Service for Sunday March 19, 2017
Year A Lent 3
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42. Purple.
Call to worship – Psalm 95:1-7 – Uniting in Worship
Hymn Together in Song 52 Let us sing to the God of salvation
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
we give you thanks for the gift of each new day
for the new opportunities each day brings
We give you thanks for the gift of life
for all of the challenges, hopes, opportunities, this life brings,
We thank you most of all for the gift of Jesus
for his life, death, and resurrection for us
for the new life he offers to us.
We confess the times we live as if
the gift of Jesus didn't matter
the times we say, do, and think things that aren't worthy of your people
the times we fail to say, do and think things that are worthy of your people
Forgive us our failings, we pray.
Help us to begin anew.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Hymn Together in Song 162 Thank you for giving me the morning
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Jesus stops in his journey from Judea to Galilee to speak with a Samaritan woman at a well... and that doesn't seem strange to us.
In his own day – some things were very wrong with this picture:
Firstly, what's he doing at the well anyway? It would have been the work of women in their group to go collect water from the well, not a man, and certainly not their teacher.
Secondly, he spoke with a strange woman. Again, it doesn't seem odd to us – but a Jewish teacher would not be speaking to a strange woman – any strange woman – because of fear of contamination. There was a risk the woman might not be ritually clean, and her uncleanness could be contagious...
But it gets worse, because thirdly, this strange woman was a Samaritan. This wasn't just a rivalry like the one between Queensland and that other state south of the border. This was like cold war USA and USSR. When John says “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” it's the understatement of the first century. These two groups of people, even though they shared a common ancestry, did not like each other in the least. Each thought the other had corrupted the true faith – and could not be trusted in any way.
So there was Jesus, by himself, apparently, by a well in Samaria. It was a place where sooner or later a Samaritan woman would show up. But again, it would not just be any woman. He wasn't there at the time all the women came together to get their water – a woman coming on her own would be an outcast in her own community – someone the other women wouldn't want to associate with.
If you had a suspicious mind, you might think that this wasn't a chance meeting at all, that Jesus had gone out of his way intending to meet someone just like this particular unnamed woman. If you had a suspicious mind, you might think he'd chosen her, or at least someone like her – who would be as far as possible from the kind of person he “should” be speaking with. John tells us that if the disciples harboured such suspicions, they didn't dare say so – they didn't ask him why he was speaking with her.
When we first meet this woman in John's Gospel, she's remarkable for all the wrong reasons: she's a Samaritan woman, and she's at the well without all the other women which tells us a lot about how she's seen in her own community.
As the story goes on, she becomes remarkable for other reasons.
This is the longest recorded dialogue of Jesus with anyone. Jesus not only talked with her – he talked with her seriously, at great depth, and with exactly the same respect as he showed Jewish teachers such as Nicodemus.
He revealed a great deal about himself in this conversation, openly declaring himself to be the messiah, and showed that he knew enough about her to convince her he was a prophet. (Even in an era with a high mortality rate and where a man could divorce his wife by simply saying “I divorce you”, a woman having been married five times would be unusual. That the man whose household she was now living in was not her husband – but some relative or other man who had some responsibility for her would not be quite so unusual, but it was still remarkable that Jesus knew this.
So, to some extent, it was Jesus who made this encounter with the woman something extraordinary.
But the woman's response also made the encounter extraordinary. She could have gone away and kept what she knew to herself. She could have thought about it for a while, maybe told one or two close friends.
Instead, a woman who was so unpopular that she had to go to the well alone, went on a missionary journey to the town she lived in. In this town, that really didn't accept her that well, she told everyone about her encounter with Jesus so convincingly that they all wanted to meet him too.
Then she brought them to him, so they could meet him, and could then believe because they saw for themselves.
It's sad that we don't even know this woman's name, because she's a great example for the church. She had clearly been very unfortunate or very unwanted – she had experienced a very difficult life. Being widowed or divorced five times, in a world where there was no social security and family provided everything, would have meant she had more than her fair share of insecurity, poverty, loss. Being an unmarried woman in a society where a woman's value was measured by the children she could produce, meant she didn't matter much to anyone. Like the lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors Jesus associated with, this was a woman no-one wanted to know.
To Jesus she mattered. Jesus showed her that she mattered to him as much as anyone else. From her meeting with Jesus she gained a sense of worth and dignity – and the confidence to go to the town and preach the good news that the messiah had come to visit them. And she had the confidence to preach in a way that people who would normally overlook her, believed what she said.
And then she brought them, the townspeople, the people who had not valued her, to Jesus, so they could discover the truth for themselves. The “living water” she had found, the truth that would never leave her needing more – she shared.
This is the truth of the church – who we are meant to be. We find our value, our worth and dignity in our relationship with Jesus. That is what defines who we are – not what we've done, not how we feel about ourselves or how other people feel about us. Because of Jesus, we all have great value. We are important, not because of anything we can do or anything we have – we are important because we are important to Jesus.
Finding our value, the truth of who we are, in Jesus, we then must choose how we respond.
If we follow the example of the Samaritan woman, we respond by gaining confidence from recognising that we have such a value to Jesus – and we use that confidence to go to share what we have discovered with others. If we are excited by what we have found in relationship with Jesus, we will want to bring others to him as well.
When we look at mission opportunities for the church, we are seeking to find ways to share our encounter with Jesus with the people around us. It's one thing to find ways to share our meeting with Jesus with people who are like us – quite another to, as with the woman at the well – to go to people we might not have a lot in common with to share what we have discovered in Jesus. This is a process of inviting people.
And she brought them to Jesus – so that after first believing because of what she told them – they came to believe in him because they knew him personally. And that's our ultimate goal in mission or outreach – that people would come to know for themselves what we have discovered in Jesus. We could see this as incorporating people into the life of the Christian faith – helping them to find their place where they know Jesus personally, and know how much he values them.
Jesus is the “Living Water” the one thing we really need, but we are meant to share him with others, not keep him to ourselves.
Hymn Together in Song 129 Amazing Grace
Prayers of the People
We pray for this world you love
So many people are suffering so much
From natural disasters to human-orchestrated violence
there seems to be no end to the suffering.
God, this is your world, the world you love
These are people made in your own image
People Jesus lived, died and rose again for.
God, be with the people of your world
especially those who are suffering the most,
and help your people, guide us to do what we can to help.
We pray for our congregation here
Guide to find those people in our community who most need to know your love.
Give us to ways to tell them that whoever they are, whatever they have done, their true value is in you – that your love makes them precious.
Help us to bring them to you – so that they can discover your love for themselves, not just because of what we say about you.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten Calling