Then Their Eyes Were Open III: I Have A New Name And It Is Free

eyeThen Their Eyes Were Open

I Have A New Name And It Is Free

Exodus 17:1-7

John 4:5-42

 

 

Part 1

They called me Samaritan… So they locked me up.

They called me Scandalous… So they locked me up.

They called me Sinner…

They called me Separate and different… So they put me in this cage

But, worst of all, they called me Up For Grabs…

That’s when I threw away the key.

 

Five is the number of bars on my prison.

Iron forged to keep me hidden

One I call “Kicked to the curb”

Another “Not enough”

One I call “Damaged goods”

And yet another “Broken”

The last I call “Crazy Lady”

Five is the number of bars on my prison…

I name them each as my husbands named me.

 

The iron poles label me as broken.

The iron poles label me as victim.

No… that’s not right.  They label me as ‘Punching Bag’, ‘Bad luck’ as ‘Never Ever Enough’

They tell me I’m nothing, not worthy to be free.

The iron of my prison tells the tale of me.

 

My prison, with its heavy rattling bars, goes with me wherever I may be.

To bed.

To bathe.

To draw and drink.

My prison goes with me because it has become, relentlessly, me.

 

Slam Poetry has been around since the early nineties, but in the past couple of years it has picked up speed as the artistic trend of the day.  It is fast, a little indignant, honest, and it is a vessel to tell some of the most incredible stories.   So, I thought I would give it a try for today as a way of introducing a fast, little bit indignant, honest, and incredible character in the Bible.  That was part one and you will hear two more parts in a little while.  Forgive my shaky poetry skills.  But, hey, you can’t fault me for giving it a shot.

Last week we talked about Nicodemus, the “highly moral insider.”  To whom Jesus said, “you must be born again.”  It took Nicodemus a little while to come around to this idea.  But, by the way he pops up in Scripture again and again… I think he made his way towards that re-birth eventually.  He represents those of us that are also slow to come around to the notion that Christ truly was given for us.

But this week we meet the mirror image of Nicodemus.  The image is flipped, turned around… but it’s story is still the same.  While Nicodemus was the social, moral, and religious insider… We now meet the (nameless) Woman at the Well: the social, moral, and religious outsider.  These stories are back to back in Scripture to tell us that if these two people (so opposite in everyway), if they have something in common… then we all do! This commonality is what we will be exploring today, through sermon and a bit of my poor poetry.

But, before we come to any conclusions… we have to flesh out some of the details.

So, first, have you ever wondered why Samaritans?  Why are they the ones that are looked down upon? Why Samaritans?

Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies.  Centuries before, most of the Jews were exiled to Babylon by the conquerors.  But some Jews, those that managed to stayed behind, intermarried with other Samaritans.  As a means of creating their own identity, they took parts of the Jewish religion and parts of the Canaanite religion and created a mash-up culture, a hybrid of the two.  So the Jews considered the Samaritans heretics and inferior, because they did this.   They felt that they were a disgrace to the Jewish faith and the culture, for having chopped it up.

But these events… they happened a long time before this scene at the well.  It is likely, at this point, that the Jews and the Samaritans just hated each other out of habit.  That prejudice had just become part of the culture.

The Woman at the Well is labeled outright ‘Samaritan’, that is the first thing that we know about her.  And with that label comes all the baggage of cultural prejudices.  She is presented in a way that asks the audience, immediately to paint a picture in their mind of an obvious sinner.  They don’t even have to know the person…  But most Jews would picture a Samaritan.  That’s why Jesus like to use Samaritans in His storytelling… they paint a picture.

So, for our purposes as Midwestern/ middleclass/ protestant/ mainline kinda folk (a different audience)… we, have to remember that we are asked to do the same thing.  So…

… picture that person who you immediately label sinner.  You don’t even have to know them… they are just sinners in your mind.

Who is your Samaritan Woman?  Who is that person that is (as the poem said) scandalous, separate, different?  Who is that sinner that comes to mind?

If you were to tell me that you can’t picture anyone in your mind, that you bare no ill prejudices towards the general public… I wouldn’t believe you for a second.  We all come with prejudicial baggage.

Is that Woman at the Well, of a different skin color?  Of a different age? Gender?

Is she poor, is he rich, are they gay?

For the rest of this sermon, I want you to picture that person as this Woman at the Well.

