Water & Women: Seeing What We Fail To Notice

Exodus 17:1-7 17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Psalm 95
1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!
8Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”
11Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Romans 5:1-11 5Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
John 4:5-42 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”
Good morning, St. Matthew!
We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.
Holy God, if nothing else the lessons we have placed before us this Sunday are evidence of how much we are NOT you. You are the one who speaks of time having been fulfilled, of the promise blooming right in front of us, and instead of opening our eyes to see that fulfilment and that bloom, we whine like cranky children in need of nap, focusing instead on the discomfort of change. We moan about missing the accustomed stink and familiar stains of our threadbare blankie, and ignore the glorious succour in which you long to wrap us. And yet, because you ARE God, you do not withdraw your offer of love and care – ever. This morning, help us to lean into that love, to open our hearts and eyes to see the world you offer to us and to step into that world with trust and faith. In the light of your love, we pray, Amen.
This Lent we are following the theme of Dust and Glory. We are dust and to dust we shall return – but because of God’s love and grace, we are given the chance to lay down our past choices and be transformed into creations of God’s glory. Throughout the coming weeks, we are exploring and meditating on this theme. And so, we continue our journey.
And this morning, we are talking about everyday miracles. I try not to show my nerdy side often, but I am a Trekker – a fan of the Star Trek universe. Gene Rodenberry created a way to talk about the future of humanity that is deeply rooted in people we recognise with all their faults and foibles, but he infused the whole universe with hope – and he never allowed that hope to disappear. His original series introduced the character of Captain James T. Kirk, and the defining characteristic of Kirk is his belief in himself and his abilities. There is a test called the Kobayahsi Maru that is called the unwinnable scenario. It is meant to reveal the character of the leader – to show how they respond when there is no hope of success. Kirk so rejects this idea that he reprograms the computer so that he can win! In short, for Kirk, there is always a way to win.
How many of us believe that there is always a way to win? That somehow things will all work out and somehow the bad guys won’t carry the day and somehow good will triumph? I really think it’s most of us. No one really wants to live in a world without hope. Even the most put-upon person, even the refugee, even the person facing a life threatening cancer, has the hope that the miracle will happen, that the million to one shot will come through. And while it’s easy to look at other people’s hopes as foolish, we all still believe in our own possible salvation, don’t we? It’s how we often excuse our failings, isn’t it? “I didn’t really mean to that – give me another chance and I’ll do better!” And while believing that we can do better is not a bad thing, per se, it can become a bad thing when we demand to be judged by our intentions rather than our actions, when we insist not only that we can win, but that we are owed the win. So the world has to give me another chance to prove it.
But even in the Star Trek universe, wins are not guaranteed. Loss does happen, and our character is, in fact, revealed in how we deal with that reality. We can’t reprogram the computer to change the unwinnable scenario in real life. The Israelites who have followed Moses, made the mistake of thinking the new world would look like the old world, just with them in charge. So they are trying to reprogram the computer to give them what they think they want. But here the “computer” is not a programable machine – but God themself! The Israelites are not following the old laws of idols – put in a request, make the proper sacrifice and bingo bango – you get the desired result! God doesn’t operate within our control – the whole thing about faith is recognising that God – not me! – is in control, and that God – not me! – is the one with the answers, and that God – not me! – determines the future.
In God’s universe, we have to acknowledge how little we comprehend so that we can let go of our limited view and accept God’s limitless view. In our universe we are complaining about the ride, forgetting the assured and promised destination. In our world, we are worried about which is the exact mountain on which Moses stood and completely miss the headline that God claimed a people as God’s own! We worry about the letter of the law and miss the loving intent that drives it. We are in fact a stiff-necked people, stupidly proud in our false power, unwilling to face the reality that we don’t determine the outcome of the game. We think that we get to tell God what is right and wrong, that Israel is best and Samaria the worst, that women and men should stick to their own lanes, and that a much married, often bedded broad can be dismissed as irrelevant to the story.
In our modern day and age, we have an arrogance that we should have water at our disposal at all times. We forget that throughout history, water has been precious and labour intensive. In many places, it still is. And in many places, it is the women and girls who are tasked with the hard and tedious labour of drawing that water from community wells and transporting it home. But they come to the well in cool of the morning or in the shade of the evening – no one is dumb enough go at noon. Nor is anyone dumb enough to walk at noon – like the old song sez, “only mad dogs and Englishmen go abroad in the noon day sun.” But here in the gospel this morning, in the heat of the noonday sun, Jesus and the Samaritan woman meet up. So right there in the text, we see that God is not following the rules we humans have clung to as “normal” or lawful.
Jesus is the fulfilment of the law in its loving intent. But that has, up til now, only been guessed at. So far, he is an interesting man of faith, gaining a few followers, sharing some pretty remarkable insights. Perhaps it is just a wrong turn that has he and the disciples out at the noon hour. As for the Samaritan woman – well, even today we would recognise her as kind of hard living, fast talking dame. Back then, we can surmise that her life choices had put her far enough outside “respectable society” that to avoid gossip and clucking tongues, she was coming out at the hottest time of day to get her water, when she could be sure the place was deserted. But it’s not; there a pesky guy. A pesky, Jewish guy. A pesky, Jewish, talkative guy. A pesky, Jewish, talkative, THIRSTY guy – who is breaking all the rules and engaging her in conversation! She tries to bluster her way out of the moment, but she gets caught up when he calls her out for her choices. But he doesn’t move to shame her or dismiss her. Instead – against all the rules of law – they engage and it is to this wildly inappropriate woman he reveals that he is the Messiah, and it is through her, that the wrong people – the Samaritans are the first to hear the declaration of his identity as Messiah, and the first to embrace that identity.
And that steps right into the pattern of not following the pattern that God has been setting since Genesis. At every turn, we think that God will do what we expect God to do, that God will conform to the plans we have, fit into our lives just where we put the Divine and not an inch over the lines we have drawn. But like the Israelites in the desert, like the woman at the well – God explodes those expectations and human limitation. We can’t reprogram God so that we can “win”; God’s not even playing our game! God’s love and grace does nothing that we expect it to do – it doesn’t look for the good, righteous law abiding folks so that they can be rewarded – it looks for sinners and says – your salvation is in no way dependent on you. I am in charge of your fate; your one and only job is to trust me to lead you in the ways that are best for you to go. Those paths may lead through deserts, where you will have to trust me to provide water. They may lead you to places where you cannot see the goal, where you will have to trust me to reach the destination. They may take you to a cross, where you will have to trust me that resurrection is coming. There will be a kobayahsi maru – an unwinnable scenario. But if you will accept my love and grace into your life, you will be participating in the world as it truly is – a world where God can take all the dung we create and bring unexpected life out of it. In fact, all of God’s witness from Genesis to Revelation invites us to lay down our expectations of what winning looks like and trust that we don’t need to be in control in order to succeed. We just need to open our eyes and hearts and trust God.
In your bulletins, there is a lovely drawing by the artist Vondra Drees. It is there for you to take home and colour in, and as you do, I give you the challenge to think about the things we expect to see and the laws we expect God will follow. And then remember the Lord meets a Samaritan broad at the well at high noon and says “Guess what? The Messiah has come to YOU today!”
We are dust and to dust we shall return – but because of God’s love and grace, we are given the grace to lay down our past choices and be transformed into creations of God’s glory. Let’s make the choice to live into our glory!