Where?

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
March 30, 2014
John 4:5-42 

“Where?”

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.

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.) 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.’

16 Jesus 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 worshipped 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 worshippers 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.’ 

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?’ 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?’  

39 Many 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 for 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 Saviour of the world.’ 

~ 

Last week, a three year old boy in Burbank California fell from a third story window… and survived. 

His parents were in the other room when it happened. They didn’t realize where he was, and that he was throwing his toys out the window to see what would happen. (This particular three year old was interested in gravity, it seems.) After seeing his toys in a heap on the ground thirty feet below him, he realized that he still wanted to play with them. So he climbed out the window, slipped, and fell. 

How did he survive, and completely unharmed? He survived because of Konrad and Jennifer Lightner. The couple was on the street below and saw the whole thing. They called to him to go get his parents, and begged him to crawl back inside the window, but the little boy, who has autism, remained determined in his task. But he mainly survived because—I kid you not—the couple were in the process of moving their mattress into their apartment. When they saw what was about to happen, they placed the mattress under the little boy, and Konrad knelt on the mattress, and caught the little boy in his arms, slowing his fall and collapsing onto the mattress. 

The parents, of course, were relieved and grateful, and also distraught at what had happened right under their noses. But for us church folk, the punchline came at the end of the news story, when Jennifer Lightner said, 

“God put us in the right place at the right time.”

*          *          *

During this season of Lent, we are considering the stories of Jesus and the questions at the center of them. Two weeks ago, we considered Nicodemus’s question to Jesus, HOW? How do you do what you do, Jesus? How does God work? How can these wonders and signs be?

This week, the question at the center of the story is WHERE?

A woman of Samaria encounters a Nazarene stranger at a well and wants to know “Where?”

Where do you get this living water you are talking about?

Where might I take my bucket?

Where can I find the water that will let me never be thirsty again?

And then later in the story she asks “Where” again:

Where is God rightly worshiped?

Here at this well, built by our ancestor Jacob?

Here on the mountain? Or in Jerusalem?

Where is the holy place where we can be sure to meet the living God?

Where is God at work?

That’s the question at the heart of the story about the three year old, actually. Jennifer Lightner said, God put us in the right place at the right time. Apparently the couple would have been on that sidewalk much earlier, but they had been stuck in an elevator, which delayed them until the precise moment when the child was about to fall. 

That is truly amazing. And I know that if I were in her shoes, I would’ve said the exact same thing: God put us in the right place at the right time. But with a little critical distance I have to ask:

Did God really do that?

Is God moving us around a game board, like Monopoly pieces?

Is God like one of the Gamemakers in the Hunger Games, causing mayhem and peril, guiding things so certain characters happen to run into one another? 

And those questions are “where” questions:

If we want to see God at work, where do we look?

For his part, Jesus answers the Samaritan woman’s questions a little bit more directly than he does Nicodemus’s. She asks him, “Where do I get the living water?” and he makes clear, in his own meandering way—I am the source of that water.

Then there’s the second question: “Where do we encounter God, on Jacob’s mountain or in Jerusalem?” Here Jesus is a little more vague. He says, “neither place.” But then he starts going on about true worshipers, and worshiping in spirit and truth, and on and on.

Jesus leaves hanging the question of where. Jesus doesn’t draw the woman a map or plug a destination into the GPS. If God is not on the mountain, and God is not in Jerusalem, then where is God?

*          *          * 

A couple weeks ago, a pastor friend reminded me of the words of St. Augustine, who wrote that there is no place where God is not. There is no corner of the universe so remote, there is no situation so grievous, that God is not there. If there’s somewhere where God cannot get to—if there’s some place that God cannot access, then that place is somehow greater than God. And there is nothing greater than God. 

This idea of Augustine’s is important theologically—it establishes that God is not some semi-powerful being, but The Supreme Being. But it’s also important for us spiritually. There is nowhere we can go, nothing we can experience, that God is not somehow a part of, loving us and desiring our wholeness. That’s part of why we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “he descended into hell.” Even when we’re experiencing hell, God has not forgotten us.

And so the answer, of course, to the “Where” question is… Everywhere. At the end of the story, after the Samaritan woman tells the people of her village about Jesus, they believe in him and proclaim that he is savior. He is savior, they proclaim, “of the world.” Not the savior of Jerusalem. Not the savior of Samaria. Savior of the world. 

So the answer to “Where?” is “Everywhere.” But not just “Everywhere.” Everywhere is too vague, too general, too sunny.

We need to take it a step further and say that God—and Christ—are found in places where we don’t expect to find God.

Immediately before this passage, we’re told that Jesus has left Judea to go back to Galilee, and that he “had to” go through Samaria. Had to.

And there’s a double meaning to that. Geographically, he had to pass through Samaria to get from point A to point B. If you look at the map, Samaria would be hard to avoid.

But the phrase “had to” also tells us something about Jesus’ nature. Samaritans, you remember, did not associate with Jews, and vice versa. (That’s what makes the Good Samaritan story so scandalous. It was an “enemy” of the Jews who behaved with compassion.) Jesus had no choice but to go to Samaria, because that’s the kind of Savior Jesus is. Surprising… Boundary-breaking… and bound to turn up with all the wrong people and in all the wrong places.

So yes, God is present on a Burbank, California sidewalk as a man kneels to catch a falling child. But God is also in the places where there is no happy ending—not causing those hardships and heartaches, but there, experiencing the heartbreak along with us, promising never to forsake us.

Two weeks ago, when I was talking about Nicodemus, I suggested that “how” was not a great faith question. It’s understandable to want an explanation for things. But in matters of faith, there’s not always an explanation. What there is is a relationship with God. And that’s ultimately more satisfying.

But today’s question, “Where,” is a better question.

“Where” means you’re looking for God.

“Where” means your eyes are open.

“Where” makes you a detective of grace.

May we continue to look for signs of the Messiah. He may show up where you least expect it.

 

 

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©2014 MaryAnn McKibben Dana. These sermon manuscripts are provided here for personal use, and are not to be redistributed or otherwise reproduced without permission of the author.