Sunday, March 27, 2011
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 27, 2011)
“The Cleansing Effects of Living Water” (John 4:5-26)
Have you ever been somewhere all by yourself and suddenly a stranger nearby starts talking to you? It’s not that you don’t like to talk to people. There are some moments when you are simply not in the mood to talk. But you patiently listen to what the stranger has to say, or you politely answer their question. But then, you get stuck talking to this person longer than you originally had hoped. And it’s even more difficult if they seem a little on the weird side.
I wonder if that’s what that woman was thinking as she approached the well where Jesus was sitting. You can just imagine her, carrying her water jar with her head down, trying so hard not to make eye contact with this unfamiliar traveler. And then, she winces, when she hears the man’s voice, saying, “Will you give me a drink?” “Is this going to end up being a long conversation, or can I slip away from this quickly?” she wonders.
Actually, in that day and age, it was more surprising that Jesus spoke to the woman at all. She was a Samaritan. He was a Jew. And Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Not only that, it was very unusual for a Jewish rabbi to talk to a woman in public. That’s why she replied to Jesus the way she did, as if to say, “We Samaritans are the dirt under your feet until you want something from us; then we are good enough!”
Jesus asked for a drink of water, but he was more interested in offering “living water” to this woman, the refreshment of his mercy and love. The “living water” of Jesus washes away the separation that comes from prejudice and social class. It didn’t matter to Jesus that this woman was a Samaritan and he was a Jew. All that mattered was that she come to an understanding and a belief in Him as the Savior. And so He offered to her a water that no earthly well could give. He offered to her the “living water” of forgiveness and eternal life that only He could give.
Last week’s Old Testament lesson said that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham. In Christ Jesus these words were fulfilled. Our Savior Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. Jesus died and rose for all people on earth. Both small and great alike are saved by trusting in Him.
A man at the supermarket realized he was in the express lane. The next line was cash only. The next one was for the disabled. In the fourth line, just to be sure, he asked the clerk, “You’re nothing special, are you?” to which she replied, “Well, my father thinks I am.”
God the Father makes no distinctions between people when it comes to offering life and salvation. Your Father thinks you are special. He loves you. He created you. And He sent His Son to die and rise for you.
When it comes to our salvation, as St. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These words remind us to repent of our prejudices and the barriers we place between us and others whose skin is a different shade than ours; whose language or accent is different than ours; whose clothes, cars, and homes may not be as nice as ours. Our Father thinks they are special. Jesus died for these folks, too, and He died for our prejudices that keep us from reaching out in love and with the Good News of Jesus. The living water of Jesus that flows from His cross washes away the separation that comes from prejudice and social class.
The living water of Jesus also washes away false religion. The Samaritan woman was a follower of the Samaritan religion. The Samaritans claimed to worship the true God. In contrast to the Jews who claimed that Jerusalem was the proper place of worship, the Samaritans claimed that Mt. Gerizim in Samaria was the proper place of worship. They also did not accept the whole Bible of that time (which for us is the Old Testament). They only accepted the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch.
When the woman made this an issue with Jesus, He replied by telling her that Jesus said to her, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [Mt. Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-23) With these words, Jesus speaks of Himself. He is the place of true worship. We come to know and worship the Father only through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus plainly revealed himself to the woman as the Messiah. All remains of her false religion were washed away.
What false religion do we hold to today? What things are getting in the way of our worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth? Do any of us still think that we can earn God’s favor by simply trying harder to be a better person? That is the root of all false religion. The “living water” of Jesus washes away false religion and replaces it with the true religion … the truth that we are justified by faith … the truth that the righteousness of Christ is credited to your account through faith in His finished work at the cross and apart from anything that we do. Through Christ you are at peace with God. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The “living water” of Jesus washes away any and all sin and refreshes a dried up heart. After Jesus offered the woman His “living water,” He confronted her with her sin. She was living in adultery. She was living with a man to whom she was not married.
Now, we don’t get to hear this woman repenting of her sin, nor do we get to hear Jesus explicitly announcing forgiveness to this woman. But she apparently repented and believed in Jesus as the Savior of the world. Therefore she, too, was justified by faith. The righteousness of Christ was hers. She was forgiven.
In today’s Collect we prayed, “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways.” The Samaritan woman had gone astray. The Samaritan people had gone astray. But God was gracious to them. His glory had come to them in Christ. He had mercy on them by giving them His “living water.”
Our gracious and glorious God comes to us today – we who constantly go astray – through His Word and in His Son’s very own body and blood. And through these means He brings us “again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of [His] Word.” His living water washes away our sin and refreshes our dried-up, parched hearts.
The “living water” of Jesus washes away the separation that comes from prejudice and social class. The “living water” of Jesus washes away false religion. The “living water” of Jesus washes away sin and refreshes dried up hearts; and, finally…
The “living water” of Jesus overflows to others through us. In the verses that follow our Gospel reading today, we can see how the woman responded to her encounter with Jesus. She believed by the power of His Word. Then, she testified about Jesus to her fellow townspeople, and St. John records, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him.” (John 4:39) They confessed him as “the Savior of the world.” (John 4:41-42)
It’s like the soldier during the Civil War who had been wounded and was bleeding to death on the battlefield. An artery of his arm had been severely lacerated by the fragment of a shell. A passing doctor bound up the artery and saved his life. As the doctor was leaving, the man cried, “Doctor, what’s your name?”
“Oh, no matter,” said the doctor.
“But, doc,” said the soldier, “I want to tell my wife and children the name of the man who saved me.”
When our broken hearts and broken spirits have been bound up by Christ … when the living water of Jesus has refreshed our parched and weary souls … we want to tell “the name of the man who saved” us. We want to tell others the name of our wonderful Savior … Jesus.
So, my dear friends, drink deeply of the “living water” of Jesus. Drink of it as you remember the water in which you were baptized. Drink of it as you listen to the message of the cross and the empty tomb. Drink of it as you eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior in the Sacrament of the Altar. His well will never run dry. And your container is not big enough to hold it all. It will spill over and flow to all the people whom you encounter on your journey in Christ.