5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[ 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[e] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (John, 4:5-42, New Revised Standard Version)
On March 19, 2014, a rather famous person passed away. You may or may not remember Phelps. It may help some to say, he was the head of what the BBC called, “The Most Hated Family in America.” On that date, in March 2014, Fred Phelps, former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church passed away at the age of 84.
In the almost six years since, few people have lost sleep over his demise. To say he was almost universally disliked would be like saying elephants are big. Not only did his actions and the actions of his congregation spew a message on numerous occasions with messages against homosexuality at the funerals of fallen soldiers and others, as well as at other occasions that might gain his church, and I use the term church very loosely, a few headlines. I never have quite understood the connections between homosexuality and the funerals of fallen soldiers, except perhaps for the shock value.
To be clear, I was never a fan of Phelps or his church. I found their actions to be both despicable and distasteful. On more than one occasion I preached about the message of hate spewing from his congregation as they celebrated their most famous quote, still on the church’s webpage, “God hates fags.” The basic context of my sermon on those occasions was, God, who the Bible says is love, does not hate anybody and to say otherwise is not only bad theology, it is bad Bible.
I would not have been surprised if the world would have ignored Phelps death and just moved on. The world does that regularly. I remember thinking, following the death of a close friend, “Hey people, slow down a minute. Don’t you realize Bob is dead? But, the world didn’t even know Bob.
The world did know Fred Phelps, but the world wasn’t better off because of that knowledge. Knowing how most people felt, I figured most people would say something like, “Good riddance,” and then go on.
I was surprised by the hatred that went out from so many people on social media. The hatred went not only to Phelps but also to members of his family that had been estranged from Phelps for years. I read comments like, “Burn in hell!” and that was one of the nicer comments. There was little in the way of condolences for members of the family, including Nathan Phelps, who along with his sister are the most famous of the Phelps runaways. Nathan posted online that his father passed away and few made even surface attempts to offer comfort to a man who had lost his father. Instead there were those proclaiming that the largest protest ever be done at the funeral of Fred Phelps. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was a forgotten sentiment. “Do unto others as they have already done to you” was far more popular. That sentence is both sad and at the same time, shining a bright light at the state of the human condition.
The human condition, we want to stay angry. We don’t want reconciliation. We would prefer to hate. We don’t want to forgive. We refuse to believe there is grace out there for people like Fred Phelps.
I wish I could stand here this morning and honestly tell you, all this was done by non-Christians but the truth is, when it comes to someone we love to hate, Christians are no different from the rest of the world. We may sing, “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” but that love only goes so far and it is reserved for the right people.
We tend to believe there is a special place in human suffering for the despicable human beings like Fred Phelps. But, be warned. If such a place exists for Fred Phelps, it is likely the place where we too will find ourselves for eternity. Why? Because unrepentant sin is sin not forgiven. Stealing a $.25 pack of gum is the same sin as robbing a bank at gunpoint. Stealing is stealing. As crimes, yes, they are different but as sins, they are exactly the same.
We see other sins just like that too. We see Westboro Baptist Church out there spewing their vile message of hatred and we think, that is terrible, and someone wants him to stop. The thing is, we are so concerned about the splinter in the eye of the Westboro leadership that we miss the log in our own. We forget about the lie we told our neighbor. We forget about the little piece of gossip we passed on after hearing it. We forget about the treatment we gave the store clerk or the waitress in the restaurant. None of those things are as bad as what Phelps and others do in the name of God.
To my way of thinking, with only a few exceptions, God sees sin, as sin. There are no rankings in the world of sin.
In today’s lesson, Jesus and the disciples are making their way back to Galilee, but to get there they traveled through Samaria. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were seen as half-breed, Jews who married foreigners and therefore, and therefore, less than pure and purity and cleanliness were of upmost importance. So, any good Jew wanted as little to do with Samaritans as possible.
Jesus and the disciples come to the Samaritan town of Sychar. Once there, Jesus remains at the well outside of town while the disciples go into town in search of food and supplies. It is about noon when a woman comes out of town to retrieve water. While the scene wouldn’t be unusual, women came from town to the well to retrieve water on a regular basis, the timing of this woman’s trip made things more than a bit odd. It was the hottest part of the day. Most of the women and hauling water in the Biblical era was considered “women’s work,” came early in the morning or closer to sunset in the evenings. They came at the time of day when it wasn’t quite so hot. This woman came out at noon. She came at one of the hottest times of the day. Many of us would be more than curious about why.
