Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lent 3, Series A

Sermon on John 4:5-26
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 27, 2011 (The Third Sunday in Lent, Series A)

The well was the ancient equivalent of a singles’ bar. The well was where Abraham’s servant met Rebekah, who would be Isaac’s wife, and where Jacob met Rachel and Leah. Moses met his wife Zipporah at the well. And so it’s more than a little odd that Jesus sits and has a conversation with this woman here. Some would say it’s downright scandalous. After all, as she points out, she’s a Samaritan, and shouldn’t be associating with Jesus, a Jew, especially in this place which is traditionally where people meet and find out about members of the opposite sex. Not to mention that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised messiah, and this woman has not exactly kept the Sixth Commandment, You shall not commit adultery. And so if we were among the disciples that day, we too would be more than a little uncomfortable and put off seeing Jesus talking to this woman at Jacob’s well.

Of course, Jesus isn’t flirting with her or courting her. He is, rather, teaching her about the kingdom of God and about how the ancient Israelite religion was established for the purpose of pointing to Himself, and that while the Jewish worship of those days was, in fact, closer to what God had established than the Samaritan worship was, it was still not complete in itself, but only pointed forward to the day when Messiah Himself would come and bring forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to everyone, and that God would be present not just on this mountain or that, but wherever God’s people gather to receive the Holy Spirit through the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of His Sacraments.

Now, it is true that Jesus wasn’t flirting with or courting this woman in the normal, earthly way of speaking. However, I do think that He chose this venue to have a conversation with this woman in order to make a point, both to His disciples and to us. You see, He came to bring the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to sinners. You can’t get the forgiveness of sins if you’re not a sinner. As He points out elsewhere, it’s not those who are well that need a physician, but those who are sick. The Church is more of a hospital than a gymnasium. It’s a place where God comes to us to heal us, not a place where we do spiritual exercises to improve ourselves. And so, the fact that He talks to this woman, just like the fact that He eats with tax collectors and other sinners elsewhere in the Gospels, stands as a reminder to us that it is precisely those who are lost that are to be welcome here; it is precisely those who have not always lived good and decent lives that here can receive forgiveness and healing. None of us is any better than this woman from God’s perspective. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and it is only because He comes to us with the forgiveness He won on the cross that we can presume to stand here before Him at all.

Now, as I said, Jesus wasn’t courting this woman in any earthly sense. He was teaching her, catechising her, to give her faith in His promises and thereby a recipient of salvation, a member of the one, holy, universal, apostolic Church. But isn’t that, in a spiritual sense, a form of courtship? After all, the Church is described in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere as the Bride of Christ. Which means that Jesus was asking this woman to be part of His Bride, the Church. He was asking her to meet Him by the true well, which gives water for eternity, and have her sins washed away in that baptismal water. He was asking her to become a partaker in His eternal wedding feast, in which He is both the host and the meal. He was asking her, in short, to become joined to, part of, His Bride.

And that’s the way God always courts those whom He meets and whom He invites to join Him in eternal bliss. He meets them at the well which gives the water of eternal life, yes, that one right there, and washes away their sin, and makes them new creatures who really are what He created them to be, perfect and holy in His sight. And he invites them to the wedding feast, in which He feeds them with His body and blood. That’s what our God does. He condescends to even the worst sinner, and brings them forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through His word and His body and blood. That’s what He did for each of you. He made you, the Church, collectively, into His bride, worthy and well-prepared for His coming, looking forward to sharing with Him an eternity of love and joy that we can’t even describe using earthly terms. We are His bride, His beloved. He has come to rescue us from our life of sin and receive us to Himself. Welcome to the feast. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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