Rest Area Ahead
First & Franklin Presbyterian Church
March 19, 2017
Jesus thirsts. So, he pulls off the biblical interstate to a rest area –Jacob’s Well — it’s a bit dodgy perhaps. Or it’s just a typical rest area. Named after some worthy, dead now for at least fifty years. Wi-fi available. Restrooms, some of them work – not sure the last time they’ve been cleaned, but they’ll do in a pinch, I guess.
Public phones out of service – of course! Vending machines stand side by side. Cokes and waters for sale, $2.00 each. Credit cards accepted. A green lawn surrounds the space – kind of useless and big feeling. People who stop here simply come to stretch their legs. Not even a picnic kind of place, though you can see park benches and even a playground. But the place lacks soul, if you know what I mean. So, it’s not a place where strangers visit. It’s not like being on a plane or perhaps a bus or even at the local park at home.
Places like those, watching the kids play at the park nearby, you tend to visit with strangers. You guess they live around the neighborhood. Not so much at a rest area – and perhaps not at an ancient watering hole, either.
Jesus goes up to the well. A woman is already there. She goes to the watering hole every day, maybe several times a day. One commentary calls her “multiply marginalized” – a woman, a Samaritan, and apparently poor. She goes to get water. For cooking. For drinking. She knows how the well works. She knows how the world works. And presumably Jesus would know, too. After all, he’s a carpenter’s son – he’s got common sense. You’d think he would know that certain social protocols prevail in places like this.
But instead of waiting his turn, Jesus begins to talk with her.
That’s odd. He doesn’t wait in line to put his coins into the coffee machine. It’s like someone getting in the elevator – and instead of facing the door, they turn around and start with visiting with you. And you think, I want off this elevator, now. There is a freak in this elevator. Suddenly, I feel claustrophobic.
Well, it’s too late to get out of the elevator now. Jesus asks her for water. Strange, she thinks. He says he wants water. What else does he want? Is this some kind of line that he uses?
Ordinarily, Jewish men don’t speak to Samaritan women. Maybe her female alert system was in the “on” position. After all, they’re alone. She’s alone. And this feels awkward.
But Jesus seems harmless enough – and she knows the difference. She knows the difference. And perhaps she’s bored. And maybe curious. So, she asks, “Why are you talking to me? Your kind don’t talk to my kind, not even to ask for a cup of water.”
It’s an almost brazen question, almost as brazen as Jesus talking to her, out of the blue.
Do you ever wonder about that, here in this church? Is this a rest area of sorts? Bathrooms work, mostly. The sanctuary – it doesn’t get used more than once a week, like the green space of a rest area. People come here to stretch their legs. It’s been a long ride from Monday through Saturday. And, so, we get off the interstate and we come to church, walk on green pastures, read the memorial signage, visiting a mostly useless space, but at least they have facilities – toilets and the like.
Maybe we come to this rest area expecting a sense of anonymity – we came in without a name and we’ll leave without a name. We’re just shadows, standing in front of a religious coffee machine, as it squeezes and wheezes and squirts out a black dribble to which we add substantial amounts of sugar and cream.
Never mind, it’s coffee. Or at least it pretends to be. It’s spiritual caffeine. And there isn’t a Starbucks for miles. Get your cup! Get your Jesus-juice! Get up and walk around the beautiful religious park; it’s just a pit stop – no more than an hour, please — before you race off to your professional car, merge into traffic, and disappear into the sausage making machine that is our American dream.
But then this Jesus – he singles you out somehow. And you feel that uncanny feeling that God is speaking to you and to you and to you and yet only to you, solely to you, alone with you. It’s uncomfortable crazy. As if in all the starry host, of all the things God could be doing, ought to be doing – curing hunger, ending poverty, stirring up supernovas — this strange God turns to you, and says, I thirst.
God says this to you. What kind of thing is that to say to you, and to you, and to you, and solely you, alone to you, and only to you? You’re thirsty yourself. That’s why you came here, for God’s sake! If God has got something to say to you, why would God talk about thirst, God’s thirst? What kind of God thirsts? What sort of thirst could this be? And why would God ask me for the water to satisfy this thirst?
Maybe you say, I am an empty well – my get up and go has got up and gone. I’m on autopilot here, drifting without destination or purpose, sinking slowly, imperceptibly into the sea of oblivion.
But before we do, we take the next exit. The Jacob’s Well Interstate Rest Area – just about twenty minutes is all we need. And yet, I think this visit to the Johannine rest area is going to take a little longer than a convenient religious pit-stop will allow.
I laugh when I read the Samaritan woman’s talk with Jesus – Jesus can’t help but talk like God and she can’t help but talk like the rest of us. He says, “If you knew who it was that asked you for water, you would have asked him, and he would give you living water!”
She looks him up and down and says, “You don’t have bucket and the well here is deep. Just where do you think you’re going to get this precious living water of yours? I’d really love to hear it! Around here the only thing we got going is the well – it’s been here for donkey’s years – and you have to have a bucket, something you are most definitely lacking.”
Of course, she is thinking like Nicodemus last week – too literally. So, John’s Jesus stirs up the sensible disbelief, with the insensible but mysterious invitation to believe in God: “This water you’re pointing to, everyone who drinks of it will be thirsty again. The water that I will give, will satisfy your thirst, even unto eternal life; the I water I give renews itself, like a well from within, like a spring hidden in the deep folds of the creation – it gushes up to eternal life.”
