We are already in our third week of a series called, “We Are Reservoir” which hopefully is giving you a taste of how and why we think about faith the way we do – and we’ve anchored these weeks to our five core values: connection, humility, action, freedom and everyone. These values guide our pursuit of a vibrant, inclusive, healthy faith.
Steve spoke on connection and freedom the last two weeks. And today I’ll talk about the value of ‘everyone.’ It’s an interesting one – because it’s not just a descriptor of who we hope the recipients of these values will be – but it points to a relationship.
Between us and everyone – and us and God. It’s the beginning point of why any of our hearts are positioned to embody these values of connection, action, humility, freedom – it is for everyone. Not just those we are inspired by, or where there’s ease or obvious common denominators – we are called to love our neighbor, before our ‘neighbor’ is defined. Everyone.
Here’s how we describe this value of everyone here at Reservoir:
“We seek to welcome people in all their diversity, without condition or exception, to embrace a life connected to Jesus and others.”
The only texture I would add is that our engagement with everyone enhances our own connection to, and knowing of, Jesus – and the possibility of that exists everywhere. Not only inside these walls in a Sanctuary, but everywhere we are… and everywhere, everyone is. There’s a mutuality that is essential to our faith and without ‘everyone’ at the center of it – these other values can run the risk of falling flat.
But it is hard.
And yet it is the heart of the gospel.
It is the only way the good news – is truly good news.
PRAYER What a wonder it is to be a part of this journey of faith with you, God. As best we can this morning, we listen and seek for your presence. One that comforts us where we need to know we are not alone – one that slows us , as we need rest… one that inspires us , as we long for more in the city and world around us. . . Oh God, be our good and life-giving companion this morning, as was true yesterday – and will be true tomorrow… Amen.
For those of you who might not know, I’ve been on sabbatical these last few weeks. At the beginning of that time, I went on a walk with a wise-mentor-y friend. And she shared as we walked that when she retired everyone was quickly asking,
“well what are you doing? How’s it going? What are you spending your days doing?”
And she said the only thing she could think in reply was,
“well today I filled my car with gas. I pumped gas. And I didn’t think about my running to-do lists, or whatever thousands of spokes of thought – I just pumped the gas. I was present at that moment.”
And it struck me – because the thing about being on sabbatical with three mostly unscheduled teenagers at home – is that the word “sabbatical” just means to them that you are more available than ever – for whatever they might want to do. (*which of course is still a gift*)
But I thought within whatever expression this sabbatical is going to take, I do want to be present to whatever/WHOEVER is in front of me… so “just pump the gas” became my sabbatical mantra.
I’m going to share a couple of small stories throughout this sermon of moments where I was really present to who was in front of me and what unfolds.
Vignette #1 The first of which occurred the day after the walk with my friend. I was in the car stopped at this big intersection in Hyde Park – where a large parkway and a side road intersect.
And I noticed this older woman – likely 70yr+ jogging toward the intersection. She was noticeable mainly because she had this huge smile on her face – which became only bigger the closer she got to the light pole at the intersection. As she reached this pole, she erupted in self-congratulatory cheers, pumping her fists in the air – laughing – so full of joy. And she continued across the intersection pumping her fists – and I thought, “Wow, this ‘just pump the gas mantra-thing”’ is amazing! I feel so connected to joy, and to gratitude – and to God!
And yet – obviously – this is not ALWAYS the experience as we make our way through our days. In fact the impact of this moment and it’s surprise, and joy – suggests that most of what I feel on any given day is chafing at best. That the division, the hatred, the cancel culture, the fracture, the ‘avoidance’ of one another is the tenor I pick up on – and how I navigate most days.
And when we think about this value of “everyone” -it is really challenging. The good news says,
“God loves everyone.”
And we are called to do the same – to remind people that they are designed for love and to give love. Which is more than a-just-sit- behind-a-closed-window- witnessing-beautiful- moments- posture. It is to be engaged and present – fully to who is in our view.
