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Sermon for 3rd Sunday in Lent 2023

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7

1All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


Psalm 95:1-9

1Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. 2Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. 3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4In his hand are the caverns of the earth, and the heights of the hills are his also. 5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land. 6Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice! 8Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me. 9They put me to the test, though they had seen my works.


Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8

1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Gospel: John 4:5-26 [27-30, 39-42]

5So {Jesus} came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” [27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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 indeed the Savior of the world.”



The Well


I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a functional old fashion well.  Oh, I’ve seen pictures and yard ornaments, but an actual, lower the bucket down and draw water type of well, I’ve only seen these in pictures and in the movies.  Growing up I can remember the old spring house on my grandfather’s property, but it was just that, a place where water came from the ground and was the head of a stream.

Of course, here in the county our wells have casings and electric pumps that bring water from many feet down and we simply turn on the faucet in our homes and we have water, no fetching water several times a day is required.  The closest I’ve come to a non-powered type well was years ago.  My father loved to take us boys out into the desert to find ghost towns in Arizona.  Dad enjoyed reading historically based western action novels and then we would spend our Saturdays finding the old towns mentioned in the books.

One particular book dad was reading, mentioned a town that had a well in the center of town where all the people came to get water.  As dad did his research, he discovered that the man who now owned the land had restored a few of the buildings of the ghost town to use for storage and according to his research, the original well was still in use.  When we arrived, one sunny, hot, summer Arizona day, we found the account to be true including the old iron hand pump that was still in use to bring up water.

I can remember priming the pump with a small amount of water we had brought with us, operating the creaky pump handle and after a few dozen strokes, enjoying the cool water that came from deep in the earth.  It’s one of those fond memories I have from my childhood.  And it’s because of this memory, every time I read our gospel lesson for today, I can’t help but recall that experience.  Just as Jesus was weary from His travels and longed to be refreshed with the water at Jacobs well, we too had traveled a great distance to come to that well there in the Arizona desert.

The well St. John is describing, in our reading for today, was a special kind of well.   This was “Jacob’s Well,” the very well tradition forwards as the well Jacob had dug and blessed some 2 centuries prior.  It held special meaning not only as a historic well, but also as an “altar” to God.  Additionally, wells in Biblical times, were “covenant markers,” places in which transitions were made and promises were fulfilled.  Think of all the times in scripture in which people had to cross over water in order to get to a new and promised place.  Think of the times in which God effected saving power involving water.

Wells revealed a “mysterious” underwater source, a divine kind of source, just like the source that watered the newly formed soil of the earth in Genesis in order to create streams, rivers, lakes and ultimately lush vegetation and the Garden of Eden.  The well was the opening to what the Jewish people called “living water” – water that came from running, underground springs.  The well was a source of sustenance and life.  In many cases, good things happened over wells.

Jacob’s well was approximately 75 feet deep, seven and one-half feet in diameter, and lined with rough masonry in order to access the springs that ran below.  Tradition tells us that unlike more modern wells that have stone walls that extend above the round, the top of Jacobs well was simply a large barren smooth surface.  And because of the depth, a person coming to draw water would need to lower a wooden bucket attached to a long rope in order to bring up the “living water.”  Once the bucket was filled with water, it was pulled back up and the water was then poured into pots which were used to water animals or was carried back home for use in the household.

Jacob’s well lay just outside the ancient town of Shechem.  Once a central place for the Hebrew people, it now lay in Samaria, cut off from mainstream Judaism in Jesus’ day.  Jewish central in Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans.  Samaritans were considered unclean by birth and who the Jews believed worshipped in the wrong way and in the wrong place.  They saw their version of Judaism as “corrupted.”  As a result, the Jews wouldn’t associate with the Samaritans.  They didn’t mix with them.  They didn’t communicate with them.  In fact, they would go out of their way when traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee, just so they would never so much as set foot on Samarian ground.  But Jesus did things differently.

Jesus, however, as we see Him doing in many of our scriptural encounters, deliberately led His disciples smack through Samaria, and straight to Jacob’s well.  Here in this “holy” place of refreshment, hope, life, and spirit, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman.  His initial conversation with her about their differences in worship isn’t surprising given that He is mainstream Jewish (at least she recognizes Him as such), and she is a Samaritan.  But the rest of the conversation is quite strange.

Jesus had sent His disciples into town to buy food.  Jesus in the meantime sits down by Jacob’s well to rest.  This already is significant.  He is literally sitting at the altar of God from which the “living water” for this group of “lost sheep of Israel” is drawn daily.  About mid-afternoon, a socially ostracized Samaritan woman comes to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink.  As we read in the account, this is the first thing that takes her aback; Jesus, a Jew, a man, and a Rabbi, openly addresses this shunned woman of the town.  She knows that Jews don’t speak with Samaritans.  She also knows that a Jewish man would never address a woman either, especially a woman of her social standing!  To her surprise, Jesus is indeed talking to her and in doing so, openly breaks several social rules.  This immediately intrigues her.  And a conversation begins.

