I remember when my little brother was first learning to drive. The whole family was in the car on a road trip, and we were travelling down a narrow two-lane road full of curves and hills when all of a sudden we heard the familiar sound of a fire engine coming up behind us – lights flashing and siren blaring. It was a situation he had never faced before, and he became very anxious. “What do I do? What do I do?” Now, I’m not much older than he is so I was probably around 17… but with my parents in the back seat, I quickly realized he was looking to me for guidance. I also knew that our dad was about to start screaming directions at him which was going to make things terrible.
So I quickly looked behind us and checked out our situation, then I spotted a place just ahead where he could safely pull over, and I talked him through it step by step. “You’re going to pull over to the side of the road. Put on your turn signal. See that open area right up there? You have plenty of time to slow down and get over there to let the fire engine pass. Start slowing down. A little slower. Now easy – just slowly pull into that flat spot off the road and stop. Let them pass you. Ok, stop right here. Perfect. Stay still. You’re good to go!”
He did a really good job, and I was proud of him. What could have been panic was handled gently. The whole thing only took a few seconds, but everyone relaxed and we went on our way safe and sound.
At the beginning of our daily text, Jesus is in Samaria at the town of Sychar and has stopped by Jacob’s well around noon. The town name Sychar is probably another way of saying Shechem which is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem, and it is believed that this well we’re talking about is the one that sits about a quarter mile away from the edge of Shechem. The same well that today sits under a Greek Orthodox church that was built to shelter it.
The Scripture we just read says this isn’t just any old well, this is Jacob’s well that sits on the plot of land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. When son Joseph died he was buried on this same site. Actually, his body was mummified, and somewhere along the line his mummified body was brought up from Egypt by the Israelites and then buried here on this site when the Israelites entered Canaan.
What this means is that this site is tied not only to Jacob and Joseph, but to all the northern tribes and especially to Joseph’s son, Ephraim. You see, Ephraim’s name is another name for Samaria which is the northern kingdom.
So we have Jacob’s well on the land that was given to his son Joseph who is buried on the land that is tied to his son Ephraim who is tied to the Samaritans. Jacob’s well is tied to Jacob’s people, and to Joseph’s people, and to Ephraim’s people, and to the Samaritans.
Now, the Samaritan people were sort of tossed around a little after war – kind of deported from land to land. They had been mixed in with other peoples and were considered to be of a mixed bloodline. Even though we can read about how this sect sort of fell away from God, there were a number of descendants who continued to worship God and even built a temple in which to worship.
They built that temple because the Jews who were not of Samaritan descent thought that these people were heretics and would not allow them to help rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem after the exile. The Samaritans were considered to be of an impure bloodline and were thought to be unclean, but they wanted to worship God and so they built their own temple.
The point is that mentioning Jacob in this story means that this well and the tradition which surrounds the well belongs to all of Israel – all of Jacob’s bloodline, Jacob’s descendants. We have the Judeans in the south – those are the Jews of pure bloodline and pure following of Jewish law; the Galileans in the north – those who are pure Jews but not quite as committed to following the Jewish law to the letter; and the Samaritans in the middle – those who are of mixed descent and committed to no Jewish law but still worshippers of God.
Everyone comes from Jacob, and Jacob’s well belongs to everyone. Even though the areas don’t get along, they all recognize this well water as being important to their lives. Now that you have the lay of the land, you can picture that Jesus has left Judea, headed to Galilee, and goes through Samaria to get there.
Now we understand that Jesus came for everyone, and the well belongs to everyone, but we are looking at things from a much different perspective than these folks. As Christians, we view everything through the lens of the cross. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has already happened, and we have already been made to see that the Messiah lives. For this woman at this well at this time, though, a much different picture is in place.
Remember, the Samaritans and the Jews came from very different mindsets, and there was no love lost between them. As we said, they were separated by their history ethnically, religiously and even politically. They had fought one another in war; they had opposed one another in the building of worship sites; they were hostile on many fronts. They even thought that the utensils (even the drinking cups) of one another were unclean.
