what I can offer, but for who I am.

Finding the courage to say what I knew to be true, I said “I know the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

The man responded “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

…2,000 years ago Joseph had been ruthlessly tossed into a well by his brothers, forced to look at death and cruelty in the eye.

2,000 years later I was standing beside a well, blessed to look at life and kindness in the eye.

My soul was satisfied far more than any water could have done.

What could I do but to go into town to bring all my neighbors to him?

Many people from the city listened to what I said and came to believe in him and to feel the same as I did.

For two days Jesus stayed with us, talked with us, slept in our homes, listened to our stories, and ate with us.

That first night as we shared a meal, he asked me my name. I can’t tell you the last time somebody asked me that.

And I found the courage to tell him: “I am Mary Agnes. I may be a Samaritan and I may be a woman but I too am a child of Moses, a daughter of Joseph. I am the daughter of Jacob and the daughter of Abraham and Sarah.”

Jesus smiled, and simply said “Amen.”

By giving me space to acknowledge my past and my present, Jesus empowered me to create my new identity.

…Did Jacob ever wonder if anything good could come from a well.

I am here to say that yes it can.

Because of my meeting with Jesus, this well is alive with life and I thirst no more.

In Jesus shame and sadness are gone and the pains of the past no longer linger.

In Jesus, the pits of loneliness and despair are transformed into living fountains of kindness and peace and the things that used to divide us are no more.

In Jesus, death and inhumanity, unkindness and the war that is waged between brother and brother is replaced with the living waters of life and unity, love and peace.

In Jesus, brokenness is restored and spiritual thirst is quenched.

And I am so glad, for I believe that he will save the world.

Amen and amen.

(This message is inspired by the song “Just a Girl” by Brandon Heath, the spirit of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple and by all people who found a way to have a voice despite what difficulties they have faced)

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