The problem with a Gospel reading this long is that there are about 19 different sermons I could preach today. I won’t do that to you. But, I had so many ideas floating around my head all week and it was hard to decide which way to go. But then I saw this cartoon floating around the internet that said something like “if you want a religion that makes you feel comfortable, don’t be a Christian. I suppose in a lot of ways that is true. It is often said that Lent is a time of repentance. I think we tend to think about repentance as stopping from doing the “naughty or bad things” in our lives when really, repentance means “turn around.” Just because we turn around from something doesn’t mean we’re doing bad things. Maybe we turn around because what we’re doing isn’t working. Maybe we turn around because we start to feel that a different way is actually better or more efficient. Maybe we turn around because we’ve had a change of mind or a change of heart. Repentance and guilt don’t have to go hand in hand. You know that I like challenging you. Today is no different.
Someone asked me earlier this week about my sermon writing habits. How long does it take? Do you get nervous? And I answered honestly and said “I first and foremost write the sermon for myself. I write what I need to hear.” And this is true. If I make you feel uncomfortable its because I’ve made myself feel uncomfortable. I do not forget, brothers and sisters, that I am a sinner in need of God’s redeeming word; I am the wretch that the song “Amazing Grace” talks about. I am, at times, the woman at the well. While other times, more times than I care to admit, I’d just like to ignore the woman at the well.
So, let’s talk about her, shall we. It helps to study this passage in depth because we want to be able to respond to what Christ is asking us to do when a situation like this occurs in our lives. We have to put it into modern day context because I’m pretty sure most of you now get water from a faucet and you would have noticed a strange woman hanging out by your sink by now. First of all you will notice that she did not have a name. She is just referred to as “a Samaritan woman.” This may seem strange to us, but in the time of Jesus this would have been normal. Women were property. Many times in the Bible we see or hear about women but we don’t know their names. Women were of a lower class. We are told that Jews and Samaritans do not have a lot in common. And Jesus is addressing her, this woman. Had she a man around, those around her would have addressed him, not her. She is his property. Then we have this strange business about a husband or husbands. Jesus is not shaming her. Not once does Jesus call her a sinner or an adulterer. It was very common in those days for women to be divorced, abandoned, or widowed. In order for a woman to survive she had to be married. This is her lot in life. She probably didn’t have much, if anything. She may have come to the well that day as an escape. She needs water to live and who does she find at the well but Jesus.
She then proceeds to have one of the longest conversations with Jesus that is recorded in the Bible. And in a time and place where people often chose not to see (in a figurative sense) people on the margins, like this woman, Jesus actually sees her. He sees her and speaks to her without judgement. Eventually, she realizes that she has been speaking to the Messiah. And now she has been changed and cannot wait to tell anyone and everyone she sees and who will listen about this man. She left everything she had with her, perhaps a symbol of her unfortunate life, a lowly bucket, and ran to share. She asked, almost scared of the answer, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” She didn’t want anything stopping her from living the life Christ promised her, so she left her old life behind. She turned around, or repented. Again, not because she was sinning but because Christ was calling her towards something greater.
Here is what I want to challenge you with today: what holds us back from living into the life God has promised for us? What is stopping us from moving boldly into the future? What stops us from sharing the news of everything God has done for us? The “buckets” that we carry cannot collect the living water that Jesus promises. What is getting in our way? One of the scripture passages I take very seriously and it is actually part of what I call my “operating theology” is the great commission from Matthew 28. “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This wasn’t a suggestion, friends.
When I ask “what holds us back” I am asking a two fold question: what holds you back as an individual and what is holding us back as a church. Now, if I’m going to name it, I’m going to claim it. What stops me from living into the future that God has prepared for me is fear. Straight up fear. And my biggest fear is failure, of course. The idea that I might fail, or even worse, disappoint someone especially if that is someone I love. Of course I don’t do it on purpose. But it has happened, it is going to happen, it will happen. Someday I will probably disappoint you. It’s just a fact. But, if I let the fear of disappointing you stop me from furthering God’s mission in this place, I would be a crappy pastor. Again, I don’t set out to do this on purpose. But, I’m sinful and flawed and I screw up sometimes. I’m human just like you. But fear can immobilize me sometimes. I “what if” myself sometimes until I’m blue in the face. I’m surprised that God has the patience for it.
What gets in your way of living into the life that God has for you and what gets in your way of sharing the good news of what God has done for you? Is it fear? Is it shame? Is it embarrassment? With what do you struggle that is difficult for you to leave behind? Have you spent too much of your time thinking about what you can’t do or what you’re not to even dare think about what you can do or what you are? You are beautifully and wonderfully made. If God is calling you into a future that God has prepared for you then why aren’t you going? And as a church, if God is calling us into a future that God has prepared for us then why aren’t we going? What is stopping us? Do I need to remind you that WNDITWB doesn’t work around here, right? Remember, “we’ve never done it that way before.” God doesn’t care. I don’t mean that to be crass. But it’s true. God doesn’t send us out into the world to the places that where we’re comfortable. The woman at the well was so excited to tell others about the fact that she had met the messiah that she literally left her bucket at the well and left.
The woman let nothing stop her. She has no name, no status, no job, no husband, no family (that we know of), and at the same time, she has nothing to lose. I think we spend too much of our time limiting God and putting God in a box that we’re missing the opportunities that God has for us. Too often, we talk about what we can’t do. We can’t do that, we’re too small. We can’t do that, no one is going to drive all the way out here. We can’t do that, we have an older congregation. We can’t do that, we don’t have the money. Guess what? Everytime that we throw another “we can’t” road block in front of God, God builds another road. What amazing things would happen here if we changed our “we can’ts” into “we can.” What happens when we leave our bucket full of “we can’t” behind and run to tell others about Christ through our words, actions and deeds?
Think how interesting things would be if when we are presented with mission opportunities we take those “we can’ts” and turn them into a positive. We can do this because we are a smaller church and it just makes sense. We can do this because we’ve got all of this space out here and people don’t have to worry about parking or the traffic. We can do that because we’ve got an older congregation full of experience and wisdom that is going to help us along the way. We can find the funds available–especially if we pair with another congregation. When we allow ourselves to be changed, when we allow ourselves to drink from a grace filled fountain God will do amazing things. Our course in life, our path in life, is not a permanent one. It is never too late to repent, turn around, and find the path that God is calling us to.