John 4: 5-15
Lost in the Wilderness (2 of 4): Divisions that Unite

**We are very sorry...Bernie and Rev. Scott faithfully arrived on Sunday morning to record this reflection; however, our recording computer seems to have died. Bernie will endeavour to rectify this problem as soon as possible**

We will be looking for new ways to utilize video and audio technology during these times that we cannot physically gather for worship and fellowship.


by the Right Rev. Richard Bott (Moderator of the United Church of Canda  

In this time of COVID-19, we pray: When we aren't sure, God, help us be calm; when information comes from all sides, correct and not, help us to discern; when fear makes it hard to breathe, and anxiety seems to be the order of the day, slow us down, God; help us to reach out with our hearts, when we can't touch with our hands; help us to be socially connected, when we have to be socially distant; help us to love as perfectly as we can, knowing that "perfect love casts out all fear."   For the doctors, we pray, for the nurses, we pray, for the technicians and the janitors and the aides and the caregivers, we pray, for the researchers and theorists, the epidemiologists and investigators, for those who are sick, and those who are grieving, we pray, for all who are affected, all around the world... we pray for safety, for health, for wholeness.   May we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and house those without homes; may we walk with those who feel they are alone, and may we do all that we can to heal the sick— in spite of the epidemic, in spite of the fear. Help us, O God, that we might help each other.   In the love of the Creator, in the name of the Healer, in the life of the Holy Spirit that is in all and with all, we pray.   May it be so.

Lost in the Wilderness (2 of 4): Divisions that Unite

John 4: 5-15 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ March 15, 2020  

To say that Covid19 has created an interesting time in our world, would be the understatement of the year (and hopefully the understatement of the foreseeable future). This will be the first sermon that I have ever offered exclusively online and in print form! When has it ever happened that we didn’t gather for a Sunday worship? Fearing the spread of this virus, some have been stockpiling supplies as if preparing for the end of days; many have been donning surgical masks as they leave home; we have been washing our hands as if our kindergarten teacher has been looking over our shoulders; and many have elected to stay home avoiding human contact. Nothing seems to be more offensive today than offering a handshake or hug in friendship or sneezing and coughing on others. Sporting seasons are now being suspended and possibly cancelled, stocks related to production and travel are plummeting, and the world is on high alert. And a strong ‘fear of the other’ is readily apparent in the air. This is an unprecedented time when we have begun to ‘fear the other’ as we protect ourselves and the further spread of this virus. And it is this ‘fear of the other’ that that I would like to explore this morning.  

Many will be aware that there are groupings of assigned lections that occur through a three-year cycle in order to ensure that the depth and breadth of the biblical story is told. Sometimes, as we try to design worship for a given Sunday, the readings and the state of the world do not always align. However, this morning, the gospel and our culture seem to line up well. As we journey back two millennia to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we can almost imagine this nameless woman wearing a surgical mask…being a castoff within her society. Indeed, this story has much wisdom to offer us today.  

Without even being given the dignity of a name, the Samaritan woman is a triple outsider in the story: she is infected and to be avoided at all cost. Why does she have three strikes against her? Her cultural background, her gender, and her mistakes of the past: Firstly, the woman is a Samaritan; whereas Jesus was a Jew. These cultures do not mesh; they do not accept one another; there is a clearly delineated gulf that exists between the two characters in this drama. Not to speak, not to touch, not to share things in common were the established rules. There is a profound cultural divide that one is not to cross. Strike two…she is a woman. And as we celebrated the liberation of women last Sunday on Women’s Day, we remember that women were not liberated in Jesus’ time. Women had no place in public life and were not even allowed to worship with men. History reports that morning devotions of men in this historical time included the prayer “Thank God I am not a woman”. Jesus and the Samaritan woman should not be speaking. This story should never have occurred. Finally, the third strike: this woman, who was a Samaritan, as we will learn in the ensuing verses, was rejected by the upstanding women of her own culture. She had five failed marriages. She is judged not just by the men, not just by differing cultures, but also by her own ~ the ‘respectable’ Samaritan women also have rejected her for her failed marriages. Rejected by all, she elects to come in the heat of the day ~ noon-time ~ to draw the water, knowing that all the other women would have come in the cool morning air to draw the water and carry this heavy weight back home. She comes alone in her rejection.  

