March 12 2023
Third Sunday in Lent
God of spirit and truth, you alone satisfy our dry and weary souls. Let us drink from the spring of your mercy so that we may never be thirsty for the gift of your saving love, through Jesus Christ, the water of life. Amen.
PRELUDE “Ellers” arr. Harold Rutz
CALL TO WORSHIP
As a deer longs for flowing streams
so our souls long for you, O God.
Our souls thirst for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
*HYMN No. 193 “Jesus, Take Us To the Mountain”
1 Jesus, take us to the mountain,
where, with Peter, James, and John,
we are dazzled by your glory,
light as blinding as the sun.
There prepare us for the night
by the vision of that sight.
2 What do you want us to see there,
that your close companions saw?
Your divinity revealed there
fills us with the selfsame awe.
Clothed in flesh like ours you go,
matched to meet our deadliest foe.
3 What do you want us to hear there,
that your dear disciples heard?
Once again the voice from heaven
says of the Incarnate Word,
“Listen, listen, everyone:
this is my beloved Son.”
4 Take us to that other mountain
where we see you glorified,
where you shouted “It is finished!”
where for all the world you died.
Hear the stunned centurion:
“Truly this was God’s own Son!”
5 We who have beheld your glory,
risen and ascended Lord,
cannot help but tell the story,
all that we have seen and heard;
say with Peter, James, and John:
“You are God’s beloved Son!”
*CALL TO CONFESSION
As thirsty people wandering through this season of Lent, we seek God’s forgiveness and grace in this moment of honest confession.
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Gracious God, as we wander through the wilderness this Lent, we are more aware of our thirst for your presence, your love, your guidance on life’s journey. Forgive us for turning away from you. Forgive our doubt and uncertainty that led us to place our faith in worldly comforts that don’t run deep enough and don’t last. We come to your well today desperate and thirsty for Christ’s living water. Quench our thirst, we pray. Grant us your forgiveness and your grace. Amen.
Response No. 471 “O Lord, Hear My Prayer”
O Lord, hear my prayer.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
Come and listen to me.
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Jesus said, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” Come, drink deep, and know that you are forgiven. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 288 “Spirit of the Living God”
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Melt me; mold me;
fill me; use me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
ANTHEM “Near to the Heart of God” David Wingate
UNISON PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Loving God, fountain of every blessing, open us to your life-giving Word, and fill us with your Holy Spirit so that living water may flow through our hearts — a spring of hope for a thirsty world. Amen.
SCRIPTURE John 4:5-42
5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7A 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.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27Just 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?” 28Then 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, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.”
RESPONSE No. 544 “Bless the Lord” x3
Bless the Lord, my soul,
and bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul,
who leads me into life.
SERMON “RESOURCE: Woman at the Well”
Some years ago, writer Eugene Peterson found an analogy for modern spiritual quests in, of all things, a Winnie the Pooh story. In one of the many tales from the Hundred-Acre Woods, Christopher Robin and company decide to set out one day in search of the North Pole. At one point along the way, young Roo falls into a stream and needs to be rescued. Pooh Bear eventually uses a long pole to fish his friend out of the water. Once this emergency had passed, the animals stand around and discuss what had just happened.
As they are talking, Christopher Robin notices that Pooh is standing there with the rescue pole still in his paw. “Pooh, where did you get that pole?” “I just found it earlier,” Pooh replies. “I thought it might be useful.” “Pooh,” Christopher Robin says excitedly, “the expedition is over! You have found the North Pole!” “Oh,” says Pooh, “I did?” Eventually Christopher Robin sinks the pole into the ground and hangs a flag on it with this message: “The North Pole, Discovered by Pooh. Pooh Found It.” Then they all go home again, satisfied that this quest was successful.
This story, Peterson suggests, bears some resemblance to the way many people in recent years have gone about their various spiritual quests. Everyone knows that despite early-twentieth century predictions that spirituality would retreat as technology and science advanced, quite the opposite proved to be true. The very generation of people that was raised in a technological world of computers, DVD players, the Internet, and cell phones proved to be one of the most spiritually hungry generations in recent times. In fact, people today use one of the most dazzling of all technological innovations, the Internet, to explore spirituality by visiting the startling array of religious websites that exist in cyberspace.
