Hope in action
John 4: 1-26 & 27-42.
We have been following a narrative over the last few weeks.
Week 1. Jesus starts his ministry by showing that God’s love is initially through relationships. So he starts with people who know his cousin John, and they introduce Jesus to brothers and friends. Through that the hope spreads to the disciples.
Week 2. We see what that hope looks like at the Wedding in Cana, the hope that God is there to help us when it really matters, that God is involved in our lives.
Week 3. The cleansing of the Temple, where we see that hope sometimes confronts the way we do things, that sometimes the way we do things gets in the way of hope. Just like the way the Temple was run was getting in the way of prayer and closeness to God. So hope confronts the way that we do things, seeks to replace what we think is good for what is the best.
Week 4. How can we trust that hope? It is a wonderful idea that God would want to be in our lives, that we can feel his love, accept his guidance, but how can we trust we won’t be let down? That is the challenge of Nicodemus’ questions.
And the answer is that hope can be seen. When people see how God is working through Jesus, see the things he is doing, then they will see that hope is real.
Which leads us onto today's passage, which is really, really long.
And it is really, really long because it is so important.
Because it answers the question...who is this hope for?
To any Jew at that time the Samaritan woman would represent the worst in others.
Everybody has people they feel uncomfortable with.
It’s not that we hate them or dislike them per se; it’s just that they are different. We don't know them, maybe we don’t understand them, and so we don't know whether we can trust them or not. And we are cautious.
I call it the BUS STOP TEST. Imagine you are at the bus stop and one other person arrives. As soon as they arrive you know you don’t want to talk to this person.
You wouldn't say a word; you would just wait for the bus.
Who would that person be?
For some it might be Asian folk, especially Asian folk in different type of dress.
For some it might be someone of a different sexual orientation, especially if they are flamboyantly dressed.
For some it might be youth, you can’t trust any of them.
Maybe it is someone with a mental illness, you don't talk to them because you never know how they might react.
Or for some it might be a different religion, or someone in different football team colours, I know for some it might be different members of the same family.
We all have that person that if we were alone at the bus stop, we would not start the conversation, and we would just wait for the bus and hope it arrived as soon as possible.
Whoever you think your awkward conversation would be with, to any Jew this Samaritan woman was it.
For a start she was a Samaritan. Samaritans worshiped God but they did it in all the wrong ways. You know the type, like Roman Catholics with their candles and praying to Mary,
or Pentecostals with their thing of putting their arms up in the air when they are praying or singing.
or Baptists with their happy-clappy songs, everyone knows that God doesn't like us being happy during worship.
So they worshipped wrong, and they wouldn't listen when they were told that they were doing it wrong.
The other thing is that she is a woman. Now I know that is obvious but Jewish men did not talk to unaccompanied women.
There is no reason to do so.
A woman would either be in the company of her brothers or her husband.
Sometimes women would get together to talk about woman stuff, but no men would be there anyway so you didn't need to bother about that.
There is only one reason why a man would talk to an unaccompanied woman, and to do so would destroy his reputation.
The last thing is that she is not only a woman; she is a woman that is tainted.
Men liked their women pure. But they also had the option of divorcing them if they weren't as good as they should be. The better the family the more they could make sure that they got a good pairing for the husband, someone who would respect and care for his wife. The poorer the family the less chance of that happening.
So if the woman got a poor husband, someone who beat her up, then decided he was fed up with her and divorced her, then the woman was vulnerable. She could get married again but she is obviously not quite good enough now. So the next man could enjoy her for a while and dump her when he wanted.
The trouble for women was the power was all one way. She needs a man for food and shelter and protection. She can’t work or earn any living in a respectable way. So if she wants shelter, if she wants food, then she has to take what she is given and accept that she will be treated in whatever way they decided to treat her.
This is a woman who has been passed on five times already. The latest man won’t even give her the respect of marrying her, so she has even less rights than normal. This latest man has so little respect for her that he sends her out in the middle of the day, alone to get water, she is completely vulnerable and he doesn't seem to care.
This is a woman that hasn't felt hope in a long time.
Anyone, just by looking at her, would know exactly what type of woman she is.
Let’s imagine it wasn't Jesus that was alone at the well, let's imagine that it was one of the disciples, or all of the disciples.
There is this woman coming to the well, and there is a stranger, or a group of strange men, that she doesn't know, already there.