Now it was considered truly scandalous for a Jewish man to speak to any strange woman in public.  But Jesus doesn’t approach just any woman (which is taboo enough), but one who has clearly the gossip of town, ‘the town harlot’, on top of Samaritan.  We find her drawing water from Jacob’s Well (town center) at noon, the hottest part of the day.  Generally speaking most people, would draw water for the day in the morning.  So, she has chosen a time in which she knows that she will be alone.  She is likely just trying to save her self from being heckled, hassled… safe from the gossip that takes place at the local watering hole.

(If you remember in the story of Nicodemus, he sneaks off to see Jesus under the cover of darkness to be away from prying eye… in the same way the woman at the well goes at midday… empty/ not a soul in sight).

Anyway, we can tell by the way she in introduced, and the setting the Gospel provides, that she lives and functions in a very isolated way that tells us that she is an outcast.  And yet, Jesus comes to her specifically.  And in doing so he reaches across almost every barrier that people put between themselves.

In this case, Jesus reaches across the racial barrier, the gender barrier, the moral barrier… and every rule and convention of the day said that he, a religious leader (a Jewish man) should have nothing to do with her.  The conventions of the day, said that he had the right to look down on her and find her very presence offensive (A Samaritan Woman- the outcast of the town).  But rather, Jesus did just the opposite.  He reached through the bars of her prison, to connect with her/to know her.  She was amazed… and we, truly, should be too!

 

Part 2

“I thirst,” says the ground parched at my feet

“I thirst,” says my belly wrung dry with the heat.

“I thirst, Go! Draw and drink.”

So I picked up my prison, myself, to my feet

I clang and bang as the iron speaks

The mark, the noise, the burden I bear, announcing my presence everywhere

As I drag my cage towards the drinking place.

Jacob’s Well… My warden’s space

 

I lower my bucket down into the shadows

And draw up that which only brings the relentless tomorrows…

“Will you give me a drink?” said a voice so subtle

I look up and behold

One lost.  A Shepherd minus his sheep.

 

Hmmm… A Jew, dusty from travel.

A dense one, clearly, to speak to such rabble

In protest to the ever-present eyes, I call back

“Who are you to ask me for a drink?”

With His answer, His O’ so telling answer

What was dusty and weary…What was dense and confused…

Became light, became love

And took the shape of my key.

 

 

Water, he explained, will grant your freedom

But water, it elements: so pure, so clear, so simple and essential.

Is limited. Is nothing. Is so small and un-essential

But Water, the gift from God, poured out at your feet

Living Water: a freedom, for those already made free

Living Water: a spring, a spout, eternal and yours…

 

“I thirst,” says the ground parched at my feet

“I thirst,” says my soul wrung dry with the heat.

“I thirst, Go! Draw and drink.”

Could it be? Is it he?

The key to set me free?

 

Living water, this is what’s offered to her.  A gift that Jesus presents to her saying, “I’ve got something for you that is as basic and necessary to you spiritually as water is to you physically.  Something without which you are absolutely lost.”

Now this whole scene takes place at the well.  The one place in town that is unavoidable.  In an arid climate like where this is taking place.  One would not dare to live without ready access to water.  You would need to live close enough to the well to walk there a couple times a day.  The entire city is tethered to this well.  Water, from this hole in the ground, is what keeps them alive.

And Jesus is not just telling her that what he offers is rich, fulfilling, and life saving (like what the well has to offer)… but that Living Water, is all that and more.  That it satisfies from the inside.

“Indeed, the water I give will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This is a deep soul satisfaction.  One that is so plentiful and good that it wells up inside, to the point where you become a spring yourself.  Flooding the world with yet more Living Water.  Deep soul satisfaction.

From the point of view of the Woman at the Well, this would have been sounding pretty good.  A gift of peace, of reconciliation to her God, a gift of wholeness (all the things that she had been systematically denied)… Living Water.  That’s just what she needed.

But it is right after Jesus presents this gift of living water, he pretty much says, “Now, lets talk about your husbands.”  And he does so in a way that invites honesty – not accusation– into the conversation.

But woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

One could almost hear the thud of her response.  It feels quiet, defeated, maybe an ashamed kind of a response.

Here is a woman that has had five husbands… and is working on the next.  The only reason a woman would be allowed to marry even more than once during this time, is because her husband had died, or if she was kicked out of the house and her husband announced their divorce.  The fact that she had five husbands, was likely something that was not in her control.  This was something that happened to her.

And this didn’t just happen once for her… but five times.  Either she had the worst luck, because her husbands kept dying, or there was something about her/ something about the men that she married… that racked up the numbers…

She lives a hard life.

