+ A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 15, 2020 +
Text: John 4:1-42
I read a story on Twitter the other day.
It was about a young woman named Rebecca who was going to the grocery store and as she was walking through the parking lot, she heard someone yell to her.
She turned and walked to find a man and a woman in their car desperately trying to get her attention.
The couple were in their eighties and as she approached, the woman rolled down her window and nearly cried when she explained that they needed to go buy groceries but were afraid to go into the store because of news about the coronavirus.
They were, of course, in the “at-risk population” and were self-isolating, but also had a very real need of buying food.
“Through the crack of the window [the woman] handed [Rebecca] a $100 bill and a grocery list and asked if [she] would be willing to buy her groceries.”
Rebecca agreed and when she returned she loaded the groceries into the couple’s car.
As Rebecca gave them their change, the older woman explained that they had been in the car for 45 minutes waiting to see if someone would help them buy food.
Now, Rebecca says that she doesn’t think her actions were necessarily remarkable and that most people would do the same thing she did, but in the public panic that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated, her willingness to help these two strangers is certainly commendable.
She went out of her way to support and comfort neighbors she had never met, people other shoppers had probably ignored, people that are frankly being outcast through quarantines and self-isolation and fear of infection.
If you ask me, Rebecca’s example is absolutely Christ-like.
Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus and the woman at the well.
And we hear in the first verses of this lengthy reading that Jesus is heading back to Galilee from Jerusalem, “but he had to go through Samaria.”
The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis notes that while Samaria is geographically between Jerusalem and Galilee, it wasn’t really on the way.
In fact, most Jews at that time would have traveled on the eastern bank of the Jordan River specifically to avoid going through Samaria.
Professor Lewis says that Jesus had to go through Samaria not because of geographic realities, but theological ones.
This story comes on the tail of the gospel we heard last week when Jesus tells Nicodemus that God loves the world in such a real way that God has sent the only Son to bring God’s saving love into the whole world.
Jesus didn’t have to walk through Samaria by physical necessity, but because Samaria is part of the world God so deeply loves and Jesus needed to announce that love and salvation there too.
So we see Jesus go to Samaria and at that well meet this woman in a way that frankly should be impossible.
These two people should not have been meeting, especially how they did.
On three levels they should have been separated.
Not only was this a man and a woman meeting alone in public—an absolute taboo.
Not only was this a Jew and a Samaritan meeting at all—there was a reason most Jews would take a longer journey home, Jews and Samaritans would not associate with each other.
But this woman was even outcast from her own people.
It’s true that we don’t know much about this woman’s past, but it’s obviously heartbreaking.
Jesus sees that she’s had five husbands and we don’t know why that is—perhaps her husbands divorced her, perhaps they died, perhaps she had experienced trouble bearing a child, we just don’t know.
I mean we don’t even know this woman’s name, but the fact that she is doing her chores in the middle of the day, doing the hard work of collecting water in the noontime heat, tells us she likely wasn’t welcome to go with the women who would normally do this work together in the cooler morning hours.
What a contrast this story is to the one we heard last week with Nicodemus.
That man was a Pharisee, a person of stature and importance, and yet he came to Jesus in secret, in the depths of night, and timidly inquires.
And here strides a nameless woman, someone with almost no social standing, and boldly challenges Jesus and asks him the tough questions.
Where should God be worshiped—the very root of the schism between Jews and Samaritans—ought we worship in Jerusalem or Samaria?
Who is this messiah and how will we know them?
How can she access the living water Jesus speaks of?
And rather than leaving the conversation in disbelief like Nicodemus, this woman experiences something different.
Jesus sees this woman that so many have cast out or forgotten or rejected and in seeing her, he reveals the fullness of his identity for the very first time in the Gospel of John.
He reveals his divine identity of the great I AM made flesh among us.
He says I AM the Messiah, the one who is proclaiming the good news to you and to the whole world.
He says I AM the one who sees you and loves you for who you are as you are.
And Jesus offers this woman something that no ordinary well ever could, the living water that only God can provide.
A fountain of grace and love that flows into our lives and finds all the deepest parts, those parts we would hide, those parts that we are ashamed of, those parts that feel empty, and fills them with God’s own grace and love.
