Grace in the strangest places

Posted by on March 11, 2005

I thought I’d take a shot at sharing what I preach on Sunday mornings… If I can’t condense it to fit in the blog, I must have said too much anyway. 🙂

General I preach what the academics call “textual sermons.” That means that the message is primarily an interpretation of one part of the Bible. I think that’s a good way to preach, since it make it less likely that I’ll just put my own agenda out there and back it up with one-liners from the Bible.

Anyway, on February 27, 2005, I preached on John 4:4-42. Now you can’t preach in detail on something this long – at least not within the attention span of 21st century Americans sitting on pews! But this is a story that has to be read as a whole. So we read the passage as “readers’ theater” – with different people reading each part.

Anyway, the scene opens with Jesus entering Samaria. Now Samaria is what used to be the Northern Kingdom of Israel. I’ll tell you about this some time, but for now, know this: In Jesus’ time, the Samaritans were not well-loved by the Jews. So Jesus is entering a region where – according to Jewish customs of the time – he really wasn’t supposed to have much to do with the people.

So what does Jesus do? He strikes up a conversation with a woman who is getting water from a well. “Will you give me a drink?” he asks.

She’s shocked! From his dress and his accent, he’s obviously a Jewish man. But he’s talking to a Samaritan woman. She responds to him, asking him how he can possibly be talking to her.

Then Jesus tells her that if she really knew who he was, she would ask him for a drink and he’d give her “living water.”

Living water usually means water that came from a flowing spring rather than a well. She still doesn’t understand who he is.

The conversation continues as Jesus reveals more and more about who he is and she asks more and more important questions until she is convinced that he may be the Messiah (the coming anointed one who was supposed to set the world aright.)

In church, we went through the exchanges between the two of them, but here, let’s cut to the chase. Jesus offered this woman “living water,” saying “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” When she eventually figures out that he’s not trying to offer her indoor plumbing or a new water delivery service, she’s overcome and leaves her water jar there to go tell her friends.

What we didn’t talk about is who this woman was. I told you she was a Samaritan woman. That’s one strike against her. Then she had been married five times. Generally, three times was the limit of the number of times a woman could be married except under very unusual conditions. Strike two. Then told Jesus that she wasn’t married to the man she now lives with – at all! Strike three. By the standards of his culture, Jesus shouldn’t have been relating to this woman at all.

Why did he go to her? Of all the people in Samaria, surely there was someone who would be a better ambassador for Jesus than this woman! But no. Jesus comes to us as we are. He doesn’t see us as the world sees us. John’s gospel tells us that everything in all creation was made through Jesus. So have to fugue he sees us as we really are. But he’s not afraid to offer living water to an outcasts or someone who feels like a fraud, or someone who has a dark secret, or someone who’s angry at God… The list goes on and on.

There are as many problems as there are people. But Jesus comes to each of us, offering his living water. Will we take a drink?

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