Today, I wanted to look at a story in the gospel of John that I think invites us to consider this value of “everyone.” It’s a story of an interaction Jesus has with just one person. It’s curious to choose this story – because there are so many stories of Jesus where the “everyone” value is on proud display… big banquets and tables full of people who couldn’t/ shouldn’t/ wouldn’t get along, and yet Jesus gathers them. Meals where bread is broken and offered to the least of these… ’everyone,’ ‘everyone’ is the centerpiece.
Today’s story though, centers just one conversation – with Jesus and one woman. But one that somehow opens up unto everyone in the surrounding city. . . and unto us still today.
So here’s the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
John 4: 4-30, 39 (Common English Bible)
4 Jesus had to go through Samaria.
5 He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.”
8 His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food.
9 The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)
10 Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water?
12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”
17 The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”
“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered.
18 “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
19 The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way.
24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”
27 Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people,
29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?”
30 They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.
39 Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.”
Okay, this is the longest conversation with Jesus of any character in the book of John – and there is a lot to be discovered. There are many threads of thought around this scripture – many parts I won’t touch on – and it might leave you with some questions. I hope that’s ok, and I hope those questions lead you into deeper reflection and conversation of your own. And as we break open this scripture a bit – I want to start with a couple contextual thoughts:
Jesus & the Samaritan Woman
As you might have picked up from this Samaritan woman’s first words,
“Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
There is in fact deep division between Samaritans and Jews… that goes back for centuries. The brief historical sketch is this:
The Samaritans were thought to be a
“part of a remnant of Jews left behind after the initial conquest of the ten northern tribes of Israel by Assyrians… those who were left behind intermarried with other peoples. Their Jewish practices became mixed with other religious practices – and while it maintained many of the aspects of Judaism, was distinct enough to cause significant tension between the two belongings.” (What Were You Arguing About Along The Way?: Gospel Reflections for Advent By Pádraig Ó Tuama, Pat Bennett)
Such as where they would worship – which temple? On what hill? Which one was the holiest of places to worship God?
In short they were social, religious and political enemies.
Interpretations | Woman
It should also be noted that there are diverse interpretations of this scripture – that have been offered upon this Samaritan woman’s life.All kinds of sins have been projected onto her. And I think for far too long this story has been told to us as a sexual morality tale based on an interpretation of the woman as a sinner because she had five husbands. That lens, *“reduces women to their sexuality and reduces their sexuality to immorality.”* Her many marriages are often attributed to her own wrong-doing rather than the more likely reality of gender oppression, death and male-initiated divorce which was highly likely in her context.
So I will not be interpreting scripture through this narrow lens today – because it sadly serves patriarchy more than scripture, and more than this story – a story which is meant to serve us today.
However, it can be said that in the meeting of Jesus and this woman there is a web of otherness, histories, gender dynamics, religious divisions – and also social and physical vulnerabilities.
Jesus is thirsty, it’s been a long trip, and it’s high noon.
And this woman appears at the well with the necessary tools with which to help Jesus.
Jesus sets this scene with a value on relationship and vulnerability. He does not name what should separate them from one another. He offers this woman who arrives alone – connection, as deep as this well – their shared humanity and their need of one another.
He does so with the integrity of love, treating her as an individual, not a member of a big “other” group, nor re-enacting the hatred of the ancient stories between these two peoples.
He starts by talking about “living water” and then the conversation goes to her personal life, and her five husbands.
It can seem like quite a pivot of conversation – but I think it’s a continuation of this human mutuality that Jesus is trying to ignite in her – for so long she has been accustomed to being alone, silenced, unwelcomed.
We don’t know the full stories of why five husbands? *and Jesus doesn’t ask either* But we can imagine that having five husbands under an oppressive gender economy ties her worth and survival to her marital status, and this is a lot. She’s existed on the edges – of society, her household, herself – regarded as irrelevant, despised.
She has suffered so much.
And she has survived so much.
