Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Conversations with Jesus about life’s persistent questions: Why would Jesus even want to talk to a misfit outcast like me?

John 4:5-26, 39-42
March 23, 2014
© 2014

During Lent the Gospel will be presented in worship as dramatic readings before the sermon.

John 4:5-26, 39-42
Narrator:    So [Jesus] 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,
Jesus:         “Give me a drink.” 
Narrator:    8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
Woman:     “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Narrator:    (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Jesus:         “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.” 
Woman:     “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?” 
Jesus:         “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.” 
Woman:     “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 
Jesus:         “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 
Woman:     “I have no husband.”
Jesus:         “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!” 
Woman:     “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.” 
Jesus:         “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.” 
Woman:     “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 
Jesus:         “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Narrator:    39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,
Woman:     “He told me everything I have ever done.” 

Narrator:    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 Savior of the world.”
Bill was a WWII veteran in one of the congregations I previously served. He endured a prolonged confinement in a Japanese POW camp which left him with significant mental illness that made him a misfit and often an outcast. He dressed in mismatched clothes covered with buttons for every conceivable, contradictory cause you can imagine. He wrote inscrutable, cluttered tracts that he duplicated and put on the windshields of cars on the church’s parking lot. Especially during Lent, he would use magic markers to put nail print stigmata on his hands and sometimes a crown of thorns on his forehead. I never asked to see his side or feet. Real stigmata, marks of crucifixion, have been known on certain Christian mystics, even in our time. Francis of Assisi was thought to have received stigmata, and they are often shown on portraits of him. Some believe that was what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Galatians 6:17 “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” People always tended to politely avoid Bill, especially when he was wearing his stigmata. I tried to see Bill as God’s messenger calling me to identify so thoroughly with Jesus people might think I was crazy. Knowing how to relate to people with mental illness or limitations can be awkward, so they are socially avoided.
Amy Simpson wrote for Christianity Today (01-28-14), “Families affected by serious mental illness have many things in common: secrecy, confusion, alienation, exhaustion, fear, even terror, anger, frustration, longing to be ‘normal.’”
Downton Abbey has become a defining cultural phenomenon. Much of this season has revolved around Anna Bates’ desperately futile efforts to keep her rape secret, but she could not hide the shame. It alienated her from her husband, her fellow servants and the Crawley family whom she served. Halee Gray Scott also wrote for Christianity Today (01-30-14) “Defiled, polluted, castoff, exposed, abhorred, and most dreadful of all: defenseless. This is what it feels like to be raped.”
The Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob’s Well was also a misfit outcast. With gentle compassion Jesus drew out her secret shame. As we enter that conversation, Jesus coaxes us to open up our secrets. Within all of us who feel like misfits and outcasts, Jesus unleashes a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.
We need to listen to this conversation very carefully if we are to recognize ourselves in this woman and understand what Jesus did and did not say to her.
Two other times in John’s Gospel Jesus told someone, “Go and sin no more.” (5:14; 8:11) But Jesus did not say that to the Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s Well, nor did he ask her to repent or pronounce pardon on her. In that society, women could not initiate divorce. Rather than a serial adulteress, she is more likely to have been the victim of abusive men. It is even possible she was given by her 5th husband to this 6th man in payment of a debt, thus not able to marry him. Or her husbands might have died, and the 6th man was fearful of marrying her.
The text does not give us a way to sort out the speculations of her secret, but she was clearly a misfit outcast in her own Samaritan community, and she was acutely aware of the distain of the Jewish community.
Jesus recognized a spiritual hunger that was buried with her secret shame. When she brought up whether to worship in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim, she was not just avoiding having her secret exposed, she was also recognizing the deep division that separated her from all Jews and thus from Jesus. When she identified Jesus as a prophet, she was probing for something more satisfying than the debate over where to worship. Jesus’ answer about worship in spirit and in truth spoke to this inner hunger, which she knew enough to realize could only be satisfied by the Messiah, even if her concept of Messiah was limited and defective. But when Jesus said, “I am he,” she not only knew Jesus was the long anticipated Messiah, she was immediately transformed from an misfit outcast into a messenger of good news.
Just as Nicodemus misunderstood what Jesus said about being born from above, at first this woman misunderstood what Jesus meant by living water. In common usage, “living water” meant water from a flowing river, stream or spring. The water in Jacob’s Well seeped in from ground water and rain. Only as the conversation continued through her problems with men and social exclusion and worship did she recognize Jesus’ living water was spiritual, the source of eternal life.  Within all of us who feel like misfits and outcasts, Jesus unleashes a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.
The living water Jesus promised does not come from dipping into a well that accumulated whatever seeped in but becomes a spring of water gushing up from within. Living water is not an external resource to go to when spiritual thirst calls. Living water is the continuous source of life that comes from God who lives within.
In contrast with the groundwater slowly seeping into Jacob’s Well, Jesus promised a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Exuberance and abundance, energy and joy. This unrestrained fountain is the antidote for all the secret shame of every misfit outcast.
When the woman appealed to the anticipated Messiah to assuage her spiritual thirst, Jesus’ answer in verse 26 was simply, “I am.” John’s readers would surely have recognized that Jesus just spoke the name of God spoken to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. Even as scripturally illiterate as this woman was, I suspect she recognized that too. Whether she did or not, the power of Jesus word took effect and she was instantly transformed. The spring of living water was unleashed in her, and she rushed into town leaving a wet path and soaking everyone who had previously pushed her away.
Within all of us who feel like misfits and outcasts, Jesus unleashes a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.
I would be the last one to minimize the importance of confession of sin and repentance. But I do know that wallowing in guilt, shame and regret is destructive to abundant living and effective evangelism. Jesus emphasis with the woman at Jacob’s well was to call her to life-giving faith. Jesus continues to call us, whose spiritual waters may have grown stagnant, to life-giving faith.
When the Samaritans flocked to see Jesus, they declared, “We know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” Though all four Gospels use the verb to say Jesus saves, this is the only place in any of them the title “Savior” is specifically ascribed to Jesus. Given the animosity between Jews and Samaritans and the social isolation of the woman, calling Jesus “Savior of the world” is significant. This is not the personal savior typically referred to in revivalist circles but a savior who reconciles across all social and relational boundaries. This is the Savior who transforms secrets and shame, misfits and outcasts into gushing fountains of life and love.
I’m sure some of you were uncomfortable when I started by talking about mental illness and sexual violence. For many of us, these are daily family and personal realities. We don’t want our pain exposed. For others, they are unpleasant and we want church to be a nice place where nice people share nice experiences. As with the woman at Jacob’s Well, Jesus ever so gently draws out our secrets and shame so he can unleash within us a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life. When that happens, we can’t help drenching everyone around us.

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