January 30, 2022
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
Acknowledging the Teritory
As always, we begin our worship with an acknowledgement that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. And so, we commit ourselves to live out this acknowledgement by living with respect in all of creation and by striving for justice and equality.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As the light of our Christ Candle begins to glow this morning, we remember the one in whose name we, as Christians, gather and once again, we commit ourselves to follow his example and spread his light wherever we go.
Call to Worship
Jesus calls us to the well, inviting us to drink of the Living Water.
We’ve come with thirsty hearts, praying that your Word will satisfy us.
Jesus calls us out of the shadows, out of the sorrows and difficulties of life.
We come with aching hearts, praying that your Good News will comfort and renew us.
Jesus calls us, renews us and sends us out in his name.
We come with overflowing hearts, praying for a chance to share your love.
Jesus calls us
And in Worship we answer.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Our opening prayer this morning is called Prayer for Drought and it offers some beautiful images of Living Water that refreshes, renew and satisfies. It was written by Michael Saward. Let us pray;
Lord God, spring of living water, give to those who live in dry and barren lands the vision needed to see them as they might be, the skill and resources needed to irrigate them efficiently, the equipment needed to make them fertile, and, more than these, the spiritual insight needed to recognize that in you alone the thirsty may find true satisfaction. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Gift of Music I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say #626
Scripture Readings John 4:1-42
Although the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well is perhaps one of the best know of all the gospel stories, once again, it is a story that appears only in the Gospel According to John. It is also the longest conversation Jesus has with any one person in the entire Christian Scriptures. It is a story that most of us have heard many times, but this morning you are going to hear it a little differently. This morning you will be listening in on a conversation.
Narrator: Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. 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,
Jesus: “Give me a drink.”
Woman: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus: “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.”
Woman: “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: “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.”
Woman: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
Woman: “I have no husband.”
Jesus: “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!”
Woman: “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: “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.”
Woman: “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”
Jesus: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Narrator: 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,
Woman: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Narrator: 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,
Jesus: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
Narrator: So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them,
Jesus: “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.”
Narrator: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,
Woman: “He told me everything I have ever done.”
Narrator: 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.”
What Are You Thirsting For?
Like pretty mush all of the stories that appear in the Gospel According to John, the story of the Woman at the well is packed full of cultural references, unspoken assumptions and hidden meanings. There is so much in this story that it would take weeks to unpack it all.
Over the centuries this story has come to be thought of as a story of redemption, a sinful woman meets Jesus and becomes a follower. But this is likely not the original interpretation. We are told the woman has been married five times and the man she now lives with is not her husband. This has been commonly interpreted as meaning that she is a woman of questionable moral principles.
But the reality is that if she had been married to all these men, chances are her husbands had probably divorced her, and the most common justification for divorce at the time was infertility. As far as the fact that the man she was living with not being her husband, it is equally probable that if she had been widowed the man could very well have been her dead husband’s brother who, by law, would be responsible to take her into his household.
So, if we set aside the controversy about the woman’s character, the story, in essence, becomes a story of witness. There are many aspects in this story that seem to point towards this and it is probably the way those who first heard this story would have interpreted it. But before we go there, I want to talk about a few other aspects of the story itself.
First, this story, like so many stories in the Gospel According to John, focuses on water. As I mentioned last week, water was essential, both physically and spiritually to the people of Jesus time. And for John, water was almost always a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is as essential to the soul as water is to the body, and the longing to be close to God is as real and as demanding as the thirst for water. John is not alone in this comparison. In Psalm 42 the psalmist says, “as a deer pants for life-giving water, my soul thirst for you, O God.” This image of thirst, both physical and spiritual is at the heart of John’s story of the woman at the well.
