United Church of Jaffrey
Together While We are Apart — through Worship
As a result of the COVID-19 restrictions on gathering as a community, Rev. Mark has put together worship videos that encourage participation. The sermon that is written below starts at 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the video.
These are strange times.
If one were so inclined, one might call them dark times.
Indeed, one need only look to Italy to see that what looks to us like an inconvenience, is playing out for them as the most fearful mortality play.
The reason we are not gathered together in church today, is because we are doing all that we can to make sure that what is happening now in Italy, will not be happening to us in a few months.
It’s up to us – each of us – to make sure that doesn’t happen.
As we contemplate what is before us, let’s spend a little time considering what, if anything, we … as Christians … are called, by our God, to do under present circumstances.
How ironic and peculiar that on this, of all Sundays, we should encounter the Samaritan woman at the well.
I use the word “encounter” intentionally, because it is the word that best describes the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
The story is told with careful attention to detail
– it has been a long day
– Jesus is tired.
He stops to rest at a famous well (the well that is associated with the Jewish Patriarch Jacob). Then, the text says:
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
These sentences reveal an unmistakable and unsettling reality.
For African Americans of a certain age, who lived through the dark years of Jim Crow in this country, this passage must be deeply painful…
You see, by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, Jesus is not simply asking someone for a drink of water…
He is upending a code of conduct that is deeply rooted in ethnic prejudice.
“Jews,” the text quite matter of factly states “do not share things in common with Samaritans…”
The Samaritan woman herself, is shocked that she is being addressed in this manner by a Jew.
The dynamic that is at play here is a deeply painful one. The prevailing culture of the time defined The Samaritan woman as a person with less value then a Jew – someone who, for that reason, has no business interacting with someone who is better then she is.
Jesus is subversive. He doesn’t allow such codes of conduct to get in the way of his connection to anyone he might choose to speak to.
But he goes even farther. He pulls a switcheroo.
Jesus 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.”
It is not enough to ask the woman for water. Now he offers her water.
“…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.”
When the woman heard this, she spoke plainly to him.
“Sir, give me this water.
I love this.
I love it when the Samaritan woman says
“Sir, give me this water…”
To me, this is the center of gravity in this reading because it shows that the Samaritan Woman has not only been acknowledged by Jesus as an equal – she has acknowledged it herself!
At the beginning of their conversation, she had upheld racist codes of conduct, degrading herself saying “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Now, she speaks without reserve. She does not ask. She tells.
“Sir,” she says, “give me this water…”
Now she knows that she is worthy.
Worthy of living water.
What is living water?
We could say that it is some kind of holy water that will magically bring you salvation.
That has been one interpretation.
I cannot help feeling like all water is holy.
80 percent of our body is made of water.
We come from the water of our mother’s wombs.
Try to live a week without water… Its not possible.
Water is life.
But surely Jesus is not just talking about water.
I think that Jesus has already given her this “living water” – he has given her something that fills her spiritually.
He has given her self-respect.
The knowledge that she is better than no one, and no one is better than her.
This is what a spiritual encounter looks like.
You come away with wonder and integrity.
Your soul has glimpsed a mysterious and abiding goodness and you are fortified with a sense of new meaning.
The question that I ask, is this…
Is it possible to have this kind of spiritual encounter from 6 feet away?
Can we experience this kind of love in the time of Corona?
I believe the answer is yes.
Because the secret – the secret to this kind of encounter – giving it, and receiving it – is simple.
Truth finds a person where they are, and acknowledges them – no matter who they are, or what they have done in their lives.
But for it have power, truth must be heard.
It must be heard by those who are in pain.
It must be heard buy those who inflict pain.
It must give integrity to the first, and humility to the latter.
A new phrase has entered our language this week.
How strange that on this week of social distancing – when even we are miles apart – we should hear about this moment when Jesus reached across an abyss of culture and connected.
Broke a boundary with the insistence of truth.
Perhaps this is the best possible moment to hear this story.
Perhaps it tells us how to be Christian in a culture newly filled with a purpose of “social distance.”
We – as Christians, we can be apostles during this pandemic.
Apostles, like Jesus, of the fundamental dignity of all.
Believers in the essential holiness of each person.
This we can do from 6 feet away.