People are in search of something quite grand but, like Christopher Robin and company, they seem quite willing to label the first thing they find as being “it.” They are hungry and thirsty for something more, so they go to Barnes & Noble, stumble on some Thomas Moore book called The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, and they think they’ve arrived at their destination. They see that someone has slapped a label of spiritual authority onto this work–you can, after all, always find someone with a “Rev.” in front of his name or a “Ph.D.” after her name, to write glowing blurbs for such books. And suddenly, like Christopher Robin’s flag, people think this label authenticates the books of dozens of best-selling writers who produce pop pablum like The Celestine Prophecy, Touched by an Angel, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Conversations with God.
One estimate claims that there are nearly 10,000 different books currently in print that dole out spiritual advice. Many of these have been best-sellers over the years, which means that some of the same people are buying different books all the time. But that only means that the spiritual pole they confidently labeled as “the North Pole” six months ago must not have turned out to be the end-destination after all. If it had been, they wouldn’t have made yet another expedition to the bookstore in search of newer, fresher, different answers.
All of which, quite obviously, brings us right into the middle of this week’s passage. For here Jesus proffers a living water of such eternal significance that he promises that those who imbibe this sacred drink will never be thirsty again. That is the core truth of this story…
In the case of this woman, there were lots of things bombarding her senses that day. First of all, she didn’t expect to run into anyone at the well, much less a Jewish man. In fact, avoiding other people is precisely why she did the foolish thing of drawing water at the hottest hour of the day. At six pounds per gallon, water is heavy stuff to tote around. That’s why in villages like Sychar people gathered at the town well in the cool of the early morning and then again later in the cool of the evening. Noontime was too scorching for such work.
That’s why it was this woman’s favorite time to get water: she didn’t have to run into anyone because in the past whenever she did encounter other people at the well, she withered under their judgmental stares. The heat of the noonday sun couldn’t hold a candle to the heat of social opprobrium and disapproval. For you see, this woman “had a past,” a bad reputation. She was the village “woman of Ill-repute,” the five-time divorcee now rumored to be shacked up with man #6. She wasn’t “good people.”
Across the centuries people always gather where beverages are available. Even today we sometimes call a restaurant or lounge our favorite “watering hole” because it’s the place where we go after work to unwind with our friends over a glass of wine or something. In fact, even the phrase “scuttlebutt” has similar origins from the maritime world of ships and sailors. If you “scuttle” a ship, it means intentionally cutting a hole into the bottom of the boat so it will sink. Also, on board old cargo ships, those big fifty-gallon casks or barrels that were once used to transport various goods were known as “butts.”
So if you “scuttled” a “butt,” you cut a hole in the top of one of those big barrels so that you could then fill the barrel with fresh water. Sailors could then gather at this scuttled butt and dip in their cups for a drink. While standing around and sipping their water, the sailors would also swap shipboard rumors. Hence, “scuttlebutt” eventually became a way to refer to gossip.
It was probably not a lot different at village wells back in Jesus’ time. It was the town watering hole where everyone gathered two times a day and so where people lingered a bit to tell some tales, catch up on news, and also stay current on all the juiciest town gossip. This Samaritan woman had no doubt long been a favorite subject of such scuttlebutt. Needless to say, when she used to show up at the well in person, a lot of conversation ceased, eyes were averted, maybe even a few dirty looks were directed her way.
So eventually she’d given up. She stayed home when everyone else was out, and she went out only when everyone else was home. In the past, we have maybe assumed that she got what she deserved. We’ve chalked her up as a sleazy, sinful woman. But she may have been a victim, too. Don’t forget that in Jesus’ day, women had almost zero social standing. They certainly could not be the initiators of divorce. All a man had to do was haul his wife out into the street and then say to her three times, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you” and that was that. The women didn’t have much say in the matter. And so perhaps this woman was the kind of person who, desperate for some attention and affection, hooked up with all the wrong men who, in turn, used her and then discarded her like a dirty tissue.
We don’t know that this was so, but one thing becomes clear in the course of her conversation with Jesus: she is not a religious ignoramus. This woman knows some theology! This woman has thought about spiritual matters. She’s aware of the promised Messiah, knows something of the controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans about where God may (or may not) be appropriately worshiped. The town long since wrote her off as a bad sort of person, but inside her skin beat the heart of someone thirsty for God.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Long before any of that becomes evident in this story, this woman first has to overcome her shock at having Jesus talk to her at all. As I indicated a few minutes ago, her heart no doubt sank when she saw that on this particular day, her plan to avoid all contact was failing. Someone was there. Worse, it was a man. Doubly worse, it looked like a Jewish man. You didn’t see too many Jews in Samaria most days. Jews rather assiduously avoided that area, willingly adding a few extra days to their journey so they could take the long way around that greasy stretch of land called Samaria.
