March 12, 2023
"Doing What We Have To Do”
Rev. Scott Landis
It’s always a challenge to lift stories out of context and especially when reading from the gospel of John because each one of the narratives are so integrally linked with others. Isolating any one of them gives an incomplete picture. Yet it would probably take a couple of hours to read the entire gospel – and that without even giving me time to preach. So, allow me to summarize a few important points regarding this story – “The story of the woman at the well” to give it some context.
It is no accident that this story follows right after Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus but note the obvious differences. Nicodemus was a man. He was named. He was a learned scholar, a Jew, and a Pharisee. Nicodemus came to Jesus on his own initiative seeking answers to some important life questions, and he met him in the middle of the night so as not to be noticed by others.
The woman whom Jesus approached for some water was not named. She was a Samaritan (an ethnic group hated by the Jews). She was of questionable integrity and morals based on her marital status, and her encounter with Jesus took place in the middle of the day which likely was due to her being ostracized by the other women who would have come to Jacob’s Well in the cool of the morning. Jesus came to her rather than the other way around, but she apparently had nothing to hide nor followed any social norms in her conversation with Jesus. [Pause]
The two stories describe two very different main characters. I believe John intended for his readers to notice the differences.
What is often overlooked in this story are the first few lines from the opening verses of the chapter: Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is baptizing more disciples than John” – although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized – he left Judea and started back to Galilee. (Obviously he wanted to set the record straight). “But” John continued, “he HAD to go through Samaria.” (4:1-4)
As I noted with my Zoom Bible Study group the other day that little word HAD is so important to glean a fuller understanding of what was going on here. It indicates necessity in two ways.
First, he HAD to go through Samaria – as he left Judea in the south and headed to Galilee in the north. Samaria lay right between the two regions so he physically HAD to go through that region to reach his destination.
But second, he also HAD no option – humanely speaking. He knew, all too well, the rift between the Jews and the Samaritans. He knew their history of once being united. So, he HAD to do what was necessary to demonstrate that these people (and this woman), regardless of her ethnicity, gender, or questionable reputation were also the children of God. Not to do this was NOT an option. Like we say in our mission statement, “Jesus came to welcome all, love all, and accept all – into this new ‘ohana known as ‘the way.’
When he spoke to the woman, he too was breaking all social norms. Men simply didn’t do that in public, but he knew he HAD no choice. He didn’t really need what she had to offer – a cool cup of water to temporarily quench his physical thirst. But what he HAD – she needed – living water that would quench her spiritual thirst forever.
The dialogue that ensued was important but not really essential to the story. It’s what happened to her as Jesus validated her life that made all the difference. He affirmed every aspect of who she was – as a woman, as a Samaritan, and as someone who was living with a man out of wedlock – all of which would have raised the eyebrow of any faithful Jew.
It’s when she realized that her conversation partner just may be the Messiah that everything changed. Then she did what SHE HAD to do. John writes, “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?’
Then those who heard her did what they HAD to do. “They left the city and went as fast as they could to meet him. [Pause]
While this is not a “call” story in the strict sense of that word, it is a story that reminds us of being compelled – when we cannot resist doing something that we HAVE to do when we realize we are in the presence of God. [Pause]
We have been thinking in these past few weeks about who we are and where we are as a congregation during this post-pandemic days. I have described for you the challenges that are before us regarding our membership and financial picture. This will all be made much more explicit during our Annual Meeting today. We are not unique. The vast majority of Christian congregations are facing similar issues, and most have proposed similar strategies to turn things around. The answers are not rocket science. In fact, they are fairly straight-forward. But I wonder if this story from the gospel of John might not open our hearts to something deeper than the obvious solutions.
Remember what happened to the woman in her encounter with Jesus. After she realized just how parched she was spiritually, and after she felt springs of living water quenching the thirst in her soul. She what? Left her water jar behind and went to tell others – sharing her experience – inviting them to “come and see.” Forgoing her reason for coming to the well, she left behind the weight and encumbrance of her water jar to return to the city. This woman who would have been suspect in her community did not care what others thought. She knew what she HAD to do. And there was nothing that could stop her.
Oh, that we might have that kind of conviction. To let go of – to leave behind – that which we no longer need. That which may be weighing us down – in order to do what we HAVE to do. What we feel compelled to do. What we must do. That which we feel God is calling us, challenging us, and empowering us to do.
I think this is where we begin. Mindful of the challenges that lay before us, we must ask ourselves – what are we carrying around that does little more than slow us down? That which is no longer useful. That which we need to leave behind so that we might be faithful. So that we might invite others to “come and see” what we have discovered here at Keawala’i.
This is not a time to wring our hands and live in fear worrying that we may not survive. Indeed, we may not so we cannot ignore that possibility. But we cannot live there. We cannot remain paralyzed when there is so much work to be done – so much we HAVE to do. And so much that is completely in the realm of possibility if we drink from the well of living water – the well that will never run dry. The soul nourishing well that will give us the strength to go forward – Imua as we say here.
I invite you to come and see. “Come and see” in prayer. “Come and see” in fellowship. “Come and see” in service. “Come and see” in full participation of what God is calling us to do now, in this place. Come and see what we “have” to do. And may God give us the strength to do it.