September 18, 2022
- Minister Meghan Malone
- Beautiful Together
- John 4:5-29
- Candidate Weekend
- Medina United Church of Christ Congregational
September 18, 2022 – Candidate Sermon by Minister Meghan Malone
Sermon: “Will You Give Me a Drink?”
Scripture: John 4:5-29, 39-42
Well, Good. Morning. Church. I am so excited to be here with you today. My name is Meghan, and it is a pleasure to meet all of you. I’d like to start off by saying thank you for the warm welcome last night, and for all the messages of support that I have received already. It has meant so much to me, and I am really happy to be here.
Today, I decided to share with you one of my favorite stories. A story of how Jesus once struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, who he was really not supposed to talking to, by asking her for a drink of water. As you might know already there is some significance to the fact that this story takes place around noon, because that is not when most people would have preferred to carry heavy jars of water in the ancient world. By that point in the day, it’s already pretty hot out, so there would not be much of a crowd at the well. Which might be precisely why that is time when this woman comes to get her water. I wonder if you can relate.
Now, we don’t really hang out around wells anymore, at least not ones that we have to get our own water out of, so the best modern equivalent that I could come up with is the grocery store. Imagine you go grocery shopping on a Saturday morning, you’re probably going to run into people that you know. Right? In a small town, you might even have to stop every few aisles to chit-chat, to the point where if you have kids or teens with you, they might get pretty annoyed by it. And some of us like it that way! We can learn an awful lot about what’s going on in our neighborhood from the people we run into.
But let’s say instead you want to avoid the crowd. So, you go grocery shopping in the off hours. That way you can get away with wearing your pajamas to the store without running into anyone, and you can avoid those conversations. Conversations which, let’s be honest, can very easily take a sharp turn towards uncomfortable and even invasive topics, which we just don’t have the energy for all the time.
That’s kind of how I see the Samaritan woman. We usually assume that it’s her presence that makes other people uncomfortable, but maybe they just make her uncomfortable. Maybe she’s trying to avoid the rumor mill. So, she purposefully draws her water in the middle of the day, when she can do it alone. When she walks up to the well, and Jesus is sitting there, and he starts talking to her even though they are on opposite sides of a very volatile racial divide, she must have been pretty surprised. Of course, Jesus doesn’t seem too worried about being a Jewish man talking to a Samaritan woman. We already know Jesus likes to subvert our expectations, but that’s not all that’s happening here.
I don’t think we should stop at the surface level of, “What a poor lonely woman. It was nice of Jesus to talk to her and tell her all about himself and thus improve her life in just two minutes.” Jesus being friendly is not in-and-of-itself the good news, and I think this story has a lot more to offer us than that. Jesus is not just talking to her; he is having a two-way discussion with her. And if we take our assumptions about her out of the way, we might see that the woman at the well actually has just as much to say in this story as he does. There’s really nothing shy or restrained about her, and that’s why I love her.
I fell in love with her story when I was in seminary and I visited Palestine, and I saw the beautiful church that has been built over the well that is claimed to be where this story took place. You can still drink the water from the well in the church’s basement if you’re brave enough, or you can purchase souvenir bottles of it to take home with you, like I did. Though it will leak all over the contents of your suitcase on the plane, and you won’t actually have any water when you get home.
It’s a beautiful building, with colored glass chandeliers and paintings everywhere showcasing Jesus and the Samaritan woman deep in conversation. The icons in that church portray the Samaritan woman as a prophet. She does not look at all confused, or passive, or afraid of Jesus. She faces him, often standing next to him while he sits at the well, with her arm stretched out towards him, addressing him. Even if she just so happened to be the one who was at the well that day, she chooses to engage Jesus just as much as he engages her, showing us just how much knowledge and dignity, she must have had.
She asks several questions of him, about this living water he claims to have, even though he has “nothing to draw it with” as she points out.
We could even read her as a bit sarcastic. “Yeah, I would love it if you gave me that water, that way I wouldn’t have to keep coming to this well that I very much don’t like being at anymore.”
Though shame gets projected onto her by modern readers, when it comes to her relationship status, she doesn’t feel the need to offer any excuses for not having a husband. Perhaps her husbands left her for other people, or maybe they were killed by the roman empire, or maybe any number of other things happened to them that had nothing to do with her. I don’t know why she always seems to get blamed for it.
