March 15, 2020
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 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.’
This week, more than usual, I have been reading the news, keeping updated on the quickly evolving developments of the spread of the corona virus and COVID-19. While I have been preparing with our elders for weeks, this week saw the situation escalate with a dizzying speed. The response from The President has been disheartening at best, morally irresponsible at least, if not criminally negligent. Many of our institutions leaders have refused to take leadership, and I have found myself yelling at weak emails from those who should be leading. It’s easy in a crisis for those with authority, those we hope will lead, not to act. I can understand the reluctance to act. I can hear that voice that says “Do I really have the authority to say Churches should not gather to worship? Can I really close schools? Make people work from home? Tell people they shouldn’t interact with others physically?” It’s heartbreaking in this moment to not gather together to draw near to God. We need one another. I wanted nothing more for us to be together in this moment. For me, I found myself pausing when I realized I needed to call my Mother and ask her to stay isolated this next week, at least. Who did I think I was?
Jesus in our scripture reading this morning is surrounded by people who are still working out what authority he has. What parts of their lives will they let him direct? What does he have to offer, that is worth listening to him for?
This week, I have also seen people exceeding their authority, filling the gaps left when others have refused to lead, when entire communities are looking to them for guidance. I have seen governors stepping up, teachers making decisions, parents preparing even when they didn’t know what their children’s schools would do. On our Session, Andrea Madsen has stepped forward to help us interpret the information we are hearing. Joy Brown raised the alarm early of us needing to close our doors and move to virtual worship. Leigh sprang into action to partner with Warren Elementary School to help families who are struggling. Rabbi Ariana and Pastor Emily Scott, Pastor Chris from Divinity down the street, and Pastor Tim Hughes Williams from Light Street Presbyterian got together and we will be distributing food to families in the city who need it in a safe and trauma-informed way, outside, at the Ynot lot on North Avenue. I found myself caught up in this movement to lead. I gained courage from their divisive leadership. I saw how the social distancing that has been hoisted upon us to deal with this disease didn’t have to have the last say. We needed to act, but also, we needed to create a new way of life where we could stay connected.
Jesus encounters a Samaritan Woman, someone who knows the pain of a different kind of social distancing. She’s come to the well to draw water, and Jesus is hanging out, waiting for his disciples to buy something to eat. Jesus says to her, ‘Give me a drink’. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ They’re not supposed to be interacting. But this authority, this leadership, Jesus isn’t interested in. And so they begin to talk.
This week, when the stock market was starting to crash, my phone lit up with a news alert about a circuit breaker being tripped. After a crash in the 1980’s, the stock market set up a system that pauses trading for 15 minutes if a certain percentage of the markets value is lost. The news report explained that these fifteen minutes are designed for investors to pause, and reflect. It’s a system that makes them pause, and check in. Are we acting out of unfounded fear, selling because others are? What’s really going on? And then trading begins again.
Sitting at home, drinking my morning coffee, I realized I needed to install some spiritual circuit breakers in my life. I’ve set up a few conditions that make me slow down and reflect, to contemplate what I’m doing, before I act. If I’m starting to get anxious, I stop and think of when I last ate. If the news is overwhelming me, I text someone to check in and see how they are doing. Before we’ve made decisions here at MPC, I’ve been making sure to follow the circuit breakers that our form of church government has installed. I ask our elders.
There are times when we need to lead, to act quickly. There are also times when we need circuit breakers to slow us down, to be forced to reflect.
Jesus is acting as a leader, as someone with authority, changing this woman’s life. He’s also someone who takes the time to hit the circuit breakers of his deep connection to the Holy Spirit. I love that Jesus lets himself just hang out at a well, while his disciples are busy buying food. He doesn’t have to be going all the time. When he encounters this Samaritan woman, he takes time to have a real conversation, to get to know her. And he sees the ways in which the systems of their day have failed her. He’s not content with this, and breaks down barriers. But he also does it in a way that she is involved in. She’s a part of her own liberation. She is filled with living water, and then is empowered by this blessing to share it with others, being a source of what Jesus has given her, to give it to others.
Beloved, in the days and weeks and months ahead, we are going to have to lead. We’re also going to have to have circuit breakers that cause us to stop and reflect. We all need living water, and yet we’re going to have to find different ways to come to the well than we have in the past. We might find ourselves spiraling, feeling alone. In those moments, know that Jesus knows you, and knows what you need. Our Elders have assigned themselves groups of people to check in with each week. They will be bringing you living water through phone lines and text messages. But you also might need to build in some circuit breakers for yourself. Both the Samaritan Woman and Jesus needed water, so they went to a well. And they took the time to do, and get, what they needed. If you find yourself spiraling, reach out to myself, or Leigh, or the Elder who has been assigned to you.
Because we all have a calling right now as followers of Jesus, so that we can love our neighbor, and bring healing to our world. We’ve got families with kids who don’t know how they’re going to get food. Public schools are setting up food distribution sites, but these are only providing breakfast and lunch for kids, not for parents, many of whom may be experiencing reduced hours at work. You can donate to our emergency response here through MPC, in partnership with so many others, by sending a check with COVID-19 Response in the memo line. If you are struggling, please contact me so that we can help. Many of us in our community are going to need to stay isolated, because we are over 60. The most important step you can take to lead right now is to socially distance. Stay 6 feet away from other people if you leave home. You can take a walk, you can go for a drive, but please keep yourself safe. We need you to do this for yourself, but also for those you love, and those you interact with. This goes for those of you with underlying health conditions as well. And I know you; I know that you don’t like to be told what to do, or not do. But this might be a time to flip the circuit breaker and ask yourself why that is hard to hear.
We’re going to move back and forth from being moved to action, and pausing for reflection. Jesus knows what we need to hear, to encounter, and to do both. May we trust that we will have the people in our lives, even while distanced from one another physically, to do both.
Beloved, I love you, each and every one of you. If you’re joining us for the first time, we love you as well. There is living water that we each have to receive, and share. May we take the time to pause and pull deeply from the well. To offer living water to others. To encounter our Risen Brother Jesus who is on the loose in our world. In the name of the one who was, and is, and ever more shall be the great physician, Amen.