Sunday, March 19, 2017
Living Waters of Hope
TEACH: Teaching, baptizing and nurturing believers
It is high noon, and it is hot in Samaria. Thirsty, Jesus has stopped for a rest beside an ancient well while his disciples are off looking for food. Into this picture enters a Samaritan woman – now there was nothing particularly unusual about seeing a woman at the well, this was the custom of the land that the women would gather the water, but they usually came to do this in either the early morning or evening to avoid the severe heat of midday. So, what is this woman doing here…at this time?
I suspect that her timing has to do with the fact that she did not really want to run into anyone at the well. With what we learn about this woman, her lifestyle, her history, I’m guessing that the good towns folk probably have a lot to say about her, and likely precious little of it was very positive. So, she says to herself, “Why not just avoid all that talk. I’ll go when I know no one else is there”. She knows it will be harder because of the heat, but this extra effort is well worth NOT having to encounter the other women at the well with their glances, and their hushed tones to one another.
I think it would be fair to say that this woman lived on the edge of her world. She knew it and seemed to have accepted it, adjusting her habits around what she saw as something she must just deal with, something that would never likely change.
As she arrives at the well in this account, she is surprised to find a rather tired looking Jewish man sitting there. She is a little startled by this as usually she has the place to herself at this time of day. “Well”, she thinks to herself, “I’ll just get in, get my water, and be on my way”. But Jesus has a different type of encounter in mind. HE SPEAKS TO HER. Well, never mind the fact that centuries of misunderstandings even hatred, between Jews and Samaritans meant that they would never speak, but a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, and then on top of this asking her to share with him something as personal as a drinking cup? It just wasn’t done. Who was this person that he didn’t understand this. Everyone understood this!.
For a moment the thought popped into her head, “Oh great, isn’t this just what I need – more for those gossiping tongues! What will people have to say now about this …speaking to a Jew, and giving him some water!” She could just imagine the rumour mills with this fresh material. Not able to contain her astonishment, what came out of her mouth in response to Jesus request was a challenge…why are you asking a drink of me a Samaritan woman. In the conversation that would follow, Jesus would go on to offer her a gift like none other, he would offer her a way to transform her life, a way to change what she thought could never change… for what He offered her was hope.
What the Samaritan woman saw was a Jew, a thirsty Jew sitting on the edge of her well. What Jesus saw was a woman, sitting on the edge of her community, her life locked into a way of being from which she could see no escape. Jesus’ response… was to reach out to her. Never shy to break a social norm or two to extend a greater understanding of God’s kingdom, that is just what Jesus did that hot afternoon.
In this story, we see God in Christ bringing hope and I was reminded of a program I heard about, that a school board that was started to help children who had been hospitalized to keep up with their work while they were in the hospital. One of the volunteers of this program got a call one day about a young boy about ten years old who was in the nearby hospital and needed some help with understanding verbs and adverbs because that is what his class was working on before he went into the hospital.
What they neglected to tell the volunteer before she went to see this young man was that the reason he was in the hospital was because he had been in a very serious house fire and had experienced very serious burns to a large part of his body and was in a great deal of pain. Upon entering the room, the volunteer was caught off guard by the state of the boy, but tried to quickly recover and not sure exactly what to do she began to speak about verbs and adverbs. She did not feel that she had been very helpful, but when her time was up she left saying she would return the next day to pick up on the work they had begun. When she came back on the ward the following day she was approached by the boy’s nurse and asked exactly what she had said to the young boy on the previous day.
She began to apologize and explain that she had not really known what to say, but immediately the nurse stopped her. No, no, she had misunderstood. No one was upset with what she had said to the boy, quite the opposite. After her visit, everyone had noted such a change in the young man, they wondered just what she had said.
Before her visit he had been very withdrawn and uncooperative in his own treatment and did not seem to have much will to get better.
Wanting to understand exactly what had happened, they together went in to see the boy, who was happy to see the volunteer again, and shortly into their conversation, it was clear from his remarks that if the school had sent a teacher to help him with his work, then they must think that he was going to get better, and so he would try. Quite unknowingly this volunteer, you see, had given this young man hope, and with hope renewed, well, surely change was possible.
And just as we see in the interchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus bursts in upon us when we are least expecting it and speaks with us until we can get beyond whatever is blocking us from seeing the incredible gift he is offering. Jesus meets us in those places in our lives that are messy and difficult and brings with him an offer, an offer of transformation. Jesus had and has a way of cutting through all the unimportant things and getting to the core of the matter.
Today, we are considering the second Mark of Love of the 5 marks of mission: Teach, calling us to teach, baptize and nurture believers. Just as this Samaritan woman would encounter Jesus and be changed by that encounter, we are called, after sharing, after Telling the story of God’s love, to not stop there, but believing in the potential of one another, to make learning and growing in God, an ongoing way of life. Building on the starting point of our baptism, we continue to encounter Jesus as we live out our baptismal covenant.
Christ has come to us in these places where we are parched, with the promise of living water. Taking a long and luxurious drink from his cup we are changed. What was the response of the Samaritan woman? She was bursting with the news of this stranger and could not help but share it with those around her. Like her we become ambassadors of hope. Empowered and embolden by the truth that even those darkest parts of ourselves can be touched by God, we allow the living essence of Christ to sink deep into our lives, becoming expressions of the enormity of God’s love for us.
So we come to the well not just once but often and we drink long and drink deep!
There is a cup with each of our names on it! And having been enlivened by this spring of life and source of goodness ourselves, we scoop up a bit extra while we’re there to share around with others with whom we share this faith journey. For the life of God within us is a life of continuous learning and growing. We help one another understand the different values of life in the Kingdom. We help one another embrace Jesus’ love and life within us and to participate with one another’s support and encouragement in the mission of God in the world. For Christianity is a group experience.
And so in this Second Mark of Mission, we encourage one another in this new life. We build up one another. We help one another to move more deeply into the reality of living in God’s Kingdom. We support one another to ask, to live with, and sometimes, though not always, to answer the harder questions in life.
The second mark of mission, “Teach, baptize, and nurture new believers,” is about formation. We are continually called as believers to grow, change, convert, invite God more and more into our lives, and we’re called to help others do the same. And part of our care for one another is to hold one accountable to this challenge.
True Christian fellowship is based on giving and receiving, helping others and being helped by helping them, allowing yourself to be helped, and thereby helping others by letting them help you.
Our assignment for the week takes us back to our beginning, back to our baptismal covenant. It lists for us the first five questions of this covenant, offering us an opportunity to create a prayer for the day and a reflection on this. As we find some moments for this review and these reflections this day, buoyed up by a fresh reminder of the hope offered to us by Jesus, we remember to pray for all those with whom we share our faith journey, always looking for ways to nurture, care and serve one another.