That water – you don’t pull it up, but it rises up to meet you. You dip your hands into it; you kneel beside it, even within it, and you pour it over your head. And every handful of water is pure, and cool, and refreshing – and it doesn’t run out.
“Give me this water,” she says, “so I don’t have to keep coming to this tired out well.”
Jesus replies, saying, “If you drink from the water that I give, you don’t need to leave the well because I, the one speaking to you, will go with you. I am living water. And if you drink from the water I give, you will want to share those everlasting waters – you will almost thirst to share the news. To share the news of living water.”
Maybe she was looking at Jesus intently now. But perhaps not as intently as Jesus was looking at her . . . or through her. Seemingly out of nowhere, Jesus says to her, “Go get your husband.” I imagine there was a chasm between this and her answer – long and dry and hard and bitter – “I have no husband.”
Many interpreters look at this text and suggest that Jesus is calling her out for so-called loose living. I think that’s exactly the wrong interpretation. If Jesus isn’t “casting shade” at the Samaritan woman, what is happening here?
Let’s take a closer look.
She has had five husbands and the one she now has isn’t her husband – listen to that number. Five. And the husband you have now is not your husband.
Could the backdrop here be the biblical stories of husbands that didn’t quite live up to the billing? There were a few. David who married Bathsheba was not really her husband. According to Matthew, Uriah, the man murdered by David, was her husband. Viewed this way, we see a very different kind of text. Jesus acknowledges what she lived with every day – Bathsheba knew the truth but was forced to live in the lie of a marriage.
The one you have now is not your husband. Maybe she ached for someone to tell the truth.
Or maybe the “five” husbands is figurative language. The Book of Torah, or the law, consists of five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Had she ticked all the right boxes, gone to the right school, married the right guy, and yet still found that coloring inside the lines was impossible for her? She was on to a sixth relationship — she was a Samaritan and she fell just outside the lines of conventional living.
Anyone live on her street?
Obviously, there’s more to this story, more than I can convey today. The woman, astonished by what Jesus says to her, leaves her bucket at the well. She even forgets that Jesus was thirsty.
What would it take for us to “forget” to get our religious coffee this morning? What would it take for us to be so caught up with the presence of God in our lives that we would, at least temporarily, forget that we thought we were at a rest area and maybe even start to think of this place as a staging area for our most important vocation?
Jesus said that he was thirsty. And yet Jesus doesn’t seem bothered at all by thirst. Like perhaps he exists as water and water fills every depression and hollow, saturates every dry place – this is Christ’s thirst, to satisfy. She tasted the water, the living water that gushes up into eternal life. She goes to the neighborhood and tells all about what happened at Jacob’s well. I bet she looked up those husbands of hers. And that sixth one, she told that one too. She tells. She reports. She gushes the gospel.
I suppose she might have gone back to Jacob’s well again – after all, meeting Jesus doesn’t mean we will never thirst for ordinary water. It means instead that within us, we will find a well of water, living water, renewed and refreshed every day, to overflowing. And maybe she had some follow up questions for Jesus.
Maybe I’m about done with this sermon, twenty minutes or so, plus or minus, a dribble, a wheeze, and a squeeze of sermonic Jesus juice – or by God’s grace, I’m just getting started. Perhaps this sermon, the words, take so much time, so much breath. Some words are sweeter than others. Other words bitter on the tongue. It’s a labor to preach every week. I go to the well, looking for a bucket of words. A thousand, two thousand, two thousand five hundred, three thousand when I get carried away, as I sometimes do. But a sermon is like coffee – you don’t drink it so much as borrow it!
Anyway, I think, I can’t carry too much water – I will wear us both out. Sometimes, truth be told, I dread going to this Sunday morning well at 210 West Madison Street. The scorching heat of routine, dead letters. Do you sometimes feel dread coming here? I bet you do at least sometimes. Jacob’s well was at least as beloved as our beautiful sanctuary – yet our Samaritan woman was weary with it.
But this also is true, and it keeps me coming back, every week to meet you here: as I prepare to meet with you on Sundays, water rises up to me, from an invisible spring . . . it keeps rising up, seeping through the floor boards of my own dull repetitions. Sometimes it rises up out of my heart and your heart, as they meet together, in recognition, as tears flood the eyes, as warmth fills the heart, as if a parched place in you or in me has been satisfied – by waters unseen.
And these tears, this joy, could they be worthy of your testimony?
It’s okay if you leave your bucket today. It’s okay if the Baptists beat us to lunch today – I know you don’t believe it, but it’s true. It’s okay. It’s okay if we hang around this well a little longer than we expected. It’s okay if the facilities are just passable or even quite stunning. But remember the difference – most rest areas, you don’t think about them once you’ve left. They do what they’re supposed to do and you leave. Toilets flush. Dispensers dispense. Buckets are filled. Transactions are closed. Maybe this isn’t a rest area at all – maybe today we begin the journey.
Our Samaritan woman just went to get a bucket of water. She forgot her bucket, forgot why she came. But she didn’t leave empty. Her lips and her heart became springs of living, invisibly replenishing, graciously bubbling, courageously gushing, joyful water.
Do you feel, sometimes, like water from a deeper source has visited you in this place? And if so, who will you share this experience with? With whom will you gush? With whom and for whom will you bring the joyful sound of living water?
Anyone thirsty? I think there’s a rest area ahead. It’s called First & Franklin Presbyterian Church, at 210 West Madison Street. We meet on Sundays for worship at 10:30 a.m. Childcare is provided. Please join us for fellowship following the service. Typically, we meet for about an hour.
But it might be longer today.
By God’s grace and to God’s glory. Amen.