It is wild that Jesus takes the conversation right to her five husbands, but as Reverend Ingrid Rasmussen points out
“rather than hearing Jesus pronounce an indictment, as most interpreters would have us do, we hear Jesus simply uncovering and naming the hard realities of this woman’s life. She has had five husbands; and, now, most likely for the sake of survival, she is forced to live outside of social and religious boundaries with a man who is not her husband. But Jesus does not speak words of condemnation or offer easy answers. He simply chooses to validate her words and her experience, saying two times, “you are right”, ‘What you have said is true.’”
There isn’t a condemnation or even an invitation to do differently. He just meets her there. So much has not been in her control. So many decisions made about her, for her, against her. Jesus knows.” (Rasmussen, enfleshed.com)
Jesus is trying to draw out her own worth and dignity throughout this conversation – as much as he is trying to draw water.
My guess is that everyone of us – when in moments of pain, hardship, grief, stress – appreciate those in our lives who can affirm the truth of what we are feeling – versus rushing to “fix” or “rescue” or “judge” us.
“Jesus sees this woman in the fullness of her experience as if he knows “everything that has ever happened to her. Not just the divorces and/or deaths – but the reasons they aren’t worthy of condemnation, the ways these things have been out of her control, the suffering she has endured by way of systems and people void of kindness.
Jesus knows all of it.” (Rasmussen, enfleshed.com)
Jesus knows that she is thirsty to experience and remember herself in a new way.
He knows it’s been hard for her to break free of how people treat her – or how hard even today it would be for her to break free of how people translate her story/her life.
And so Jesus greets that deep thirst to belong – as he says,
“what you say is true.” “What you say is true.”
No, no, there’s no moral code to follow here…
As Reverend Rasmussen notes, this is why the text says she came to believe in the gospel. It’s no small thing to be met in that way. It’s an embodiment of the good news – to bring out into the light that which too often is swallowed by the shadows within us. When vulnerability unveils the things that are so difficult to share, love affirms truth. Spirit joins across barriers.
And this is how we worship – Jesus advises – with no moral code to dictate our worth. Nothing but spirit and truth to invite everyone into a sense of belonging.
And belonging really is the heart of this dialogue – from verse 4 all the way through – this conversation is one consecutive story – a fleshing out of how essential belonging is in the story of God, for everyone.
Most of our stories are not separate from a larger framework, there’s always other voices/systems/circumstances/influences that come in to break the truth that,
“we are loved unconditionally and without exception by God.”
How many people in this woman’s community do you think saw her, advocated for her? How many religious leaders spoke to her circumstances? Organized for change on her behalf?
This messes with the fundamental, deep well – our given worth and dignity, our spiritual identity that we are beloved children of God, that we all hold traces of the Divine within us.
So for me this is not a disjointment conversation that Jesus and this woman have – bouncing from the subject of water, to husbands and places of worship – it’s all one conversation – a spiritual one – about belonging in all of the stretches of life.
And the astuteness of this woman – is to clarify with Jesus,
“wait, are you saying what I think you are saying? That I could belong in my household, in this city, in this religion you speak of – “a despised Samaritan woman enemy” – without barriers to these waters – of life… here and now… ?”
“Because if that is what you are saying – if you are saying I can belong in the kin-dom/the community of God – then this must/has to be true for everyone…”
And the woman presses still to ask,
“so where then is the proper location for the Jewish temple?”
A question which had caused deep divisions for hundreds of years. Jesus’ answer to her as a Samaritan is just as surprising to her , as it would be to the Jews – he says, location is not important.
Reflecting back to this woman,
“Were we not in a temple, you and I, just now at this well? Was that not holy/sacred ground?”
God requires his people to worship
“in the Spirit and in truth.”
It’s not either/or – it’s not Mt. Gerizim-centered or Mt. Zion-centered – it’s Jesus/ Spirit-centered… there’s no location, no coordinates – except where you find yourself in the holy presence of another’s full humanity…their story, exactly where they are at.
