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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lectionary Leanings- Water, Water, Nowhere Edition

Third Sunday in Lent:
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95:1-11
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42
I think I’ve preached a million sermons on the lack of faith of those wandering Israelites.

One time, I even asked the congregation to “grumble, grumble” to see the kind of sound it created.

But lately, I’ve been wondering if maybe I was looking at this from the wrong direction.

They were thirsty. THIRSTY.

Like one-third of the world's population, living under what is called ‘water stress.’ With the rate of water consumption of water growing at twice the rate of population growth, two thirds of the world’s population could be living under ‘water stress’ by the year 2025. Two thirds.

What would you do (what have you done) if you needed to get water for your children to survive? Maybe they were right to quarrel with Moses.

Likewise, this woman. Maybe she deserves a new look, too. For so long I’ve seen her as the woman who was loose. A serial monogomist. Only the text doesn’t say that she was morally deficient. She lived in a world where she had little, if any, voice or vote over her life or her body. What if her husbands came as a result of the death of her husband, a family passing her around to find someone who would take her on and care for her?

She’s at the well in the most miserable part of the day because she has (either by choice or direction) avoided the well at the times the other women would have been there. She was dry for something traditional H2O could not touch.
And Jesus knew her. He did not judge her, but entered into conversation with her. He did not preach, he invited.

Where would we be without water? Where would we be without living water?

What are you thinking this week?

"The Peace of Wild Things"
by Wendell Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethoughtof grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


  1. How apropos this is. Not only are Georgia and Tennessee arguing over their borders because of a drought, yesterday I heard on NPR about Palestinian farmers who are suffering doubly under an unusually harsh winter and a lack of water which has at least something to do with Israeli wells. I have been fortunate to live in Minnesota and Maine, where a drought means you don't water your lawn but there has never been a lack of drinking water. If God appears to the hungry as bread, how much more so, to the thirsty as water!

  2. You know, there was a good article in the Christian Century a few years ago claiming that the whole Palestinian/Israeli conflict could be solved if the water issue could be resolved...

  3. Thanks, Listing Straight, for the very provocative thoughts. I am preaching Exodus and your comments about water have given me a good entry into the text. I think we usually dismiss those Israelites as mere grumblers, as if nothing real was at stake for them. Considering the water stress people in our world are under is a helpful way to reflect on how the Israelites might have been feeling.

    When I heard Al Gore speak in Atlanta last week, he said if we named droughts the way we do hurricanes, we would have named the current one in the south, called it a category 4, and said it was headed for Atlanta. Scary!

    I take water too much for granted. What other of God's provisions do I/we take for granted?

  4. I think the woman was there by choice. She was looking for something. She was looking for Moses, for Jacob, for the others who had found wives at the well. She was looking for love in all the right places. I was thinking last night that it is interesting how important women in the New Testament have been accused of prostitution. There is absolutely nothing in the text that suggests she is a bad woman, other than she is living with a man who is not her husband. Her brother? A brother in law who has taken her in? And what about Mary Magdalene? There is nothing anywhere in any texts to suggest she was a prostitute and yet that is her reputation. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

  5. Your discussions are very interesting and helpful to me. In a few weeks (March 12th) I'm preaching for the very first time in my life :). We have Wednesday Lenten services and the ministers all decided that I should preach at one of those. The theme for our series is Hope in Troubled Times: The 7 Last Words of Christ in Contemporary Reflection. And, I'm doing "I Thirst" Hope for Social Justice in the Face of Human Privation.

    I'm rather excited about this opportunity, but at the same time SCARED TO DEATH. When one of the ministers suggested that I preach one of the Wednesdays, I said, "Sure! And will you play the organ that day?" I thought it was a fair exchange. :)

  6. The gospel this Sunday is one of my very rich. I love to dispell the idea that she was a prostitute because the TEXT DOES NOT say you all have also pointed out. I love to speak about how this is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone according to the Gospels...and it is with a woman...who argues back...and then who becomes the first real disciple because she returns to her community and sends others to see Jesus.

    I, alas, will not be preaching this Sunday. I will be visiting my new church. The Bishop will be there for confirmations. Looking forward to hearing him preach. He is a new bishop for me as this move will also involve a change in Dioceses.

    I hope you all find the texts this Sunday to be a deep well of opportunity.

  7. It seems that we are on a similar wave length for this text. I also came away with the thought that they were so very thirsty as I was pondering yesterday. Having just moved from Atlanta, the drought is very much on my mind too.
    I'm going to try and flesh out the things we thirst for, especially as mentioned by the text--water, God's presence, eternal life, etc.

  8. Annual meeting this Sunday which we are attempting to incorporate right into the worship service this year so sermon meditation it is. Water is the theme... and that's all I've got.

