No life that is not shared life

SERMON 

St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly 

Lent 3: Sunday 15 March 

Exodus 17.1-7 

Psalm 95 

Romans 5.1-11 

John 4.5-42 

No life that is not shared life ©Suzanne Grimmett 

Water is more than a metaphor. We all know that, and with the  reality of the world facing a pandemic, panic buying of water is  happening despite the fact that there is no threat to our water supply. We know that water is life. In a culture that has, particularly  for the last fifty years, cultivated the rise of the individual over the  communal, hoarding and competing for the necessities of life in a  time of crisis is disappointing but unsurprising. The toilet paper panic  buying has resulted in many hilarious jokes, but is of course not  funny if you are the mother with four young children who has tried  three supermarkets and has none left in the house. Water may not  be at risk in this crisis, but we know that a shortage of it is what  leaves us most vulnerable and prone to aggressive behaviour. In  today’s reading from Exodus, the thirst of the people in the desert  leaves Moses pleading with God in fear of being publicly put to death  by the people whose recent enslavement in Egypt had at least  included having enough to drink. Who we are – our courage, our  character- is revealed with devastating clarity in any time of fear.  

So, with an understanding that our spiritual vocabulary is so much  more than just words, we turn to this conversation about living  water. There are layers of meaning in this story of Jesus meeting the  Samaritan woman that begin with the meeting place: Jacob’s well.  

In the meeting of Rachel and Jacob, Jacob rolls back the stone over  the well so that Rachel’s sheep could drink, despite the warning of  the other shepherds that they should wait until all the flocks are gathered together before uncovering the well. When so often the  moral of a tale is to patiently wait, this story, just like the encounter  between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, was about not waiting for  the end of time when all would be together before drinking the  water. The message is that the wellspring of eternal life is available in  the here and now.  

The narrative of the Gospel story echoes this idea of some being held  back from drinking at this well of life. The Samaritans were  considered a mixed race with an equally “mixed” religion. The writer  of the Gospel says it very matter of factly. “Jews do not share things  in common with Samaritans” Or, in other words, they did not  associate with them at all. So for Jesus to be asking this woman for a  drink from Jacob’s well is astonishing, and the woman is just as  surprised as Jesus’ disciples. 

 “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 

For many of the Jews of his time, the Samaritans were quite simply  excluded from the favour of God. Women also could be considered  unclean. Jesus is making a deliberate move here to reopen the well  of life to all those who had been excluded by religion and the violence of its purity laws and sacrificial systems.  

And if we think that sort of exclusion belongs only in the ancient  world, we need to think again. In working as a Chaplain in schools I  was frequently warned not only of those who were considered  immoral and a bad influence but also of local church communities  who “weren’t really saved” or a pastor who we should be aware was  “not one of us”.  

While there are thousands of years of human history dividing us,  where any one group claims the exclusive possession of the Spirit we  seem to be in the company once again of small-minded religion  which seeks the moral high ground and strives to retain power and control. But the Spirit can never be controlled- it blows, (or flows),  where it wills. And the flowing of the Spirit always leads us to  acceptance and forgiveness, unity and communion and away from tribalism and separation.  

Everywhere human beings have tried to develop a religion for the God they own, rather than surrendering to a God who owns us. Jesus meets this woman and does not judge her or seek to coerce her into converting to anything new. It seems clear that whatever has been her history, there has likely been tragedy and suffering. In her culture and time her situation as a widow, or one who had been divorced by her husband and passed down between men, would have been a vulnerable one. 

Jesus makes it clear that his mission transcends all divides of culture,  race, class and gender- and whatever else constitutes a reason for  social exclusion. His is a call to all followers to worship not in tribal  and exclusive ways but together in spirit and in truth. This water that  Jesus offers comes with the compassionate understanding of the  human thirst for life, love and connection and the knowledge that its  healing flow does not allow itself to be claimed or wholly possessed  by any one group or another.  

John Shea illustrates this idea with a parable about the living water  Christ brings for all peoples; 

The water of life, wishing to make itself known on the face of  the earth, bubbled up in an artesian well and flowed without  effort or limit. People came to drink of this refreshing water  and were nourished by it, since it was so clean, and pure and  

invigorating. But humankind was not content to leave things in  this Edenic state. Gradually they began to fence the well,  charge admission, claim ownership of the property around it,  make elaborate laws about who could come to the well and put  locks on the gates. Soon the well was the property of the powerful and the elite. The water was angry and offended; it  stopped flowing and began to bubble up in another place. The  people who owned the property around the first well were so  engrossed in their power systems and ownership that they did  not notice that the water had vanished. They continued selling  the non-existent water and few people noticed that the power  was gone. But some dissatisfied people searched with great  courage and found the new artesian well. Soon that well came  under the control of new property owners, and the same fate  overtook it. The spring took itself to yet another place- and this  has been going on throughout history.1 

So much of our culture confirms the desire in us to hoard, to  compete, to possess. It is oh so easy to draw dividing lines that  separate us from one another, encourage scapegoating of individuals  or groups and to confirm our natural tendency toward tribalism. The  power in this world for life and love has never been owned or  contained. In this time of anxiety, we are called to be people who  know that the living water offered defies all cultural assumptions of individualism and satiates our deep thirst for love and connection. It  is a time to seek again where the life-giving spring may be found and  rediscover its power.  

We are in this together. If nothing else, the mere fact that a  microscopic particle such as the Corona virus can disrupt the  complex economic and social systems humans have created should  remind us of the vulnerability of life. We should be acutely aware  that we live in a global village where when one member suffers, we  all are affected. Perhaps it might remind us that we all have a  responsibility for one another, and that the ethic of “every man or  woman for him or herself” alongside a model of unstoppable  consumerism is doomed to destruction.  

So in this time of crisis, may we gather together with Jesus around  the well of life. May we who have drunk from this well that never  runs dry be able to hold the spaces in our communities of love and  courage as we honour our precious, entangled life on this planet.  And may we promise our love to one another, in sickness and in  health, so all may know that they are never alone in the beautiful  fragility of this life we share.

1 John Shea, On Earth as it is in Heaven, (Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 2004) pp.295-296

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