This is more than the water we drink, this is the water we crave even when our ordinary thirst is quenched, the water that sustains us in the most difficult times, the water that finds us when we are feeling alone or abandoned and brings us life.
Jesus comes to this Samaritan woman who had been outcast, who had been isolated from her own people and he fully sees her, he fully accepts her, he fully loves her.
And it’s this woman who is then sent to proclaim the good news to her people.
“Come and see!” she cries, as she takes her places as the first evangelist in the Gospel. “Come and see this man who has seen everything about me, who has known me like no one else ever has, and who has loved me like no one else could.”
This nameless Samaritan woman has been speaking to me in a deep way this week—maybe she is speaking to you, too.
These past few weeks have been fraught with uncertainty, with fear, with tough questions.
Especially in this county, this domestic epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can feel the strain on families, on businesses, on our loved ones.
We have been advised to practice social distancing—like changing our practices to do our chores in isolation or even changing how we worship.
We have been watching for the most vulnerable among us—so aware of how we impact those who are outcast or forgotten in our society.
We have been relearning how to wash our hands—utilizing God’s gift of cleansing water.
Even this woman’s questions echo my questions this week.
Where should we worship, Jesus? Do we need to come together in community in this place?
How will you be our Messiah in this crisis? How will you save us?
How can we experience the living water you have promised us?
And I take comfort in the answers that Jesus speaks to this woman but speaks to each and every one of us today as well.
“The hour is coming, and is now here,” Jesus says, “when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth, for God seeks such as these to worship God. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.”
We don’t have to go to a certain place to worship, Jesus reminds us, but wherever we are we worship in spirit and truth.
Especially in this modern and digital world, we can join each other from afar and come together in ways that keep us connected in spirit even as we are geographically apart.
“The water that I will give,” Jesus says, “will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
I see you, he says, I see the parts of you that are hurting, that are afraid, that are feeling alone.
And I am giving you a fountain of living water that is flowing into your life, the parts of you that need it the most deeply, and the water that is gushing into your life is my own grace and my own love.
Jesus is going out of his way this morning and traveling far from the ordinary path, to come to you here in Bellevue, in Maple Valley, in Issaquah, or wherever you might find yourself right now.
Jesus is coming to each of us who are feeling a little outcast and lonely, a little afraid and cautious, and more than a little uncertain about the future.
Jesus is coming to us and saying, “I see you for who you are. I see your questions, I see your pains, I see your fears. I see all the parts of you and your past that you are trying to hide. And I love you so much. Trust in me, because I am the savior of the world. Let my living waters flow and bring grace and hope and love to every part of your life. Let your trust be worship and remember that wherever you are, you are forever connected with me.”
My friends, during this season of Lent, we are talking a lot about baptism and baptismal renewal.
During this season of pandemic, we are sure talking a lot about hygiene and good practices of hand washing.
So since we won’t have access to this baptismal font for the next few weeks, I want to remind you that all water is holy and can equally remind us of our baptisms.
So this week and in the weeks to come, each time you wash your hands, I invite you to remember your baptism.
Each time you wash your hands, remember that you have been fully seen by your God who has claimed you in those waters and proclaimed you as God’s beloved child.
Each time you wash your hands, feel the living waters of grace and hope and love flowing over your body and into your life.
And while it may be hard and inadvisable for most of us to physically follow our ancestor in faith’s example and evangelize in person—at least for a little while—perhaps we can still spread the good news from afar.
As we post online, spread love and hope rather than fear.
As we interact with each other through phone calls or elbow bumps, invite others to come and see, to abide in these living waters.
As we check in on each other and look after each other’s needs, remember that though we have been separated and isolated, we are still connected in spirit and the Body of Christ that unites us all.
And during these weeks, beloved, draw deeply from this well where Jesus is meeting you and seeing you and loving you.
And may these living waters that only God can provide be as an ever-flowing wellspring of life within you, gushing and bubbling, rolling and pouring, raising you up and bringing you the assurance of our certain and abundant life in Christ Jesus our Lord, the savior of the whole world.
 Lewis, Karoline. John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries)