(John 4: 4-52)
During the season of Lent this year, Steve and I are working through a lectionary based sermon series called “Who is Jesus?” A look at the lectionary passages that Lent provides us with and what they tell us about Jesus. Of course, we all know who Jesus is, the basic definition, but we’re taking this time of Lent, this time to grow closer to God and more aware of Jesus, to really know who Jesus is, what does Jesus do in the scripture, what is his character? And as Steve has taken to saying – “we’re learning who Jesus is so we can know who we need to be for him.”
This week our lectionary text takes us to the gospel of John and the familiar story of the woman at the well. The gospel of John is full of ironic moments, moments where the reader is aware of who Jesus is but the people in the story are not, moments where the reader is “in the know” but the characters are not. This passage is no different, it is covered in irony and filled with truth about who Jesus is. Listen now for God’s word to us from John 4:4-52:
Will you pray with me? Gracious God, open our hearts to hear your word as it speaks and lives and breathes in our lives today, open our ears to be attentive and encouraged by your word in our lives. Allow these words that we share together to bring good news, a source of encouragement, a beacon of hope into our lives and into our world. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
What is your deep need? Where is your emptiness? Where do you need living water in your life? Really, honestly. My hunch is that many of us don’t take the time to ask that question of ourselves or give ourselves the time to truly answer it. The question is simple – “where do you feel emptiness right now in your life?” I’m going to give us all a moment of silence, a long long pause to reflect, to honestly consider the places we are in need, where our deep thirst lies. Purchase kamagra genuine tablets from canadian pharmacy. So take a moment and allow yourself to think, where do you have emptiness in your life now? And rather than identifying it and moving on, identify that place or places in your life, and allow yourself a moment to sit with it, even, especially, if it is uncomfortable.
Let us acknowledge and sit with our need, personally or communally, for Jesus, what is our need? What do you need from Jesus?
Take a while now to sit with this question in these moments of silence.
Perhaps you have asked yourself that question before or perhaps its been a long time since you have given yourself time to identify that need you have: perhaps a place of shame or confusion, a place of emptiness or loneliness, a place of doubt, whatever it may be. Having identified that place of emptiness, for you or your community, having sat with that deep need, I remind you then of the God who meets our needs, Jesus, who meets our many and varied needs in many and varied ways. In this passage alone which we just read from John 4, I find at least 3. Three times and three places of need that Jesus meets his people. Three different ways that Jesus comes to meet his people, helps them to believe and to trust and to hope.
First, the woman at the well.
Jesus tells this woman everything she has ever done as she says, and the woman runs back to the town proclaiming this good news. Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor of A House for Sinners and Saints, makes the good point here that this woman runs back into town proclaiming that this man has told her everything she has ever done, as if that is a good thing. I, for one, would very much not enjoy having someone tell me everything I’d ever done; other than sounding really time consuming, there are things I really don’t want to be reminded of.”
I’m quite convinced that the good news this woman is running back with is not that she has seen a psychic or a know it all who told her about her life but rather that she is running back with joy and with hope and with love, running back to the town with the good news that the person who told her everything she had ever done loves her, that she is loved, that she is accepted, that she matters. She runs back to share with the people the good news that she is confident that she is not defined or judged for her past.
The good news that you too are not defined or judged for what you have done or left undone, that you are loved. That you are not judged or defined by your divorce. That you are not judged or defined by your success or failure in business. That you are not judged or defined by where you come from or who you know.
But rather, you are deeply known – that you are deeply known and deeply loved. That is the good news the woman at the well runs back telling the people – that she is deeply known and deeply loved and they are too. And you are too – deeply known, all of you, and deeply loved, all of you. Rest assured that God sees you through the indiscriminate eyes of Jesus Christ.
Jesus meets this woman in the midst of her deep need – the need to be accepted the need to matter, the need to be loved, and he sits with her and loves her and reminds her that she matters, that she is part of this good thing that is happening. Jesus meets her in the midst of her very deep need.