    Once again Listing, you have started us off well.

  9. thanks, listing, for the great start.

    I'm with the woman and I"m thinking about doing 3 short monologues - one the woman, one a disciple, one a person from the town - who each encounter Jesus in a slightly diff way, but who each end up asking "Is this the Messiah?"

    Good ideas about the water, too, though. Hmm, thinking, thinking....

  10. I'm excited by the owman at the well...I'm thinking about the idea that she was so moved by Jesus because he saw "all" of her, not just who the townspeople saw, the stereotype, the surface, or who she had come to see of herself as a result of that... but looked beyond all that, saw HER "all"...and that's what turned it for her...and then maybe asking some questions about being seen, and seeing others both by God and ourselves, soulwise, least that is where it is today.

  11. What great lessons for this week. Did y'all know that the woman at the well has a name? The western church may have forgotten her, but the eastern churches know her as St. Photini. Here's an icon of her, and more info:
    Also, St Efrem wrote a couple of his many poems on her, and his take on her marital situation was that she was something of a black widow character-- those 5 husbands had all died soon after their marriages, and the man she was living with was a sham husband. Outward marriage rites, but never consumated. A marriage that protected her from public scorn/ scandal. According to St Efrem, that was the secret that Jesus knew.

    A couple lines from U2's "Summer Rain" came to mind as I dwelt on the scripture for this week: "It's not where you're from but where you belong; it's not how weak but what will make you strong." And I think that's going to be central to wherever my homily goes...

  12. I've been reading in "Bread and Wine" about Jesus wanting followers, not admirers, and thinking about this woman in contrast with Nicodemus last week, who was certainly prepared to be an the middle of the night...and she's every bit as prepared to be an antagonist, in broad daylight...and how differently the two conversations develop. Someone I read said it's fun to watch her trying to get Jesus to "talk theology" rather than challenge her directly -- a tactic we know also! Thanks for a great start on this week's reflections!

  13. I find it interesting that the woman leaves her water jar to go tell others about Jesus. Why does she leave her jar? Was she frightened by the appearance of the disciples? Was she so excited about the living water that the earthly water no longer mattered?

    What does her leaving that water jar tell us about Jesus' message? I think this week's sermon is "Reflections on a Water Jar."

  14. I'm struggling with Psalm 95 this week. It's the attitude/speaker change mid-psalm that's really stressing me out. There's this GLORIOUS praise, and then this prophetic plea and warning. I'm not sure what it's doing or what I'm supposed to do with it. I haven't prayed or played with it yet today, so hopefully here in a few minutes I'll have a chance to do that and get some more inspiration.

    My original goal with this series was to see how the Psalms (the prayerbook of Israel) can inform and guide our own prayers. Maybe I need to get back to line of thinking and see where it goes.

  15. Juniper - - I LOVE the idea for the monologues. I don't naturally think to do things like that, but at the same time so much of my preaching ends up with sections of almost midrash - - where I wonder and suggest what might be going on inside the heads of the "characters". I need to get the courage and discipline to write something like you're thinking about.

    Logistically - - how do you deliver those? Do you give all 3 or do you ask others to read one or two of them? How do you introduce what you're doing or do you in any way that's different? What kinds of transitions do you do between the monologues? Do they stand alone (or alone together) for the sermon, or are they woven in with other expository type work? I just imagined a situation where a well picked hymn could be used before and between the different pieces. That might be an idea.

    Anyway, I'm fired up to do some different preaching now that I'm in a more flexible kind of environment, so I'd love to learn how other people are doing it!

  16. Well, I am new-ish to this blogging thing, actually, new to this pastor thing in general. But I have appreciated the postings on this site more than once and thought it time to perhaps pony-up and contribute something too. Do you know the peom by Denise Levertov "The Spirits Appeased"? It is in her collection "Breathing the Water" (fitting, I think for this week's texts). I think it has some insights for our discussion this week, though I admit to still be grappling with what they are exactly and how to not freak out my parishioners with the title. Here it is:
    A wanderer comes at last
    to the forest hut where it was promised
    someone wise would receive him.
    And there's no one there; birds and small animals
    flutter and vanish, then return to observe.
    No human eyes meet his.
    But in the hut there's food
    set to keep warm beside glowing logs,
    and frgrant garments to fit him, replacing
    the rags of his journey,
    and a bed of heather from the hills.
    He stays there waiting. Each day the fire
    is replenished, the pot refilled while he sleeps.
    He draws up water from teh well,
    writes of his travels, listens for footsteps.
    Little by little he finds
    the absent sage is speaking to him,
    is present.

    This is the way
    you have spoken to me, the way- startled-
    I find I have heard you. When i need it,
    a book or slip of paper
    appears in my hand, inscirbed by yours: messages
    waiting on cellar shelves, in forgotten boxes
    until i would listen.

