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Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent 2020

Exodus 17:1-7 Psalms 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42

On Ash Wednesday, we enter the desert with Jesus. In our Lenten journey, we are the blind man begging for sight, the sisters of the dying brother, the poor and the lame crying out from the alleys, “Jesus, remember me.” We become the woman at the well who demands, “Give me some of that water.”

Isn’t that where we find ourselves today. Meeting Jesus at the well – Jesus knowing all about our past, our strengths and weaknesses as a faith community – how we have been recognized in the community. Jesus knows our story as individuals working together as the Body of Christ, the faith community called Grace Church. Jesus is meeting us at the well, listening to our fears, feeling our pain, our uncertainty, hearing our hopes and dreams. Jesus is with us to help us form a new understanding of our church, one that reflects who we have become and will become as God continues to shape us, mold us, and transform us. It is God’s grace that is shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the lost, the unmerited favor of God. In community, we are forever encouraged to let our speech always be gracious. In God, we grow in grace.

If I were asked to select one story that shows us the most about who Jesus is, it would be this one. Jesus, the listener, to me, it is as important as Jesus the healer. This woman at the well was no longer invisible, no longer ignored. Here is a passage for living a life of faith, a passage with its own bucket waiting to be filled. Each time we let down the bucket, we experience another life lesson of the living water, another deep satisfying drink from the well that will never go dry.

A man came to see me this week, I’ll call him Bill. He was from Arizona and came here with his cousin for work. His cousin fell in love and left him here, with no friends or family and no job. It was Wednesday afternoon and I had met with a number of folks, heard their stories, heard their needs. I wasn’t up to the challenge of Bill’s story. He needed help, but before he got to that he poured out his life to me. He had been on his own since he was 17, he is currently 27. His mother is an addict and can’t offer any help. He had a job and an apartment in Phoenix and wanted to get back there. I worked on getting a bus ticket for him. He was to come pick it up later that afternoon. Anita called Sam Sellars to see if Hope Transportation could help get him to Jacksonville. Sam called me back later and said he could take him Thursday morning at no charge. Things were working out. But, before he came, he called to say he wanted to go to Orlando instead. His friends in Phoenix suggested it.

So, I still had to change out the ticket. I tried online but never could get to a screen that allowed me to make the change. So I called……I could change out the ticket to Orlando, but in doing it, I would lose $150, I had already paid. No talking the agent into helping me; she kept repeating the same thing, that I wouldn’t get that money back on my credit card. When Bill came, I told him. He was extremely sorry. And began talking about his history, family and wanting a fresh start in Orlando. He wanted to be independent with a job and a place to live. He had no food and no hope of things getting better. Not a beautiful hope-filled scene – but real and gritty and painful…like the woman at the well…but Bill came to the church with an empty bucket, seeking hope for himself and his future. Hope, not in me but in God’s faithfulness - the hope found in God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s care. And the hope of the resurrection is what I offered him. Bill came thirsty and left soaked to the bone.

During our lifetimes, we will visit the well of God’s love many times. Each time, we learn and experience anew just how much God loves us and so wants to be in relationship with us. God is patient and persistent in offering and offering and offering.

The question is…Where is it that offers healing and hope here at Grace? What are those things that sustain us as we deal with loss and pain, the uncertainty of the future, the challenges of loving and losing friends and family? During this time of healing, of searching, each of us has much to learn from each other. Because they know us so well, our family, friends, children are often our most resourceful teachers. Being in relationship is a valuable spiritual tool. Relationships are the threads with which God weaves our lives together and the ways we care for and communicate with ourselves and each other create the patterns of our lives.

When we intertwine our hearts, our lives, our experiences with others, we are brought face-to-face with our deepest fears and our highest aspirations. We are relational beings who want and need to be connected to others in meaningful ways, no matter what joys and sorrows are involved. Allowing ourselves to intertwine our hearts provides us with ample opportunities to love and be loved. Love is the path God chooses for us. Love joins us in a grace-filled life. In God, we grow in grace.

One way to become more aware of our life lessons, is to share our story with others. In the sharing of each of our faith journeys, the story of who Jesus has been for us, others can see those times when our paths and our experiences have been the same. We, ultimately are “one story.” From the weaving together of our individuality emerges a much larger picture of the family of God, the Church. Remembering our connection to God and to each other enables us to act from and with love.

The woman at the well - not terribly spiritual – the Samaritan woman. She isn’t really interested in religion as much as she is in cutting some time off her back-breaking workload. Life has been hard for her. The work, of course, was hard: She was the water-bearer of the house, a heavy yoke bearing leather bags, several times a day. She usually went really early in the morning, before it got too hot, before the other women of the village, but also before her husband needed the water.

Not that he was her husband, really. Life had not been especially kind to her. But she always found a man to take care of her, which was more than some poor women without dowries and no children was able to do. So, it certainly could have been worse, she supposed. And he wasn’t a bad man, he didn’t hit her. He liked his meals ready for him when he was ready to eat and his bath prepared when he was ready to take it. He liked his clothes washed before he needed them and he liked his house clean. He liked fresh eggplant, fresh eggs, and he liked the way she rubbed his back when it hurt after a hard day at work. Things could have been a lot worse.

People, though, were cruel. They did not give her the status of a wedded wife, of course, she didn’t expect it from them. But she was not a slave, either, or a prostitute. The life they lived was no different from the lives men lived with their wives, but she was never included in the dinners in the women’s quarters when there was a wedding. Never once. He would go, and she would stay home alone. She would hear the laughter and the music from the quiet of his tiny house. That hurt. She didn’t have any friends. Her husband was a good man. Not that he was her husband, really.

One friendly word from a stranger. A friendly, respectful word. From a Jew, of all people. She stopped and gave him a drink. And her whole life was opened up to her. She saw clearly, her life, her journey, and her people. Everything was clear and none of it got in the way. She ran all the way back to town, full of forgiveness, full of joy. She was one of the first apostles. Disciples are followers of Jesus, but those who proclaim who Jesus is, those who go and tell, they are apostles. We don’t know the “rest of her story.” But we can have our ideas about her impact on the community.

That can be the life of the church. At the very core of each of us, we are a bucket from which God longs to pour love. Our sacred mission is to live in that place of love, integrity, compassion, and grace - first with God, with others and with ourselves. Then we can pour the balm of love onto a thirsty world. We can share God’s grace with all those we meet and greet during our days. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving and achieving, and these lead us to judgment. That is why the woman at the well – everyone - wants and needs grace. Judgment divides. Grace brings us life. In God, we grow in grace.

We meet Jesus at the well today. Our buckets have been filled with living water. Will we drink it, hoard it, keep it for ourselves? Will we allow the coolness to splash out and spill over our words, our actions, and interactions? Will we bathe others in the living water of God’s grace by affirming others, accepting them, encouraging them, loving them?

We meet Jesus at the well – we are all thirsty. We need the well, and the water and the bucket to draw it up, and Jesus sitting beside us, telling us everything we have done. We need the well, but first, we must feel our emptiness. Then we can drink. We need this time of Lent, this time of transition for you, to empty ourselves.

Robert Benson says “when you are empty enough, you may begin to hear God’s word for you.” Lent is a time of emptying, of listening. When we hear what God is saying to us, we can fill our buckets and go out into the world to spread the Good News. Can a little thing like a cup of cool water, offered in love, be the beginning of a journey to provide water for the soul as well as the body? Yes it can…drink up! Then go and tell. In God, we grow in grace. Amen.

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