Lent 3


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Romans 5.1-11 / John 4.5-42


A teacher from one of my benefice’s primary schools looked up at our church tower at Powick and asked me a very important question - "why do you have chickens on top of your churches?" I was briefly baffled then realised she was talking about weather vanes. "It's not a chicken - it's a cockerel." I replied. "So why a cockerel then?" I said: " It’s all about St. Peter - just after he's denied he ever knew Jesus, the cock crows, and Peter bursts into tears of repentance. Churches have cockerels on top because they are places of repentance and forgiveness." 

I wonder how many of you knew that? It taught me a lesson that even secular critics are worried about: our culture is becoming biblically illiterate. Do we, really know the stories? Perhaps it doesn’t help that we read the Bible in short, disconnected snatches. It makes it difficult to understand the nuances of the story. Or is that just me? In today’s Gospel, we don't even read the first four verses of the chapter, which give us critical information about what Jesus is doing and where he is going. Go on, take a look - then listen on! 

So, what’s what is going on here? Jesus is going from the north of Israel to the South, from Judea to Galilee, passing through Samaria. Bells should start ringing in our heads immediately. John reminds us that Samaritans and Jews have nothing to do with one another. Sounds familiar? Exhausted by the heat, Jesus rests. Here comes the next surprise. Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman. A Jewish teacher would never speak in public to a woman he did not know, let alone a Samaritan woman. Jesus is crossing an invisible but powerful boundary. And this is why the disciples are so shocked when they come back later. A conversation begins about water. And the conversation proceeds by misunderstandings, as so often in John, and as we will see next week. I hope Jo Williamson or John Fitzmaurice will follow this up. 

This misunderstanding about water is difficult for us to get right in our heads because at the heart of this is a kind of pun which works better in Greek, so I read, but here goes: Jesus says: if you knew who I was I would have given you "living water". We know immediately what Jesus means - water of life, himself the spring of abundant life, life in the Spirit. But the Greek also means fresh flowing water, bubbling up - and that's what the woman thinks he is talking about. That's why - missing Jesus' point entirely - she says "well give me that living water, and I won't have to come here to draw water from the well!" 

The woman then asks Jesus to comment on a major dispute between a Samaritans and Jews - should you worship in Jerusalem or on the Samaritan holy mountain, Gerizim? There’s another misunderstanding. Jesus says that a time is coming when it'll be a different kind of worship altogether. And the woman says "well, I'll wait till the Messiah comes to sort that out. " Next, it’s the turning point. Jesus says something really extraordinary. Almost every translation - including the one we have just heard - says "I am he" - the Messiah. The actual words Jesus says are simply "I am". So Jesus has uttered the name of God - as he later will do at his arrest. It provokes an extraordinary response. 

The woman believes. She has met God face to face - exactly as we do here - and the encounter transforms her. She becomes the first evangelist and after hearing her testimony, many come to believe. The woman at the well this week, the man born blind next week, and the raising of Lazarus the week after that: these three extraordinary narratives are all about the transforming presence of Jesus - how meeting Jesus changes lives. And if that sounds a glib line in a sermon, let's just remind ourselves that that's why we are here, isn’t it - to meet Jesus and find our lives changed utterly by that encounter. 

I don’t know how or if you’re worshipping today as you listen to this sermon on line. Are you getting much out of your worship today? The test of our worship is not whether we feel great after singing four hymns in tune or enjoy the coffee after the service or even understand this sermon. 

ARE WE changed? 


  • Where is the Living Water flowing in your life? 
  • Can you turn the tap on wider or bottle it? 
  • There have been lots of floods around Powick, in my parish, and other places too. recently Lives have been affected by living water flowing around us but may be more destructive. Can Living water destroy anything in your life? Can living water become stagnant? How do we change that?

Page last updated: 4th May 2020 1:39 PM
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