“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, March 28, 2011

Woman at the Well

You know, It is amazing what happens when the timing and situation are right. A woman has gone to the well to gather water in the middle of the day. The middle of the day to avoid the crowd of other women. To avoid the chattiness and conversation that ensues around the well in the morning and evening. Most women to go the well in the morning and evening, not in the heat of the day, but this particular woman has chosen the heat and solitude over the looks and shameful conversation of women who were probably at one time her friends. At the well she hopes to see no one. She hopes that this will be a quick trip, there and back, no one to make eye contact with or exchange a greeting.

As she approaches the well she sees a man. Oh great she thinks, “Just what I need.” The man is tired, sweaty, and in desperate need for some water. So, he asks her for a drink. She looks at him confused. It is obvious that he is a Jewish man. She is a Samaritan woman. They should not talk. She expected him to ignore her. Let her go about her business. Alone. But rather, he asks her for a drink. So she responds. Confused she says, “Why do you want a drink from me. You know we should not share things in common. I am a Samaritan and you are a Jew. Are you sure you want something to drink from me?”

His response is surprising and perhaps even more confusing than his request. “If you knew who was talking to you then you would have asked for living water.” She is perplexed. “What do you mean?” she asked. “You not no bucket and that well is really deep. There is no way you can gather water from this well without a bucket or something. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than our ancestor Jacob who built this well for us? How do you plan on getting this living water?”

And so Christ, looks at this woman, tired from the journey in the noonday heat and he beings to explain. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

The first summer I worked at Blue Lake each day during our break a few of the counselors would quickly grab our bathing suites, eave camp and drive a few miles down a dirt road to a place called Blue Springs. Deep in the Conechah National Forrest is a natural spring of water… cold water, which felt so good during those hot summer days. At Blue Springs there was a large oak tree. Someone had nailed a few 2x4’s to the trunk to aid in climbing this great tree. Almost every afternoon I would climb the tree, shimmy my way out onto one of its largest branches, grab onto the rope tied to a branch from the top, then swing out on the rope letting go at the right time and falling into the cold water below. When my feet hit the water for the first time each day my breath was taken away by the unexpected cold water. Once in the spring I could feel the water moving, gushing up all around me.

Living water moves. It ebbs and flows. It creates waves and washes over rocks, people, sand, and other objects. It is not stagnate. It does not stand still.

I am not sure how man of you have ever been white water rafting. The first time I went I was in the 7th grade. My mother and I took a trip to North Carolina. My mother is all about adventures, and for her this qualified as an adventure. We loaded the buss from the Nantahala Outdoor center and drove it a few miles down the river. When we got out of the boat, I looked at the rushing water below. Although I was familiar with the gulf coast waves we see in places like Gulf Shores and Destin this was not familiar. The waves were not methodical. They did not come ever few seconds. You could not anticipate the next “big one.” Rather they were irregular, rough, and untimed. The waves came and went as they pleased, bumping over rocks, rushing over tree stumps, and knocking the breath out of you if you dared get in their way. The water was alive.

When Christ encounters this woman at the well he offers her something that she does not understand. Water that is living. Water from which she will never be thirsty again. Water that gives eternal life. The Messiah explains to her the situation of her life. The husbands that she has had. The shame that she encounters day in and day out because the man she is living with sees her unworthy or unfit to marry. It is a shameful existence. It is why she comes to the well in the middle of the hot hot day.

She does not understand our Lord. How can you offer me water that will permanently quench my thirst? Water that will give me eternal life? Water that will allow me to never come to this well again in the middle of the hot day…in the noon day heat. Water that cure my shame. My sorrow. My regret.” She does not understand, then it clicks.

I spent Friday and Saturday with our confirmation class at the 4H center in Shelby County. Watching our sixth graders participate in the low ropes course was quite entertaining. Their instructor was wonderful. A person trained in team building and low ropes guided our group through the entire course… directing them and giving them help as they needed it. There were a few that required simple team building then there was one challenge, in particular, that required thinking outside of the box.

This was the challenge. They were instructed to get on a log suspended from the trees by cables that swung back and forth. Once on the log, they had to sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” without their feet touching the ground. So they first sit facing forward. It does not work. Many of them fall off the log backward feet in the air, including one of their fearless leaders Wayne Lambert. Then they try to sit with legs on either side of the log. This does not work either. Then the instructor tells them to think about the words he has used to instruct them. He had never told them they had to actually “sit” on the log. They start to talk among themselves… then the light bulb goes off. They realize they have been going about this the wrong way. One of the girls demonstrates what the whole group is supposed to do by sitting on the ground and propping their legs up on the log. The only thing that had to be on the log was their feet. They easily sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

The same is true about the story we have read this morning. The woman questions Jesus over and over again. She does not understand that he is the Son of God. She does not get that he is the messiah. She does not understand the that water she is being offered is not water from Jacob’s well but rather the Spirit of God. Water that quenches her shame. Water that gives eternal life. Water that hope in a situation that seems hopeless. She finally understands what Jesus means by living water.

And then she does something remarkable. She shares what she has learned. She leaves her jar at the well. She forgets about why she has come to that place, and she goes and shares that she has, in fact, met the Messiah. She becomes so overwhelmed with the message, the hope, and the forgiveness. She shares that she an encountered the living God who has offered her living water. The message is clear. She is transformed. She is no longer ashamed but rather she run back to the village telling those who’s words and stares once hurt the message she has encountered. She says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

Yes, he can. Those that she tells leave the village and go quickly to Jacob’s well. They, too, want to meet this man. This Messiah. The Savior. They go to the well because she was bold enough to share the message of hope with others. Even those who knew her shame. Who knew her life. Even those who whispered behind her back and who’s stares hurt to her face. She tells others about the Messiah.

This past week at our Lenten Lunches, we were challenged by Russ Dunman of the River Region United Way to share our faith. We were challenged to share the gospel…especially during this Lenten season. He challenged us to not necessarily give up something during this season, but rather to take on something. Something that we are often to hesitant to do. We were challenged to be like the woman at the well. To share our encounter with the Messiah with joy, excitement, and without hesitation.

It is often difficult to be like to the woman at the well. To understand that God gives us Living water. Flowing through our hearts and minds. To understand that in a life where the only thing certain is death that we are given eternal life. Often the message of Jesus is as foreign to us as it was to the woman at the well, but once God penetrates our hearts, once the living water of baptism and the spirit flows within us we cannot help but share what we have experienced with others. Once we are reminded of the grace we received at our baptism. One we come to the fount and touch the waters of baptism we receive the living water. The grace of God flows through us, over us, and within us. The grace of God covers us.

It is my hope that as we journey to the cross through this season of Lent, we will be reminded of the conversation that takes place at Jacob’s well. We will be reminded of the love, the grace, and the flowing water that Jesus offers all of us. It is my hope that we will be reminded of the woman at the well. And that we will share that living water with others. Following the service, I invite you to come to the font. To touch the water and to be reminded of the living water that Christ offers all of us.

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