March 19, 2017
John 4:5-42, Exodus 17:1-7
“Water for All”
For ten years, I directed Called Back to the Well, a spiritual renewal program for clergy and congregations. Most of our retreats were held at the Norbertine Center in the South Valley. In the gathering area outside the sanctuary is a large rock. The monks found this rock and wanted it to be a fountain so they got someone to drill a hole through it. Every retreat I led began and ended at this water rock. Every retreat began with the story of the woman at the well that you just heard. We opened with the question, “For what do you thirst?” We talk about water a great deal in the desert. We can’t forget that water is not to be taken for granted. When I lived in Oregon, I didn’t think much about how precious water is. It seemed as if we had more than enough water.
I drink a lot of water. I almost always have a glass or bottle of water with me. Nothing satisfies me like water does. It doesn’t occur to me to consider what would happen if I were thirsty and I didn’t have water readily available. When my family takes road trips, I make sure we each have water bottles and plenty of water to refill them. When I hike with my dog, I bring water for both of us.
I have been thinking about immigrants and refugees. I know I have much to learn. I grew up in a comfortable home with access to food, water, education, and extra-curricular activities. I have never feared that I would lose my life because of violence in my neighborhood. I have always found jobs to support my family and myself. I have traveled and seen amazing things. I want to learn what life is like for someone who has had to flee violence or who couldn’t feed a family and left everything, including children, to find work.
As we read the scriptures in text study, I noticed that everyone is thirsty – the Israelites are thirsty, Moses is thirsty, Jesus is thirsty, the Samaritan woman is thirsty. On the surface, these people have little in common. One thing they all have in common is thirst. Thirst does not limit itself to straight people or gay people or trans people, it doesn’t choose black over white over brown, and it doesn’t seek only women while sparing men. Thirst is universal. It belongs to all of us. We cannot live without water. Over 3,000 people have died in the Arizona desert since 1999. I’ve been reading a book called Enrique’s Journey. It tells of a 17-year-old boy whose mother left Honduras eleven years earlier to create a better life for her family. Enrique misses her terribly and decides he will come and find her in the United States. He is beaten, robbed, arrested, deported several times, wounded as jumps on and off the train, and he is thirsty, so thirsty.
No matter how different my life has been from someone coming to this country from Honduras or Syria or Somalia or Mexico; we all thirst. The United Church of Santa Fe is taking their confirmation class to the Arizona border next month to provide water for those seeking refuge in this country. Jesus is very clear that we are called to offer water to one another (Matthew 10:42) and he reminds us that when we offer water to someone, we are giving water to him. (Matthew 25:35) In last week’s gospel reading, Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born of water and the spirit. (John 3:5) Water shows up in scripture over and over as a powerful reminder of God’s presence.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman could not be more different. Jesus is a Jewish male and by engaging a woman from Samaria, he makes it clear that God’s message of love and healing is for all people. Jesus will not restrict God’s love to a privileged few.
That’s where this story comes home for me today. God’s living water is for all, not just the ones who were born in the United States. It is not just for people with white skin, or advanced degrees, or money. Our job as followers of Jesus is to break down the barriers that separate us and make us believe that we are different and that different means that we are better.
Prejudice and division isn’t a new phenomenon. The division between Samaria and Jerusalem went back as far as the death of Solomon in 920 BCE. Samaria was established to rival Jerusalem. They had once been a single nation. After Samaria was created, the rivalry grew which led to war and deep hatred. John Shelby Spong says that this is a metaphorical story illustrating the deep animosity between Jews and Samaritans. The woman represents all of Samaria and Jesus represents the Jews. This conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman teaches us that divisions in the human family can be overcome in Jesus’ new human consciousness. Jesus is saying that, “Samaria will be part of a new Israel where no one is excluded. This story is not about sexual immorality; it is about faithfulness to God who draws us beyond human barriers, human divides, and human prejudices.” (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, pp. 100-105)
Spong goes on to say, “The woman leaves her water pot to become an evangelist, just as John and James had earlier left their fishing nets to follow Jesus. The mission to the Samaritans is now in the hands of a woman, meaning that another barrier in the human family is being overcome. Jesus is a barrier-breaker. Before him falls the human division first between Jews and Samaritans and then between women and men. A vision of ‘the realm of God’ begins to come into view.” (106)
That is our job – to be barrier-breakers. Jesus continually draws the circle wider to accept those who have previously been excluded. We must do the same. When I asked who the Samaritans are today, folks in text study first named those who are undocumented. That is where we begin. We will meet after worship today to discuss how we break barriers that separate us from immigrants.
This fall, our youth and adults did a study together on White Privilege. They recognized the truth in Maya Angelou’s words: “Prejudice is a burden which confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” (All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, p. 155) We must face our prejudices and then break down the barriers that separate us. There is a scene in the movie Hidden Figures where the white woman supervisor, Vivian Michael looks at Dorothy Vaughan, a black woman who has served as supervisor to other women, but not received compensation or recognition for her work. Vivian has continually talked down to Dorothy and treated her as insignificant. In a moment of seeming humanity, Vivian says to Dorothy, “Despite what you think, I don’t have anything against y’all.” Dorothy looks at her and replies, “I know you probably believe that.” When we are the people of privilege, it is easy to pretend we treat everyone the same, but let’s be honest…don’t we choose to not look homeless people in the eye sometimes?
“Remember that God came to the Samaritan woman in the form of someone against whom she was deeply prejudiced. God may come to us in the same way. If we are to experience Jesus, we will have to look into the eyes and into the face of an individual or group against whom we harbor prejudice.” (http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/4784/slow-to-believe)
We like to imagine that Jesus looks like us and maybe even thinks like us and acts like us. We like to believe that Jesus would be offended by the same things we are. Our current administration talks about the need for a wall that will separate us from others. Jesus came to take down walls. When his disciples return to find him talking to a Samaritan woman, he tells them to look around at all the fields that are ripe for harvesting. Everywhere he looks he sees people to be included in God’s realm. He asks us to look around at those who have been rejected by society and he tells us in no uncertain terms that they are us and we are them. He tells us to give them water and he reminds us that when we give water to them, we are quenching his thirst at the same time.