Sermon 3/8 The Ripple Effect

Date: March 8, 2020
Scripture Lessons: Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42
Sermon: The Ripple Effect
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

This past week our daughter, Angela, and her husband, Andy, and our grandchild,
Soren, came to visit from the Boston area. While they were here, Angela and Andy
went to the Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Now Andy is very political and has a
master’s degree in public policy so he tends to make his views known. On this
trip he brought a Warren for President hoodie and a Support Planned Parenthood t-shirt. As they were getting ready to go to the Strawberry Festival, Angela
specifically instructed Andy not to wear anything from his political wardrobe. She
didn’t want it to cause problems at the Strawberry Festival. And, as it turns out,
there was quite a bit of open support for the current president at the Festival from
flags at booths to stickers on food trucks. From Angela’s perspective, they were
going into enemy territory and she did not want to have to engage with the enemy
she simply wanted to eat strawberry shortcake and go on the rides in peace.

In the story we heard this morning about the encounter between Jesus and the
woman at the well, Jesus is in enemy territory. The Jews and the Samaritans were
bitter enemies as often happens with different branches of a religious movement
that stem from the same stalk. The religion of the Jews and the religion of the
Samaritans had roots in ancient Hebrew culture but they divided in a controversy
over the correct location for the cultic center of their religion. The Samaritans
thought that Mount Gerizim was the proper center for cultic worship. The Jews
thought that Jerusalem was the correct location hence the comment from the
woman at the well: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that
the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” [4:20] This dispute had
persisted for hundreds of years.

So, as the story starts, Jesus is in Samaria, enemy territory, which incidentally had
a very arid climate. And it is the middle of the day and he is thirsty and has no way
to draw water from a well. Jews and Samaritans don’t intermingle. Also, a male is
not to talk to a female in public. Period. And a rabbi certainly is not to be
speaking openly with someone with a questionable lifestyle. As we hear in the
story, Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, encounters a Samaritan woman at the well. And she
has had 5 husbands and is currently living with yet another man. So, no
conversation, of any kind, should ever be taking place between these two people –
as the disciples point out when they arrive on the scene: “Why are you speaking
with her?” [4:27]

Jesus is definitely making waves. He is troubling the water. Talking with a
Samaritan. And a woman, no less. And a sinful woman at that. He is defying the
religious, racial, gender, and social dictates of his context. This conversation
should not be taking place. But instead of casting this conversation as an
interaction between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman, Jesus casts this
conversation as an exchange between between two human beings who have
something to give each other. She can give him water from the well. He can give
her living water. Reality is turned upside down. Social dictates are eroded.

Jesus offers the woman living water; water that is moving, bubbling, fresh,
flowing, springing forth with new life. It is not stagnant water that cannot support
life, that has no refreshing power. Jesus offers this nameless woman a new reality
and she accepts it. Whatever it is that honors her full humanity, she is ready to take
it.

And then we see how life giving and life changing this living water from Jesus
really is. You see, this woman is at the well at noon. That is not the time to be
coming for water. Women go to the well in the early morning when the
temperature is cool. And they go together because it is a time of important social
connection and community. But this woman, with her five plus husbands, is not
welcome in the community of women that go to the well together each day, and
share their joys and concerns, and laugh and cry together. No, she is not welcome
in the company of women. She is ostracized, vilified, shunned. So she goes to the
well alone, at noon, in the heat of the day, to avoid any unpleasant encounters. She
lives in enemy territory herself even though she is a Samaritan living in Samaria.
But this living water she has received from Jesus is life giving water. It is rippling,
running through her. And she is so stunned by its power, that she rushes back to
the village. Leaves her water jug behind. And she pours out her experience to the
people of the village. She shares her life changing encounter with the villagers, her
enemies, because she does not want them to miss out on this living water, this
spiritual life force. She ventures into the enemy territory of her own town to save
her enemies.

The living water of Jesus is having a ripple effect beyond Jesus to the woman and
beyond the woman to the town. And on from there. It is still rippling in us today
as we share this story. When we experience the love of Jesus and seek to follow in
his way, we find that he erodes our prejudices, he washes away our gender bias, he
carries off our religious exclusivism, he cleanses us of our nationalistic narrow
mindedness. Jesus washes us clean of everything that sullies our pure humanity.
Everything that obstructs community. His living water cleanses us of hatred and
arrogance. We love even our enemies and, like the woman at the well, seek their
highest good.

The course of the living water of Jesus is a path of forgiveness, a way that washes
away barricades and walls, and creates bridges and connections. Once we have
received it, once it has refreshed us and washed away all that obstructs our being in
the new reality of Divine Love, we are born anew awash with living water like
amniotic fluid. A new beginning.

The authenticity and the sincerity of the Samaritan woman’s spiritual experience
can be seen in the fruit that is borne. She is not just happy to be forgiven and
accepted and set straight in her theological thinking. She is not just grateful for
what Jesus has done for her. Because with Jesus, if it is real, it means that it is not
just for you, it is for you to share. And share she does. She goes to her hostile,
mean spirited village, and offers them the life-giving experience she has received.
She shares. She offers to slake their thirst once and for all.

That is the way of Jesus. If you do not see evidence of the ripples of the way of
Jesus, of his crossing divides and dismantling barriers and affirming our common
humanity with compassion and grace, then its probably not the living water of
Jesus Christ. His living water is not just for us, it is for everyone, and it always
ripples away from us to others.

A couple of months ago, we went to a political rally in Straub Park here in St.
Petersburg. It was a demonstration in support of the impeachment process. Now I
know we don’t typically discuss politics to this degree in church but regardless of
your party affiliation or your voting preferences there is simply no way to square
the beliefs and behavior of the current president with the way of Jesus. So, we
went to this rally and there were a couple of supporters of the president at the rally
with signs and MAGA swag. As the rally was ending, I made it a point to go up
and talk with them. I introduced myself. I shook hands with them. They asked if I
supported the president. I said no. But I wanted to thank them for coming to the
rally. I told them I believed that everyone should have free speech and should be
free to express themselves. They deserved to be respected because they had a right
to be there like everyone else. I said we all have to live here together in this
country. We need to understand each other. I told them I respect their dignity and
their right to self expression. They were surprised at how friendly I was.

I hope when they get the next email from the current administration telling them
that “they” – the liberal progressive left – hate you, they will remember the woman
from Straub Park who was so friendly.

As an aside, a demonstration supporter came up to me after I spoke with the
Trumpers and asked if I supported the president. I made my views clear. He
proceeded to yell at me for talking with them. I told him the same thing I told
them, we all have to live here together in this country. We need to understand each
other. And everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.

We have to let the living water of Jesus wash over us, well up in us, bubble forth
from us, flow out around us. The world is in desperate need. Conditions are
perilous. Life is threatened.

Living water is powerful. Rivers wear away stone. Cataracts carve the landscape.
After the Japanese tsunami of 2011, currents carried personal belongings washed
from Japanese homes over 5,000 miles to the west coast of North America. May
the living water of Jesus ripple through us to transform the world. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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