Jesus had opted against that and so cut straight through the heart of Samaria. So when this woman saw him, she perhaps averted her eyes, grit her teeth, and hoped to get through this as painlessly as possible. But then the man cleared his throat, and she no doubt thought, “Here it comes!” But no, there is a kind timbre to his voice. He even asks her for some water, instead of barking out a demand to her. Probably she should have kept her mouth shut but she is so taken aback that she blurts out, “What in the world is going on here!? You, a Jew, are not supposed to talk to me, a Samaritan!”
Jesus was indeed breaking with convention to engage this woman, which is why the disciples will shortly be so scandalized to witness this. To show you why, let me give you a few choice quotations that were popular in Jesus’ day: “A man shall not talk with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife, on account of what others may say. He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself. If any man gives a woman a knowledge of God’s Law, it is as though he had taught her lechery.” Nothing subtle about any of that rhetoric! But no matter: Jesus talks to a woman. To a Samaritan woman. To a Samaritan woman with whom even other Samaritans did not deign to speak!
More, he speaks the words of life to her. He uses the well as an occasion to introduce the memorable image of living water–a new spring of water that would well and bubble up into all eternity. Needless to say, this woman wants to buy stock in the company that produces this wonderful libation! “OK,” Jesus says, “but let’s bring your husband into the deal, too.” Why did Jesus say that? To shame her, the way the other residents of Sychar would do by mentioning this? No. To embarrass her, condemn her? No, but probably as a reminder to her that she had been trying to slake her thirst in all the wrong ways. It wasn’t sex or meeting Mr. Right or finding companionship that was going to drown her thirst.
Eventually she catches on to what Jesus is saying. Unlike Nicodemus, we know how she responded: she raced back to the village and began knocking on doors whose doorsteps she had not darkened in years. Somehow, she forgot that she was supposed to avoid these people. Instead, she rather quickly becomes a member of the community again. Before this story is finished, villagers are actually speaking to her again (and speaking gratefully at that).
It’s all rather interesting and ultimately rather happy, too. But the disciples are confused, perplexed, even a bit distressed by it all. They don’t understand what in the name of all that is holy would inspire Jesus to talk to a Samaritan woman. When they try to press a cheese sandwich upon Jesus for lunch, he says, “No thanks. I have food you don’t know about,” and this makes them wonder if he had gotten some take-out food from somewhere.
So Jesus has to explain things to them, and what he says comes down to this in verses 34-38: there is work to be done, a spiritual harvest to gather in. The disciples’ problem is they didn’t see this. They saw Samaria as a place to pass through as quickly as possible. It never occurred to them that there were candidates for salvation living there. All their lives they had been taught to bracket all Samaritans, to write them off. Jesus had a rather different point of view. If this woman was worth engaging with the good news of the gospel, then that opened up the field of potential gospel-receivers to pretty much everyone!
Today, as we said at the outset, people everywhere are looking for something to sate their spiritual thirst. They are mostly drinking at all the wrong taps, though. They are soaking up pop books that satisfy nothing more than the publishing world’s hope that you will soon want to try a different brand of designer water. Indeed, if they ever published one book that would take care of things forever, the market would dry up!
So, the task before the church today is the same as it ever was TO SHARE THIS RESOURCE: to offer the pure, distilled, unpolluted water of the living gospel through the living Christ Jesus. What’s more, we need to offer this to everyone without distinction, starting perhaps with the people we have been subtly trained to ignore because of their skin color, socio-economic status, religious background, sexual orientation, or whatever.
The theologian Neal Plantinga once reminded us of something C.S. Lewis said in connection with World War II. Lewis commented that during times of peace and prosperity, only wise people seem to know that we live our lives at the edge of a precipice. During times of war and terror, however, everyone senses this. We are in such a time as spiritually dry people are crying out for something to quench this thirst. There are a number of spiritual beverages that get peddled –drinks that either don’t last very long or that actually increase a person’s thirst. As the church, we have living, lasting, eternal water. We ought not to be shy in offering it. It changes lives!
Surely it changed the life of this sad woman from Sychar. If I ever were going to make a short movie of this incident for a Sunday school class or something, I know what I would want my final image to be. It emerges from a tiny yet telling detail in verse 28 when we are told this woman left her water jug behind. That’s quite an image! Later in verses 39-42 as the Samaritans happily urge Jesus to stay in their village for a while, I picture the whole jubilant crowd hustling Jesus and the disciples back into town.