    Your spirits relax;
    now she is looking, you say to eachother,
    now she begins to see.

  17. Pastor Sarah- Welcome! And thank you for the poem...

  18. Batter up!
    I get to do a homily at a nearby church this Sunday. A friend invited me to do so and I took her up on it. It is good to do something to remind myslef I am a pastor, even in this interim period.
    Thanks Pastor Sarah and welcome to you!!!
    Wish me blessings/ luck y'all as I "get back on the horse."

  19. Hmmmm....
    Well, I am the noob in all this. So here's my thoughts in no random order...

    The things that John tells us about her are probably the most significant...

    - that she was a Samaritan (no love between Jew and Samaritan) so to be a woman AND a Samaritan was kinda a double whammy AND that the disciples were surprised Jesus was talking to her

    - that she was not married to the man she lived with at the present (apparently significant enough, and probably disapproved of enough, for Jesus to mention)

    - that she was not at the well at a normal time - for whatever reason. Who knows? Maybe it had nothing to do with being an outcast, but had everything to do with the fact she needed water. period. besides, maybe her kid knocked over the last bit of water or she had used it to clean up a household of puke (can you tell we just had the flu??? LOL)

    - that she was affected by Jesus so much that she left behind a water jar AND the water... that she obviously needed

    - that what she told people about Jesus, they came to hear Jesus and as a result -- "many more" believed in Him.

    what she heard changed her so much that she HAD to tell others, and apparently affected her so much that it affected others...

    And perhaps, if I am a changed person because I have had my thirst quenched, I might have a story to share too...


  20. Hey ShRev

    "a well picked hymn" heh, punny....

    I've never done anything like this before, so I'm not sure about the logistics yet. But here's what I think will happen.

    I will give all 3 because I'll probably still be writing them on Sunday am wee hours (like we do). But I will have a lay person read the scripture, like this:
    1/3 scripture/3 minute monologue/hymn verse (repeat 3x).

    I think it will be clear that I'm doing something diff because I'll wear a purple dress thing instead of my robe and a scarf, that will change places every time -- on head, over shoulder, around waist - I tried that part today and it works :). Wont be in the pulpit, which is kind of unusual, too.

    The exegesis will be woven into the the monologue, but I wont be explaining it in the third person. For example, as the townsperson, I might say "sure, I've heard all the old stories about Jacob's well - everyone goes there to find someone to marry, right?- so when she came back saying she'd met a MAN at the well, I thought 'I know where THIS is going' but then..."

    THis is all in future tense because it's all still in my head (except what I wrote down here) so not sure how it will end up, but this is what I"m thinking...

    Sorry this comment got so ridiculously long...

  21. Yay 1-4 grace! You will be a blessing as you get back on that horse, I'm sure of it.

    Welcome Pastor Sarah!

    I'm off lectionary this week as I'm preaching at our Winter meeting of Presbytery. Our theme this weekend is mental health. I'm preaching from the 1 Kings story about Elijah's desperation in the desert and the angel who came to encourage him to get up and carry on with life.

    Listing - I love that Wendell Barry poem. It is so beautiful.

  22. Love it, Juniper. The more I thought about it, the more I loved it, and the plan you have started tossing around was sort of what I was forming in my imagination. I think the scarf part is great in helping to establish a change in character and point of view. I can't wait to hear how this goes. It's such a good story for it, too!

  23. It IS a great story for dramatic interpretation...three years ago on internship, that's what I did (we did monologues instead of sermons for all of supervisor was Satan, Nicodemus, the man born blind, and Lazarus' gravedigger...I was the woman at the well).

    This one is one of those sermons I pull out to read when I feel like a crappy preacher because it makes me feel like I can do something worthwhile. :)

    Oh, and then on Good Friday we brought all the characters back to talk about the crucifixion, which was also cool.

    Insights from three years ago I want to work into the sermon this year?
    1. The well was the singles bar of Jesus' time and ancient Israel.
    2. Going to draw water at noon was like going to the supermarket at aren't likely to run into anybody you know.

    Yeah, that's all for now. Guess it's time to pull that sermon out again and read it.

  24. If you're going to do "reflections on the water jar" Lori, I think she left her jar because she became the jar. She was so empty, and was filled to overflowing in her encounter with Jesus. She became the vessel for the good news and it spilled out to everyone around her.