And then moments after Jesus meets the deep need of the woman at the well he meets the needs of the Samaritans in the city she has just witnessed to. In this passage, we see all the different ways Jesus meets his people in their need – all the ways that they come to believe that Jesus is the true life. Its different for each of us, and Jesus meets us in all those different places of need.
The second time Jesus does this in this passage from John 4 is with the Samaritans in the city:
Upon hearing the testimony of the woman they are amazed and they come to believe because of her powerful and brave witness. And not because the woman didn’t tell a powerful story or provide a prophetic witness, but rather, because Jesus knows his people and what they need – he comes to be with them to sit with them and to share with them. He shares the word with them and they are made new, they become believers.
Over and over again in this story and in the gospel we see Jesus reaching beyond what is socially acceptable, beyond what is right or normal to reach his people, to make them know that they are loved and cared about. Here he reaches beyond what culture or society says is appropriate, he goes to stay with the people whom he is supposed to hate. He sits with them and shares the word with them, and they see it and they believe.
Jesus sees the need of his people and he goes to them to be with them to give them his word, knowing what they need, giving them what they need.
And finally, at the end of the passage we see a third instance of Jesus making people believe in different ways, of meeting the many and varied needs of his people:
The royal official, a man who is very much inside society’s bubble, not outcast or different, but nonetheless in deep need. He is afraid and in need of Jesus to save his son whom he fears is about to die. And again, Jesus finds a way to meet the need that this man presents him, helping him to believe, allowing him to trust, giving him comfort in the good news of a savior who does amazing things.
In all these many and varied needs, Jesus finds us, Jesus meets the people in their deep need – whether it be relieving us of our shame, or sitting with our doubts, or healing our fears, or whatever else you may be feeling a deep need for. Christ has a habit of over and over again knowing our needs, meeting our needs, and giving us the gift of true life.
Anna Carter Florence, Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary writes of this text, “If I were asked to pick one story that shows us the most about who Jesus is, this would be it.” Making this a good selection for our sermon series “Who is Jesus?”
Perhaps this is why Anna Carter Florence names this passage as the passage which shows us the most about who Jesus is. Not because it gives a detailed summary of Jesus’ works, a biography of his life, a definition of who Jesus is; but rather because it shows us the true character of Christ:
- Jesus is thirsty – Jesus, just like his disciples thirsts, just like the people of the world Jesus is in need. Jesus knows what it is to be in need, Jesus knows what it feels like to be thirsty.
- Jesus is non-judgemental – Jesus shows no judgement to his people. In the places others have shown up with judgment, Jesus shows up with love and
- Jesus is relational – Jesus sits with the woman at the well and talks to her, he goes to the town of Sychar and stays with the people – Jesus is about making relationships, knowing his people and knowing their needs.
- Jesus values those on the margins – Jesus seeks out the lost and the different, the marginalized and the unaccepted. Jesus converses with them, loves them, includes them, and perhaps most importantly – he uses them in his mission, he values the marginalized of the world and recognizes their worth by using them in all that he does.
- Jesus sees that which we cannot see – Jesus sees the world in ways which we do not in our narrow sighted vision. Jesus sees the value in people we cannot, Jesus trusts when we cannot trust, Jesus sees hope where we see despair. Jesus sees that which we cannot see or understand, and seeing and knowing that which we cannot, he gently guides and lights the way for us into those places we cannot see or cannot understand.
- Jesus meets us in our deep place of need – Throughout this passage, Jesus meets people where they are. At different times, in different ways, in different places – we all need something a bit different to believe, to be comforted, to be encouraged. And the good news is that wherever we are, whatever that place of deep need is, Jesus can and Jesus does meet us there.
This, this, is what it means to be the true life. This is what true life looks like, this is what it means to follow the one who leads us to true life. This is Jesus the true life!
In the name of God our creator, our sustainer, and our redeemer. Amen.