So when Jesus sits down at the well (Jesus, obviously Jewish) and talks to a Samaritan woman asking her for a drink… from her bucket… from her cup… it is pretty surprising to the woman, and truly surprising to those who will be hearing this story.
But Jesus doesn’t stop at her surprise. He handles the situation gently saying “you know, if you knew who I was, you’d be asking me for living water.” Again she is surprised saying “You don’t even have a bucket – how are you going to get this living water? You know, Jacob dug this well and gave it to us. Are you a better man than Jacob and his family?”
“Anyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but the water I give is from an artesian spring.” Artesian spring – that means a well that has water under pressure, where the water flows to the surface naturally. Jesus is talking about a “gushing fountain of endless life.”
Can you imagine? Can you imagine being as thirsty as this Samaritan woman was at noon in the heat of the day and someone offering you water that will quench your thirst forever? I might have had the same response she did: “Yeah right. Show me THAT water so I don’t have to come here and fetch from this well anymore.” Or, just maybe, she’s hearing the siren and anxiously saying “What do I do? What do I do?”
Jesus tells her to do a curious thing. Go call your husband and then come back, but she doesn’t have a husband and Jesus says “I know. You have had five, and the one you are living with now isn’t even your husband.”
Now, I think a lot of times this Samaritan woman is represented in a less-than-positive light, but we need to understand that women of this time were many times treated like property. She would not have had means to care for herself and would have been at the mercy of the men. So if she had been widowed or if a man had (for any reason at all) decided that he didn’t want her around, he would have just written her a divorce statement and passed her along to the next man. It would not have been her choice. It’s likely that she just would have been passed around.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans that we read earlier, Paul asks us if our spirits are dried and in desperate need of the living water that Jesus brings. Well, maybe we don’t feel completely dried up – maybe we just feel a little dusty. Maybe it’s just a little easier to put Jesus off for now hoping that this life we are living isn’t a real emergency – maybe like the woman at the well had done.
Maybe we just aren’t open to accepting what he has to offer us. But even though we may originally put it off, we are eventually going to need to ask “What do I do?” In this climate where we find ourselves today, I cannot think of a better time to consider that getting our spiritual health in order is urgent.
Whatever we feel, whatever we think about the shape the world is in today, Jesus said the time is now – the time to drink of the water that quenches all thirsts. The time when we realize that we cannot face this world on our own, we need to ask for help, we need to slow down, pull over, and get out of the way… because if we try doing things all on our own, we’re not going to make it.
Paul speaks right into this. He hears the call for help and already has the sirens going when he says: “By entering (through faith) into what God has always wanted to do for us — set us right with him, make us fit for him, reconciled us to him — we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus.
And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand — out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” These are the words straight from Paul.
“There's more to come”, Church! Read it in The Message: “We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles. We shout our praise with siren urgency! And God takes care of us, never leaving us – we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
POURS in – like water from an artesian spring – a gushing fountain of endless life. No matter where we come from or who we are, God generously pours into our lives, and because of the pouring in of that hope, we couldn’t keep this to ourselves if we wanted to!
Our job now is to move forward with wisdom and generosity of heart with the urgency of a siren. Stay grounded and healthy, safe and sound, but make sure your neighbors have their needs met. Folks, the least among us at this time in our community are not necessarily the ones you might think,
At this time, it’s the ones who are advanced in age. What do they need and how can you supply it?
It’s the ones who have existing medical issues. Can you go through a pharmacy drive-through line for anyone?
It’s children who usually get their meals from a school system that isn’t in session right now. Are you looking for ways to help?
It’s people who are isolated because their families are not being allowed into the health facilities to visit.
Keeping spirits up is a big deal. Who can you call – today? To whom can you send a note – tomorrow?
We have to provide for one another. God pours into us an overflowing abundance of life. Maybe we cannot share that life by hugging our friends at church today, but maybe that’s not what church is intended to be in the first place! In a world of uncertainty, we don’t hunker down and hide, and we certainly don’t quit being the church.
What could be panic in these times is to be handled gently by Christians. Maybe this worldwide virus is interrupting our progress, making us pull over and wait for a bit, but we simply need to check out our situation, spot a place ahead to safely serve, and walk through this step by step. Now is the time to BE the church – to BE God’s people.
