(this is a rough draft of my sermon on Sunday)
This past August in Warsaw, Ohio there was an article about a battle between New Beginnings Ministries Church and the Foxhole Club, which is a club that provides adult entertainment using woman gifted in the art of “the dance.” It seems for four years the church has protested the club and had stood outside it with bullhorns, banners and cameras to take pictures of people’s license plates as they arrived at the club. The club owner got tired of this and he and the girls started to protest the church on Sunday mornings. They stood outside the church in bikinis and holding up their own signs with Bible quotes on them talking about ‘false prophets.’
This is one of the craziest things I had ever heard of, a club protesting a church. On some level there is truth in trying to deterring a business, like the adult club, from plaguing a community. Making money off of exploiting women, booze, and married men is not really biblical living. But is yelling at the women going to work and calling them home wreckers and probably worse, the best way to share the love of Christ with someone?
We are now at the third Sunday of Lent and we have less than a month to go before Easter. Last week we heard of the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. It was a story about the private conversation between a Pharisee and Jesus at midnight. Today the lectionary today hands us another personal encounter with Jesus. This time it is with a Samaritan woman at a well at noon. These two people Jesus talks to could not be more different than one another. First let me remind you about Nicodemus. He was an educated man who as a Pharisee was a pillar in the community. He was an insider, a somebody, a person who grew up in the faith and understood it. When he met Jesus in the night, in the darkness, it was a conversation between two men, two Jewish men. The woman Jesus meets at the well of Jacob was not education and was shunned from her community. She was an outsider and a nobody. She did not have a faith that she lived by and was embarrassed by her past. When she met Jesus at noon, in the bright light of day, it was a conversation between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman who was married five times.
The differences don’t stop there. Nicodemus seeks Jesus out but the woman at the well simply stumbles across Jesus. She wasn’t looking for him. She was just trying not to be seen while getting some water. With Nicodemus Jesus was short and direct at times even at one point making fun of him being a Pharisee and not understanding the scriptures better. With the woman at the well he is gentle and guides her. He still calls her out as living with a man who is not her husband and being married five times but doesn’t do it in a brash way. Jesus is happy to take his time with her and explain things in order for her to get it. While with Nicodemus he seems tired of those who are supposed to get it not getting it.
Although they are vastly different the grace Jesus offers up is still the same. In Nicodemus’ story we get the most quoted piece of scripture, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The woman at the well story is one of the most quoted and beloved stories in the gospel of John. Both of these conversations help us paint a picture of God’s grace and how it is different than the world. It demonstrates the levels God will go through to welcome into his flock those who are insiders and those who are outsiders. God’s love is for all.
The question today is; are we ready to accept the grace God offers to all? That is one of the great things about this story. Jesus is sitting at the well with no means to get something to drink. All the disciples are busy shopping at the grocery store getting supplies and Jesus has a seat that Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman shows up and Jesus looks at her and asks if he can have a drink. “The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans). Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus takes the everyday act of getting water, a basic necessity of life, and turns it into a chance to offer up the greatest necessity, Living Water.
The woman at the well is ready to drink this Living Water. Her heart desires to finally quench its thirst for good. I encourage you to go home and read the rest of the story because I only read the first part of it. But in the beginning of this story we do know that this woman was ashamed of her past. She comes to the well at noon. Noon is the start of the hottest part of the day. It is not the best time to do the hard work of pulling up buckets of water. That should be done in the coolness of the morning or evening. But here the woman comes at noon because then she will not meet the eyes of others in her neighborhood.
We all have people like this woman in our own neighborhoods. These are the people who cannot seem to get their lives together. Over and over again they make mistakes and gain reputations. You know the people I am talking about. It is that person whose name your mind just thought of. It is that person people point to in the grocery store or avoid eye contact with at a restaurant. It is the person we talk or text about and use the phrase, “can you believe she did that!” The woman at the well was embarrassed that at her age she had already gone through five husbands and is shacking up with a potential sixth. She is tired of the finger pointing and the murmurs so she comes to the well at noon when no else is around. The truth is if you had asked her she would have told you she was not worthy of forgiveness or love. She is a failure when it comes to life, why would she think she deserves the type of grace that could change all that?
How many of us think that too. We look at our past and what we have done and we feel unworthy. When we hear a preacher talk about grace we think to ourselves that is for other people; those creditable enough to gain such things. We look at ourselves in the mirror and we see the scars of the past, the pain that cuts into our hearts, and the sins we have committed that feel like an elephant chained to our ankle. We think we have to somehow getting it all together before we can come in front of Jesus. But the woman at the well didn’t have anything together yet Jesus meets her in her social shame and offers her the cup of living water. The truth is Jesus is standing right here, willing to give you living water, we simply have to be willing to take the cup.
If you are stranded on the ocean, bobbing up and down in a life raft for days, you will start to get thirsty. There you are without food or water for days surrounded by water. But the thing is you cannot drink the salt water of the ocean. It actually does the opposite of what fresh water does for our bodies. Humans can't drink salt water because the kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than salt water. Therefore, to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking salt water, you have to urinate more water than you drank, so you die of dehydration. It is a weird concept to think about but the more ocean water you drink the more dehydrated you get.
We are all thirsty in life. We have to have water to live but I’m talking about a different kind of thirsty. We are all thirsty for meaning in life. We all want something that makes us feel important, loved, and gives our lives meaning. The older we get I think the more we desire such a thing. This thirst is in all of us and whether we realize it or not we try to quench that thirst. We drown ourselves in things that give us the false sense of fulfillment only to put the cup down and realize we are still thirsty. We throw ourselves into our hobbies hoping that if we can only better our golf game, get that dream buck, capture the perfect moment of our next scrapbook, or take that perfect vacation. We give up our lives for the sake of our children hoping that if they get all the experiences we missed out on then they we can be fulfilled through their successes. We look to quench our thirst in the next relationship, the next job, the next big thing. We stand there gulping up what the world offers up hoping to stop our mouths from being dry. But each time we come away more thirsty than before.
Now back to the story about the church and the adult entertainment club in Ohio. After the story rolled out about the girls and club owners protesting the church some different evangelists showed up. JC’s Girls is a ministry from the Rock Church in San Diego, CA, that reaches out to the women in the adult entertainment industry. These girls use to be part of that industry and now reach out to these women to show them that they are loved by God. They flew out to Ohio and talked with the girls of the Foxhole Club. They shared their testimony and how their lives were changed by the love of God. Then they went to the church and did the same thing. As the church service was happening protests from the club were outside. Inside the people of the church were asked by the JC’s Girls if they were willing to “change the face of Christianity by standing with [them] and truly loving God’s Beautiful Girls just as Jesus would. The entire church stood with [them]…” They left the building and went out to meet the girls protesting. They prayed together, tears flowed, and lives were changed on both sides of the protest lines.
Living water was offered in this moment; water that can quench the truly thirsty. There is nothing like it and whether you feel worthy or not it is offered to you. The good news is Jesus knows your past, knows your faults, knows your sins and stands there ready to offer you Living Water anyway. He opens himself up to us to drink our fill of his grace. The question is, are we willing to receive?
The Men’s Ensemble will be singing our last hymn and I invite them to make their way up and get ready. This is the closing prayer of my sermon today and as we sing please listen to the words. They are truly powerful as Jesus stands here, in our midst this morning, offering us Living Water today.
There are millions in this world who are craving
The pleasures earthly things afford;
But none can match the wondrous treasure
That I find in Jesus Christ my Lord.
Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more—
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!