This is how we find ourselves worshiping at the feet of one another. Filling places of regret, shame, pain of oppression – with waters of life and light – the places where we are too often left to dwell alone.
The other story from my sabbatical and trying to stay in this “just pump the gas” zone.. is less mountaintop-y. It takes place in a post office, where I witnessed an employee treat every customer in line with such disdain… that by the time I got to the counter, I was nervous and hit the wrong button when it asks whether you have something ‘liquid, perishable or hazardous…’ and the employee said, “I told you to hit the red button – why did you hit the green button?”
And then as the day went on I took an impromptu trip to Falmouth with my family. I popped into a gift shop with my son… and there was only one other customer in the store (who I don’t think noticed when we entered). I soon realized he was relentlessly harassing the cashier. Just bullying her, trying to negotiate a cheaper price for a shirt, and he wouldn’t relent – he just kept coming at her with increasing aggression…
And I wondered, what does “just pump the gas” look like here? To be fully present to the person in front of you when it’s incredibly hard? When the deep well of the love of God and others – drains right out of you?
This is a question that courses through our days. Our days are full of whiplash – moments of ease – where I can say “hi God!” and moments where I ask a series of questions including,
“just WHERE is it again I’m supposed to find you, worship you, God?”
With the postal employee – I guess I stayed in the moment – because I didn’t storm away. And he noticed I was sending the package to an address with “College Ave.” I said, “yah my daughter forgot her calculator!” – and he said
“oh I have a kid that just left too – he’s always asking me to send him things.”
and that was it.
In the gift shop, I went up to the man with harassing behavior and said,
“you need to stop harassing this woman, there’s no negotiating here.”
Period. He left and the cashier said,
“thank you for saying that… I didn’t want to call the authorities, but I was alone.”
I don’t know what to do in all of these moments – I don’t always have the time to imagine or learn what a person’s story is… and locate that within the story of Jesus.
But I do rely on the integrity of love to guide me… rather than my own limited understanding. And maybe all the moments – and interactions feel totally random and disjointed – but maybe they aren’t… and maybe everyone – gets somehow a taste of what Jesus said to this woman…
“it’s true, it’s true what you are feeling.”
And here’s the thing about this value, “Everyone” – it’s not merely about inclusion. It’s unto something greater… this Samaritan woman is not worthy of mere inclusion. She invites us into learning and change (true for the disciples, for the town-folk, maybe even for Jesus). It’s more than a nice/generous posture that we make sure to welcome “everyone” – it is because it is the essential way by which we hope to continue to build and create beloved community – it’s where the change and the (un)learning we all will benefit from, occurs. And how we keep dreaming for a just world.
This scripture starts with one woman’s conversation with Jesus… and ends with an entire town’s conversation with Jesus. This Samaritan woman, the one who was rejected, marginalized, shamed, an enemy became the first person in John’s gospel to communicate the very good news.
She is greatly loved.
To this day, she is loved in all Christianities – in the Eastern traditions – both Catholic and Orthodox – and she is named – her name “Photine” means the light-filled, or luminescent one. In Southern Mexico, during Lent- they make agua frescas in all flavors – to commemorate her gift of water to Jesus. In Russian her name means “equal to the apostles.”
Like the apostles who left nets, boats, parents, their work – the Samaritan woman leaves her water jar at the well and goes off to embrace her city. To embody – to be the very vessel of love and goodness and light – that drew her own spirit out, and to bubble over with those life giving waters to everyone around her… even those that despised her.
Her story, unveiled in the full light of day, allows Jesus to instruct us that religious and cultural systems that try to engage moral approval as the basis for acceptance, belonging or unity in the spirit – actually only keep people in the shadows.
We are not called togive, demand or receive moral approval from another. But we are called to love one another – everyone.
For God so loves this world – that God has placed traces of God-self, God’s light in each and everyone of us – Teaching us, inviting us, at every turn how to love this world and everyone within it – just as much as God does.
“let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”