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Lent 3A, John 4 “Being Seen”
© Paul A. Porter
March 19, 2017
Raise your hand when you can name the source of these words. Don’t yell out the answer, just raise your hand.
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.” © Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo
For those that can’t quite place it, see if this helps (theme from “Cheers” begins). On the count of 3, name that show: On the count of 3, shout our your favorite character:
I expect many of us might place Cheers in your top ten favorite TV comedies. It might crack my top 5. But other than Coach, I’d be hard pressed to name my favorite character, mostly because each one had at least one character trait that annoyed the heck out of me. Sam Malone, the lovable narcissist (that’s an odd combination); Cliff Claven, his insecurity camouflaged by his fauz Alex Trebek knowledge of trivia; Carla; Diane; Woody; Frasier; Lilith; Rebecca; Robin; and of course, lovable but lazy Norm (!).
Whether we realized it or not, the popularity of Cheers was due in part that we were laughing at ourselves – our foibles, our less than perfect selves; no matter what we recognize as our shortcomings, at some point they were on display amongst that menagerie of kooks. Anna Carter Florence points to Lake Wobegon as another example where everyone knows the latest history about you, even as knowing your latest news is not the same as truly knowing you. Any similarities to this congregation is purely coincidental.
That brings us to the Samaritan woman at the well. Who in her community didn’t know she was living with a man not her husband? Who in her community didn’t know she had had five husbands? Just like Cheers, EVERYONE in the village knew her name. If Jesus knew her current and previous marital status, it seems he knew her name. I’d also bet John knew her name as well.
It also obvious she knows Jesus, at least a little bit. A Jewish man who shares her ancestors: He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, ‘near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there’ (v. 5&6); after Jesus demonstrates how much he knows of her, she says 19 … “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.” She said “our” ancestors, not “my”. Another clear connection in verse 25, where she and her community are awaiting the Messiah: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
Perhaps John has not told us her name so that she can be an example for us – so we don’t dwell on the specifics of her status (tempting to think “her sins are way worse than mine”) but rather see the clear spirituality she possesses. She recognizes Jesus as clearly a prophet and quickly comes to realize that perhaps he is the Messiah. She asks a very, very astute theological question for one so near the very bottom of the social totem pole: why the difference in worshiping on the mountain or in Jerusalem (“you and your people say”). She experiences the gift of God that regardless of her sins, Jesus has not come to judge but to bring the living water.
We heard something quite similar last week in John 3:16-17: that God so loved the world God sent the beloved Son; God did not send the Son into the world to condemn. The Samaritan woman embraces the chance to talk with Jesus, because he is knowledgeable without being judgmental; she is honest without being shamed.
Isn’t that one of our biggest struggles: to accept that God loves us, that God sent Jesus to teach us, all the while knowing ALL our sins? That love is simply overwhelming. We cherish it but we push it to the corner; we are all about serving and helping and being Christ-like with little attention to the redemption angle. Confessing our sins yet hesitant to truly confess we are in need of redemption. We saw that on Wednesday during our Lenten Study. Nationally regarded theologian Anthony Robinson shared his experience during seminary as a student pastor in a rural setting. Initially turned off by some of the old school redemption laden hymns, he came to realize how he had ignored (or avoided) the message of redemption for himself – the fact that he was in need of it personally. Kenneth Samuel shared his journey of developing a 6000 member megachurch, only to realize that he gave up his prophetic voice in the process.
For many churchy topics, one could characterize the UCC on the left of the Christian spectrum: interpreting the Bible, focus on social justice issues that often align with the left portion of the political spectrum to name just two. But on the issue of sin and repentance, we’re much closer to the middle. On the one side are the non-denominational, often mega-churches, that are all praise and upbeat and “yea, God!”; corporate confession of sin is rare. On the other side are the more fundamental traditions that focus on the essential requirement of a personal relationship with Christ to mitigate our sinful selves and avoid eternal damnation. Here we are in the middle, with our weekly Confession of Sin and Brokenness and our annual season of Lent that forces us, at least for a little bit, toward exploration of our sinful nature and our need for redemption. Our Wednesday Lenten devotions add an opportunity to explore our relationship with Christ; we’ve talked about our need to recognize our sin and to seek out God’s redeeming forgiveness through Christ.
We like to think life is simpler when one lives by “the rules”. In today’s lesson, Jesus makes it clear that not only are “the rules” not important, they stand in the way of the unity that God seeks through Christ seeks. That unity is on stark display in this story: Jesus reaches out to one who is untouchable (according to the rules) and the untouchable’s first question is essentially, “don’t you know the rules?” We are called to do the same – to see those we quickly dismiss. The young adult with blue hair; the person covered with tattoos or piercings, or both; the anonymous clerk at the convenience store or fast food place or grocery check-out lane; the one with skin color different than ours or the one with clothes symbolizing another religion. People who may not have much of a place where everyone knows their name, or their troubles.
Listen to Eugene Peterson’s take on Jesus’ last words to the Samaritan woman in The Message. It captures the power about what it feels like to know ourselves and one another as people with many rich stories, complicated and beautiful and each, in its own way, full of grace: “…the time is coming,” Jesus says, “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 God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship. … Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration” (The Message).
May we be our true selves as we gather before God, every day, in every place and with everyone.