  25. I have been thinking about the woman at the well... and this song fits perfectly, I think, with the need to challenge people to see who our "Samaritan women" are today. Sorry its so long, but its worth it. You can also 'YouTube' the title and hear the song, it is very beautiful and powerful:

    Kees Kraayenoord : God Of The Moon And Stars

    God of the moon and stars
    God of the gay- and singles bars
    God of the fragile hearts we are, I come to you
    God of our history, god of the future that will be
    What will you make of me, I come to you

    God of the meek and mild,
    God of the reckless and the wild
    God of the unreconciled, I come to you
    God of our life and death
    God of our secrets unconfessed
    God of our every breath, I come to you

    God of the rich and poor
    God of the princess and the whore
    God of the ever open door, I come to you
    God of the unborn child
    God of the pure and undefiled
    God of the pimp and paedophile, I come to you

    God of the war and peace
    God of the junkie and the priest
    God of the greatest and the least, I come to you
    God of the refugee
    God of the prisoner and the free
    God of our doubt and certainty, I come to you

    God of our joy and grieve
    God of the lawyer and the thief
    God of our faith and unbelief, I come to you
    God of the wounds we bear
    God of the deepest dreams we share
    God of our unspoken prayer, I come to you

    God of a world that's lost
    God of the lonely cross
    God who has come to us, I come to you

  26. Hi friends -

    I'm new here. Have been reading the last couple of weeks and love what I see! But this week I'm feeling moved to post.

    I am taking a totally different approach to this week's sermon than you all have been discussing, probably because of my own sitz-im-leben right now. I have just given notice at my parish - my last Sunday will be Easter, and I move to a new administrative call around 4/15. I met with our Session Monday evening, the congregation received my letter on Tuesday - and then I open up Exodus and read "Is God among us or not?" It just hit me between the eyes.

    I'm taking more the approach of "they named that place so that they'd always remember what happened there. What would the woman at the well name the well?" (interesting that the Orthodox church has named her!!) "And, congregation, what will you name this place where we find ourselves today, so that those to come will know what happened here? Will we quarrel? Will we recognize the one who meets us at the well? How will we deal with where we are?"

    I realize I'm in a particular situation this Sunday, but I never fail to be amazed by the way the Spirit moves through the lectionary to come up with little inside jokes. Blessings to all of you this Sunday!

  27. I am curious and wonder if any of you can help. Someone told me this week that the Greek word used when Jesus said re: the woman's husband, "the one you have now is not your husband" should more literally be translated as "the one you have now is not a man". I don't know Greek enough to check this out. This person suggested this meant the woman was in a lesbian relationship, which is an intriguing interpretation - but I would like to find a second opinion on this. Thanks to all. I enjoy reading your blogs/comments.

  28. Sallie, what a great take on this! I'm on the departure route, too, although I am Interim. This will be the first Sunday that everyone knows about the candidate for settled pastor, and it will also be the day many people find out my last day will be Easter. I'm hearing already that a few people in the church are dissatisfied with the candidate just because she is a woman or because she is coming from another state. I think these stories both offer opportunities to look for God in the present situation, as well as to be reminded that the Good News may not always come in the likeliest form or from the likeliest person.

  29. As I have been reading your remarks and some other sources the last few days, I have been thinking of why the woman had five husbands in the first place. There are only two scenarios that I can come up with. The first is levirite marriage - shades of Tamar! - and it seems that running through five brothers is a little extreme. The other is that she was divorced five times. Adultery is a logical reason to divorce the woman but then I doubt four more guys would have married her. It's not exactly New York City in Sychar and the likelihood of no one knowing about the adultery is really slim.
    That leaves a very good reason for her divorces. She is barren. My guess is that her current non-husband is not much more than a protector. Women of Jesus' day did not fare well without some kind of male presence in their lives.
    Imagine, then, how really thirsty this woman was when she went to the well. She is well and truly empty, searching for almost anything at all to fill her up.
    This will be the fourth time I've preached on this lesson. I don't think I've stretched what we know about her beyond the bounds of reasonable but I would welcome your thoughts.

  30. I have been singing to myself the Peter Paul and Mary...Jesus Met the Woman at the Well. They always sang it with such power and also such strength...not at all passive.
    I also see the India women carrying the big plastic jugs on their heads and walking along in saris with such grace.
    If we had to haul water...would we do it with grace? Yes perhaps with our moaning..

  31. Hope you ladies don't mind an occassional peek from someone on the other side of the aisle. I am impressed by the insight I found in just this one thread. I'll be back. Tomorrow morning's message (Yes, juniper68, "like we do")includes the reflection, "Every once in a while it is probably good for men to try to understand how women view the world."

  32. Well done, Pastor Dan! I am Lutheran and tomorrow the Women of the ELCA are sponsoring "Bold Women's Day." I'll be talking about this bold Samaritan woman who had the gumption to challenge Jesus and set a wonderful example for all of us as an evangelist. "Come and See" is all she says. It's all anyone needs to say. Jesus does the work, and empowers us to invite our townsfolk.


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