To her question of why He was talking to her, Jesus responds, “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’s response that comes next, could be considered a typical, yet literal, assumption, “Sir you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is dep.  Where do you get that living water?”  Jesus, however, is conveying a metaphorical/spiritual message.  She’s only seeing the physical; Jesus is offering spiritual refreshment.  This is, of course, something that happens frequently in the scriptures, most commonly with Jesus’ own disciples.  In this case, she assumes He’s referring to the “living water” from the spring beneath the well.  Jesus, however, is referring to an internal, spiritual refreshment that leads to transformation.

Furthering the conversation and teaching, Jesus adds, “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 give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  This statement is important, the living water Jesus gives is meant to cause a change.  Jesus’ living water brings peace, causes growth, and from this growth comes fruit, and from this fruit, (St. Paul calls this the fruit of the Spirit), others are fed, refreshed, and changed.  But this woman needs more in order for Her to comprehend who this is that is talking with her.

So Jesus then tells her about her life, a life of one bad decision after another.  Seeking to defend herself, she points out her own Jewish heritage, pointing out the fact that her ancestors worshiped on the mountain where they are, and she notes that the current Jews worship now in Jerusalem.  If this conversation were happening today, this woman would have said, my family are members of this or that church.  And since I’m a member, I’m a good Jew too.  In essence she’s saying that I’m a good Jew because my family attends a church.  It doesn’t matter what I do, because since I’m a member, I’m as good as you.  But deep down she knows that there’s more to being a faithful follower of God than membership at a church.

She knows God’s commands and statutes and she knows that she’s not living a life that is pleasing to God.  So she, like many people do, makes excuses citing her heritage and then waits to see Jesus’ reply.  In response, Jesus explains that the place where one worships isn’t what we should primarily be focused on.  What matters is that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  What Jesus is saying is, that simply going through the motions on Sunday morning, isn’t true worship.  True worship happens when we recognize and honor the true Messiah, God’s Son from the heart.  Jesus then reveals that He is the Messiah who has come to fulfill God’s saving mission.

For this woman, Jesus reveals the truth, His true identity, and the reason for His coming.  God’s Messiah has come to tear down the walls we put up, tear away the excuses we use, and return us to God’s intent from the beginning, for us to be in a right relationship with Him.  Impacted, she returns to town and tells everyone about Jesus.  The town’s people then come and convince Jesus to stay with them for two more days, resulting in many believers and disciples of Jesus in Samaria.

This scriptural story contains a huge amount of interchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, but one line especially stands out and helps to define who Jesus is as Messiah, and what His role is in His continuing mission: He is the “living water.”  The living water that only He can give, the way He will fulfill their souls, is something that will happen “within” them.  The living water Jesus provides will become within them a spring of water that gushes up to eternal life.  Another important point being made in this story, is that Jesus is talking about a change, a transformation that results from drinking the living water that only Jesus can provide.

There are two things I want to highlight about the transformative power that Jesus’ living water provides.  The first is that the place, or manner, in which we worship shouldn’t be our only focus, it’s about what’s in our heart; we need to worship in spirit and in truth.  Jesus wants to fill the hearts of His people with true “Living Water” creating a spiritual transformational from the Creator Himself, which will literally satisfy the souls of every worshiper and bless them with eternal life.  Not just some of them, not only those in Jerusalem, not just the men, not just those who say or do the right things or have led a perfect life –but everyone that Jesus touches, everyone who believes in Him, because He is the Messiah!  The second thing we need to note about this story is, this interaction between Jesus and this woman teaches us about how we’re to reach out to people who are different from us, how to talk with strangers from other social classes, from other cultures, those of differing backgrounds.

Jesus is setting for us the example of instead of allowing our differences to keep us apart, we should look for new opportunities for how we might relate to one another.  That both Jesus and the woman came to the well in need of water demonstrated their common humanity.  Instead of shunning the woman, instead of beginning His conversation with a sermon, Jesus simply asked the woman for a drink in a gesture of humility and genuine need.  And instead of recoiling from the boldness of this stranger, the woman responded with curiosity and honest questions.  They spoke as equals and with respect for one another.

In our world today, with its deep divisions and often polarized responses to current events, we need these same qualities: a recognition of our common humanity and our common needs, a posture of humility and honest curiosity, a respect for one another whether or not we share the same background, perspectives, and opinions.  The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman offers us a model for reaching across the divides of our own day, for transforming human relationships.

At the same time, this story speaks of personal healing and transformation.  As the woman spoke with Jesus, her initial wariness turned to honest engagement.  Her honest engagement became a questioning faith.  And even though some questions still lingered, she knew enough about Jesus to share Him with the people in her town.  The woman who had come to the well alone in the middle of the day became an evangelist to everyone who would listen.  Whatever her past history was, whatever her current arrangement, she now had a new relationship with Jesus and a new purpose.  Remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery?  “Is there no one to accuse you, I don’t accuse you either.  Go and sin no more (John 8:1-11).  God’s living water was welling up in her to new life.

The same is true for us.  The past doesn’t matter, our membership at this or that church doesn’t have anything to do with our standing before God.  What matters is what’s in our heart, that we believe and receive God’s Messiah, and from the living water He gives, we are transformed to live a new life and share that living water with those around us.  By God’s grace and power, we can drink deeply and be transformed.  Like the woman at the well, we too can receive living water; we can learn to ask new questions, we can grow in faith.  We may not evangelize an entire town, but we too can share what we know with those we meet, to the glory of our Father in heaven.


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