Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Lent – 15 March 2020 – St John. Felixstowe
Text: John 4v5-42
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?’ (John 4v5-9)
God give you peace, my sisters and brothers.
There is a strange irony in the fact that on the same day when we withdraw the common cup from communion we have a Gospel reading in which Jesus is thirsty. The words of Mary, his mother, trying to care for the thirsty guests at the Wedding at Cana, now apply to us ‘They have no more wine.’
Woe is us! The One we worship comes to us thirsty and in need of refreshment and he only finds help from a foreigner, who follows a different religion, and is (shock, horror) a woman of questionable, if not easy, virtue. She helps him and then runs to tell others of Messiah at the well. We? We have worries about touching and tasting, blessing and greeting.
These are, however, well justified worries. All the guidance being put in to place to prevent the spread of the latest version of Coronavirus are important and we need to follow them as thoroughly as we can or fail in our Christian duty to care for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.
Knowing this may not help us feel any better at worship and we may even feel, as we go home after the service, that we have been cheated somewhat.
What can we do with this ‘nothing’ this emptiness when we expect to come and be filled? Didn’t the prophet proclaim
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost?
What are we to do? How are we to serve? How can we help others, if we have not first been filled and slaked our own thirst?
What is there left for us to do to be less parched and how can we remove the thirst that our Lord and Saviour has sitting on the edge of the well in Sychar?
For ourselves there are many spiritual helps.
We still have the wafer, the Body of Christ which is a sufficient sacrament.
We still participate in drinking the wine as the Priest drinks not for themselves but on behalf of all of us – be assured that as I drink the wine I will be praying particularly for one of those sitting in the church.
We can take heart that this is only for a season and there are some, in nursing homes and hospitals, who only ever receive the wafer and not the wine.
And there are many ways of receiving Spiritual Communion.
The devout saying of the Anima Christi written by Ignatius Loyola is printed in the Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa especially for this purpose. It was put there because prisoners of conscience during the Apartheid era were denied the sacraments and, having nothing to receive, they chewed on the words of a prayer.
Jesus, may all that is you ﬂow into me.
May your body and blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer
but hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes
when, with your saints, I may praise you for ever.
(Anima Christi – Ignatius Loyola – contemporary version)
This week a friend told me of a scene in the original TV series of the book Shogun were a Japanese convert to Christianity asks the priest for communion, but there is no bread or wine available. She tells the priest of the Japanese proverb ‘drinking tea from an empty cup’ and so they celebrate the eucharist without bread or wine and they both receive spiritually.
And perhaps, in learning to drink from our own emptiness, our own lack of wine in church, we may learn how to satisfy our Lord’s thirst.
Yes, we can’t pour from an empty cup (so all of us need times of spiritual refreshment – just as Jesus did – at a well, on the lake, in a deserted place). However if my cup is empty it means I have come to the end of my resources and anything that flows from me will, please Lord, flow only from God.
We need this emptiness in our lives or we easily become self-satisfied and cease going on the pilgrimage of faith and life. And we worse we can easily fill people with our own prejudices and peccadilloes instead of the fire water of the Holy Spirit
Changing the metaphor, Simone Weil challenges us with these words about the Bread of Life alongside the Cup of Salvation.
Here below we must be content to be eternally hungry; indeed we must welcome hunger for it is the sole proof we have of the reality of God, who is the only sustenance that can satisfy us. The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread (God), but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.
‘Content to be eternally hungry’ is one of the most precious oxymorons of my journey of faith so far.
All we have to offer is our empty chalice, our empty lives, and offering that we can reveal our all loving-Lord to a thirsty, hungry world.
And it is vital that we go to the world empty or we will not be about the Lord’s business we will be about meeting our own needs and ensuring we are fed and watered instead of pouring out our emptiness to welcome others into the shelter of God’s love.
Jesus knew this.
Because he knew this he could speak to a foreigner.
Because he knew this he could speak to someone of a different faith.
Because he knew this he could speak to a woman.
Because he knew this, and whisper it quietly, he could speak to and even ask for help from a ‘sinner’.
And if Jesus can accept help from a foreign-faithed sinful women why can’t we receive from all those ‘out there’ who don’t feel worthy enough to, or have tried and had enough of, coming ‘in here’?
Today at communion we may feel a little empty and sad but that is a lie. Today we will leave church thirsty and hungry inspired to tell of this great love that takes our emptiness and fills us. A love that holds nothing back and cares for all. A love that laughs at disease and death and proclaims, ‘I am the resurrection and the life!’
[This blog ‘Thirsty Work’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
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[c] 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.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’