06.14.15 God’s Favorite Story John 4:5-42 Sermon Summary
She may be in your in your past, she may be with you now, she is probably in your future, but the Samaritan Woman has a story you want to hear.
- The three old stories of the Bible and our lives
- The stories of the Samaritan Woman
- How God’s story is different than the one religion tells
- What happens at the Table, and why it matters
- Questions for discussion and reflection
In the words of the traditional hymn, one of the things we do in worship is rehearse “The old, old story.” The Bible is full of old stories. It is the epic of sin and redemption, the most fundamentally human story. It is also boy meets girl, the most popular story. But at the beginning, the first old story of the Bible is Creator and creation.
The story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well combines all these old stories. The Samaritan Woman’s old stories have been interpreted in various ways. She is often cast as uppity, defensive, or coy. I have observed that many people are this way around Jesus, including me. History has portrayed her as an immoral home-wrecker. This often includes that she is a social and spiritual failure.
More recently, scholars have suggested that she is a victim of Levirate marriage, the stipulation in the Old Testament that if a married man dies before having children, his single younger brother is required to marry his widow and produce children for him. This continues through the deaths of as many brothers are available until an heir is born. In this woman’s case, she’s gone through five brothers already—and can you blame the sixth for being afraid to marry her?
In her story, sin has robbed her of hope. Her old story is a love-less, unromantic one. And she appears resentful towards creation which is always so hot and dry (“Give me that living water so I will not have to keep on coming here to draw water”). The only hope in her story is for the Messiah called Christ, and when she encounters Jesus, her story changes.
Through Jesus, she learns of God’s favorite story. She thought God’s story was one of religious rules and rituals: Which mountain to worship on; which marriage law she had to follow; which parts of the Bible were God’s Word. These all characterized her religion as a Samaritan.
But God’s favorite story isn’t a one way religious street. It’s one that merges with our stories. God’s favorite story is one of redemption despite sin, of true love between God and humans, and of communion between Creator and creation. It is the old story of sharing a meal together. Here at Jacob’s well, Jesus shares a drink with the woman, and then tells his disciples he has food they know nothing about.
Did you know that in the Bible God’s first and last words to humans have to do with a meal? In Genesis 2:16 God says, “Eat freely!” And in Revelation 22:17 (quoting our passage from Isaiah), God says, “Drink freely!” Everything in between is God’s story of sharing meals with humanity. (See Leonard Sweet’s book From Tablet to Table for more.)
The table is the perfect place to hear God’s story. At the table, multiple ingredients that alone taste terrible are combined and transformed into something delicious. Likewise, at the table individual lives that were once alone and isolated, like this woman’s, are brought into a community. At the table the individual episodes of our lives are incorporated into God’s favorite and larger narrative and thereby given meaning: “Meaning in life is not found from reducing things into smaller categories and making finer distinctions. Meaning in life is found in putting things together; connecting the dots; and getting the ‘big picture,’ which can be told in narrative and metaphor.” From Tablet to Table, p. 30
Narrative and metaphor is the essence of scripture and sacrament. It is why scripture and sacrament are inseparable. It’s why John Calvin said the sacrament is the seal upon the scripture. It’s why Jesus says, “Do this remembering me.” The “this” is sharing the table story. Paul says, “We proclaim his death until he comes again.” No less than scripture and sermon, the sacrament proclaims God’s Word.
For the past two years I have been brought to Jacob’s well at noon to reflect upon the painful episodes of my childhood. It is a dry and lonely place. But it is my story. There Jesus has said to me as he said to the Samaritan Woman: “What you have said is true. That has been your story.”
But then Jesus continues to speak with me and shows me that the painful episodes of my childhood are only PART of my story. And that my story is only part of GOD’S story. And through hours of counseling, prayer, and friendship, I am experiencing healing. Some of the greatest moments of healing, however, have occurred at the Lord’s Table. For at this table we rehearse God’s favorite story—the story of creation, providence, and redemption.
Our stories are God’s story; and whether you believe it or not, God’s story is our story. But if you believe it now, you don’t have to wait to have your old story transformed towards a happy ending.
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
- If you thought of the Samaritan Woman more as a victim of a religious system and less as an immoral person, how much more closely can you relate to her? What new things does her story teach you now?
- What parts of your story need to be transformed before they can have a happy ending? Do you keep them isolated, or can you let Jesus incorporate them into God’s story?