Pastor Paul E. Hoffman
Third Sunday in Lent A
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John sets this up as an engagement story. In Israel’s history, the well was the place where marriages were arranged. At this very well, two engagements took place that we know of. It’s where Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac was arranged. Not long after, Jacob finds his future wife Rachel by this well. John tells us that this well belonged to Jacob to remind us that it is a place of wrestling. John also tells us it once belonged to Joseph, reminding us that it is also a place of dreams.
Many engagement stories are like that, aren’t they? They’re stories of wresting, and stories of dreams.
Here by the well today, John uses the marriage images of commitment, faith, intimacy to invite us to a deeper level of engagement with Jesus.
Our engagement with the Living Christ also begins at a well. In its most robust celebrations, at the baptismal well we are stripped naked and handed into the arms of the body of Christ, to be engaged for life. It is a life that can be lived in the deepest, most tender forgiving grace of God if we will stop wrestling and surrender to it. It is also a life in which the Risen Christ calls us to be deeply engaged in God’s dream of loving the world.
God longs to be known by us deeply and intimately. In Christ, God meets us at the well, inviting us to share all that we have ever done, to lay it all out, and by his grace have it washed away. It will take some wrestling for us to do that, but do not be afraid. This very well, connected as it is to Jacob, has seen wrestling before. It is here that Jacob wrestled with his deepest demons, and came out on the side of God. There’s some verbal wrestling here between Jesus and the woman. All of it meant to give us courage. We may be weary, worn, and sad, but the voice of Jesus says, day after day, “Don’t wrestle with the world alone. Come to me and rest.” Jesus has living water for those who wrestle, who thirst, who long to be seen and heard as this Samaritan woman longed to be.
The plot where Jesus and the woman stand is a place of wrestling. It is also a place of dreams. Remember: Joseph, the dreamer, was there.
God dreams that the well which set us free will also be a well where dreams of living water for all people begin to flow. As engaged as Christ is with us, just so Christ dreams of us engaged with the world. The needy word. The lonely world. The brutal, punishing world. The world that surrounds us and longs for the sort of invitation to life-giving waters that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well. The sort of living water that Christ offers us with the dawn of each new day.
Just one example of how much the world needs our intimate engagement runs parallel to this story of the well. Every day, every single day, 263 million people walk to provide water for themselves or their families. Most of them are women. Their daily walk for water is often frustrated by long lines and polluted wells. When they carry their water home, they are carrying 40 pounds, about the weight of one of your tires on your car. The time and energy that it takes 263 million women to carry their daily water robs them of time with their children, takes them away from their homes, punishes their bodies, crushes their spirits. It seems like we who have so much could do something about that. It seems like one day Jesus might ask us who do not walk, “Did you know the joy of full engagement with the world’s crying need? Did you have the privilege of making someone’s life a little less soul-crushing?”
There are as many ways of engaging with the world as there are people of God and imaginations that inhabit them. Having been given so much, having trust that God will care for us, we can dream of extending ourselves in love to others. And not to only dream, but do. Being a child of God is always lived on a two-way street, is it not? In the left lane, we’re so grateful for what we receive as a gift from the one who weds himself to us in love on the cross. And in the right lane, we recognize our call comes with the privilege and opportunity of being the hands and feet, the lips and ears of Christ in the world for all those in need.
The Bible says of the Woman at the Well. “she left her water jar and went back to the city.” She left it because of the confident faith that Christ inspired. When she left that jar behind, she risked everything to answer Jesus’ call. That jar was her life. Without it, who knew what tomorrow would hold? It was a question she was willing to live into, by faith.
Will we leave our water jars? Can we leave our water jars, in trust, and dream with God into a better world for all people everywhere?
We might not be quite ready for such a bold dream just yet. We may still be wrestling, like Jacob: with God, with ourselves, with all our stuff that seems so dear to us and is so very hard to walk away from. Yet every day we hesitate to dream of a deeper engagement as God’s hands and lips and heart in the world, a woman makes another lonely trip to the well. She makes the back-breaking, barefoot journey home. And in our own way, we too grow wearier and more worn down by a call we can’t quite live into, that stymies us by its enormity, that baffles us by its complexity. A call to engage with a world so needy we’re often plagued with compassion fatigue.
To all this weary world, the same voice of the Risen Christ calls one, calls all, to the living water where our thirsts are quenched, our souls revived, and our lives forever live in him. We wrestle. And we dream. God joins us in both, with a hope that does not disappoint us, but allows us to drink deeply of the Living Water that is Christ himself, to have our souls revived, and to engage deeply, deeply, with all this weary world. It is a holy marriage. And today, Jesus is proposing to us, one and all.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.