And all God’s people say, AMEN!
As we move into a time of praying together, I know you have particular folks on your hearts this morning, and I invite you to take just a moment to think of those friends, maybe family members, maybe neighbors. Think of their situations, the things you want to lift up to our God. It might be helpful to write them down so you can see your thoughts throughout the day, or maybe you’d like to say the names out loud.
I encourage you to pray intentionally for all of us as we are being affected by the coronavirus in our world. Let’s pray not only for those who are testing positive and dealing with the symptoms of the virus, but also
- for those school children whose parents are wondering how to feed them while they are out of school
- for the workers who aren’t sure how they will survive while their jobs grow smaller each day
- for the business owners who are terrified of losing everything because customer traffic is too light to manage or mandates have shut off their means to make a living
- for the food pantries who are working tirelessly to figure out a way to meet ever demanding needs
- for those who are cut off from family because no one is allowed into nursing homes and hospitals.
In other parts of the world, let’s remember those who continue to rebuild after storms – particularly on my heart is Nashville, TN. Let us remember the U.S. troops in Iraq who are under active attack. But even as we pray for health and courage and answers, let us also remember that God is faithful, and we give praise for all things.
O Jesus, we are all the woman with her water jar, bent on the chore of the moment, angry thoughts in our weary bones, with our thirst for God hidden in the business of the day. Lord, we know that you meet us gently, too. Sometimes you are hardly recognized, quietly leading our thoughts towards the deeper waters, and there our souls find rest. Help us Lord, to see you close by and to drink from your living well. And then, Lord, help us to bring others to your well – so that your desire that we go and make disciples for you – may be fulfilled. Holy God, we find ourselves in a mess right now. A mess so big that we are not sure how to move forward. We are concerned for our families, for our friends, and particularly those among us who are a little more advanced in age. We know that diseases are among us because we live in a fallen world where nothing is perfect, and we know this is not your best plan for us. But, Lord, even our worship together is being affected by this virus and that’s a really uncomfortable place for us.
As we move through this unfamiliar territory, help us not to be so sidetracked by the ever changing news stories that we miss your presence among us. As this story becomes bigger and bigger, help us also to remember those who are suffering from the far-reaching effects of uncertainty. Grant us patience, wisdom and health. Move our hearts to reach out to one another in creative and effective ways. On this day when we pause to worship you alongside people from all over the world, hear our prayers and bless us with your mercy. We come before you in hope – hope that will carry us through these unsure times – hope that the living water you offer will refresh us and rejuvenate our spirits – hope that your never-ending love and forgiveness will flow through us like an artesian stream. As we lift up the names of those who are on our hearts this morning, we join our voices together praying the prayer you taught us to pray…
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
I’ve enjoyed being with you and pray that you have heard the hope offered through our Lord. As we wrap things up until next week, I remind you that even though we are working from home these days, we are working, and the efforts of our church continue. Because of that, it is necessary that you remain faithful in your giving.
There are still ways to support Divine Street – one is through the mail, and the other is through online giving. You’ll find information on both ways on our website at divinestreet.org. Since I believe you will go from here to respond to God’s call and meet the needs of God’s children, I invite you to bow with me as I thank God for your generosity.
Life-giving God, we offer you ourselves and our resources. Use us and our gifts, that we may be water bearers to a world thirsty for love, for meaning, for justice, and for hope. May all your people encounter fullness of life through the love of Christ, which lives within us. Amen.
HYMN CCLI 20094815
I'm forgiven because You were forsaken
I'm accepted, You were condemned
I'm alive and well, Your Spirit is within me
Because You died and rose again
Amazing love, how can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love, I know it's true
And it's my joy to honor You
In all I do, to honor You
Go now from this service of worship to the service of God’s people near and far, refreshed by the living water that Jesus offers to you. Listen for the parched voices of the least of these; search out the dry places and the arid souls, and become for them a spring of living water.
And as you go, may the blessings of the God of life, the Christ of love, and the Spirit of grace be upon you this day and forevermore. Amen.
Go and make it a good day! We’ll see you next time.