Friday, 22 February 2008

Lent III Year A Sermon, The Woman At the Well.

Jacob's Well today.

For those who might be interested, here is this Sunday's sermon.

And they asked Him, What are you talking to her for?

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There are many times of tension in our lives, I think. Much as I try to be a relaxed, affable model of a man of God, some of you may be surprised to hear that I do lose my temper sometimes. Some of you may not be surprised. Sometimes as I say my morning prayers and people come into the Church for a natter and to catch up with the neighbours, or when we as a community act in a way which I believe does not befit the people of God, my blood boils under this calm exterior and I wonder if there are cellars big enough to keep the bodies, or if sabotaging the seats with nails would help. However, this is often simply because I do not always live up to the standards which I know God expects of us all, and that causes tension in my soul which sometimes spills out in my actions.

Lent, I think, is a time of tension. I bet most of you feel slightly tense now, because I am talking about Lent and you think I am going to go on about giving things up and taking things on and I also bet that the vast majority of us have done, and intend doing, nothing to mark this season. The thought that I am going to mention this may cause some tension in your hearts borne of mis placed guilt, from the same tension I feel when I do not live up to Gods expectations of me. We are tense because we are in a time of tension, between birth and death, where hope and faith cross and somewhere in the middle where they meet we paint ourselves a picture of how it should be and how we hope eternal life will be with Christ in heaven.

And Lent causes tensions because it can give us a glimpse of that meeting place which we are not, maybe, entirely comfortable with. Today’s Gospel is just one of those days. We know already that Jesus is not shaping up entirely in the way that the Jews hoped He might. In fact, He did everything exactly as they should have expected, just in such a way that they did not notice, or could not bring themselves to accept, which is no bad thing for us to meditate upon, that unless we widen our perception, we may overlook the beauty of Lent as the Jews overlooked the birth of the Messiah.

We have to know where Jesus was, at this time. What we currently call the Holy land is a strip of land, about 120 miles, that stretches along the Mediterranean. At the time of the writing of this Gospel the land was divided into 3 regions; in the north was Galilee, in the south was Judea, and in the middle was Samaria. These different regions had their own history, their own religious and national identity. Up north in Galilee were Jews and down in the south were Jews, but in the middle were Samaritans who had their own hybrid religion that was mixed with pagan rituals and beliefs. This group was despised and often times hated by the Jews in the north and south. It was very uncommon for them to have any friendships with the Jews, because the Jews looked at them as dogs and spiritual adulterers. The history of these people can be traced all the way back to the Old Testament were Jacob purchased a piece of land in Genesis where he dug a well for his family and livestock to draw water from. There at that plot of land Jacob raised his family and was one of the great patriarchs of the Jewish faith. He then handed the land over to his son Joseph. Joseph, as you know, was taken off into exile in Egypt where he lived for the duration of his life. If you remember the story, the Jews began to grow in numbers in Egypt and were eventually ordered into slavery, where they stayed for 400 years until they were delivered by God, through the leadership of Moses.

This is where Jesus was, after a few centuries more war and hatred. He traveled through Samaria, which no Jew would, and went to this well. This is akin to going through what the Bishop of Rochester calls a ‘no go area’, you just go around. He went through and, in the centre of that land, asks an untouchable woman for a drink. At noon, in the midday sun, when only the outcasts of that society were allowed to the well, so as not to infect the pure ones. This is a public, brave statement that Christ is making. He is not calling us here to give anything up, but to go the extra mile. This also happens to be the clearest rejection of racism and elitism between cultures and ways of worship in the Gospels. And He goes here to offer salvation and eternal life. Here at the well of Jacob He shows Himself to be greater than Jacob, greater than any social law or religious law, He shows Himself as the bearer of eternal life, for all peoples, for all time. And He has called us, this Lent, to pass this message on.

He offered her salvation and she, not the learned Rabbis, she recognised Him as He truly is and then, the Samaritan people believed her on the basis of what she had seen and then on the basis of what they themselves felt and encountered in their lives after this apocalyptic meeting at the well. This is the very model of Church, is it not? This reflects the first reading, in the demand for a sign and the people of God being saved through the faith of Moses, as the Samaritans are saved by the faith of this woman as well. Through faith we are saved, not through piety or learning by rote or by recitation of the right words as the second reading reminds us – that Christ died for us even though we were and most assuredly are – sinners. We are all Samaritans to someone, we are all outcasts to someone, but we must thirst for not the glory of earthly privilege, for the water from the rock, but we must thirst for justice and peace and the waters of eternal life as offered to us in this place by almighty God and as Jesus makes clear are one and the same.

But look! We are surrounded by new nations all the time, nations of the dispossessed and the subjugated and the violated, hidden from view, communities whom we skirt around as the Jews skirted around Samaria, you can see them all around you, in the shadows and in the dark. Thirst for them, thirst this Lent for their time to come, and thirst as I thirst for the love of God once more to pour out in our community. This is what He said as He died, for you and for me, ‘I thirst’, but he rejected the water. Reject the water, for you will only thirst again, accept nothing less than the living water which comes down from heaven.

And they asked Him, What are you speaking to this woman for?

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen,