Encounter.

John 4:5-30 (31-42)

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.)[a]10 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.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.’ 15 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.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 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.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.’

27 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?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d]can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

Encounters…are we open to them in conversations ?

So, with that in mind, does anyone have a conversation that they had with someone that led to a sense of God’s presence?

Now, this can be at seeing a sunrise, talking to someone at Kroger’s, having coffee or a beer with someone, walking down the street, a run, or even at a church event!

Anyone like to share?

God encounters are everywhere around us, the key is being able to be open to those encounters in the everyday…that takes a lot of curiosity and really, a sense of moving beyond ourselves.

Our gospel story this morning was a God encounter that surprised the Samaritan woman at the well, a good surprise that she was open to and changed her world.  It didn’t happen in a temple, a church, or even on top of a mountain…it happened at a common daily experience for this woman, getting water from a well.  

It caught her by surprise in so many ways…first of all, it’s the 1st century and she’s a woman.  Men didn’t approach women randomly like that, much less a Jewish rabbi initiating a conversation with a woman from a marginalized community with a potentially sketchy personal history.  But, didn’t matter to Jesus…Jesus saw humanity, all of humanity, in a different way.

I say “potentially sketchy personal history”, because the context of this text may yield a different story other than the one passed down through oral history.  Friend and author, Alexander Shaia says this about the well and the woman at the well”

…(Jacob’s)Well appears to be of like importance to the Samaritans as is the Jerusalem Temple to the Hebrews. And it appears that in the First Century, Jacob’s Well was connected to the worship of Baal and a select group of Samaritan women priestesses ministered The Well.

Yes – most likely – in the text Jesus the Christ is speaking with a Woman priest – her village’s spiritual elder. Also consider that a Samaritan priestess was considered the bride of Baal (their primary god – and a powerful fertility god.) Further, Baal was believed to have five faces – or five aspects.

If Alexander is correct, and I believe that he is, then this woman had a pretty good voice and understanding of her people and especially with women.  This story also comes after Jesus’ late night discussion with Nicodemus that we talked about last week.  Just like last week’s chat, where Nicodemus comes at unusual time and meets Jesus away from the temple, Jesus meets this woman in a common area away from the places where we may normally associate where one would have God encounters.  The writer of John seems to be sharing these stories to remind us that God surprises us with chance meetings, conversations, in the most ordinary of places.

Again, Alexander Shaia says this about the context of this text coming right after Jesus’ encounter with the woman:

In my mind, we should be outraged that many today will continue to portray this great and powerful woman in demeaning terms. In the Gospel, she is contrasted with Nicodemus who exhibits no growth by his meeting with The Christ. While she – an equal spiritual teacher and priestess – shows humility and transformation in receiving Jesus the Christ and his teaching about oneness.

This woman was going to get water, it was a task, she needed water.  She probably came here regularly.  Now, this was also an unusual part of the day more than likely, Jesus was hanging out there, and this woman maybe didn’t want to come into contact with folks…not only because Jesus was male, Jewish and a rabbi, and she was a woman, Samaritan, and possibly had a history she wasn’t too proud of…or she simply wanted to get her task done and get on with say…either way she wasn’t used to folks simply striking up conversations, much less men like Jesus.  Regardless of her being a priestess or even an outcast, the different genders had different ways of interacting and it was unusual for such a conversation to take place.  

Yet, Jesus asks her for a favor…a drink of water…he was thirsty and he was showing to her a humility of being able to ask for help.

The woman gives a response of why ask me, Jesus responds with this “if only you knew this gift…” and to talk about living water.  Now, living water was a common term back then…it meant flowing water…and they were probably at a spring.  But, Jesus gave this living water a deeper meaning…this water flowed from the very heart of God…and she would never be thirsty again.

Jesus was probably picking up that this woman seemed a bit lonely, or maybe just curious.  She was hungry for a deeper sense of connection…Jesus is saying that he was there to offer her friendship with himself, friendship with God, connection to others through God’s Spirit and the living water of God’s flowing relational love.  

She wasn’t understanding the theology of the moment, she may not have clued in to all that Jesus was saying, but she knew that she wanted this living water, that there was something there.

But, then Jesus has to make it a bit uncomfortable…go get your husband…come back.  She says she doesn’t have one and Jesus affirms that, but says she’s had 5 husbands…she doesn’t deny it.

Alexander Shaia says this about the “five husbands” as well:  

“(It)…is more likely a reference to her being a bride to the five aspects of Baal than to any form of a physical marriage.

Either way, I believe that she is sensing that this Jesus isn’t judging her, she’s a bit uneven, that’s not what she’s used to. It seems as if she try’s to change the subject, saying he must be a prophet…and tries to throw out some theology herself and making statements about where Jews and Samaritans worship. Yet, Jesus doesn’t jump into her argument, doesn’t own her anxiety or her invitation to debate. I believe that he knows who he is. Then comes this has a huge statement when she says that they are all waiting for the Messiah….Jesus says, well, the wait is over, the Messiah is here, in front of her.

I don’t know where you’d identify with this story, or what you think about the context, but this is rich with application.  Friends, know that God encounters happen all of the time, in the most ordinary of circumstances.  God wants you to have living water flowing from God, through Jesus and by the power of God’s Spirit into you…giving you life, life that is abundant and without end.  And, life that starts NOW!  It may make you uncomfortable, it may be risky, but the example of the Samaritan woman is good for us today.  We may feel like we have things to hide, or there may be things we don’t understand and we don’t want to risk being vulnerable in conversations, we may try to avoid God encounters as they can make us uncomfortable, we may argue with God or with others or have others argue with us, but when one takes risks, engages in active listening and conversations with a God who simply loves us…then we are transformed.

The Samaritan woman bears witness to this growth.  She goes and tell her friends and crowds came to meet Jesus.  The power of transformed life brings transformation to others.

When the disciples show up, they were surprised to see Jesus speaking to a woman, and a woman with a crazy history…yet, Jesus breaks down walls that keep folks from being in relationship…that’s what God does…God came to save, not condemn, and God came to make sure all were included and loved.  

And, we, the body of Christ, are called to be open to God encounters with others and to even be looking for those God encounters.  You never know what may happen by simply walking down to the UDF, through the neighborhood, or right around the corner, or anywhere and being open to listening to others and engaging in authentic conversation.

My bet is that those God encounters with others will have a profound impact on you, they do on me when I’m open to them.  Now, we don’t go into those conversations thinking, hey I’ve got to meet x amount of people and get them into the church…no, do what Jesus does, simply engage folks in a loving way and let living water flow…and, when our lives are being transformed, we want to share it with others…and, others may also be looking for living water and want us to take them to this Jesus, this Immanuel, God with us, to hear about someone who knows all about us but doesn’t judge us, but loves us and gives us life brimming with living, cleansing, loving, water without end.  

Friends, I wrote this sermon before the Coronavirus pandemic forced churches, and many other activities, stores, restaurants, bars, schools, etc. to suspend all gatherings and services. But, the message is still clear, even in our “social distancing” we can look for encounters with the Divine in unique ways. Take walks in your neighborhood (maintaining six feet of separation!), greet one another, find ways to connect, engage, hike in the woods, run, exercise, paint, read…use this time as “reset” and a moment to encounter yourself, the Divine, others…know that Jesus does love and gave us an example of how to love…even in extreme situations!

And, be safe. Wash hands! 🙂

Last thing: we’ll be doing a series of Facebook Live and Zoom conversations throughout the week, as well as giving the sermon via these two formats each Sunday at 10:30 AM! PLEASE LET US KNOW HOW WE CAN PRAY AND CONNECT! We are here for you!

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