Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 19, 2017

2017.03.19 “To Be Loved is to Be Known; To Be Known is to be Loved – John 4: 5 – 42

Central United Methodist Church
To Be Loved is to Be Known;
To Be Known is to be Loved
Pastor David L. Haley
John 4: 5 – 42
March 19th, 2017


Jesus and the Woman at the Well

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman, icon, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.”

To get to Galilee from Judea, Jesus had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

“I have no husband,” she said.

   “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”

“Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”

“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.

In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, “Rabbi, eat. Aren’t you going to eat?”

He told them, “I have food to eat you know nothing about.”

The disciples were puzzled. “Who could have brought him food?”

Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!

“The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That’s the truth of the saying, ‘This one sows, that one harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others.”

Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!” – John 4: 29, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


Following the Gospel, Pastor Haley played this video, a modern interpretation of the Woman at the Well: [video]

If there is one skill I would like to improve in my life, it is the art of conversation. Why? Because not only is a good conversation a pleasure, it can also be transformative. At its best, conversation can be a means of experiencing the love of God which can be expressed this way: “To be known is to be loved; to be loved is to be known.”

All of us can remember pivotal conversations in our lives. We remember conversations with strangers, with strangers who became friends, with friends who became intimates, even spouses. How many remember their first conversation with the person who was to become their husband or wife? A parishioner years ago told me the first time he saw his future wife, she was dancing at a USO ball with a potato on her head. Hey –  if it works, go with it.

Lately, the art of conversation has become not only rare, but difficult. We are spoiled by our devices and communication through social media. Every now and then you see a picture of an entire family sitting at a meal, with everyone staring at their phones, which is why some wise families ban them at the table.

To be skilled at conversation, means to pay attention, to ask questions, and most importantly, to listen. Good conversation take time, which does not happen when we are all in a hurry to get on to the next place and the next person, missing the opportunities we have to have a substantive conversation with the people right in front of us.

Initiating conversations can be tricky, especially for women, for whom conversations can quickly go down the wrong road. Most if not all women could tell stories of conversations begun with an innocent word or look, which head toward harassment. Those of you from Kansas have likely discovered when you walk the streets of Chicago that you are not in Kansas anymore, because Chicagoans rarely make eye contact or greet each other on the street. There is a reason for that: most of us – especially women – have had “learning experiences.” All the more reason genuine conversations are so important.

All these factors are at play in the conversation before us today, the conversation of Jesus with the Woman at the Well. It is the 3rd conversation we have listened in on this Lent. The first was between Jesus and the Tempter in the desert, and the second was last week, between Jesus and a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. Of this conversation between Jesus and the Woman at the Well, teacher of preachers, Anna Carter Florence, says this: “If I were asked to pick one story that shows us the most about who Jesus is, it would be this one.“ (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, p. 93).

In order have a short sermon on a long reading, this conversation between Jesus and the Woman at the Well is important – a model of conversation for us – for three reasons:

First of all, because it was a barrier breaking conversation. Why was the woman at the well so shocked that Jesus asked her for water? Because this was a triple taboo conversation that should never have happened. First, Jesus was a man, she was a woman. According to the custom of the time, men did not speak to their wives in public, much less a strange woman. Second, Jesus was a Jew, she was a Samaritan: there was a long and bitter rivalry between Jews and Samaritans; as Eugene Peterson put it, “Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.” Third, Jesus was a religious leader, a holy man; the fact that the woman came alone at mid-day (a different time than most women) raises possible scandalous implications. And yet, barrier breaker that he was, Jesus initiated a conversation.

It is almost appropriate, but if there was ever a time to initiate barrier breaking conversations in our society it is now. The cultural and political disparities of the last election made clear that we all need to talk: Christians and Jews and Muslims, nativists and immigrants, blacks and whites, blue state people and red state people, young and old, people from Illinois and Kansas. By talking to each other, we can hear each other’s story, and, come to appreciate and maybe even understand why people think the way they do. At its best we gain empathy and love for each other, even those who may be our cultural and polital opponents. Wait, I’m starting to sound like Jesus!

The second reason Jesus’ conversation with the Woman at the Well is important is because that it was substantive, about important things; we do not have to hear chit-chat, about weather, how the Jerusalem Wildcats are doing, about cute cat videos on Facebook. Jesus and the woman talk about what is before them: water, necessary for life, with Jesus making an inviting wordplay on the “Water of Life,” also necessary for life, a full and abundant life, that is. Everyone wants to find meaning, to make a difference, to feel that we are known and loved, not only by people, but also by God. “You have made us for yourself,” said St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Everybody knows you can go into any bar and start a fight over politics or religion; in fact, nowadays, it doesn’t have to be a bar, you can do it anywhere, even in church. But it is my experience that when you take a respectful, listening tone to people’s experience in life with God and spiritual things and what’s happening in their lives, people want to talk.