What we do know is that it was difficult to make it as a woman alone in the first century, and that not having some kind of community of support was a death sentence for anyone in a time where food, healthcare, and protection had to come from people you knew. So, of course she is living with someone. And Jesus doesn’t condemn her for that. Jesus simply affirms that she has spoken the truth. No judgement, no follow-up questions, and no shame, which I imagine might have been a relief for her given that she has taken on a survival tactic of avoiding other people.
I think she had received more than enough well-intentioned, but very unsolicited advice from her neighbors on how she should take care of herself, and how to please everyone else around her while she does it. Does that sound familiar to any of you? But you don’t live through having five husbands in any time period without knowing how to look out for yourself or how to stand up for yourself when necessary. When we see her as that woman, who has been there and done that, and lived through some stuff, there is a richness in how real and frank their conversation is.
When he talks to her, she’s not afraid to talk back to him, and when he doesn’t back down, she is surprised by what he actually has to say. Not only is she able to recognize that he is a prophet, but Jesus also recognizes the prophetic potential within her. He sees her value and her wisdom, even though many others would have called it into question.
Jesus revealing himself as the Messiah to her, and letting her ask him questions about it, is not a small thing. It’s a radical and unexpected decision that not only shows that he respects her, but demonstrates how Jesus centers marginalized people, like her, in his ministry. Because Jesus came to do way more than just be nice to the oppressed. He came to raise them up, and to tear the mighty down from their thrones, and that is what he is starting here.
Jesus sees the value in her exactly as she is, and that’s why she starts listening to him. In spite of how they were supposed to see each other because of their differences, both of them began to see that in front of them was a person who was a well of life and knowledge. And the only way to drink from that well within another person is through mutual connection; by exchanging compassion and wisdom which enriches both people.
That means, she had something to offer him too, and here’s what I think it was. When she finds out he is the Messiah, she leaves her water jar, she goes to the community that she has to some extent been avoiding, and she brings them back to surround Jesus and the disciples. Clearly, she still has enough of a connection to this community to be able to draw a crowd when she wants to, and something about Jesus changed her attitude towards them.
Because of her leadership, Jesus and the disciples end up staying in this Samaritan town, for two days. And for two days they live together, eat together, talk together, and get to know each other in ways that Jews and Samaritans simply were not supposed to do. She brings together Samaritan and Jewish people who had probably never been in such close proximity with one another before, at least not under friendly circumstances, and I cannot imagine that they weren’t all transformed by that experience.
This is some radical community building and an example of just how powerful recognizing someone else’s worth can be. Because of their interaction, she welcomes Jesus, an outsider, into her world, gives him the grand tour that only she can give, and through their connection they tackle those questions and find their answers, together with the entire community. This woman, so easily discounted by the rest of the world, who has been called lowly, and outcast, is precisely the one Jesus chooses to partner with in order to build up the kin-dom in her town.
This is how Jesus lifts up the poor and breaks the bonds of oppression. Through collaboration and connection, by treating human beings with dignity, and by recognizing that the marginalized are our worthy and necessary dialogue partners if we want to bring any kind of salvation to this world. The connection that Jesus and this woman create is a living water that flows among and between all of them, as the disciples and the rest of the town are invited to join in and come believe with them.
This story says to me that the well of eternal life is something we discover in community. It may look different for everyone, but it is connection that leads us to revelations, resources, and all of the things that we need in order to free ourselves so that we can free each other. And as the Samaritan woman so wisely points out, this well that is available to us everywhere is so deep, deep beyond our wildest imagination, if only we are wise enough to see it within each other.
So, when it comes to our mission and the work that you and I will be doing in the world, of course we will do many acts of kindness, because even small acts of compassion create waves of impact everywhere. But I hope that we will do even more than that. I hope that we will create webs of connection, which raise up the marginalized voices around us, and break the unjust systems that hold us back.
I hope we will ensure that this is a place where dialogue is known and expected to happen, and of course a place that people don’t have to actively avoid because they’re afraid of being judged, like at the well. A place that is open to the leadership and the input of many, and a place that is accessible to all who would like to come and join in.
We can live into the counter-cultural spirit of this story by making our community one that upsets hierarchies, overcomes judgement, and rejects all the forms of exclusion that are our deeply entrenched societal norm. And that is how we will find the living water that Jesus came to point us to, the living water of love that can transform us and the world.
So, now I just need to know, will you give me a drink of that thirst-for-justice-quenching-goodness that I know lives inside of you? Because I am very thirsty for connection and transformation. I am parched for loving community and conversation. And I’d like to try to discover some life-giving water here with you. Amen.