Women chatting, gossiping, laughing, drawing water from the well, bringing it back to their families. That is the scene at the well a few hours earlier, a well of community, a place filled with people, mostly women, enjoying one another’s company, walking together, accompanying one another, laughing, talking, and sharing. But that is not the scene we find in John 4. There are no other women at the well laughing and enjoying one another’s company, sharing stories, caring for one another, lifting one another up. There are no other women at the well. This woman has come to the well alone, she’s come at the hottest time of day, high noon, when no other women will be there. She’s come alone because she is not a part of that community of women, her 5 marriages referenced later in the gospel would have made her an outsider in that community. She is a woman who has been cast out of that community of women. A woman who is distinctly set apart, distinctly different, distinctly left out.
She comes to the well alone and outcast to fill her bucket with water but leaves completely transformed. She leaves with a sense of pride and exuberance, she runs back to the town that has outcast her to proclaim to them what she has experienced. She runs back to the people and boldly seeks them out when she once did everything in her power to avoid them. So what happened at the well? What changed for her at the well? What caused this transformation from outcast to prophetic witness, from scared to bold, from unknown to known?
This story is not one of those miracle stories we hear in the gospels, like for instance Jesus turning water into wine. No physical miracle takes place, a miraculous pseudo-magical moment does not occur in this story. The woman does not pull forth a visible sign of living water. She does not cast down her bucket to pull up crystal, sparkling water, that tastes like meadows and heaven which she then learns is living water. No, there is no tangible sign of what the woman has experienced, no proof of the living water that Jesus speaks of. So, then, what takes place at the well that makes her so confident in this Jewish rabbi who offers living water?
Here is what I propose happened. This woman was alone and in pain. She was suffering and sad. She was desperate and in need. She went to the well later in the day, alone, outcast from her community. And she met at the well Jesus, and at the well she found out that there was a person who was willing to break down the boundaries that separated them. Someone who saw her for who she was, someone who spoke to her, someone who wanted to share with her, someone who offered her more than what she expected. She found Jesus at that well and his bold acts of boundary-breaking love made her trust him.
Now remember from the scripture that Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. But they do share something in common, this woman and Jesus, don’t they? They come to the well both tired and in need, Jesus tired from his journey, this woman tired from the challenges life has given her. They both come to the well tired and in need.
So perhaps what made the change for this woman was that she was met by someone who was in need, who understood her exhaustion and her need, someone who was willing to cross the boundaries of culture and talk with her, someone that knew who she was and didn’t try outcast her for it, and someone who knew her need was bigger than just a drink of water, someone who knew she needed more. She needed an encounter with the one who knows her, the one who loves her, the one who promises her living water. She needed more than a drink of water or a brief rest, she needed living water.
Living water which transforms lives – which turns the outcast into the heard, the fearful into the courageous, the pained into those who cry out for justice, the hurt into the healed, the tired into the brave. Living water transforms lives, Christ’s living water, quenches the needs of our lives, it quenches our sorrows, it quenches our fears, it empowers us as believers in Christ. Living water transforms lives.
This Wednesday revealed that one-half of our country disagrees with the other half, and that some parts of each of those halves hate the other. If I were to stand in this pulpit today and not acknowledge that, I would not be doing my work as a pastor. The days following the election have revealed deep divides that exist in our country, deeper probably than many of us thought or knew. Divides across socio-economic lines, between the rural poor and the urban poor, divides along race, divides along political beliefs, divides along religious beliefs. No matter your political beliefs, there is no denying that our country is fractured, half of the country vehemently disagrees with the other half. This election has brought much of our deepest divides to the surface and been wrought with hateful comments about the other.
Those who hoped for a different result on Tuesday night, are feeling pain. Whether you feel that pain or not, it is a real pain brought on not because people wish they got their way but because people are hurt and fear for themselves and for their neighbors. Hurt because it appears that the ‘other half of the country’ was not troubled by the comments that made them feel less than, outcast, uncared for, or hated. And fearful for policies that will affect their lives and the lives of those they love, policies that will take away rights they have come to know. People in this country are fearful and in pain and hurting. Many in this congregation have expressed that sentiment to me in the days following the election.
And those who are pleased by the result of this election many are feeling joy not because they are hateful but because they have felt insecure from job loss and increased taxes. Their joy at the election results is for many due to their hope in a candidate who can bring back jobs and repair a broken Washington.
To my friends – my fellow people of God who are in pain, know that you are allowed to hurt, you are allowed to be fearful, you are allowed to feel the feelings you feel. And to my friends – my fellow people of God who do not know this pain or understand this pain, you may feel a different concern, I ask that you share honestly your concern and share honestly the pain you have felt. We must acknowledge that one another are in pain, either in the wake of the election, or over the last years. We must know one another’s pain and allow room for us each to heal. For if we let one another heal first, we will be able to come together much stronger, with pain that has been heard and understood.
Many in this country are ready for us to come together and unite, and many are not. All of us however need to heal before we can truly unite, many need to cry out in pain before they can cross into boundaries where they feel unwelcome, many need to grieve a loss of expectation, many need to let their opinions be known. In order for us to unite in the political sphere, we must first go to the well together.
Remember from the scripture, Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans, right? But remember, they do, that Jewish man was tired, and that Samaritan woman was tired. This election has suggested that perhaps we do not have much in common with ‘the other.’ That Republicans do not have anything in common with democrats, that the poor have nothing in common with the elite, that the marginalized have nothing in common with the majority. But that’s simply not true. Of course we have other things in common, but maybe the most important things we have in common is that we are all tired. We’re tired and we’re in need. We’re tired of feeling unheard, we’re tired of being stereotyped, we’re tired of disagreeing. And we’re in need. We’re in need of the confidence that our hope and salvation lies not in the leaders of our nation but in a God who will never forsake or forget us, will never betray us, and will always, always, seek us and know us.
A seminary Professor of mine, Dr. Sonia Waters, sent us on our way from class and into the world to serve in parishes with the parting words, “before you try to change them, you must love them first.” Those words seem particularly true at this moment, before we can change anyone, me must love them. These words have no greater example than the example of Jesus who before he changed anything, he broke down the divide of divine and human, and came to the world to know it and love it. Before he changed anything, he washed the feet of the disciples, he broke bread with sinners, he prayed for the world. For Jesus so loved the world that he was able to change it. Friends, before we can make any changes, we must first love one another, and heal with one another.
We need to go to the well, people of God, for we are tired and in need of living water. We need to go to the well, people of God, for we are in pain and in need of living water. We need to go to the well, people of God, for we re divided and in need of living water. We need to go to the well, people of God, for Jesus is there and he offers healing, transformation, and life-giving love.
Let us go to the well together, people of God, for there we can cry, we can share, we can hurt, we can pray, there we can meet the one who knows our needs. Let us go to the well to heal and like the woman at the well, allow us then to run back to our communities – energized and joyful, healed, and able to forgive. And when we return let us do as Jesus did and offer bold acts of boundary breaking love.
Let us go to the well to heal, to be reminded that we draw our movement and our being from a source that offers unending love, from the one who gives unbounded grace, from one who gives eternal life. If we go to heal, we can return stronger, just as the woman at the well did, but first, let us draw from the source of life that will never cease or fail or build barriers.
In the name of Christ in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.