Lent 3

March 12, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Exodus 17. 1-7. The Israelites are traveling through the desert after their escape from Egypt. They have no water, but by God’s command Moses strikes a solid rock, and out flows water.

Psalm 95. Though the psalm ends on a sour note, it celebrates God’s life-giving grace, and refers to the event of water from the rock at Meribah (meaning a place of testing).

Romans 5.1-11. The Apostle Paul says suffering leads to hope, which never lets us down. And this: “Christ died for the ungodly.” So know that God loves us unconditionally, and that we are reconciled with God. Therefore we are at peace. We can endure suffering knowing that God is with us.

John 4.5-42. Jesus speaks with a woman at a well in Samaria, disregarding taboos against rabbis speaking publicly with women, as well as Jewish prejudice against Samaritans. They talk about worship, the coming of the Messiah, and living water—flowing water—that gives eternal life.

Note: Consider presenting this story as a dramatic reading, with roles for Jesus, the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and a narrator.

Preaching Thoughts

Water from the rock
Maybe the miracle is that there was water there. Maybe it’s that Moses, trusting God, hauls off and strikes the rock. What a great way to make a fool of himself—except that he trusts God, and God is trustworthy. Maybe the word is to act boldly for the sake of the people. Maybe it’s to trust God’s providence. We don’t need to know how God provides, just trust that what we need is there. Maybe it’s that in the dry places in our lives, even within ourselves, there are secret springs of water gushing up to eternal life—if only we trust it.

Suffering and hope
Of course not all suffering automatically leads to hope. Let’s not kid ourselves. Suffering often leads to despair. Paul isn’t glorifying pain as a Christian virtue. It’s not that we enjoy or value suffering. It’s that even suffering can be the soil where hope grows. Hope doesn’t mean believing things will get better. Sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t mean things will turn out OK. (They didn’t go so well for Jesus, or thousands of martyrs…) Hope isn’t really about the future as much as the present. Hope is trust in what is already present but unseen. Even when we’re hurting, trust in the mystery of grace turns our suffering into the soil of hope. We see the Big Picture, the reality of Love that surrounds and upholds and permeates our lives, so that even when we’re suffering we know we belong to something lovely. The sense that “all shall we well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich says, is not that things will improve in the future, but that when all is added up—all of it— it’s all good; even the bad parts are redeemed by being embedded in goodness. Trust bin this mystery is what gets us through the rough patches, and enables us to endure suffering with hope.

Christ died for us
Paul says “Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s pretty universal, huh? Some people spin this toward guilt: Jesus died for you, so you ought to believe in him. But Paul is not brokering a transaction. This isn’t about what you need to do, but what God does. Jesus embodies how God thinks so highly of us that God is willing to die for us. The point is not that you should have some opinion about Jesus’ death, but that God loves you that much. Maybe faith has something to do with allowing ourselves to see ourselves as that lovable and beloved. Even at our most ungodly.

Reconciled
Paul says we will be saved through Christ from the wrath of God. The old substitutionary tale has it that Jesus “saves” us by taking the punishment that God originally imposed on us. Well, I don’t see how that reconciles us to God. The thought of God intending my destruction, requiring Jesus’ intervention, does not draw me close to God. No, I don’t think being saved means being saved from God. I think we’re saved from our distrust of God, by God’s self-sacrificing love. We’re saved from thinking God is wrathful toward us. In fact God is loving and loving only, and coming to trust this (through Christ’s love) is truly liberating—that’s salvation, and that’s true reconciliation with God.

Woman at the well
Remarkable Thing #1: Jesus knows her story. Is he omniscient? Does he read minds? Maybe he’s just a really good listener and picked up clues. Women didn’t have the power to initiate divorce. So she has been used and thrown away five times. And now the guy who she’s with doesn’t have the decency to marry her. She’s not a sinner; she’s a victim. Coming to the well at noon, long past when you want cool, clean water, clearly she’s a social outcast. Remarkable Thing #2. Still he treats her like a peer. He doesn’t relate to her as a needy person, a victim, a loser, but as a whole, intelligent person. Like, “I recognize your pain, but it sounds like you want to talk theology.” That in itself is healing. She’s not defined by her need. And Jesus not only oversteps social taboos about class and gender and Jews and Samaritans—especially rabbis and Samaritans—but he goes so far as to treat her as a worthy peer, to engage in theological banter as he would with another rabbi! In fact they converse longer than Jesus talks with anyone else in the Gospels. He’s in his element: no trickery, no game playing, just exploration. Note: Jesus loves questions.

