03/23/14 Sermon (March 23, 2014) “Worshipping What We Know”

posted Apr 22, 2014, 12:14 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Apr 22, 2014, 12:15 PM ]

Scripture Reading: John 4:5-42   (Liturgist)

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “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.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.

They said to the woman, “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.”

(after the reading)

“We live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.”

Sermon: "Worshipping What We Know"             Rev. David Hawkins

One of my favorite movies is “Men in Black” with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Near the beginning of the movie, Will Smith’s character is trying to regain his composure after learning that aliens from all over the the universe actually live on earth. He’s trying to wrap his mind around this surprising fact, and Tommy Lee Jones helpfully explains to him that this is how life works, sometimes.

“Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe,” he says. “Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.”

Just imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

I think that this might be little bit like what is going on inside the Samaritan woman’s mind during her conversation with Jesus at the well. Fifteen minutes ago, the world worked a certain way. There were things that you could count on, ways of thinking that were settled, and accepted as being true by everyone.

But now, everything she thought she knew about the world is being turned upside down, and she just can’t imagine what she might learn tomorrow.

Frankly, it’s surprising that Jesus is in the city of Sychar in the first place. Sychar is in Samaria, and Jews don’t like to go into Samaritan cities. Jews and Samaritans don’t get along at all. In fact, when Jesus sends his disciples out on their evangelism journeys, he tells them to avoid Samaritan cities. Maybe it’s because their message wouldn’t gain much traction, but maybe it was just a matter of Jesus making sure that his disciples weren’t put into dangerous situations.

You see, there is no love between Jews and Samaritans, and when Jews travelled from the Northern Province of the Galilee to the Southern province of Judea, they would usually take a huge detour in order to circle around the area of Samaria in between.  This detour might add days to their journey, but it was worth it to avoid contact with the hated inhabitants of that country

And so when Jesus wants to get to Galilee, he could have gone around, like most people did, but there is a sense that Jesus needs to go through Samaria, more than he wants to go through Samaria. Its as thought there is a bigger reason for Jesus to go through Samaria than just convenience. And when he stops at a well and rests in the midday heat, we begin to find out what that reason might be.

Now, this place where Jesus stops is not some random watering hole. This is the well of Jacob, who you may remember is also called Israel. Jacob is the father of both the Jews and the Samaritans, and it was in this spot, thousands of years before, that Jacob and his family first settled in the land of Canaan. And it was here that Jacob’s family were involved in a terrible conflict with the people native to this area. I won’t tell that whole story, but it is a bad one, and you can read about it in Genesis 34. It is horrible.

For many reasons, Jacob’s well is historically meaningful, and there is an incredible amount of living symbolism in today’s simple act of Jesus stopping at this place for a drink of water. And in order for us to really understand what is going on, we need to unpack some of it.

First of all, let’s remember why, exactly, that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. It seems strange to us, thousands of years later, that they were such enemies. After all, they were so very closely related in ethnicity and in religious thought. The Samaritans are descended from the tribes of Joseph, Benjamin and Levi, and to this day, they still refer to themselves as Israelites. Not Jews, mind you. Not Judeans. But Israelites.

The Samaritans lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, and when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, they took some of the population as slaves and prisoners, but left most of the people behind. This is different from when the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, because the Babylonians moved very nearly the entire population into captivity.

Because they were the ones that stayed behind, Samaritans view themselves as the actual, real Israelites, the ones who kept the faith in the land of Israel. In fact, their name itself means, “Keepers of the Law.” They view the Jews, those Israelites that returned from Babylonian captivity to the southern parts of Israel, as having brought back with them a false religion from their time in captivity.

In other words, from the point of view of the Samaritans, they are the true children of Israel. It is the Southern Jews who are the heretics.

In Terms of what they believe, the Samaritans hold sacred the same first five books of the Bible, the Torah, the law, that the Southern Jews do: the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the same first five books of our Bible. And for the most part, these versions of the Torah are the same for all groups, with minor differences.

One of the differences, however, is a big one. In fact, it is a deal-breaker for the Southern Jews. In the Samaritan version of the Ten Commandments, the Tenth Commandment includes a sentence telling the Israelites to build a Temple on Mt. Gerizim, and that this temple was to be the place that God was to be worshipped.

Not the Temple in Jerusalem. That was a false temple. The Temple on Mt. Gerizim was the true Temple of God.

Now, of course, this is not the only point of conflict between these two peoples. The Southern Jews have had a difficult relationship with the northern Jews since the time of King Saul and the shepherd David. The Old Testament is full of  stories about the problems between the north and the south. It’s like a Ken Burns documentary.

But when the two kingdoms emerged from their times of captivity and conquest, they discovered that they had drifted apart in so many ways they felt that they no longer had anything in common. And the reality is, they were OK with that.

And so it is a very big deal when Jesus talks to this Samaritan woman, and asks for a drink of water. Not just because she's a woman, and rabbis simply do not have conversations with strange woman in the public square in the middle of the day, but because their two peoples hate each other, and are absolutely convinced of each other’s apostasy.