Best case scenario, they would sit to the side and politely ignore her. She would quickly get the water and get out of there as fast as she could.
Acceptable scenario, they make fun of her, force her to get them all water and chase her off without water for herself.
Worst case scenario, they rape her and possibly kill her.
And she doesn't know which she may face.
As far as the disciples as concerned, they would probably just ignore her. She has nothing to do with them; they don't want her to have anything to do with her.
And that is the sadness, they had already made a judgement, a decision, and their decision was that this woman was not worth it.
And that was the difference between the disciples and Jesus.
Jesus had made a judgement, a decision about this woman as well, but his decision was to respect her.
He respected her enough to ask for help.
He respected her enough to challenge her.
He respected her enough to offer her hope.
This was a woman that her whole society, and even she herself, would think of as a failure. And yet here was someone in front of her that was telling her that it didn't matter. The past was gone, but God could be with her now, and so her future could be very different.
So here’s the thing.
I was talking to one of our members last week. Remember we had the children’s address and I asked what would be the one question that we would ask God?
Well she had taken it further, she said she did this meditation thing with a group where they prepared a meal, and she told them God would be there and God would be given a seat. Which was all fine, except when they all sat down no one wanted to sit at the seat beside where God would be.
Maybe they had heard the rumour that God was a really messy eater.
The truth, more likely they didn't think they were good enough to sit next to God.
I think one of the problems we all have, is that we think that if we were in a bus stop with God, that God wouldn't want to talk to us.
God would be looking at us and trying not to make eye contact.
God would look at us the way we look at who-ever-that-awkward-person-we-don't-really- feel-comfortable-with is.
Maybe we fear that if we ever had the courage to turn round and talk to God then he would smile and politely leave the bus stop.
Like that Samaritan woman, we know we aren’t really good enough.
There are the ideas that are created in our head that really aren't worthy.
There are attitudes that we have that aren’t worthy.
There are things we have done that we will always be ashamed of.
There are so many reasons why God wouldn’t want to get involved in our lives, just as there were so many reasons why Jesus shouldn't have talked to this woman.
There is only one reason why Jesus did talk to this woman, there is only one reason that God does want to be involved in our lives...because he doesn't care about our past mistakes or attitudes or bigotries...he just cares about us.
That’s the hope Jesus gives that woman.
That’s the hope that Jesus offers to us.
And that hope isn't just some wishy-washy emotional thing, that hope is transformational.
This is a woman that starts as rightly suspicious, fearful, hurting, surviving from moment to moment, and caring only for herself because no one else is caring for her.
And she goes from that to someone willing to reach out to others, probably the others who had treated her so badly.
Reach out to those who looked down on her and judged her and refused to help her in the past, those who had thought the worst of her in the past.
She could love for them, she could care for them.
And that then changed her community.
Antony De Mello used to tell the story of the monastery that was dying and morale was very low. So the abbot went to the local mystic for advice and the mystic said, ‘I can't understand why your monastery is dying. Don’t you realise that Christ is within your monastery?’
‘Which one is it?’ asked the abbot. But the mystic never said another word.
So the abbot went back and told the monks that the mystic told him that one of them was the Messiah.
Not knowing which one it was, each monk treated every other monk as if they were Christ, because the truth that each monk knew was that it had to be one of the other monks because it certainly wasn’t them. Soon the monastery became renowned for the way the monks treated each other with care and respect and love. Before they knew it their respect for each other became famous and soon others sought to join them to become part of it.
So where does that leave us?
For some, actually maybe all of us, we need to sit down with a bit of paper and write down...
God couldn't love me because...
And write down as many reasons we can think of.
It might be,
God couldn't love me because I am all over the place.
God couldn't love me because I am inconsistent.
God couldn't love me because I don't read my Bible enough, or don't pray enough, or don’t give enough to the church.
God couldn’t love me because I am angry, or jealous of others, or bitter at what has happened to me, or just lost.
Whatever they are, just write them down and keep on writing them down until you have run out of reasons why God can't love you.
Then once you are done write in really big letters over it.
GOD DOESN’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS, GOD JUST CARES.
That will be a start. And sometimes we need to do it a few times just to get it into our head that it is true.
But my hope is, that if we can do it, and if we can believe it, then it doesn't matter who we are next to in the bus stop, or the queue at the shops, or as we wait at the ATM, or even the person next to us in the church, we see next to us people that are deeply loved by God, and we treat them that way.