“The Encounter”–Sermon for June 28, 2020

John 4:1-29 (told by Rachel Held Evans in her book, “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again,” pg. 141-146

Andrew Prior begins his commentary: “A husband dies of fever at a young age; another in the famine; the only one who will take on a twice widowed-woman turns out to be an animal, and abandons you. Eventually you end up living— if you can call it that— in the house of a man who hates you, who won’t marry you, but who is pleased to have your service. And you live in the noon day glare of people’s prejudice and judgement; traumatised, ostracised, and armouring off your soul which is, even so, as human, as alive, and as beautiful, as any other soul.” [1]

The woman goes out in the middle of the day because she can no longer bear the scorn and the stares of the other women. She is an outcast. Perhaps she is infertile and her husbands subsequently divorced her. Perhaps her husbands died. Perhaps she, as a young bride, was married off to an elderly man who died, and she was passed along from one elderly brother to another—each leaving her to fend for herself. Perhaps, as this suggests, the man she is currently with has no regard for her. He hasn’t married her, but she lives with him. What does he expect from her in return for that hospitality?

And so, she is forced to draw water when no one else will bother to be at the well. She is forced to quench her thirst when no one is watching. She is forced to go into the world exposed in order to find relief. But it is there—and it is then—that Jesus comes to her. He comes to her when the sun is at its highest. He comes to the well when it is dry and dusty and hot—when thirst is most overwhelming. He comes when nothing is able to hide in the shadows. And that is where he meets this woman—shamed for who she is but probably by no fault of her own.

That is where he first asks her for a drink. From her bucket. Doesn’t he know that she is a woman…from Samaria? That’s two strikes against her, and that doesn’t even come close to the life she has left back in Sychar. Two strikes. Like black woman. Illegal immigrant. Trans youth. Two strikes. And don’t even mention what lives are like behind closed doors.

Two strikes. Exposed. And standing before the Lord. And what does he do? He asks for a drink. Like it’s no big deal. And when the woman flinches, he confesses that if she knew who he was, she’d be begging for him to quench her thirst.

What does he mean, quench her thirst? She’s the one with the bucket. She’s the one prepared to draw water. He doesn’t have a bucket or a rope. And apparently he doesn’t have any social prowess or common sense, either. How is one who thirsty supposed to quench the thirst of another? I’ll let that sit for a moment.

He asked her for a drink. And then he says he has water that will end all water—water from a well deeper than the one at which they sit. Water fresher than anything she’s ever tasted. Water that will last a lifetime. And her mouth starts watering. How did he know? How did he know how much she needed her thirst quenched? How did he know how she longed for a child, how she longed to be valued, how she longed for a friend, a hug, a day off? How does this many from Galilee know our deepest desires and darkest secrets?

She has two strikes against her. She comes to the well exposed. And she now thirsts for life in a way that compels a groan from her deepest self. She thirsts for the kind of life that offers shade for the noonday sun and balm for the burn of being exposed and raw. She thirsts for the kind of justice that would allow her to hold her head high among her peers. She thirsts for the healing of her broken heart and broken dreams.

Yet, even in her thirst, she can’t help herself but to run back to her village and tell everyone about this man who knows her better than she knew herself—and accepted her. He accepted her despite—or perhaps—because of those strikes against her. He accepted her exposed to the world in all the misery, as well as joy, of her life. He accepted her and gave her water to quench her thirst—the water that sprung up into such joy that she couldn’t contain it.

The water rushed out of her heart and out of her mouth and into the streets of Sychar like a flash flood crashing around the homes, seeping through doors and windows, and carrying the people away with it straight to the well.

Two strikes. Exposed. And Thirsty. If she had been given a name in Scripture, these would be it. But in her encounter with Jesus, her name was changed. Her name is now Accepted. She is called Beloved. She is recognized as Overflowing. Jesus didn’t change her circumstances. He changed how they defined her. Bitter became Sweet. Death became Life. Despair became Hope.

This is what happens when Jesus the one who has been left out, beaten down, thrown out, and dismissed. This is what happens when we find ourselves at the well for just a sip and discover Jesus waiting there for us. What was dry is drenched in the good news that you—all of you, your whole person, your past, your present, your future, and all the things you hide—is absolutely and abundantly adored and accepted by God. Period.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran

Lincoln, NE

[1] https://onemansweb.org/still-thirsty-john-44-42.html

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