A spring of water
John plays with the symbolism of the water in the well and in our hearts, and the woman’s thirst for water of both kinds. “Faith” is not about certainty or even belief at all, but about reaching out. The woman has faith because, to borrow some language from Matthew, she hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And she is satisfied. Jesus (John) gives us the beautiful image of “a spring of water in you gushing up to eternal life.” It’s a gift that comes from beyond—but from below, not above, from deep within. (Yes, God is beneath us, giving life.) The spring is unfailing, unaffected by passing weather, unpolluted by use or misuse, fresh and life-giving. Baptism and Eucharist in one gulp.

She left her jug
Of course. Because she knew she was coming back., She went specifically to call other people to Jesus. Yep, the first Christian evangelist, and a very effective one, calling people to Christ. Which, by the way, feeds Jesus. “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

A reflection

           A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” —The woman comes to the well because she wants water—but Jesus wants something from her. What might Jesus be asking you for?       
           “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.) —What separates you from God, or makes you feel unwelcome, unworthy or unwanted by God? Name it… and imagine Jesus accepting you anyway.
           “
Where do you get that living water?” —Where do you seek spiritual nourishment? Do you receive it it? Is it adequate? Is God leading you to dip into a deeper well?
           “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.” —Imagine this spring of God’s love flowing up in and through you right now.
           “Y
ou have had five husbands.” —Jesus brings her brokenness to light—she is “damaged goods”— but he does not judge her for it. What hurt, shame, guilt or fear burdens you? Offer these to God. Let God take them from you.
           “Worship in spirit and truth.” —What does it mean to you to worship God? Be mindful of God’s presence and God’s loving grace. Be present; make yourself available to God.
           She said to the people, “Come and see…” and they left the city and were on their way to him. —She was an outcast, but like water from a well, Jesus has drawn a wonderful gift out of her. What gifts might Jesus see in you? What good news might he be asking you to bear?
           
“I have food to eat that you do not know about.” —Imagine Jesus has been spending this time with you, right now—not because it’s his duty but because it nourishes him. Dare to delight in Jesus’ delight in you.
           Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. —Jesus doesn’t regard her according to her shame, but according to the gifts he sees in her. Ask God for the gift of seeing people as Jesus sees them: as gifted, worthy and beloved, even as they are brokenhearted and in need of healing. Imagine all people in this light. Imagine God’s love flowing out from you like a “spring of water gushing up,” spreading to al people, all living beings, all creation. Give thanks for this spring of living love in you, flowing from the heart of God.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, we come, thirsty for your Word.
All: You offer to us flowing water, and we give you praise.
Loving Christ, we come to you hungry for your grace.
You touch living springs within us, and we give you thanks.
Holy Spirit, we come to you thirsty, yet you hunger for us to be vessels for you.
You nourish us for service, and we give you our lives. Thanks be to God.

2.
Leader: Everyone who drinks water will be thirsty again.
All: But those who drink of the water that Christ gives us will never be thirsty.
The water that Christ gives will become in us
a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
Christ, give us this water, so that our spirits will never dry up.
We draw from the deep well of your love, O God.
Fill us with your Spirit, for we are thirsty for you.


3.
Leader: We wander in desert wastes,
All: We are thirsty for life-giving grace.
But there is water in the rock.
We come with our brokenness and need
But there is a life-giving spring in you.
We’re not sure how to worship.
But the Spirit and the truth is in you. Worship in spirit and truth.
God, we trust your grace,
and we offer you our thirst, and our worship.


4.
Leader: Desert thirst; fear and and doubt.
All: Water from the rock!
Shame and failure, heartbreak and despair.
A spring of water gushing up!
A people, ungodly and unwilling.
Love that would die for us!
This is the good news.
We give thanks, and worship.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Generous God, your Word is a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Like the woman of Samaria we come to the well of your Word to drink, to be satisfied, to receive life. Fill the jars of our hearts with your love. Draw from the deep well of your grace and change us. Make us living vessels of your love for a world that is thirsty for you. Amen.

2.
God of love, we are thirsty for you, thirsty for your love, your blessing, and your presence. We open ourselves to your grace—for you gush forth with the water of life. Renew us with your Word. Amen.

3.
God of love, we confess that the well of love in our souls sometimes runs dry. Forgive our sin, fill us with your Word, and open that spring of life in us, that we may flow freely with your love for all the world. We worship you in spirit and in truth. Speak to us. Jesus, help us listen. Amen.

4.
Leader: Like the woman who came to draw water at a well,
we come to draw life from you, O God
All: Jesus, as you spoke to her, so you speak to us now.
Fill us with your grace, and help us to worship in spirit and in truth.
May your grace become a spring of living water in us, gushing up to eternal life. Amen.

