Preached at Community of Christ Lutheran, Whitehouse, Ohio on March 12, 2023
When was the last time an encounter with another person really resonated with you?
Something from inside you echoed in their words or actions, the way they interacted with you?
You discovered yourself in their responses, despite your differences, and felt that you belonged?
One word for this is resonance, and I think of it like an echo of yourself in meeting another. And it feels like … Wonder. Awe. Falling in love. Like you want to laugh out loud instead of trying to explain it. That’s a Jesus/Holy Spirit encounter, a sacred realization that we are not alone.
We are wired to live for this living water, these kinds of experiences, of connection. Our creation stories in Genesis describe how humankind is made for relationships with God and one another. We are made in the image of God—every last one of us—and built for communing with God. But we have created barriers to that life-giving connection, individually and on huge societal scales. Like damming up a river, blocking who we are meant to be changes us, but it also wreaks havoc on others, and the whole creation. We are meant to be the embodiment of God, on this earth. Yet we are lonely, so in need of connection that it’s hard to remember what resonance is even like, so we settle for “safe” instead.
The story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well in Samaria is a reminder of what such encounters can do, how the living waters can flow when we, like Jesus, get rid of the barriers. Probably one could read this story every day for the rest of her life and not plumb the depths of what it means, but I’ll just pick out 3 things that could resonate from this story into our own stories.
- First, Jesus honestly recognizes that he needs something from the other person, and talks to her as an equal. Now, he’s the son of God, so if anyone could rightfully consider himself better than another, Jesus sure could. Yet Jesus initiates the conversation by asking her to give him some water. He needs something from her. That establishes the dynamic. This is a mutual relationship, with give and take. There’s no room for resonance, when one person believes they already have a lock on godliness, and nothing to learn or receive from the other. Because Jesus creates some mutuality, this woman brings her skepticism, her history, her attitude, her questions all right there in the space between them. God bless her. I think she and I could be friends.
- Second, the space for holy encounters is a judgment-free zone. You may have the impression that Jesus pointing out that this woman has had 5 husbands is some kind of “gotcha” moment, revealing her loose morals. But it truly could be the opposite instead, that Jesus was naming that he understands what has been done to her. Why would a woman in ancient times marry 5 times? Likely because she had no choice. Women did not have the power to divorce, but husbands could choose to divorce their wives. Or if her husband died, then she was left without safety or finances. We don’t know her history. But it tells us something about our religious tradition if the only story we’ve ever heard filling in the blanks about her is that she is to blame for it. We have somehow supplied a tone for how Jesus speaks those words that is accusatory, instead of compassionate. Well. We are most likely to connect, to experience resonance with each other and the Holy Spirit when we leave our judgments about who is worthy behind. It’s not that they are erased, but Jesus sees her as a person, worthy of a conversation that could change him too.
We may notice, the encounter with this woman re-energizes Jesus as well. He was tired out from the journey when he met her, sitting around by the well. But by the time his disciples return, they’re urging him to eat and he replies, “I have food you don’t know about.” “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” He’s living off the Holy Spirit from that encounter, skipping the physical meals to get back to spreading the gospel! While I don’t recommend that as a regular meal plan, we can be impressed that the encounter with this bold, challenging Samaritan woman strengthened Jesus’ own sense of mission. Wow. There’s some mutuality.
- The third impediment to us experiencing living waters might just have formed gradually by the institutional church: we have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of farming out the life of faith to “professionals”, not participating in our own story, God’s story. Many church members dutifully play a supporting role of the institution or the ministry staff… but our encounter with Jesus is not one of resonance, firsthand experiences of the gospel alive between us. Without resonance, our faith doesn’t spill over into our relationships with other people.
We need living water for abundant life. Not a description of the water. Not a memory of what water is like, not a habit that comforts but does not quench, but a tangible, in the flesh experience of being known and loved, belonging as a beloved child of God. You—yes, you—have something to give that Jesus needs, OR you are the right conversation partner for someone who will meet Jesus through you. Jesus is saying, I see your history—without judgment—and maybe that’s exactly why I want to talk to you, to hear your take. What you’ve done, or what people have done to you, has made you who you are, and let me tell you, that is a unique, insightful child of God.
There is no imposter syndrome in this scenario. Every one of you thinks that if you open your mouth everyone will discover you are the imposter, the one who doesn’t deserve to be here. You don’t know enough Bible verses, or aren’t holy enough, or haven’t lived a blameless life. Welcome to the club. We don’t know the woman at the well’s story, but can’t we say from the impression the storyteller is trying to give that if she’s the most effective evangelist in the entire Gospel of John, then you are also qualified to share what you’ve experienced of Jesus? Encounters with Jesus are for all of us. We’ve got to remove the sediment and dams we’ve built, so that everyone can encounter Jesus for themselves, a life-changing encounter with God in the flesh, releashing that living water to the ends of the earth.