Faith United Methodist Church
March 19, 2017
Third Sunday of Lent
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: John 4:5-30, 39-42
Prayer for Illumination (Unison):
Spring of eternal life, well up within us and wash away our fears. Sweep away the impediments that keep our hearts from loving others as you have loved us. Give us the confidence of the Samaritan women, that we might share with others the good news of your mercy and compassion. In the promise of your grace, we pray. Amen.
And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Sermon: Everything I’ve Ever Done
Regrets, I’ve had a few. You probably recognize that as a line from Frank Sinatra’s popular song, “My Way.” Regrets. We’ve probably all had a few. A few things we wish we’d done differently. A few things we wish we hadn’t done at all. A few things we wish we had done. Regrets are often experienced as the “if onlys.” If only I had taken better care of my health. If only I had spent more time with my children. If only I had spoken up when I had the chance.
And regrets have a way of sticking with us. We kick ourselves for what we should have done differently. We get down on our younger selves for decisions we made before we knew better. One of my regrets ~ among many ~ is that when I was a 19-year-old sophomore in college taking a class in London, England I didn’t visit John Wesley’s Chapel. The 42-year-old Methodist pastor that I became would really like to have had that experience. And that is certainly one of my more trivial regrets.
This is the third Sunday of our Lenten Series “Emptying our Plates.” We use the expression, “I’ve got a full plate,” to mean that we are too overwhelmed to take in ~ or take on ~ one more thing. Yet, when our plates are too full we risk missing out on the joys and miracles that life can unexpectedly bring. And our plates can be full with a lot of things. Our plates can be full with tasks or fears or responsibilities. Our plates can be full with opinions or grudges or regrets. Our plates can be full with disappointments or sorrows or shame. So, in the weeks leading up to Easter, we are invited to ask ourselves how we can empty our plates, even just a little, to make room for the miracles God places before us, not least of which is the miracle of Easter.
And this morning we meet a woman who may have a few of her own regrets. We don’t know her name, but we often refer to her as “The Woman at the Well.” Jesus, who was traveling through the region of Samaria, met this woman when he stopped at Jacob’s Well for a drink. This encounter was somewhat unusual for several reasons. First, in those days, it was not customary for a man to speak to an unaccompanied woman. Second, Jews (of which Jesus was one) did not associate with Samaritans due to centuries-old religious disagreements. In fact, when traveling, Jews often went the long way around rather than even enter the region of Samaria. So it was highly unusual that Jesus was even there in the first place.
Another curious thing about this encounter is that the woman was there. Women, who often drew the water for their families, would normally come at the beginning of the day, before it got too hot, to fill their jars and carry them back to the village. This woman, though, came to the well alone in the middle of the day, when it was hottest. Some speculate that she was an outcast, forbidden to go to the well at the more comfortable times of day when others would be there. This, however, worked out pretty well for Jesus since the woman brought a bucket and could draw some water for him to drink.
In the course of their conversation we learn a little more about this woman. It’s clear that she lived a difficult life for a woman of her day. When asked about her husband she told Jesus she didn’t have husband. Jesus then said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” We don’t know what happened to her former husbands. But we do know that a divorced or widowed woman of her culture was in a very vulnerable position. Women were not allowed to own property, so she was likely dependent on the whims of others for her security. Whoever was to be responsible for her situation, she likely had some regrets.
I wonder what she felt when Jesus told her he knew about her former husbands and her current living situation. Did she feel ashamed that Jesus knew her secrets? Did she feel angry that this stranger stuck his nose in her business? Did she wonder where Jesus got his information? It doesn’t seem so. In fact, she ran back to her village (the village where she was likely an outcast) and told everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” And, guess what? They followed her. Suddenly she wasn’t the disgraced woman they tried to avoid. She was the bearer of Good News. The Gospel even tells us, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’”
How would you feel if you came across someone who knew everything you have ever done? And I mean everything? My mind would probably immediately go to all the mean or careless or dishonest things I have done. Regrets, I have a few. But, you know what? Jesus knows everything we have ever done, and not in the Santa-Claus–naughty-or-nice kind of way. Jesus knows everything we have ever done and offers us living water.
The living water Jesus offers us isn’t to quench our physical thirst. Thirst was a word Jesus used to refer not only to physical needs but to spiritual needs, as well. As Jesus explained, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Living water, in this context was a metaphor for God’s great love and acceptance. Water that never dries up ~ eternal life.
Lent is what we might call a thirsty season. We are invited to the desert. We are asked to spend time in contemplation. We are encouraged to ask ourselves some hard questions about our life. We all thirst for God’s love and acceptance. We may look at our lives and see the results of temptations, misunderstandings, regrets, wrong choices, and wonder how God could ever use us. Yet, look at the woman Jesus met at the well. She wasn’t a model Jew, a model woman, a model citizen, even a model Samaritan. She was just herself, the result of her lived experience and choices, for good or bad. And God used her to bring Good News to a whole village full of people. After that day I bet there were no more regrets in her life. Because if she changed even one thing about her life, she would not have been out at the well in the heat of the day to meet Jesus.
Sure, there are things we would all like to change about our lives. I chose to go to seminary in Bangor, Maine rather than at Boston University because I wanted to be close to someone I loved, someone I thought would be my life-long partner. I misjudged that relationship and it quickly fell apart. And I regret not taking the opportunity to go to BU. But if I had gone to Boston I wouldn’t have met Gary and who knows where life would have taken me. I might not be here today. And I believe in my heart this is where God wants me to be. So regrets? Maybe it’s time to let go of them, clear them off our plates. Because, like the woman at the well, we never know when we might cross paths with Jesus and be offered living water. Amen.