Today is Part 3 of our sermon series on our identity questions: Who are we? What are we about? And today: How do we do what we do? This sermon series was suggested by our Stewardship Team, which also came up with the questions. When I heard these questions, I had two thoughts. One was, “Wow, what great questions!” and the second thought was, “I wonder what I’m going to say?” Because all three of these are enormous questions. There have been whole books on these questions and still we could find more things to say. So I’m going to dive into this text about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and lift up some examples to shine a light on how we do what we do.
Let’s first define what we do. About a month ago I suggested that we take as our motto the words of Micah 6:8: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. That’s who we are and what we’re about in a nutshell. We are about standing with and for the oppressed and voiceless. Last week we read about Nicodemus finding Jesus by night to ask what he was about. We talked about how Nicodemus experienced a gradual transformation of his soul and his life and his understanding of God. So what we are about is seeking transformation for ourselves and for the world.
In Jesus’ day, there were plenty of cultural rules about who was clean and who was unclean, who you could talk to and who you couldn’t. A woman married five times and living with someone outside of marriage, a woman who can’t or won’t come fetch water in the cool of the morning with the other women, a Samaritan woman to boot—definitely unclean. Jesus talked with her anyway, asked her for water, turned her into an evangelist for his ministry.
These days we are doing a lot of thinking about who is clean and who is unclean in terms of this coronavirus. Definitely we don’t want to pick up germs that could be deadly to ourselves or anyone with whom we have contact. So we are taking steps, out of love for the most vulnerable among us, to protect the herd immunity. And in the midst of all this, we can be aware of another division: the haves and the have-nots. Because this coronavirus is creating a whole lot more have-nots: restaurant workers, musicians, actors, those who provide services at sporting events, those who thought they had enough invested to retire soon, the homeless (of course), and on and on. So many people are suddenly being laid off, so many restaurants being closed, so many stocks have been zigzagging wildly, that we will feel the grief and the economic pain in our community for a long, long time. I love that some sports stars with bajillion-dollar contracts decided to cover the salaries of stadium employees for a month here and there. These athletes keep their eyes and their hearts open to see across that have/have-not divide and choose to do something about it. May we follow their lead in whatever way we can. This is how we do what we do: keep our eyes open, our hearts vulnerable and nimble, our spirit generous.
But if we’re trying to do all that by ourselves, we will just wear out. We have to be fed. Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
How we do what we do: We ask God for help. We ask God to feed us living water. Living water is what feeds our hearts, the work that satisfies not the belly but the soul. Living water is a God who sees us—whether we are mostly perfect or five times divorced, whether we are male or female or non-binary, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle. Our God sees us and loves us, no questions asked. That is living water. That is transformative love. That is the kind of living water that spurs us to tell all our friends and neighbors so they can get some, too. And when we’re doing that work we are not thirsty, we are not hungry, because we are fed.
How do we do what we do?
What we do: We share. Our reading says, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”
This is my money, not yours.
This is our country; you can’t come in.
This is my health plan—you can’t have one. (That, by the way, doesn’t work well when any of us can catch and spread something deadly like the coronavirus. You want everyone to have access to good health care in order to protect the whole community.)
How do we do it? By drinking of that living water. By refusing to drink the Koolaid that divides people into us and them.
How we do what we do: We wrestle. We keep asking questions of God, even pushing back sometimes. We are fearless about this, just like the bold woman at the well who really dared to challenge Jesus. She took him on, questioned everything he said: “Where do you get this living water? Do you think you’re better than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? You Jews say to worship in Jerusalem, but we worship here in Samaria.” She took him on, asked questions, pushed back—until she actually started to get what he was about. Notice that she ultimately abandons her water jar—which was the whole reason she came out to the well—and runs back to town to spread the good news. She says, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” You can hear that she is still wrestling with that question, and she wants her fellow townspeople to engage with that question and that wrestling, too. Which they do. That’s called evangelizing: inviting people to do their own wrestling with God. And by the end of this reading, they’re saying, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” They’re all now engaged in that spiritual wrestling, and it is life-giving—it is living water.
By the way, there is a corollary question to how we do what we do, and we are coming smack up against it today: Where do we do what we do? And the answer is anywhere and everywhere: In Jerusalem, in Samaria—in a church, in a temple, in a mosque, in our homes, in our communities, gathered online. In a wealthy gated community that keeps people out, or a gated community like a prison to keep people in. God is in all of those places. All of creation is in God. We are in God always. We don’t have to be in a special building. There was a great disagreement in Jesus’ day about where the center of worship should be. This is what the woman is referring to when she talks about different places to worship. The Samaritans had their special place; the Jews had the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus said it doesn’t make any difference. God is everywhere. And in these days when we can’t meet in person in the building that we love and that we associate specifically with worship and God and our ministry, we are reminded that we are still the Church, still God’s followers, still wrestling, still listening to that still-speaking God who is still calling us to share the good news.
How we do what we do: Create spiritual practices, disciplines that become habit. Lent is a great time for this, and we’re getting an opportunity to create some new spiritual practices right now, such as gathering online. So that when a crisis comes that upends our usual routines, we still know how to dwell in God, how to find that living water, how to hear past all the angry, fearful, hateful us-and-them talk, how to be a loving community that spreads God’s good news of love and acceptance, even to the unclean people that others shun.
Mike Denton wrote on Tuesday regarding how we do what we do during this coronavirus, specifically referencing the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. He said:
There is a lot we do for and with one another that will be unseen and will be unknown. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. This unwitnessed or peripherally witnessed story is one of the most important and most quoted stories in the Gospels specifically because of its intimacy and its message. For many of us, it confirms the message we heard in the celebration of our faith whether that happened in the middle of a rollicking revival or the still, small voice whispering to our hearts. It is that voice that says, “You are loved. You are needed. You are enough.”
As we all go through the new kind of work that these days require, may we continue to hear that voice.
“You are loved. You are needed. You are enough.”
That, my friends, is how we do what we do. We dare to take in that message, just as the Samaritan woman did. She was many times divorced, many times rejected, shunned by her fellow women, something of an outcast. And Jesus worked through her to share the good news with her whole community. Because she heard and believed, “You are loved. You are needed. You are enough.” May we always know that this is so. Amen.