3/23/14, Give Me Living Water

Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

Put yourself into the story of this Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus by the community well.  Day-by-day she picks up her heavy jar and comes to the well to obtain the source of life, water.  It not only sustains her body internally, but it is the substance with which she washes off the dirt of daily life.  Water is essential to keep her going on her journey of life. She must have water every day and so she keeps coming back to the place where water can be found.

Her life however, has not been an acceptable one by the standards of the culture in which she lived.  Other people thought of her as a sinner because the elements of her life went against societal and religious rules. She was not only a Samaritan, a class of people that Jews disdained as religious heretics, but she had also had sexual relationships with a number of men.  She herself thought she was unworthy of being asked by Jesus to provide him a drink of water.  Relationship with Jesus should have been impossible because of her status in life.  But here is Jesus, disregarding all those social and religious rules as if they already have a relationship that counts her as worthy to give him water, and she as worthy to receive the living water he is prepared to offer it to her.

Like the Samaritan woman, many of us have grown up with the sense that we are inadequate to be in relationship with the Holy One.  The feelings of guilt and shame that we accumulate as we move through life bring us again and again to the wells of our religions, hoping that words like mercy and repentance and forgiveness and grace will somehow quench our spiritual thirst. 

In the past few weeks, we have been in the process of examining some of these religious words .  Why has the way we’ve understood them not been helpful in providing for us the “living water” that we seek?  Why has it been important for us to change our liturgical words and actions to express the truth of our relationship with God?

Two weeks ago we considered the aspect of what scripture is for us.  Summary: In the 21st century, the Scriptures are for us metaphorical treasures through which the Spirit speaks to impart contemporary wisdom.   Last week we talked about the Kyrie. Summary: The plea for mercy as we begin our worship doesn’t mean “God, don’t beat me for my sin.”  It means “Be with me as I repent and turn to walk the path in a new direction.”


Today’s story brings to mind the response in Catholic liturgy that people are to make when the priest offers them the Eucharistic meal. Tradition has us say: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”  Saying this reinforces the perception of ourselves as people who can only hope to receive the food and drink Jesus offers by announcing ourselves as people who always retain our sense of guilt and shame. 


 Notice that the woman who lived with her own perception of sinfulness was approached and welcomed by Jesus at his initiation.  Her sense of unworthiness was for him no barrier to relationship.  Because Jesus welcomed her with a pre-existing attitude of acceptance and forgiveness for her sins, she was free to relate to him and learn from him how to live in a way that expressed her repentance. 


 Lent in particular is a “penitential” season in the Christian liturgical calendar.  As a season of “penance,” Lent is a time for thoughtful consideration of our lives and our sins. It is a somber season of contrition. Lent and Holy Week are about sin, repentance, forgiveness and grace.


 We are trying to reshape our Christian understanding of these concepts. In a nutshell, perhaps it could be said this way: Sin is separation, separation from our sense of relationship with the Divine because of ways in which we have separated ourselves from others.  However, the nature of God’s love for Creation means that we exist in a state of unconditional forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the choice to let go of the pain of separation that sin has caused.  This leads us to recognize mercy as the compassionate reality of “god-with-us” in the misery of our spiritual journeys.  The mercy of God, the Divine-With-Us, draws us to repentance.  To repent is to turn from the path that is creating our sense of alienation from God and to set our feet on a path that goes in a new direction.  This “turn from sin” is grace.  It is reconnection.  It is the reality of “god-with-us” in the enlightenment of our spiritual journeys. 


So in this story of the Samaritan woman at the well we see Jesus’ way-of-being (forgiveness couched in mercy) as the attitude that welcomed into relationship a woman who felt her unworthiness.  Because she recognized mercy in action, she was called to a path of repentance that not only liberated her life but eventually called her entire village to a liberated way of being.


The Lenten call to repentance- a changed way of being- is the reason that Lumen Christi is looking seriously at our old ways of doing liturgy.  God’s unconditional love and forgiveness frees us.  The God of mercy is always with us,  inviting us to experience grace as a deeper relationship with the Divine and all of Creation. 


Ten minute homilies in no way do justice to exploring these terms.  Therefore, with each week of Lent we are also providing a printout for you to reflect on.  Please know that the season of Lent invites each person to a conversation with your pastor, who lives the questions with you and like you longs for living water that we may thirst no more. 

By Sandi DeMaster