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The Rev. Joseph Winston March 27, 2011
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 There seems to be a certain type of person who takes great pleasure in telling you the end of the story before you have even started watching the movie or reading the book. Maybe you know someone like this. This individual brings you every last detail of a ﬁrst run movie before it opens in theaters. How does he do it? He downloads the entire ﬁlm from the Internet before the show appears in theaters and watches the whole movie from beginning to end. (Does the program BitTorrent ring a bell for anyone?) Now, he can describe for you all the details of what is going to happen, whether you want to hear them or not. People who want to know how a story turns out before anyone else does, often go to extreme lengths in order to be the ﬁrst one that has read the entire book.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
Early drafts of the work and advanced copies of the manuscripts do not always stay in the hands of editors. These rough versions of the document are “spirited away” to eager fans that then read every word. Sometimes the shipping companies help. Instead of waiting for the ofﬁcial ship date, a few copies leave early and the waiting audience quickly devours the book. Scholastic Press had this “problem” with the Harry Potter series. If you wanted to read the book without knowing the ending, it often was difﬁcult to do that without people wanting to tell you everything. This type of behavior is not limited to the motion picture or the publishing industry. There are some sports fans that want to know the outcome of a big game before everyone else. In the days before the Internet and cable news networks, these people carefully tuned their AM radios to the team’s ﬂagship station. With a good antenna and a little bit of luck, you could hear the plays and you knew the ﬁnal score before the next newspaper was delivered. If you happen to be one of those individuals who like to know the ending before everyone else does, I have some Good News for you. Eternal life starts now (John 4:14).2 And I am so sorry to spoil the surprise for anyone that did not want to discover how your life turns out. It all starts when Jesus demands a drink of water from her.3 She then tells Him the basic facts of life that Samaritans and Jews do not get alone.4 Next, she points
Moloney cites the following examples: 6:51; 6:58; 8:35; 8:51-52; 10:28; 11:26; 12:34; 13:8; 14:16 S.D.B. Francis J. Moloney; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 123. 3 The word give is a command (δός second Aorist, active, imperative, second person from δίδω ι). 4 Most Jews of the day viewed the Samaritans as “mixed blood” and because of this attitude
out the blatantly obvious fact. Jesus has no way at all to get water out of a well. Jesus replies there are two types of water in this world. One comes from sources like a well. When you drink this water, you still need and want more. Then there is the water Jesus gives. If you do not reject His gift, you never need another drink because one is all it takes to give you eternal life that begins right now. This all-important detail about your story seems to be like the unexpected lightening bolt out of a clear blue sky for many Christians. They grew up in a different world. It was one of certainties. You, your neighbor, in fact everyone you knew, followed Jesus. There were of course some differences if you looked hard enough but one constant remained unchanged. The vast majority of the population was a Christian. Everyone was expected to be in church on Sunday and to make it to the midweek worship service too. Between work and play, you took the time to memorize the Bible along with all the important details of your faith. For Lutheran children, this included the Small Catechism. The experience of the realities of this life, with its pain and the ﬁnality of death, along with your knowledge of the Bible, taught you an important lesson that you will never forget. Today, in fact yesterday and tomorrow, is not what it should be. You cannot keep the promises that you make. You and your loved ones hurt. You know this is not right. So, what you do next is completely natural. You create a different reality where all the problems go away. Now, there are two worlds: the one you currently live in
relations between two were very “hostile.” Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 120.
and the one to come. The one here will one day pass away and in its place, there will be something better than before. What then happens makes sense too. You begin to ignore the end of your story found in today’s lesson about the Samaritan woman at the well. The gift of living water that Jesus promises, the one sip that satisﬁes forever, no longer happens in this life. Anyone who tries to ﬁnd it, why they are on the search for the mythical “fountain of youth.” You know they will never ﬁnd it no matter how hard they try. Today is not all that different from yesterday. Things still do not go, as they should: no big surprise there. The poets on the radio know this too: Well everybody hurts Sometimes, everybody cries, And everybody hurts Sometimes And everybody hurts Sometimes – Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe (REM) What has changed is the certainty that used to exist in the past. Now, not everyone you know is a Christian. And if truth be told you have your doubts too. Your grandchildren ﬁnd time for sports and things like that but they never seem to have the time to “go to church” much less study the Bible. And memorization, why that is old fashioned and no one does that any more. Then there are your own children. The ones you raised in the faith. Today, they cannot be bothered to spend any time with the Word any more. It is like they have forgotten everything you taught them. 4
Also missing from the scene today is the idea of the two worlds. For if Jesus is gone, then there is no need for Heaven or for that matter hell. All you have left is the here and now. After that, you are gone. This worldview, the one most people share today, just like the one that came before, leaves out Good News that Jesus wants to tell at the end of your story. You cannot hear that everlasting life starts now for you believe another existence beyond today is nothing more than a myth. Both the way we looked at the world yesterday and our current outlook today, seem to completely silence the message Jesus proclaims in today’s lesson that the living water He gives us brings us eternal life that begins right now. One way out of this problem is to simply ignore Jesus. Be warned though. This approach leads to madness. Taken to its extreme, you will never be able to tell when Jesus is speaking the truth and when He is just pulling your leg. Another possible idea is to say that Jesus speaks in the abstract. This is not any better than before. You still cannot make any decision when Jesus is telling it like it is or when He is only giving you His well informed opinion. There is another way and it goes something like this. What Jesus says is totally true and your experience of the world, both yesterday and today, is real but not completely accurate. This means that Jesus does give living water and it changes lives, so much so that you will live forever. All that is left is one small but very important adjustment to the way we look at the world. What we regularly forget is this. We live in the time between Lent and Easter. In this season of our lives, you never know everything. You cannot answer 5
with certainty any of the big questions like, “Why do the good suffer and the evil do not?” All you can do is trust in the God who loves the world so much that He sent His Only Son. Here in Lent, there is pain. No sane person would deny that fact. Your friends have aches that never go away. Your family has troubles that you cannot ﬁx. There is nothing in the world that will remove the scars you carry. You hurt. It takes every bit of faith that you have to believe Jesus is here with you just like He was for the woman at the well. Before Easter, death is our constant companion. You have buried far too many people that you love. You miss them dearly and want to tell them things you just could not like, “Your great-granddaughter is quickly growing up and I want to invite you to her wedding this summer.” Or, “Your great-grandson inherited your love of music. You should hear him play.” You dearly want to have faith in what will come but it is so difﬁcult. You and I, we, are a Lenten people slowly moving toward Easter. Do not believe for a single moment that your progress is anything that you do. Far from it, it is Jesus who is the One who brings you along. You heard in today’s lesson that Jesus brought faith to the woman and Jesus does the same for you. At any time, do not think that the journey will be easy. It will not be that way. The world must extract all that it can from you and that hurts. Add in your own missteps, you know what they are, and it becomes difﬁcult to take a single step in public. Jesus knows this. He is waiting for you and will lift the burden that this life brings just like He did for the Samaritan. 6
The path you take between Lent and Easter requires that you drink and eat. Jesus has given you both water and food. In baptism, He gave you living water. In the meal we share, Jesus provides you His Body. Take and eat. You will need your strength to make it through to another day. The end of the journey will come for you one day. You have nothing to fear. You have already heard the end of the story and there is nothing frightening in it at all. Jesus told you that you will live and that is exactly what you will do. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”5
Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).
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