This sermon was originally preached via podcast at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on March 15, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but 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 eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
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?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They 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.”
As many of you know, I led a retreat for Queer young adults a few weekends ago. This is a group of people who have spent a significant portion of their lives hiding, because they knew that for many of the people in their lives, they weren’t going to be seen as enough. Because of the thing that made them a little different than the norm, their gender identities and sexual orientations, these people in the LGBTQIA+ community had to either hide who they were or lose valuable relationships. Not all, but many have this story, myself included.
When we were choosing the theme for the retreat, Sacred Story was what we came up with. And as it got closer and closer, I questioned that theme. Because so many of the young adults who were attending had been told by society, by friends, or by the church that they couldn’t tell their story, that something about them was wrong or incompatible or ‘not what we do here’. But the theme stayed, and together, we spent three days in the mountains, learning about the importance of sharing our story, fully and intimately.
On the first night, I shared my story, my story of being hurt by the church, of having to hide who I am in my places of work and worship, and my story of being able to use my gifts so much more when I was no longer hiding. I learned through telling my story, that it was an act of deep vulnerability, but that it was also a deep act of resilience, to be known for who you are, rather than be known for the story others tell about you.
Our passage today in John is a long one, and an important one. This living water phrase that we hear a lot started with this story, the woman at the well. You see, the story starts with a series of assumptions made at face value. A Samaritan woman was going to a well to get some water. And Jesus was there, tired after a long journey and needing a break. When he saw the woman, he asked her for something to drink. Now, a few thoughts were going through the woman’s mind.
Why is he talking to me, a Samaritan, and a woman? Doesn’t he know that I am different than him? Can’t he see that? If he’s a Jew, why is he even here now?
The woman had an understanding that Jesus, this man who she didn’t yet know to be Jesus, didn’t know her beyond her difference. She understood that this random stranger only understood her for the things that made her ‘not like him’, a Jewish man. But that was not at all how Jesus saw her. Jesus knew her, all of her, her whole story. And he called it good, all of it.
Jesus knew so much about this woman. He knew her inside and out, and he knew her strength and her faith and her tenacity. He knew her, and Jesus knew that she would be one of the people to share his message with the world.
Jesus knows us like that too. And I believe, that the fact that Jesus knows our whole story, that is precisely why Jesus loves us so fully and deeply.
On the final night of the retreat, we invited people to share their stories with the group. As each person went up to tell a piece of their story, I heard heartbreaking accounts of loss, of being pushed away, of family valuing their reputation more than their child, and of being told that their sexuality makes them unworthy of God’s love. While I wasn’t surprised, because my story tells many of those same narratives, I was inspired, and I was convicted, to do my job in making sure that those in my care can tell a different story, a story that more fully embodies who they are, who Jesus would see them as.
My fear, going into the retreat, was that asking folks to tell their stories would be like asking them to revisit a very vulnerable season in their story, a time when they were anything but known, a time when people saw the surface level side of them, the things that made them different, and nothing else. In reality, I learned that telling our stories, letting people see the journey we’ve been on, the person that we are, that is a way where we get to reveal the Divine in ourselves, where we get to let others see us the way God does.
For me, that is what living water is all about. It’s about connecting ourselves with the Divine, with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that there is living water for all of us. He doesn’t say it’s for just those who are like him, or for those who look or dress or act a certain way. He doesn’t say it’s for just United Methodists or just Jewish people, or just Democrats. Through Jesus revealing himself to the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, Jesus tells us that this living water is for all of us, because all of us are greater than the surface level ways that we too often are seen. Jesus invites us to be seen in a deeper way, a way that better describes how we are seen by God.
Imagine for a moment, that you are that woman at the well. Jesus, who is just a random stranger to you at that moment, asks you for some water. You’re surprised he even speaks to you, but then he goes further, listing facts about you that nobody else knows. He knows you in a way that probably makes you a little uncomfortable and pretty confused. And then, even after realizing that Jesus knows everything about you, all the good and all the things you wish you could hide, Jesus still invites you to drink this living water, this new life and this joy and this everlasting love from God. It’s as if he says to you, your story is sacred, and you are a gift from God. I know you, all of you, and I love you.
Is it scary to think of being known so intimately? Or is it a relief?
I’d say yes to both. And Jesus teaches us today, that to be known, to share your story, or to have your story known, that is a gift. To allow yourself to be open, to be seen the way God sees you, intimately, fully, that is a gift to you and to the world.
So Friends, I leave you with this: As you leave this place, may you know that your story is sacred, full of depth and complexity and love. May you be open to being fully known, because God already knows you fully and Divinely. And may you remember that you are a beloved child of God, created with love, and forever invited to drink that living water, that fountain that never will run dry.
Let us pray:
God of wisdom and power, who knows us for exactly who we are. We thank you for your divine revelation, the way you reveal yourself to us, reminding us of our sacred story. Guide us God, to continue telling our story, a reflection of your grace and goodness in our lives, the living water among us. In your name we pray, Amen.