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Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Sermon - 2/24/08
John Moore
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 4: 5-15

The text this morning, you'll be delighted to know, is 37 verses long J.  To take some of the fear and trembling out of this, we just said 10 verses in our bulletin.  I'm going to read about 10 versus, and then we'll rest awhile, and then we'll make our way through it as the message goes along.

Fasten your safety belts, and we'll get started.

Before I read the scripture, I do want to give a little bit of background.  I was reminded recently, when Cheryl and I were down in Mexico, and had a chance to go to Sedona.  I got to get reacquainted with a friend, who 45 years ago, I traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria with.  We were students at seminary together.  That was a real joy.  And he was remembering some things about that trip that I had forgotten.

One thing was that we had a riot that happened in Jerusalem, and they put martial law on the city, and made all the citizens stay inside.  But the 'aliens' like us were free to travel if we could get anywhere.  There were military roadblocks all over the place.  We started driving up toward Samaria and we came to a roadblock.  A soldier came and asked if he could ride with us up the road a ways.  We said 'sure', so I scooted over in the backseat and he sat down by me.  He wanted to light up a cigarette, so he put his AK-47 over in my lap!  This is what my friend, Stuart, remembered:  riding up toward Samaria with me holding an AK-47!

That was in 1963, four years before the 6-day war, and everything has changed.  Nothing would be the same.  But the country has been at war, I don't need to tell you, and it is still a hard place to cross borders.

We go turned back, incidentally, I didn't make it as far as the well in Samaria.  We dropped the soldier off at a roadblock, and the next one turned us back.

The animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans is an old, old story.  It probably would have been a more pleasant journey if Jesus and his little band bypassed Samaria altogether.  The quarrel started in 720 B.C.E. when the Northern Kingdom (where Samaria is) was conquered, and most of them were taken away to Media, but some remained.  The ones that remained inter-bred with others that came in, and so they lost their racial purity and were considered half-breeds by the Jews.  It was a great insult that went both ways.

It was still festering, and in the course of time the Southern Kingdom was invaded too, but they were able to keep their identity.  They came back and they rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, and while they were rebuilding the Temple the Samaritans came up and asked 'Can we help?'.  And they said 'no'.  They turned them down.

Well, they built a rival temple of their own, on Mt. Gerizim.  Did their own worship, kept to the themselves, and the animosity -- the wall -- seemed to be high between them.

And then, Judas Maccabees came around and practically destroyed their temple.  It just didn't get any better, the relationships.  They just considered each other as pagans.

Jesus crossed borders when he went to Samaria.  And when he went to the well, well, I'll read the text:

So he 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.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, ‘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.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘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?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘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.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’


Now it's clear they were speaking on two different pages, two different levels of conversation.  And so I guess it didn't get off to a great conversation, however, I need to point out that this is the longest conversation that's recorded with Jesus and anybody in the New Testament.

It goes on, and it does get somewhere, so let's keep going:

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘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!’

I want to point out something at this point.  This is where some commentaries, and some preachers (me, sometimes, way back) have alluded to this woman as being a 'fallen' woman because she had all these marriages.  But that's not in the text.  There's no condemnation from Jesus.  No put down.  He just says 'You're right, you told the truth'. 

But at that time in the conversation, she changed her attitude.  She was rather mocking Jesus when she said 'How are you going to get water, you have no bucket'.  The story continues -- and she asks another question, that maybe a prophet could answer:

19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘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 worshippers 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.’

And that means anywhere, anytime.  In spirit and truth, a new way, God isn't locked into a place.

That brings on another question:

25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Have you noticed the progression in the way she addresses Jesus?  It started out 'Jew', and then 'Sir', and then 'Prophet', and now we're at 'Messiah'.  You see, she is growing, and Jesus is revealing more of who he is.

There is forgiveness implied, in this grand sharing.  There is acceptance implied, grace implied.  And I want to say a word about forgiveness, because we're having a lot of sessions on forgiveness in our community.  The University of Oregon had a fantastic session, and there's another flyer here.  And they see forgiveness as a style of change for nations and for institutions, and for individuals.  It's a power that has been under-used and under-appreciated.  A gift of God.  We just haven't recognized it enough. 

There's such a powerful need for forgiveness and acceptance in our day.  I just got through reading a book by Desmond Tutu:  "No Future Without Forgiveness".  Tutu was a Bishop in South Africa during apartheid, and after.  He's retired now, but he retired to be a very busy man.  I'll read a little bit from his book:

April 27th, 1994, was a watershed date.  The beginning of a new era, ushered in the new South Africa.  The democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa.  A democracy in place of the repression and injustice of the old apartheid.  But a transition had to be negotiated, you can't just change overnight from one type of living to another.