As the noise of their laughter fades and as the dust from their feet settles in the noonday heat, I would have a camera slowly zoom in on that abandoned water jug next to Jacob’s well. She had come to that well thirstier than she knew earlier that day. She left sensing she’d never be truly thirsty again. To encounter Jesus is to find life–a stream of living water that wells up in us now; a stream of water that will mount up over time until it becomes finally a mighty tidal wave of cleansing that will wash over the entire world, making us and all things new. That’s the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
Liturgy and Commentary provided by Ken Kusselus, Teri McDowell Ott, Stephanie Workman, the Presbyterian Church Book of Confessions, Anna Fulmer, Scott Hoezee and the Book of Common Worship.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH from “A Statement of Faith: Jesus Died For Sinners”
We believe that in the death of Jesus on the cross God achieved and demonstrated once for all the costly forgiveness of our sins. Jesus Christ is the Reconciler between God and the world. He acted on behalf of sinners as one of us, fulfilling the obedience God demands of us, accepting God’s condemnation of our sinfulness. In his lonely agony on the cross Jesus felt forsaken by God and thus experienced hell itself for us. Yet the Son was never more in accord with the Father’s will. He was acting on behalf of God, manifesting the Father’s love that takes on itself the loneliness, pain, and death that result from our waywardness. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not holding our sins against us. Each of us beholds on the cross the Savior who died in our place, so that we may no longer live for ourselves, but for him. In him is our only hope of salvation.
*HYMN No. 329 “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength”
1 God is our refuge and our strength,
our ever-present aid,
and therefore, though the earth be moved,
we will not be afraid;
2 Though hills amid the seas be cast,
though foaming waters roar,
yea, though the mighty billows shake
the mountains on the shore.
3 Where God abides a river flows;
that city will rejoice.
But nations fear and kingdoms shake
before God’s thundering voice.
4 Since God is in the midst of it,
the city walls shall stand,
secure and safe with God’s sure help,
when trouble is at hand.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
God of glory, we thirst for your presence in the midst of loneliness and despair, for your spirit of love poured into our hearts, for Christ’s living water that quenches eternally. May all your children know that they be- long, that they are loved, that they are wonderfully made.
Hear our silent prayers to know your presence in the midst of suffering, O God.
God of life, we thirst for knowledge of you at work in our world, dispelling our doubt and uncertainty. We pray for you to right what is wrong, banish evil and restore order in the midst of chaos. Turn our world towards peace.
Hear our silent prayers to know the ways you are at work in our world, O God.
God of hope, we thirst for healing and harmony, for an end to violence and living in fear of the next mass shooting. We pray for an end to bipartisan fighting, legislative meltdowns, and political turmoil that serves no citizen well. Fashion our world, our nation, our communities into places that reflect your peaceable kingdom where every life is valued, every- one’s dignity respected.
Hear our silent prayers for healing and harmony, O God.
In your mercy, O God, hear the prayers of your people. Help us walk with you during this Lenten season, so we can learn and grow in your embrace. Help us follow in the footsteps of our Savior, who calls on us to pray as he prayed, “Our Father…”.
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God gives generously. Let us honor God by giving generously in return.
*RESPONSE N0. 605 “Praise to God the Father”
Praise to God the Father;
praise to God the Son;
praise to God the Spirit:
praise to the Three-in-One.
Sing praise, sing praise to the Lord on high.
Praise to God Almighty;
praise to the Holy One.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
God of grace, you provide for all our needs. Accept these offerings as signs of our gratitude and bless them to further Christ’s ministry and mission among the poor, the despairing and the destitute. Amen.
*HYMN No. 209 “My Song Is Love Unknown”
1 My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?
2 He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
the world that was his own
would not its Savior know.
But O my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend!
3 Sometimes we strew his way,
and his sweet praises sing,
resounding all the day
hosannas to our King.
is all our breath,
and for his death
we thirst and cry.
4 Unheeding, we will have
our dear Lord made away,
a murderer to save,
the prince of life to slay.
Yet steadfast he
to suffering goes,
that he his foes
from thence might free.
5 Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine:
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.
Beloved people of God;
I invite you, in the name of Christ,
to continue to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence,
by prayer and fasting,
by works of love,
and by meditating on Gods’ word.
May the grace, hope, peace and love
of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
be with us all, now and forever. Amen.