Sunday, February 20, 2005
Sermon - Lent 2 - John 4:5-42
Lent 2 – February 20th, 2005
“More than Small-Talk”
I. Introduction –
Smalltalk – commenting on the weather, inquiring about the wife and kids, “how ‘bout them Packers” and such. There have even been books written on the fine art of small-talk. But it’s something most of us do without thinking. But then, sometimes small talk gets bigger.
Most of us have also had a conversation or two, which we might call pretty “deep”. Maybe it was a late night heart-to-heart, or a long car-ride somewhere. Maybe it started with something common enough, but ended up with ultimate questions like, “where is my life going?” “what is really important here?” “what’s the meaning of it all?”
Oh the turns and twists of conversation… as John walks us through Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman. As we reflect on this important conversation, we might ask what Jesus is also saying to us, this morning.
II. From Water to Living Water
I suppose you could say, it started out with small-talk. Jesus, the true human that he was – hungry – had sent his disciples to get food. Tired, he sat down to rest, and thirsty, he asked the woman who had come to the well for a simple drink of water. It was an everyday situation, or so it seemed.
What caught the woman off guard is not that a stranger would talk to her, but that he was a man. Men didn’t usually acknowledge women, and especially for a Jewish man to make small talk with a Samaritan woman – well, let’s just say this was a bit of an odd couple. Jews and Samaritans, Men and Women – people who didn’t usually speak at all. But Jesus was full of surprises that day.
Just as intentionally as he opens this unexpected conversation, he directs its course. First asking her for water, he gets her attention by tapping a subject deeper than the well. He offered her “living water”. What did he mean by “living water” – well, simply, quenching the thirst of the soul. He himself, the Savior, is that water – the forgiveness he brings, and the life he gives – the spirit he sends – everything, all of it, is the living water of which Jesus spoke. She didn’t understand it, how could she, but she was intrigued. After all, coming to this well everyday was hard work, and not being thirsty anymore sure sounded good to her.
Jesus intrigues us with the Gospel too. He offers us something. Maybe we don’t understand it at first so well either. But we know we are thirsty, that we have a need. We want to hear more about this “living water” too. But rather than explain it, Jesus applies it. He begins to give her the living water – that is, exactly what she needs. He changes the topic. He goes from the tame topic of water to the uncomfortable topic of sin…
III. From Water to Sins
“Go get your husband”. “I have no husband”. “No, you had 5 husbands – but the man you are living with isn’t your husband is he?” Jesus cuts to the chase, cuts through the veil of polite conversation, and gently but firmly and directly points the woman to her sin. He is to give her the living water, but the first part of this is to lead her to see the need, to remind her of the real thirst – for forgiveness.
When our weekly conversation with Jesus called worship begins, we too are reminded of our sin. The liturgy points us to our own sins just as surely as Jesus exposed the woman at the well. Our sins are many and varied, thought, word, deed, sins done, and sins by leaving things undone.
Perhaps we are beset by a certain sin, a glaring weakness or problem in our life. Perhaps we are caught in a sexual sin – perhaps even the same sin as this Samaritan woman – living in sin with someone who is not our spouse. The sin of fornication.
Whatever our sin, it may seem there is no real way out. Perhaps we make excuses for our sin, or take comfort in the fact that society endorses it. Perhaps we console ourselves with the old argument, “Yeah, but look how much worse the other sinners are…” Maybe we just don’t think it’s such a big deal.
But Jesus would beg to differ. Jesus does not overlook sin, he comes to address it. He calls the sinner to repentance, and applies the forgiveness won by his blood.
Whatever our sin is, it is never comfortable to speak of. Though some don’t even like our very general corporate confession made in worship – not wanting to admit to even being a sinner – most of us have no problem doing so. But if anyone were to ever point to a particular sin, might our reaction be a different story? Might we get defensive? Might we shift the blame, or make excuses? Or might we, like the woman at the well, seek to change the subject?
IV. From “Where” to “Whom”
Now, she wants to talk about worship. “I see you are a prophet!” Let’s argue religion. Now the woman too breaks one of the cardinal rules of polite conversation and brings up religion. Some have suggested she was avoiding talking about her sin. Perhaps. Others have said this is a tacit confession, that yes, Jesus, you are right about my sin. Now let’s talk about how I can be cleansed. What sacrifices do I need to make, to whom, and where – to get this all taken care of. Let’s talk religion.
Whatever the woman’s reason for turning the topic to places of worship, she had certainly opened another can of worms. For Jews and Samaritans disagreed deeply over religion. Jews worshipped God at the temple, where He had promised to dwell. Samaritans set up their own temple, their own places of worship, and thus made for themselves a new religion, really.
The Samaritan religion used only the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Is it any wonder that Jesus said, “you Samaritans worship what you do not know”? But more than just scold her for faulty religion, Jesus moves beyond the Samaritan/Jewish distinction, and announces a new era of religion where worship is not bound to geographical place. Worship in Spirit and Truth – will be coming, and HAS NOW ARRIVED in the Messiah, He, himself, Jesus Christ.
All this sounds good to the woman, and she makes a sort of confession of her faith. She looked forward to the coming Messiah, who would explain it all.
Jesus responds, “I who speak to you am He”, and by doing so, he “opens the floodgates of living waters” The woman comes to faith, and even testifies to her entire town, inviting them to come and hear this man of amazing words. But more amazing than the small-talk, even more amazing than the prophetic wisdom, was the announcement of God’s grace and mercy in the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, who had arrived on the scene with his gift of Living Water.
Jesus takes the question of true religion, right worship, and how to deal with sin –
And he again changes the subject. Now instead of where, or how, or even what – the real question is WHO? And Jesus makes it clear – He is the answer. He is the way, the only way to the Father. He is the Truth, by which we receive the Spirit and know the Father. And He is the Life – the Living, Life-giving Water that he offers is His very self – crucified for the woman at the well, and for the Samaritans, and for the Jews, and for all people, and for you and me. HE is the life that conquered death by rising to life again – and better than a fountain of youth, his resurrection guarantees eternal life for all who believe.
As we, the people of God, gather once again this day around the well of His grace in Jesus Christ, we cherish again the Living Water. We acknowledge the gifts given in the Baptismal waters, in the Holy Meal of his own Body and Blood, and in the very Word of Truth we are blessed to hear. More than mere small-talk, the words of Christ are powerful, precious, eternal, and true. They point out sin, they forgive sin, and they bring life and faith. We, who have heard these words today, confess with the ancient Samaritans of Sychar, “have heard for ourselves… that this man really is the Savior of the world!”
As Jesus dialogues with the woman at the well, He offers more than small-talk. As the conversation runs its course, Jesus in turn offers the gift, points to sin, and again to His mercy. Jesus makes a believer out of her!