It is also significant that the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, appears at the beginning of Jesus ministry. Like most of the early part of the Gospel According to John, it reveals a great deal about who John believes Jesus to be, the Divine personification of God. It is in this story, according to John, that Jesus first confirms his divinity. When the woman talks about the Messiah, the Christ, the one sent by God, Jesus responds to her with the words, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
This is an ongoing theme throughout the Gospel According to John and at least 20 times in this gospel, Jesus says “I am”. According to John, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the gate” “I am the good shepherd. “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I am from above.” “I am the true vine.” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And of course the often quoted, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
It is John and only John who uses this type of “I Am” language throughout his gospel and the first time it appears, is in this story. That is perhaps why this story appears at the beginning of the Gospel According to John. From the very start, John wants everyone to know that Jesus is not only God’s son but God.
Now I could preach an entire series on the various aspects of this story, but today instead, I want to focus on the idea of witness. Witness is not something that we tend to talk about a lot in the United Church. It has become associated more with the Evangelical movement and with going out on the street corners and “witnessing” by shouting at the top of your lungs to anyone who will listen that they need to repent and turn to Jesus. Most of us are not very comfortable with this idea or with the idea of going door to door and “sharing” the gospel with others. Usually, we don’t even talk about our faith to those closest to us.
Yet the call to witness to our faith is fundamental throughout the entire Christian Scriptures and story. It is a part of who we are and how we are called to live out our faith. But before you start to squirm and think, “I could never do that” we need to remember that there are many ways of witnessing.
Our story this morning begins with a very unlikely encounter. Jesus is sitting beside a well, likely the well commonly called Jacob’s Well, near the town of Sychar in the area known as Samaria. Jacob’s well was well known historically, especially as the place that Abraham found a bride named Rebekah, for his son Isaac and where Jacob, after fleeing from his brother Esau, met and fell in love with the beautiful Rachel.
On this particular occasion, Jesus was sitting beside the well around noon when a woman approached to draw water from the well. This in itself is somewhat unusual as fetching water would normally have been a task that was done early in the morning, before the heat of the day. But this woman came at noon, and as she approached Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
Under normal circumstances a Jewish man would never speak to a Samaritan woman especially if she were alone. Yet we are told this is what happened. And not only does Jesus speak to the woman, he actually engaged her in conversation.
There are a number of interesting aspects about this conversation. Jesus begins by asking for water but the discussion quickly changes from well water to Living Water. At first, the difference between the two is not clear. When Jesus says that anyone who drinks of the Living Water will never thirst again, the woman wants that water so that she won’t have to come to the well everyday.
And Jesus never actually says directly, “I’m not talking about physical water. I’m talking about the Spirit.” Instead, he asks the woman a question. By doing so, he engages her in conversation in a way that allows her to ask her own questions.
This conversation is not one way. There is a mutuality that begins with Jesus’s first words, “Give me a drink.” In these opening words Jesus begins by sharing his own need. Jesus is thirsty and needs water. This entire dialogue between the two, is only possible because Jesus begins by expressing his own physical need for water. In this acknowledgement of his need, Jesus opens up the opportunity for the Samaritan women to feel free expressing her own need, not for physical water, but for something more.
For most people it is very hard to open up to a stranger or even to a very close and intimate friend or family member who is not willing to open up to them. It is often when we are willing to expose our own vulnerability that we discover others are willing to open up to us and share their own concerns, struggles and deepest longings.
Jesus needed water. The woman needed so much more, perhaps more than she herself even knew. But the first thing she needed was the freedom to ask her questions. All to often throughout history, religion has demanded unquestioning allegiance. This is what the scripture says, and therefore you have to accept it as written. Everything must be simply accepted, and if you question anything, it is a sign that your faith is not strong enough.
Yet in this conversation, it is the questions that lead to faith. Jesus never tells the woman what she must believe. Instead, he simply begins a conversation, allowing the woman to ask her questions, and then quietly answering them, both the questions she is asking aloud and the ones she is not. And the answers she receives are so life-altering for this woman that she rushes home, leaving her water jar behind.
I said at the beginning, that this is a story of witness, not of redemption. But this story is witness in the form of a question. Jesus provides the opportunity for the woman to ask her questions and to discover her own answers and when the woman returns to her village, she witnesses to them with a question “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Witnessing is not about having all the answers and telling others what they are supposed to believe. Sometimes it is simply about being willing to face our own questions and share those questions with others, allowing the questions themselves to become the catalyst to invite others to explore their faith.