As we consider our Lenten theme this morning: ‘Lost in the Wilderness’, this text lifts up the challenge of the divides that we allow to occur. The divisions that occur between culture, between gender, between those we judge as ‘good and upstanding’ and those many judge as fallen and broken. We are certainly not walking alone in the wilderness as Jesus was in the story that commenced our Lenten journey; however, we have allowed ourselves to become separated based on our culture, separated based on our gender, separated based on our regrets and mistakes. And these separations are what Jesus addresses.  

As we further engage with this text, we come upon a chapter of Jesus’ life that some theologians consider to be among the most revealing of who he truly is. Jesus…the non-female…the non-Samaritan…the teacher of moral virtue communes with the Samaritan woman. The readers of this story have to wonder: What was he doing at the well? Has he lost his way? Has he lost his faith? Jesus proceeds to break a long list of existing rules by communing with the woman. And in so doing, he proceeds to create a whole new way of being with ‘the other’.  

This new way is a call to truly be with ‘the other’ in ways that are honouring and transformative. All the woman wants is welcome and acceptance. She has her physical needs taken care of, yet her spiritual needs are wanting. She has a bucket and a well to draw from, yet her soul is deeply thirsty. She is alone and rejected ~ due to her gender, due to her culture, due to circumstances of the past. The Samaritan woman is alone and spiritually thirsty.  

There is another one who is wanting in the drama. And that is Jesus. We don’t like to think of Jesus as in need, but he is physically thirsty. Jesus’ body thirsts for water. Sitting down at the well in the desert heat, he realizes that he has no bucket to draw the life-nourishing water. What we find in this wonderful drama is that the Samaritan woman does have something to offer Jesus. She has the means to quench his thirst during his journey. As Jesus accepts what the Jewish community would consider an ‘unclean’ cup of water from her, we realize that the divides our world constructs between gender between culture, between the supposedly morally upright and those who have made some mistakes do not have any bearing in the Kingdom that Christ is ushering in. Jesus needs her and she needs him. This beautiful drama shows the need to include ‘the other’ in order for the fullness of life to unfold. Just like a plant that will slowly wither and die without regular nourishment of water, we need the nourishment of others ~ the water of life that they provide! We need their gifts; we need their blessings; we need their life.  

This, of course, will be a profoundly challenging message to live out! Given the present-day concerns with Covid19, I do not think that this text is calling us to begin sharing water bottles and embracing strangers with hugs and kisses. But I do think it is calling us to a new level of acceptance of ‘the other’. I do think it is calling us to an appreciation of our diversity. I do think it is calling us to an appreciation of how we can be gift and blessing to one another. Do we look at ‘the other’ with judgement? Or can we offer them a symbol of peace ~ perhaps at a distance (for now), but a symbol of peace nevertheless. It is still allowed (I think) to smile at others; it is still allowed to honour ‘the other’ as a fellow child of God. This is exactly why the Surrey Interfaith initiative is in existence. How bland and boring would it be if we were all the same! How beautiful it would be if we find ways to gather, which honour our unique differences. I wonder how YOU might create opportunity for this to happen. Perhaps it begins with respectful curiosity. A posture of non-judgement when we ask others about their life, their experience, their journey. Perhaps it begins when we realize that we all have something to offer the another if this Kingdom of God is ever to unfold as God yearns for it to.  

As we touched upon earlier, this story occurs in the heat of mid-day. The text records it occurring at noon. There will be another event that will also occur at noon; it will be a time when Jesus will be thirsty; he will be hanging upon a cross with nails in his limbs preparing to face his death and he will, like this morning’s story, call out in thirst. What is offered to Jesus, this time, is not water but rather sour vinegar as he is mocked, judged and taunted. The gift of Jesus’ living water will not be apparent to those holding that sour sponge ~ to those who mock him. But today, when the woman hears of Jesus’ thirst, she offers him the gift of what she has. And together, in the sharing of water ~ both the water of life and the waters of eternal life, their actions touch the eternal. The gifts they offer each other, quench the thirst of body and soul and hold the gift of life for all.