May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you this day, our Rock and our Redeemer.
I am going to start today with something I have never done before. When I was in seminary, I met with a Spiritual Director regularly. Sometimes, she required me to write a reflective piece to keep in my journal with no thought of sharing it. However, there is one which I wrote which is connected with today’s Gospel reading, and I felt that it would be good to begin my sermon today with this.
I am the woman of Samaria. I have been searching, searching, searching, all my life. But for what? That I cannot tell you. But I know that this morning, at the well, before sunrise, I found it. And now I will never lose it. This living water. This water that refreshes. This water that cleanses. This water that renews. It is mine, and I want to share it. For I know that others are also looking, are also seeking, are also lost. Take what I have. Use it for yourself. And when you are ready, you will find that you, too, have enough to share. That is something He didn’t tell me about the living water. It goes on forever. It expands until it will fill the whole world. But now I know as Adam and Eve knew, with the difference being they learned about good and evil and I learned about love.
So often, we do not realize what this encounter at the well was really about. We think that it was about Jesus revealing himself to a Gentile, to a Samaritan. We think that it was about guilt on her part and forgiveness on his. We use it to show how we can all be forgiven. But Jesus giving her what he called living water is really all about love.
As an illustration, I want to talk for just a minute about our Bella. As most of you know, she is a rather large Labradoodle, who insists on thinking that she is a lap dog. She and I spend a lot of time together. Often, when I am working at my desk, she is lying under it, keeping my feet warm, whether they need it or not. When we leave her at home alone, she is not happy, but when we get back after an absence – no matter how long – she is thrilled to see us. Of course, since we acquired OhchoCat, Bella spends a bit more time alone, or at least, away from us. But no matter how often we put her in a room where she can’t get at the cat, and no matter how often we leave her at home alone, whenever she sees us, she welcomes us with a wagging tail, and a loving lick – again, whether we want it or not.
This is love. This is something like the love that Jesus was offering to the woman at the well. This is the love that doesn’t let anything get in its way –not absence, not adultery, not living a life that others condemn. Someone once mentioned that it is no coincidence that “God” spelled backwards is “dog”, and there are times when I agree with that assessment.
And it would seem that I am not the only one. There was a recent newspaper article called “In Times of Stress, Just Call on Rover”. I found this article on the internet, and thought that it was appropriate to use today, considering my own illustration. When it comes to times of stress, the most reassuring companion isn’t your sweetheart – it’s your schnauzer. A study has found that people who were under stress showed the least amount of tension when accompanied by their dog. The stress levels were highest when the people were with their husbands or wives. “I think that dogs are non-evaluative, and they love us,” said Karen Allen, a research scientist at State University of New York at Buffalo’s medical school.
This item caught my attention – not because of what it says about stress and our spouses. Frankly, I don’t believe that, because I know that being with Keith reduces my stress significantly, most of the time. But what attracted me was what it says about the ways dogs love us, and the benefits that this kind of love has. You see, there is something very biblical in the assertion that non-evaluative love, non-judgmental love, can reduce tension. In fact, if we look at scripture, we will learn that it does much more than just reduce tension. It gives life; it gives hope; it gives assurance to all who receive it.
Non-judgmental, accepting, all-embracing love – this is the essence of the Good News contained in the gospel. We find in statements like this one: Do not judge others lest you be judged, for the judgment you give will be the judgment you receive. Jesus accepts and embraces people whom others find wanting, people living on the margins, sinners of all kinds, tax collectors, lepers – all those people whom the scribes and Pharisees reject; all those people whom we are still rejecting.
In my time, I have been a gardener, and one thing I learned about gardening that every plant needs water to grow. Even the desert cactus must still have a source of water in order to thrive. I know that the plants that in the driest soil, the plants whose leaves are beginning to curl and lose their colour – these plants need more water than the plants which are in damp ground. And I know that plants respond to water. I have seen plants which were shriveling in their beds – or in their pots – suddenly come back to life after a good watering. Their roots go down deep, looking for water. Their leaves turn over so that they can catch water from above and absorb it. And after they do this, then they produce whatever they were meant to produce, whether it is flower or fruit.
We are – all of us – plants in God’s garden. We have been placed here for a reason. But some of us are pretty dry and we need the living water. In fact, all of us need the living water. It is just that some of us have been without it for a long time. And it is this living water which wells up to eternal life. It is this living water which overflows and brings life to other plants nearby.
There is a story about a water bearer in India. He had two large pots, each hung on one end of the pole he carried across the back of his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream, the cracked pot arrived only half full. This went on every day for two years, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to his master’s house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishment and saw itself as perfectly suited for the purpose for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived as bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“For the past two years, I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws you have to work without getting the full value of your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and out of compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the wildflowers on the side of the path. The pot felt cheered.
But at the end of the trail, the pot still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and again it apologized for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I knew about your flaw and took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them for me. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. If you were not just the way you are, he would not have such beauty to grace his house.
Just so did the Samaritan woman at the well bring the Good News to the other people in her village. Just so are we called to share it with others. And, even more, just so are we called to thank God for the living water he has given us, for the Good News which has been shared with us. Every day, I thank God for his love, for the living water which is constantly being poured on me, even when – or maybe ESPECIALLY when – I feel that I don’t deserve it. And in giving thanks, I do what the woman at the well did after she first met Jesus, after she first realized who he was. I point to him, to the one who is the promised Saviour, the one who accepted me and calls me sister, the one who encourages me and challenges me, the one who never rejects me, but who loves me unconditionally.
This woman at the well had three strikes against her, and Jesus ignored them all. First of all, she was a Gentile, and, as we know, many people believed that his message was first and foremost for the chosen people. But he revealed himself to her before he revealed himself to his own. Secondly, she was a Samaritan, and, as you know, Jews and Samaritans were enemies of long standing. But that didn’t matter. Jesus gave her what she needed, just as he gives us what we need. Finally, and probably most damning of all, she was a woman. Women of that time were treated as property, and as not being worthy of conversation. This did not stop him from blessing her, and calling her sister.
And this, this is why she spoke of him in her village. Not just because he knew her past; not just because he could tell her things that no stranger should know about her. It was because in knowing her, in knowing all about her – her nationality, her gender, her religion, and the history of her marriages – he treated her as an equal. He treated her as someone worthy of respect, worthy of affection, worthy of love. This isn’t just a woman, but a Samaritan woman, one with many husbands– but let’s just boil it all down to the single story: she’s an unclean sinner. Jesus, as a Jewish male, is not supposed to be talking with her, let alone accepting water from anything she has touched. Those were the rules, and life is simpler when the rules are clear. But Jesus broke the rules. Over and over again, Jesus broke the rules.
And that is the point of this whole story and of this whole sermon. Just as Jesus did, we are called to treat others as we would like to be treated. We are called to speak with people in high places in the same way as we speak to people in low places. We are called to talk to sinners and saints with respect, whether we agree with them or not. We are called to open ourselves to friends and strangers alike, and to feel that both of them are open to us. We are called to meet people where they are, and not to judge them. We are told not to patronize people because we feel that they are somehow less than we are. When we do all this, then it is that we are starting to learn something of God’s love. Then it is that we are starting to show something of God’s love. Thanks be to God.