March 12, 2023
Third Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who pours love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Amen
“So Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’”
I think anyone who has ever held a position of leadership
in any capacity but particularly in a religious community
has had times where they have related to Moses’ cry to the Lord.
Living in community is difficult
and it is what God calls us to do.
That’s the theme we’re exploring this week
in our Lenten journey through themes of the life of faith
with ancestors of the faith,
the difficulty of life in community with Moses
and the Samaritan Woman at the well.
We’re called to be in relationship with one another and with God,
we as humans have difficulty with both
but God doesn’t give up on us.
The Israelites are the poster children
for struggles with God and one another.
When we join them in Exodus
they are wandering in the desert post escape from Egypt.
There is a lack of water and they are thirsty,
so thirsty that the old life in Egypt is looking good,
and they turn on Moses,
accusing him of bringing them out of Egypt
to kill them with thirst.
It is at this point that Moses,
servant of God,
throws up his hands in exasperation to the Lord,
this is not the first time the people have needed something,
God has always provided
so why would they doubt that God would provide again?
These are people who have seen the power and glory of the Lord,
the plagues on the Egyptians,
the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea,
God travels in front of them as a cloud by day
and a pillar of fire by night,
God who has already once provided water for the people,
each morning they wake up to a dusting of Manna on the ground,
and each evening quails descend for them to eat.
So you’d think that if there were to be one group of people
who would trust God to provide for them what they need,
it would be the Israelites.
as soon as they experience thirst
and a lack of water
they start wondering
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
and quarreling with Moses.
It’s true the people needed water,
they were right to ask for what they needed,
indeed God encourages us to ask for what we need
but It maybe just got a little more heated than it needed to,
given God’s past actions,
and Moses turns to God for help.
And God provides,
out of the rocks of the land,
in front of the elders of the people,
Moses strikes the rock with his staff just as God commands,
and water comes out of it
so that the people may drink
and things calm down for awhile
until the next time there is a need
without an immediately obvious solution.
Life in community is difficult,
sometimes it’s about resources and trusting leaders
and other times it’s about interpersonal relationships.
The Samaritan Woman at the well
knows these difficulties all too well.
When she meets Jesus at the well
and he asks her for a drink of water
she is surprised
because Jews and Samaritans do not get along
even though they are closely related,
actually they share common ancestry
they were one nation of chosen people
until they split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north, Judah in the south,
because those in the north couldn’t get to Jerusalem
to worship at the temple anymore
a temple was built on Mt. Gerazim
which became the center of religious life for the Samaritans
and sparked the argument about the proper place to worship God
We often fight hardest
with those that are most like us,
that’s the case with Jews and Samaritans
such that they would travel out of their way to avoid one another.
Not Jesus though,
he intentionally crosses the boundary into Samaria
as part of his travels,
in the face of long standing division
Jesus confronts what others choose to avoid
so that there he is in Samaria,
by a well at noon
when this woman comes to draw water.
Now this time of day is our signal
that something else is not quite right in this woman’s life.
The most common time of day to get water
was early in the morning while it was still cool,
and it was a social activity for the women of the community,
they worked together to draw water and bring it back to the town.
But this woman is here alone,
in the heat of the day,
is she avoiding the other women?
Have they made it known that she’s not welcome to join them?
We don’t know,
but Jesus does
and asks her for a drink of water,
and she is surprised,
surprised by his presence in Samaria,
surprised that he would not only talk with her
but ask her for help,
as they converse she shows that she is well aware
of the historical and religious reasons
why they shouldn’t be talking.
And then Jesus who knows what this woman has gone through in her life,
Jesus who is fully aware of who he is and what he has come to do,
begins to reveal his identity to her,
offering her living water
so that she will never again be thirsty,
and she jumps at this,
she’d no longer have to come to the well!
But then Jesus pauses and reveals to her
that he knows her,
including her past and present,
five former husbands
and she’s not even married to the man
who she’s living with now.
And she’s astounded and calls him a prophet
and displays a solid theological understanding
of both her people and his people
including a belief in the Messiah
and “Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’”
the first person Jesus reveals his true identity to
is this Samaritan woman at the well,
an outcast among outcasts,
God know us,
And still God comes to us.
and what does she do?
She leaves her water jar and rushes back to the city,
to all those people she’d just moments ago been avoiding
and she exclaims “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
and she is so compelling
that many of them believe in Jesus
they invite him to stay with them and teach them
and even more come to believe in Jesus.
Here Jesus shows that he will not be stopped
by the boundaries and barriers we have put in place
to deal with (or not deal with)
our struggles with living in community.
In fact Jesus intentionally crosses those boundaries
and uses divisions to proclaim his message,
that he has come so that we may have life and have it abundantly
and nothing we do will get in the way of that.
As Paul puts it in Romans “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
God will not let our struggles living in community with one another
get in the way of our (individual and collective) relationship with God
and in fact gives us the courage
to continue to face the difficulties of life head on,
writing to people who are ostracized
by their community for their faith
says “but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Life in community is worth living for,
For Jesus it was worth dying for.
No matter what difficulties we encounter,
no matter how many times we throw our hands up
exasperated like Moses,
or acutely feel the divisions between peoples,
like the Samaritan woman
God is present,
the Holy Spirit is loving us,
working in and through us,
encouraging us to endure,
causing us to hope,
hope in the Messiah,
who does not disappoint. Amen