Over Troubled Waters
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
John 4: 5-15
The text this
morning, you'll be delighted to know, is 37 verses long
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
near the plot of
Jacob had given
to his son
well was there,
and Jesus, tired
out by his
sitting by the
well. It was
7 A Samaritan
woman came to
draw water, and
Jesus said to
her, ‘Give me a
gone to the city
to buy food.)
woman said to
him, ‘How is it
that you, a Jew,
ask a drink of
me, a woman of
do not share
things in common
her, ‘If you
knew the gift of
God, and who it
is that is
saying to you,
“Give me a
would have asked
him, and he
would have given
woman said to
him, ‘Sir, you
have no bucket,
and the well is
deep. Where do
you get that
greater than our
who gave us the
well, and with
his sons and his
13Jesus said to
who drinks of
this water will
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
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
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:
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
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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]:
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
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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