And what does the woman invite those who will listen to her to do? She invites them to “Come and see”. This is the same invitation that Jesus himself offered at the very beginning of his ministry. When John talks about the call of the first disciples, he tells us that Jesus invites them to, “Come and see”.
So, what questions do you have that might open up a conversation if you were willing to share them? What conversation do you long to have with someone else, if they were willing to share their questions with you? In other words, what are you thirsting for?
And there is one more thing I would like to add. This passage is the only place in the entire Gospel According to John that the word “Saviour” is used. When the people take up the woman’s invitation to “Come and see” they are convinced for themselves who Jesus is, not because of what the woman has said, but through their own personal interactions with Jesus.
It appears that even for John, who focuses so much on the divinity of Jesus, salvation does not come through the sacrificial crucifixion of Jesus, but through a personal and intimate relationship with God. So, whatever it is you are thirsting for today, I invite you to “Come and see” if the one who meets us where we are just might have some Living Water to offer to you. Amen.
Gift of Music By the Well, a Thirsty Woman MV#117
We Offer Our Gifts
Our worship must be more than simply gathering once a week to listen, to sing and to pray. Our worship becomes more when we interact with others and share our faith. And so we pause now, to think about what we have to offer to God and to others. Whatever it is that we offer, our financial support, the gifts of our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments, our prayers or our questions, let us take a moment now to ask God to bless upon all these gifts.
Let us pray; Loving God, as we remember the many gifts and blessings that we have received from you, we ask that your spirit will continue to bless us and that, through the gifts we offer today, your spirit may reach out to touch and bless others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Before we take a moment of silence prayer, I wanted to mention something that I think we all need to keep in our prayers. I don’t know how many of you listen to the National, but recently there have been some very disturbing comments comparing vaccine mandates to the Nazi genocide. No matter how you may feel about vaccine mandates, such comments trivialize the horror of the Holocaust, demonize good people who are doing everything they can to keep us safe, and insight hatred in an already stressful and volatile situation. This is not something that I believe any of us should keep silent about. And so today, as we offer our personal prayers for the people and the situations in our own hearts and minds, I would ask you include this situation in your prayers … Amen
Minute for Mission Our Minute for mission today is titled -Dreams Are Realized Through Education
Prayers of the People
Our prayers of the people for today were written by Christine Longhurst.
It is a responsive prayer.
When you hear the words, “O healing river”
please respond with, “pour down Your waters, and heal Your people.”
Holy God, whose Spirit moved over the waters at the dawn of creation,
hear our prayers for all who thirst today.
We pray for those who are spiritually thirsty, who long to know Your presence, but don’t know where to find You. We pray for those who are alone and without hope, those who long to feel needed and loved, those who are searching for meaning and purpose.
O healing river,
pour down Your waters, and heal Your people.
We pray for all who are physically thirsty, who don’t have enough water to drink, or feed their animals, whose fields are parched, whose crops have withered; those who have to walk long distances to find enough water to survive, or who have to be content with water that is unclean and unsafe. We pray for those whose homes and villages are torn apart because of drought or famine.
O healing river,
pour down Your waters, and heal Your people.
We pray for those who are thirsty for justice, who long for an equal sharing of resources among peoples and nations; those who put their lives at risk to protect streams and rivers and oceans; those who are working to find clean water, and make it available to those who need it.
O healing river,
pour down Your waters, and heal Your people.
God, we ask that you would open our hearts to the needs of all who thirst. Give us courage to work together for justice, to stand alongside those who are thirsty, so that all people, everywhere, may live without want or fear, and may discover the abundant life You promise to each one. In the name of Jesus Christ—the source of living water—we pray. Amen.
Closing Hymn Come Let Us Sing #222
And now we go out from here to search for, to find and to share the Living Water that gives us life. But we don’t go alone. God is with us, Christ promises to show us the way, and the Spirit accompanies us on our search, now and always.
Go with God.