And so they looked at different models that nations had used to try and shift gears, and make a new direction.  They rejected out of hand the Nuremburg Trial approach, it just wouldn't work for them.  They rejected out of hand the "let bygones be bygones" approach -- that wouldn't be fair to the victims.  They also rejected a general amnesty for everybody -- that would be victimizing the victims a second time.  They used an 'in-between' approach called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Seventeen people were appointed to be on this commission.  Bishop Tutu was asked to be the chair.  They spent two and a half years listening to abusers ask for amnesty and forgiveness in front of their accusers.  And this book is full of those stories.  It's amazing, an amazing thing that they attempted to do. 

But Tutu himself saw that in their constitution it is written "Without truth there can be no healing, and without forgiveness there can be no future".  And they believed this.  And they worked for this. 

Some of those abusers were unbelievable, absolutely took lives and did terrible, terrible things, and they would ask if they could be forgiven. 

And they were forgiven.

Government reparations were paid to victims for up to 6 years.  It wasn't enough, but it was something, it was an attempt. 

The way of amnesty and reparation is the path that our nation elected to walk.  We have walked it already, and believe that a significant contribution has been made to the promotion of national unity and reconciliation.

Then I was surprised that back toward the end of the book he talked about the power of forgiveness, and Tutu mentioned an event that happened pretty close to where Cheryl and I were living in 1972.  You might remember when it happened, there was a family camping in Montana, and their daughter was kidnapped.  Well, I'll just read it to you, it's well written:

Marietta Jaeger and her husband with their five children spent a glorious month-long summer vacation camping in Montana.  on the last night of their holiday her seven-year-old daughter, her youngest child Susie, went missing.  Marietta hoped against hope that she would be found and thought this was going to happen one night when the man who had kidnapped Susie telephoned.  But it was only to taunt her.  Eventually the man was arrested and she met him and told him she forgave him.  This is how she described her experience:

"I had finally come to believe that the real justice is not punishment but restoration, not necessarily to how things used to be, but to how they really should be.  In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures whence my beliefs and values come, the God who rises up from them is a god of mercy and compassion, a God who seeks not to punish, destroy, or put us to death, but a God who works unceasingly to help and heal us, rehabilitate and reconcile us, restore us to the richness and fullness of life for which we have been created.  This, now, was the justice I wanted for this man who had taken my little girl.

Though he was liable for the death penalty, I felt it would violate and profane the goodness, sweetness, and beauty of Susie's life by killing the kidnapper in her name.  She was deserving of  amore noble and beautiful memorial than a cold-blooded, premeditated, state-sanctioned killing of a restrained and defenseless man, however deserving of death he may be deemed to be.  I felt I far better honored her, not by becoming that which I deplored, but by saying that all life is sacred and worthy of preservation.  So I asked the prosecutor to offer the alternative sentence for this crime, mandatory life imprisonment with no chance of parole.  My request was honored, and when the alternative was offered, only then did he confess to Susie's death and also to the taking of three other young lives.

Though I readily admit that initially I wanted to kill this man with my bare hands, by the time of the resolution of his crimes, I was convinced that my best and healthiest option was to forgive.  In the twenty years since losing my daughter, I have been working with victims and their families, and my experience has been consistently confirmed.  Victim families have every right initially to the normal, valid, human response of rage, but those persons who retain a vindictive mind-set ultimately give the offender another victim.  Embittered, tormented, enslaved by the past, their quality of life is diminished.  However justified, our un-forgiveness undoes us.  Anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness, revenge -- they are death-dealing spirits, and they will 'take our lives' on some level as surely as Susie's life was taken.  I believe the only way we can be whole, healthy, happy persons is to learn to forgive.  That is the inexorable lesson and experience of the gospel of Marietta.  Though I would never have chosen it so, the first person to receive a gift of life from the death of my daughter. . . . was me."   


This approach of forgiveness is faith-driven.  An approach of forgiveness, Tutu says, in the government of South Africa is faith-driven.  Politics can be faith-driven.

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city.

This is kind of unusual, she walked a long way with an empty jar, and instead of filling it with water and taking it back, she was so excited by what she had received from Jesus that she just left it.  She went back with a message:

She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

Let me read the last part of this story [skipping a few verses]:

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for 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.’


Jesus crossed a border when he told the Samaritans that they were fully human.  That they weren't pagans or half-breeds, people of no account.

He crossed a border when he spoke to that woman.  And he crossed a border when he revealed himself to what were formerly enemies, and included them in his forgiveness, and in his love. 

Now this woman had a lot of moxie.  She squared her shoulders and she told Jesus a bit of the truth when she said she didn't have a husband, and He told her the rest of it, that she had had 5.  But she stayed with Him, and He stayed with her.  And she became this witness to that village.  They asked him to stay with them 2 days, and after two days they came to this point.  Finding their Messiah in their midst. 

She is portrayed as a model of a growing faith.  She becomes a witness that leads her village in being evangelized.  The Samaritan woman's story summons churches to reexamine the boundaries that we set around us.  Our text summons the church to stop shaping its lives according to societal definitions of who is acceptable, and to show the same openness to those that are different that Jesus did when he traveled to Samaria.

The church is asked to cross boundaries, as Jesus does, instead of constructing them.



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