5.
God of abundant grace, as the woman came thirsty to the well we come, thirsting for your presence and your grace. Draw from the wells of salvation and pour out your Spirit upon us. Feed us with your Word, and refresh our souls with your living, flowing grace. Let your love in us be a spring welling up to eternal life. We pray in the name and the presence of Christ. Amen.

6.
Leader: We are tired and thirsty. We sit by the well our ancestors have dug.
All: Christ, you come, and offer us living water.
We wonder about life, about truth, about our place.
Christ, you cross all boundaries to speak with us, and your Word stirs in us.
We doubt our abilities. We believe people’s judgments. We feel alone.
Christ, your love changes us, and a spring of life wells up in us.
Give us, please, the living water of your life-giving Spirit,
gushing up to boundless love and the joy of being.
For this, God, we are thirsty.
Come and quench the thirsting of our souls. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Gracious God, we confess our need for your life-giving grace.
We are thirsty for you,
yet we have sought sustenance elsewhere.
We come again to the well of your mercy.
May your forgiveness, your healing and your love
become in us a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.

2.
Gracious God, before you there are no secrets.
Our sins are clear. Our wounds are open.
You see us as we truly are.
O God, we repent and turn to you,
for we are thirsty for your grace,
and hungry for the life that you alone can give.
Accept us, O God, and forgive our sins.
Heal our wounded spirits.
Wash us in the living spring of your grace,
so that guided by your Word,
we may go forth to serve you in holiness and joy.
We pray in the name of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Our hearts may be as stone, O God,
but you strike them, and out flows water.
Our hearts are empty buckets, God.
We lower them into the well of your grace.
We lower the buckets of our hearts
into the deep, clear well of your grace.

Poetry

Living water

You are not dying of thirst in a desert,
searching for the magic well of salvation.
It is within you.

Take the jug of your soul
to the place where it is filled.
When you get there, sit.

You know where it is: a shrine or a meadow,
a holy book, silence or song,
or kneeling with someone in need.

Listen to the voice in the silence,
the song in the water,
the blessing pouring out of the moment.

Let it fill you, soak in, sink deep.
It does not pass, but becomes you.
A spring opens up in you.

That for which you most deeply thirst
wells up inside you, from deep beyond,
eternally present.

There is a place in you
where God bubbles up into the world.
Build your house near that spring.

Drink deeply from that source.
Abandon your paths to other, muddy holes.
Let your life flow with this living water.

Weather or a thief
can take the water
but not the spring.

The water is not yours.
Let if flow. Other are thirsty, too.
Draw from that well. This is life.


Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God, we thank you, for you create us in your image, covenant to be our God,
and feed us with grace.
You judge the forces of oppression and work for the liberation of all your children;
you set us free from all that traps and enslaves us.
You have provided for us—bread in the wilderness and water from the rock.
You have given us Christ, the bread of life, whose spirit in us
is a spring of living water, gushing up to eternal life.
Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise.


            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He fed the hungry; he shared water with the thirsty; he taught your Way,
feasting on your Word with all who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
He called for justice and subverted the world’s judgment and divisions,
befriending the outcast and gathering a community that included everyone,
calling them to your table of grace to feast on your Word and drink of your Spirit.
For opposing unjust systems he was crucified; but you raised him from the dead.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
May your Spirit be in us a spring of living water,
gushing up to eternal life, for the sake of the world.


     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Your Spirit flows in us, a spring gushing up to eternal life. We are vessels of your grace. Send us into the world to serve, to bear witness and to bring others to the table of your love, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Loving God, your Spirit is within us, a flowing spring of love.
May we be a vessel of your grace,
an ample jug for the water of your love for all people.
Send us, refreshed, in the name and the company of Christ.
Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

The Heart of Heaven (Original song)

There’s a heart in heaven that knows you,
and speaks your name in love from heaven’s throne,
that has laughed and labored here beside you,
and says, “I know your journey as my own.”

There are eyes in heaven that adore you,
and weep with joy at the beauty of your soul,
for they see the courage of your living,
and share your deepest yearnings to be whole.

There’s a tear in heaven that remembers,
there’s a deep, weary sigh that understands;
there are gentle, wounded hands that know the struggle
to do the work of God with human hands.

There’s a voice from heaven within you,
a spring of life-giving water flowing free.
Let it flow, let grace and peace shine in you
with heaven’s loveliness for all to see.

Oh, the heart of heaven is within you,
the universe embraces you in love,
for the humble One who walks beside you
is the One who rules the sun and stars above.


I Take Up My Cross (Original song)

Congregation:
Letting go, I am held. I take up my cross and follow.

Cantor:
1. Jesus, you call to me, and draw me into your life.
2. Christ, I who thirst for you, you ask of me a drink.
3. Christ, I leave all behind, to follow you in love.
4. Your Word is a spring of life that gushes up in me.