She is really living in a very personal kind of prison.  Having to bear the brunt of a lot of shame.  Cut off from religion and worship, cut off from society, cut off (over and over again) from relationship.  Imagine how isolating that would be!

Yet, Jesus sees her.  Goes to her.  Knows her. And reaches into her prison (reached past all that shame) to connect with her.

“Now… “ he says, “lets talk about your husbands…”

We have heard, likely, in the past that her “problem”/ her “sin” is that she engages in serial relationships… that she is an addict.  Maybe an adulterer.  And that is likely the gossip going around the water hole.  But that is not what this text is about… this is all about identity.  This is about dignity.  This is about security.  About fear and worth.  She has lived a life so far that has been filled with disappointments.  She went to the well of promise, (married men that said they would take care of her) only to find that the well had run dry.   Over and over she was sent packing…

All of that, the repeated blows of disappointment… does a number on one’s identity.

Yet, when this passage comes up… we frequently only talk about her as sinner.

The words sin and sinner carry a lot of baggage.  And we understand why.  Don’t people cringe when they hear a Christian use them?  “Oh boy, here it comes.  The finger pointing.”  These words have been used to marginalize/to objectify those who are not Christians.  It’s easy to say, “You’re not like me, you are a sinner.”  It’s a word that has been used to climb up onto a false high moral ground and cast judgment on those below.

But hear this, (here is my soap box moment of the morning) the label of sinner, must never be used as a weapon, because it will recoil on anyone who tries to deploy it that way.  Biblically, no one can escape the verdict of sinner.  But we can stop using sin as a weapon.

Jesus does not say, “Go and sin no more” to her, as he does to the woman accused of adultery in a later story.  Instead Jesus speaks to her of worship, of truth.  Jesus crosses every written and unwritten rule to talk to her in the first place.  This is not a story of adultery or of serial relationships.  It is one of dignity and worth and being made whole in Christ.   He builds her up.  He seeks her out, to build her up.  To gift her with hope and the promise of a well that will never run dry.

I ask you again.  Who is your Samaritan Woman at the Well?  Who is that sinner that I asked you earlier to picture in your mind?

Jesus went to them.   Unlocked them from their cage and gifted them with a new identity and with wholeness.

Children of God hear this.  The story of the woman at the well is a story of restoring hope to those that have been crushed by the events of this life.  Of building them back up so that they are filled with Living Water.  None of us can escape the verdict of sinner.  We are Nicodemus, we are the woman at the well.  We all bears shame in parts of our heart.  But in Jesus all that is washed clean.

Though the gift of Living Water, we can become a spring of water ourselves.  Jesus went to that sinner- the Woman at the Well- and built her up.  Spoke to her words of worship and love.

So to, through the gift of Living Water do we have the ability to testify to the goodness and wholeness of Christ’s love.  To continue to speak words of worship and of love.

Part 3

 

They called me Samaritan… So they locked me up.

They called me Scandalous… So they locked me up.

They called me Sinner…

They called me Separate/ and different… So they put me in a cage.

But, worst of all, they called me Up For Grabs…

That’s when they broke me… and God sent me a key.

 

The outsider to my outcast

The Savior to my soul

A key made perfect, to wash and make clean.

A sinner, so low and unmade… made perfect and whole.

They can name me whatever they want.

For my Savior, my Messiah, calls me simply Me.

The outsider to my outcast.

The Savior of my soul

 

Once a victim.  Abused by the hands that once said they loved me.

Once no more than a label. Marked as heretic, as traitor, as enemy.

Once called sinner.  I’m certainly not a saint.

Once the subject of unending gossip.  Called scandalous.

Wait, stop… I like that.  I’ll keep that.  Scandalous for sure!

Once, called separate, different, and caged.

But that was once.

 

“I thirst,” he said on down the road.

“I thirst,” with only bitter wine to drink

Yet, thank God for thirst on Calvary Tree

“I thirst, come and drink, right here at my feet.”

I picked up my prison, – that had once clattered and clanged

And pitched it.  No heaved it!

For now I’m just me.

 

“Living water,” he said, “ask and receive.”

You may be broken, you may be damaged, and plagued by ‘not enough.’

But God loves you, God knows you.  And I am He.”

Now.  Thank God for that Shepherd.

And thank God. I’m.  Free.

Amen.

Benediction

I am now that water.

I am now that stream.

Here me cry, “Come and see! Come and See!”

My Savior, My Messiah

Has sent me free.

 

Go in Peace.  Amen.  

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