For his part, Jesus doesn’t ask about that. We soon learn he didn’t need to do so because he already knew the answer. All Jesus does is ask for a drink of water. Now the woman is curious. She recognizes Jesus, not as the Messiah, but as a Jew and she knows the score. She also knows the questions, why Jesus, a Jew would ask anything of her, a woman of Samaria. Jesus tells her if she knew who he was, he would give her living water. It is clear she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. She wants to know how he is going to draw water; he has no bucket and the well is deep. Then he tells her, those who drink the water from the well will thirst again but those who drink his living water will never get thirsty. Now he has her attention. Her mind immediately goes to the idea of no more trips to the well in the noon day sun. She still doesn’t get it.
Jesus doesn’t press the matter. He changes the subject, telling her to go get her husband. She replies she has no husband. In my mind I can see Jesus smile just a bit. “You are right,” he replies, but then the other shoe drops, “You have had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not your husband. Jesus exposes her sin for what it is. She asks if Jesus is a prophet. Jesus tells her in a round-about way he isn’t a prophet, he is the Messiah. The woman then goes into town and tells everyone she meets, “Come and meet the man who knows everything I ever did.” Apparently, it was a lot.
As I see the story play out in my mind the thought occurred to me, what the woman found at the well was more than water. Jesus’ offer of Living Water was an offer of grace. The lesson never says, Jesus forgave her sins, but it seems clear to me that Jesus did forgive those sins and probably more. We can see she received grace, she received forgiveness. How do I know? Her willingness to tell her story, warts and all. Who would go and tell such a story if they hadn’t first experienced divine forgiveness? That is, in a word, grace.
As Christians we love this story. We love this story because we all want the forgiveness the woman received. We love this story because we all want the grace Jesus gave this woman.
As I have thought about this story over the past few days, an image came to me from something the woman said, “The well is deep.” Of course, she was right, the well was literally very deep. Most wells are. But I also got to thinking, the well of God’s grace is also deep and that is good news. It is good news for you and me. We can receive the Living Water of God’s grace. We can receive forgiveness for our sin.
There is more. It isn’t in our lesson, but it is in the Bible. If we are going to receive grace, we must be willing to give grace. If we are to receive forgiveness, we must be willing to give forgiveness. Jesus says in Luke 6, “forgive and you will be forgiven.” In other words, we are asking God to forgive us in the same way we are willing to forgive those who have wronged us. It seems like I heard a group of people say really like that about 15 minutes ago.
What also falls hand-in-hand with this is repenting, asking forgiveness from those we have wronged. Sometime back, I started feeling guilty about the way I treated a high school classmate some many years ago. I really treated this classmate badly and I wanted to apologize and ask for forgiveness. It took me a while to find and contact this person but when I did, I asked for forgiveness. The classmate readily gave me the forgiveness I sought. I also know, by faith, God has forgiven me too.
So, what is the point of all this? As I worked on this message, I saw that many of my sermons don’t lead to any specific action beyond right afterward, standing up and saying what we believe in the form of the Apostles’ Creed. So, here is the real point in this. What action are you taking to lead people to action that can result in grace and forgiveness?
And, this is what I want you to do. We have all wronged someone as I did with my classmate. Ask that person for forgiveness. It may take effort to track them down but do it. It may even be that they have disappeared from the place you last knew them to be, and no one you know has an idea of where to look. Perhaps they have passed from this life to the next. If you can’t find them, take a page from 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and write them a letter asking for their forgiveness. You won’t hear them say you are forgiven. But even if you find them, they may not forgive you. Do you know what? Then it becomes their problem, not yours. You humbled yourself and asked for forgiveness. That is about all you can do.
Another thing be ready. If someone comes to you and asks your forgiveness, be ready to give it as my classmate gave it to me.
Whatever you do, in any of these circumstances, you will feel better for the effort. I know God will bless you for the effort by lowering a bucket deep into the well of grace and pour that grace upon you. You will drink the living water.
I can’t say whether Fred Phelps ever felt the grace poured out on him or not. I feel certain that were he hear today, he would say yes, he had. I don’t know but it also isn’t for me to know. What I do know is this. The well is deep, even for someone like Fred Phelps. God makes the decisions about who drinks the Living Water. We just know, the well is deep. The well is deep, and it is full. It is full of the Living Water; it is full of forgiveness and grace from God. If Fred Phelps entered eternity with a repentant heart, he would drink the living water because God loves and forgives him and the well is deep.
I also know this, as people of faith, we need to find it within ourselves to forgive him. We don’t forgive so much for his sake, he is dead, and our forgiveness is meaningless to him at this point. Instead, we forgive for our own sake and we can drink the living water because the well is deep. We forgive for peace in our own hearts as we drink the living water, water we can drink because the well is deep. We forgive because God asks us to do so and it isn’t always an easy thing to do, but we can do it, because the well is deep. No one ever said a life in faith would be easy but we can overcome because the well is deep. So we work at it and we forgive because such is what God calls us to do, and the well is deep.
We forgive because each time we do, we dip back into the well of grace, we drink the living water and we know, the well is deep.
Have a blessed day in the Lord
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
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