“Jacob’s Well, Lemonade Stands, and other Learning Sites”
Psalm 36 & John 4:4-15 ~ Northwood UC ~ August 7, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
If you were to share what your favourite bible story is, what would it be? Your favourite story…the lifts the essence of Jesus and how you live your life following in his way? For Anna Carter Florence, preaching scholar from Columbia Seminary, it would be Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. This story, to use its metaphor, will fill your bucket for living a good and faithful life. For it teaches you: when you go astray, let down your bucket. When you are uncertain, let down your bucket. When you are out of gas for the journey, let down your bucket. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well will quench your thirst with life-giving water; it will splash you in the face and wake you to reality; it will provide you with the essentials for faithful living as a follower of the Way of Jesus.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well dissects power, shame, and pure grace. We just read a brief section, but reading the full story, we would discover that the woman at the well had been living under the shadow of cultural shame. In her case, the shame is result of failed marriages, and she goes to great measures to avoid gossip. She goes to draw water at noon, in the heat of the day, when most people would naturally avoid visiting the well. The hot sun is much better than the social judgement and persecution her community offers for the way her life unfolded. Arriving at the well, she is surprised to meet a stranger…Jesus is tired from his journey. And he is parched with thirst. The meeting is an odd one: Two cultures that should not speak: Jews and Samaritans. Two genders that did not normally converse: a man and a woman. And when you put these elements together, this drama becomes very rich and complex: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And we are drawn in to see how it unfolds. And at Jacob’s well, Jesus shatters the rules of the day. He approaches her from a place of weakness! He is thirsty, and without a bucket to draw water, and he asks her for a drink! And in the face of the stranger, this social castoff…this social castoff woman…this social castoff foreign woman…this Samaritan woman sees the face of God.
I wonder where the Samaritan woman and Jewish Messiah might be meeting today? Where are the systems of power shattered? Where are the cultural standards of shame being removed? Where is grace flowing like a river? I would like to suggest that the church, if it is called to be anything, is to be the thriving site of Jacob’s well that we read about today. I believe that the church, at its best, is a place of the meeting of different cultures, of different people…the church is the place where grace is met. The place, at its best is a place where the systems of power, alive in the world, are shattered. The place, where grace flows like a river. The church is a deep place of community, of welcome, of grace, and inclusion.
Where is Jacob’s well found today? I had a Jacob’s well moment that I would like to share with you. It happened last week during the height of the heat wave. You remember…The temperature was creeping into the high 30’s, fans, and air conditioners, and shady spots were at a premium. And, when the temperatures were peaking, I spotted an oasis…a child’s lemonade stand. My thirst drew me forward, and I was greeted by two smiling children. “Hi mister. Would you like some lemonade?” This was music to my ears. I was so thirsty and hot. And to be invited to have my thirst quenched was truly a welcome gift of thirst-quenching grace. Having been welcomed, I stepped up to the table. One of the children, all of about 5 years of age, proceeded to open his container full of fresh lemons. He squeezed it with herculean might, and the fresh lemon juice flowed. He passed the cup to his partner and she filled it with some ice and lemonade. It was topped with a lemon wedge and proudly presented to me. “Here you go, mister! Enjoy”.
The lemonade stand was a Jacob’s well moment for me. I was a stranger and they welcomed me. I was thirsty and they offered me drink. They even offered it to me with a smile! I noticed that something was absent, though. Did you catch it? There wasn’t a price sheet, like we normally see when you walk into a at a restaurant. I gratefully received the cup of lemonade saying, “thank you so much! But, how much do I owe you?” They looked puzzled, one looked at the next. It turned out that I was their first customer. “Well, we haven’t really worked things out yet, Sir. We just like sharing lemonade with everyone.” Like I said, this was a ‘Jacob’s Well moment’ for me.
And as we gather in church today, I think that this is exactly what we are called to create as the body of Christ we call the church: we are called to see the wisdom of Jacob’s Well as we create community. So, I wonder, as we begin to look towards being the church into the fall, what are some of the key points of the story that might guide us? What might guide our life as a church? For me, I see several areas worthy of consideration. Foundationally, this story highlights how we all thirst. Jesus thirsts for water. The Samaritan woman thirsts for acceptance. We all thirst. Our body might thirst, and some come to the church for the basic human needs of food and drink. And many continue to support the Emergency Food Cupboard. Most of our cupboards have some, or lots, of food. But, we all ‘thirst’ for something. We thirst for fellowship with others; we thirst for healing in times of sadness; we thirst for joy in times of celebration; we thirst for justice as we consider the marginalized and excluded. We ALL thirst. And the church, at its best, becomes this well where we might gather and find God’s refreshing Spirit quench the needs of the world.
People inquiring of the church’s ministries ask: ‘do you have a group for (you fill in the blank)?’ And my answer sometimes is: ‘yes we do, let me introduce you to…’. And in the case, where the group hasn’t been created yet, my answer: ‘we need a group like that. Let’s form one!’ That is the way that every facet of our ministry was shaped and grew. A well of blessing designed to quench the thirst of those who gather. It started by the thirst of a few, and the well was further created. Study groups, fellowship opportunities, outreach, grief groups, and the list goes on and on. This consideration will be a BIG one for us as we are a church that is finding its ‘new normal’ into the fall. Last year felt somewhat tentative with vaccination passport and masking requirements. We were very limited in what we offered. Now we will be further moving forward into our second year, considering how we are called and equipped to be a well for the many thirsty who come. What kind of well will we create? How will you participate in shaping this well we call ‘Northwood’?
Secondly, this story highlights the power of welcome. Jesus greets the ‘other’. He greets a person of a different gender and culture. The Samaritan woman welcomes him, in return, with water. In my Jacob’s well experience, the children welcomed me to their lemonade stand. Some faith communities are deeply thoughtful in how they practice an inclusive welcome. The wearing of a name tag is one example of such a practice that is so important. This helps a community to know one another. If you begin to know another’s name, then you begin to know their identity and the story of life is allowed to unfold. Making an effort, as people welcome it in these challenging times, to connect is important. Sometimes we connect at a 6-foot distance; others welcome a handshake; and others a hug. The important thing is that community / hospitality is created. When 2 or 3 are gathered in Christ’s name, He is here. Yet, when we are here, but not ‘gathered’…well we have all been in communities where we do not feel the Spirit. When we do not create community when people do not feel welcomed and embraced, we might as well be at the supermarket or the mall. Yet when a practice of welcome is present, the Spirit of Christ walks in our midst. Welcome is more than just name tags and greeting others, it is ensuring that there is something for all who gather.
This fall, we are enhancing our Children’s ministry, for what we do in here does not touch all the ages of the congregation. Age-appropriate programming for our children is essential if we are to be a multi-generational community. Linda has been working hard at slowly introducing songs that appeal to a broad range of ages. Are there songs that appeal to the younger generation as well as the older? And when you experience something at church that doesn’t touch you…or that you don’t particularly like, perhaps we might think about the broader question of there being something for all who gather. Could we be an inclusive community who thinks broadly of how we might welcome all the thirsty people of faith, and pray that there is something that will quench each and everyone of us throughout?
The last thing area that the story raises for me is the gift of seeing the face of Christ as we welcome the stranger in our midst. The startling revelation for the Samaritan woman in welcoming the stranger, is that she saw the face of Christ. For me at the lemonade stand, somehow I saw that same kind of grace and generosity. And when we create this kind of community, we become more than just a community of friends, more than just a community that is growing and welcoming…we become a community where Jesus walks in our midst. A community worthy to have a cross on the top of our building. And, for each one its people to live the way of the cross…a way of welcome, grace, and love.
May it be so.