Sermon on John 4:5-42
It is noon, midday, and there is a woman alone in the middle of town, getting water from the well. What was she doing there? Why was she alone?
At the risk of sounding a little glib, she was social distancing…but not by choice. You see in her society she was quite a bit more than an outcast. This woman was a Samaritan—one of those reviled Samaritans—she had five husbands and counting—she was seen as “unclean,” dirty, a sinner of the highest degree. She is isolated from the rest of the community. She cannot be a part of it anymore.
And yet, when Jesus sees her, he does something that he should not have done. In fact, he does something that he is not even allowed to do as a man: He goes to her, out there in the open. And he stands there with her for all to see.
There are so many boundaries and barriers that Jesus has to step over—social, religious, gender, cultural, national—just walking over to that well. But he does it. And what he has to offer her is life-giving, life-changing.
I cannot think of a better parable for our times, too. It’s a reminder that Jesus crosses whatever barrier and boundaries are in place, whether they self-imposed or not. It’s also a story of love in action, perfect for a time of anxiety. What is unfolding in our world right now as we speak is unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes.
A global pandemic is forcing fundamental changes in behavior, changes in lifestyle, changes in the way we do business. And it’s all playing out in real-time.
There’s a lot that we don’t know. But we can guess from the way it’s playing out in other places that this virus will in some way or another touch every one of us—whether we get it, or someone we know gets it. And for many, it won’t be that big of a deal; it’ll be a cold, maybe a bad cold. But for others, it will be a big deal. Some will be hospitalized. Some will die; perhaps people we know and love.
I say that not to frighten or exaggerate. I say it because one of the best things we can do to counter fear is to tell the truth. We speak the hard parts out loud so that we can begin to wrestle with them now, so that they do not blindside us, and so we’re not in denial about them.
But here’s the thing: I’m scared. I’m worried. What’s going to happen tomorrow? Next week? Next month? I’m worried about people’s health. I worry about the economy, about our bottom line. I worry about my child’s education and if I’ll get to see sick relatives. I worry for those who will lose jobs, who will miss out on opportunities. And I know it is the same for you all too.
And look…it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be worried. That’s part of living life. But our faith gives us these tools to cope with that and to overcome that. Truth is one of those tools, as we’ve seen already, but so is hope.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Those are the words of another great woman of faith: Julian of Norwich. She was an English woman who lived in the late 1300s. She wrote about her mystical visions in which she saw Jesus, crossing those barriers of life and death, time and space, to comfort her and care for her.
During her lifetime, she saw half her town die in the Black Death, peasant uprisings, and religious persecutions. She was no stranger to violence and death. So when she says, “All shall be well,” that’s not some trite Hallmark card sentimentality. She’s earned it the hard way.
It’s a statement of defiant hope, even in the face of hardship and uncertainty. With truth and hope, we can cross the barriers of fear, just like Jesus did, moving with a sense of purpose, moving with faith and love.
That is what we are called to do as Christians, as followers of Jesus. In times of trouble and in times of trial, we are called to action. We are called to live out what Paul says to us today: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-4).”
Hold that hope close to your heart in the days to come. It’s likely that we won’t be able to gather together for a while. The only way to slow the spread of this virus is to put up some barriers, some physical distance between us. We do this to protect the people we love—our friends and family and neighbors who are vulnerable to this disease. We do this to protect the people we don’t know, too, because there is no higher calling than to love and care for the stranger.
And so, as things shut down and start closing, I encourage you to see it not as an ominous sign or as impending doom. No, I think we can see it as a sign of that defiant hope, a sign of love in action. We are willing to endure what we must for the sake of others, for the sake of the world. Because we know that hope and love are worth it.
Whatever comes, we know that Jesus is there with us. Jesus breaks down all those barriers, crosses those divides, especially when we are most weak and vulnerable. He did that with the Samaritan woman. He did that with the countless others who he healed and restored. He did that even as he was dying on a cross. And he did that when he crushed the power of death itself.
Today we may be on this side of the tomb. But we know Easter is coming. And we know that when that day comes, the tomb will be empty.
All shall be well, friends, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.