In the conversation of Jesus with the Woman at the Well, her whole life spilled out, like water from a bucket, that she had had five husbands. We can’t see Jesus’ face or hear his voice, so we don’t know how or why he says this. Contrary to the traditional interpretation, there is nothing in the story which says this woman is disreputable or has done anything wrong, nor does Jesus condemn her or forgive her.

If she was a five-time loser, maybe it’s because she was widowed or abandoned or divorced, which, for a woman in the ancient world – amounted to the same thing. When this passage was studied with a group of women in AIDS-stricken Southern Africa, they pitied the woman and concluded perhaps she must have been an AIDS carrier — killing her husbands while she remained unaffected. In order words, it may well be that the woman’s story is tragic, rather than scandalous. Could it be that the reason Jesus raised the issue is to say, “I know what you know, and that is no barrier either.” “To be known is to be loved; to be loved is to be known.”

How many people are there — both outside the church and inside the church — who live lives full of shame, imposed either by self or others? They don’t feel like they measure up, and they certainly don’t want to come to church to make it worse, because they feel that if people really knew, they would throw me out. It’s a sad commentary on Church today, that the list of those alienated from church grows longer: gay people, poor people, people with addictions or mental illness, even young people; all those who feel that the church will judge them, and not love and accept them. Which – too often – the church and Christians have indeed done.

Hear the Good News: the message of Jesus is that “I know what you know, and that is not a barrier. The Good News of the Gospel is this: The God revealed in Jesus the Christ intimately know us and accepts us as we are, offering even to us, to drink from the Water of Life.

The third reason this conversation of Jesus with the Woman at the Well is important is that not only was it substantial, but transformative, even life-changing, not only for the woman, but all those to whom she witnesses, including us.

As the conversation progressed, knowing herself to be in the present of a prophet, she asks about race and religion and the things that divided them; things that she had always wanted to ask, but no one would answer. So when Jesus dignified her with an answer, that true worship of God is not defined geographically or racially or even methodically, but by spirit and truth, she drops one last comment: “I know the Messiah is coming. When he comes, we’ll get the whole story.” As her life had been revealed to him, he now reveals his life to her: “I am he.”

As preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:

“It is the first time Jesus has said that to another living soul. It is a moment of full disclosure, in which the triple outsider and the Messiah of God stand face to face with no pretense about who they are. Both stand fully lit at high noon for one bright moment in time, while all the rules, taboos and history that separate them fall forgotten to the ground.”

And she goes on to add:

“The Messiah is the one who shows you who you are by showing you who he is — who crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, drops all disguises — speaking to you like someone you have known all your life, bubbling up in your life like a well that needs no dipper, so that you go back to face people you thought you could never face again, speaking to them as boldly as he spoke to you. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.”  (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Face to Face With God,” The Christian Century, February 28, 1996)

How many people are out there there like this woman at the well? Waiting for someone to start a conversation that will break down the barriers that divide – whether of religion or race or culture or class or stereotype – waiting for someone who will treat them with dignity and respect, listen to their questions, accept them, and love them, as Jesus loved the Woman at the Well. Who knows what might come of it?

I know I am “Spirit-led” in sermons when life colludes to illustrate them; and this week that was the case. At a recent SkokieCares meeting, I sat at a table with several people, including the Skokie Fire Chief, the Village Manager, a trustee, the owner of the Holiday Inn and others, but also a young mother who attended out of her own interest and concern, especially her concern for her children. After the meeting, she was standing alone, so I went to talk to her, if only briefly. I was surprised and impressed this week, when I got this note. (I am omitting personal information).

“Dear Pastor Haley, my name is _______, and we met at the Skokie Cares meeting last week.

I just wanted to let you know that your kindness and thoughtfulness have left a lingering impression on me, and I feel like I missed an opportunity to ask better questions in order to learn more about you and how you envision working for a more caring and connected community that reaches out across cultural and religious lines.

Thank you for speaking with me, and I hope to speak with you again soon.  Sincerely, _______”

May the Spirit move us to talk to people – diverse and different people – in order that by the grace of God, our lives, their lives, and who knows how many others, might be touched and transformed by a simple yet compassionate conversation, like this one of Jesus, with the Woman at the Well. Amen.


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