Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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 worshipped 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 worshippers 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.
Yesterday, a friend of mine shared an article with an incredible video in it. The video is of the singer Maurizio Marchini serenading the rooftops of his hometown, Florence, Italy. Marchini is an opera singer and a tenor. In the video, he is singing a song called “Nessun Dorma” by the composer Puccini. It is from the opera Turandot. I don’t speak italian and have no idea what he is saying. But, I read that one of the most important lines is “Vincerò!” which means “I will be victorious!” He repeats that line, son on his hip, singing to his city. Let’s watch the video together:
Then, I saw a post from the folks at Lilac Catering and Mixology. Because of the importance of social distancing in slowing down rates of infection by Covid-19, they have found themselves with several canceled events and a lot of product they could share. The Phinneys, who run the business, said that they care a lot about the folks who live at the Apartments at St. Mary’s, an independent living facility for seniors. They took the food and other supplies they had lined up and shared with the residents there. Then, they posted a picture of a giant pile of toilet paper they took around to share with everyone. It wouldn’t cover the whole building for two weeks, but it would help people get by until they could find something more long term or until Hannaford gets restocked and people quit panic buying all the paper goods.
Cable companies and public utilities and some very generous landlords like Nathan Nichols in South Portland have decided they won’t kick people out or cut off their water or internet if they can’t pay their bills this month. There are even some distilleries that are taking the alcohol that they would we using to make various vodkas and whiskeys and turning it into hand sanitizer instead and then giving the hand sanitizer away for free.
Tenors are singing from the balconies, caterers are sharing their food, landlords are refusing to collect rent all because we, not just as a nation, but as a world, have found ourselves in the middle of a virus outbreak. We have no immunities to this virus and no vaccines. The people who get the sickest from it end up in the hospital because they need help breathing. The best way to take care of our neighbors is to live like we are already infected and want to try really hard to not get anyone else sick. So, we move large meetings, like church, online and onto our phones. We cancel afterschool activities. We take walks in the woods but skip party invitations. We make some space between us and anyone we might make sick. Then, we try to figure out how to take care of each other from afar.
When I began the season of Lent, introducing the idea of this as wilderness time where we could practice paying attention to the ways that God shows up in wild places, I didn’t realize that the wild places would be grocery stores, school board meetings, or our own living rooms as we try to navigate the best way forward and care for the most vulnerable people in a time of pandemic. I didn’t realize that the unfamiliar wilderness terrain that we would be navigating would be the quest to figure out how to have meaningful Christian worship if we can’t be in the same place or touch each other. If this wilderness were just the woods that surround my home, I would know what to do. I have been a person in the woods before. I haven’t pastored in a pandemic before. We, as a church, haven’t had to navigate extensive social distancing measures before.
Thank goodness we have the story of the Woman at the Well. While all people in those days went to well for water, women didn’t usually go by themselves. Scholars tell us that if she is by herself, talking to Jesus in the hottest part of the day, she has probably been ostracized by the other women in her community. They don’t help her with this hard chore and don’t welcome her to do it at the same time as they do. So, she hauls water alone at a time when she knows she won’t see anyone else. It’s also strange that Jesus is talking to her. They are not of the same ethnic background. In fact, Jesus would have been taught from childhood that this woman from Samaria was best ignored. Distance from her would have been required, especially given her reputation.
And, yet, the two of them, alone, made a connection. First, Jesus asked her for help. He asked her for water. Then, through the course of a surprising conversation, where she reminds them of their ancestral connections and of the God they both love, he helps her, telling her about his mission and what he had come to do. She ended up preaching about him in Samaria, undoubtedly forging new, strong relationships between Samaritans and this wild Jewish stranger who had just asked her for water.
This story tells us that isolation doesn’t have to be the last word. Whether the isolation is a product of social injustice, historical bad feelings, or medical necessity, it doesn’t have to keep us from doing what we are called to do. Had Jesus been bound to the unhealthy isolation he had been taught, he never would have gotten the water he needed. Had the woman not responded to his request with generosity and curiosity, she would have missed out on the new kind of life he offered and the possibility of reconciliation between their people. They show us a way to be together, even when we have been separated, that is powerful.
I hope that in the coming weeks, you will ask for help when you need it and will help others in kind. I hope you can find pieces of new life growing even as we great each other from balconies and rooftops. I hope that you can make the calls and send the letters that will keep us connected, even as we are apart. While our separation is necessary, the unnamed Samaritan woman’s was not. And, yet, we find ourselves by the well with her, this time with six feet between us. May you meet Jesus by this well in the wilderness. And, when it is over, may you go back to your city transformed and praising his name.
Resources Pastor Chrissy used in developing this sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.