Think Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Think South African Apartheid. Think Croatians and Serbs, Turks and Greeks, Arabs and Jews, and any other of a thousand ways that we humans invent to hate each other in the name of God, of course. We are so very good at that.

And yet, here is Jesus, asking her for some water.

It makes sense that the woman is startled by his request. Jews and Samaritans don’t mix. It’s as though we’re back under Jim Crow laws in Alabama, and Jesus is a black man asking for water at a white lunch counter. It just isn’t done. It breaks all the rules. At least, it breaks all the rules that this woman has known about all her life.

But the world she knew fifteen minutes ago is about to change.

Jesus and the woman begin to have a conversation that in some ways reminds me of the debate that Jesus had with Nicodemus just last week. Both of the them are full of questions. Both of them have a hard time understanding what Jesus means.

But there are some big differences as well. Nicodemus comes at night, ashamed and afraid. His inability to understand Jesus comes more from the fact that he doesn’t want to understand, rather than being especially stupid. Sometimes it’s hard to hear things that you don’t want to hear. It’s hard to understand things that radically upend the way you think about the world.

But this woman talks to Jesus under the bright light of the midday sun. She has no fear at all, in fact, she’s pretty bold in the way she confronts Jesus. And while she has a hard time understanding Jesus, it’s not because she doesn’t want to hear it.

It’s because everything that Jesus says is so completely different than anything she’s ever heard before. And that takes some readjustment. It takes some time for it all to soak in.

Jesus first tells her about the living water that only he can give. At first, she mistakes what he’s saying, because the expression living water in those days normally meant running water, like from a stream, or a river. At least, that’s what she thought he meant. And so, where is Jesus going to get running water, out here in the desert?

But Jesus means something quite different. He’s not talking about the kind of water that slakes our thirst for a few hours. He means water that will satisfy us forever. And this is something beyond anything she has ever known.

Jesus tells to go invite her husband to taste this water, and she says she’s not married. But Jesus already knows this. In fact, he already knows everything about her. And yet, there is no condemnation. There is no shaming her for her situation. He simply says this is who you are. And he accpets her and her situation for what it is.

And this also is beyond her understanding. She has been married multiple times, and there is simply no reason that this Rabbi should have anything to do with with this polygamist, apostate, foreign woman. That is the reality that she knows and has lived. And yet, here is this Jew, this Rabbi, this prophet, who simply wants to talk to her, and maybe get a drink of water at some point.

And so now she pulls out the big guns. He obviously just doesn’t understand how different they are from each other. He doesn’t understand how impossible it is that they are having this conversation. There is no way that they can relate to one another. There is no way for Jesus to have anything to do with her. He just doesn’t get the world that they live in.

After all, he worships in Jerusalem, and she worships on Mt. Gerizim. One of them is wrong. One of them is right. They can’t both have it their way. There is no possible way to reconcile the fact that their peoples are forever separated by their understanding of who God is, and by their understand of what God wants. Jesus needs to just stop trying to talk to her. Doesn’t he know that there is nothing for him here? Doesn’t he know that there is nothing for him in Samaria?

Yes, Jesus might be a prophet. Yes it’s been nice to be treated like a human being for once by someone who knows her story, by a man, by a Rabbi, even by a hated Jew. But there are some things that we just can’t negotiate. There are some things that we can’t compromise. There are some things that we just cannot reconcile. There are some things that will separate us forever. Our worship of what we know demands it.

This is what she knows to be true. And so, for her, this conversation is over. There’s just no point to it. She worships on the Mountain, Jesus worships in Jerusalem. Their people have hated each other for centuries. They will always hate each other. God made it this way. And so this is the way it is. We just have to accept it and move on.

But then Jesus changes the rules. And when Jesus changes the rules, everything we thought we knew about everything goes out the window.

These two conversations, the one last week with Nicodemus, and then the one this week with the Samaritan woman challenge each of us in different ways. Jesus invites Nicodemus to come out of the dark, to stop being an invisible disciple, to let his faith change everything about him, not just the way he talks, or eats, or behaves, but also the way he thinks, the way he lives.

Jesus invites the woman at the well to imagine the possibility that any conflict can reconciled, that any barrier to relationships can be overcome, even relationships that have been broken for thousands of years. Even the relationship between us and God.

And when Jesus talks to Nicodemus about discipleship, he is reminding us to live our faith in the bright light of the day. When we overhear Jesus talking to Samaritan woman, we hear his invitation to re-think what it is that we know to be true, and imagine something better, something greater, than simply accepting ancient hatreds and modern controversies as being inevitably and eternally the way things are supposed to be.

Because that’s not how things are supposed to be. In Jesus Christ, we have an invitation to drink from water that soothes the anger of our fights about religion. In Jesus Christ we drink from a well of endless love, a well that supplies water for all, not just a few. In Jesus Christ, we are invited to consider a reality far beyond that which we think we know, and worship God in ways that are beyond the constraints of both temple and mountain.

In Jesus Christ, we are invited to worship God in ways that we can never know, or understand, but can only trust and accept. What we knew fifteen minutes ago is changed forever by what Jesus is showing us right now.

Just imagine what we’ll know tomorrow?

Thanks be to God. Amen.