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Sermon – John 4:4-14
by Pastor Reinhard Menzel
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear students, dear staff of the university, dear University community!
At the well in front of the gate ...
No, there is no linden tree - as in the well-known German folk song. Two people meet and talk there. It is about the thirst in the midday heat and finally about the thirst for life, and how this thirst can be satisfied.
At the well in front of the gate ...
There, it is hot. A stranger, a foreigner, sought protection from the midday heat under the trees. He is exhausted, tired, and thirsty.
Suddenly a woman comes out of the village, very close to the well. What is she doing here at the biggest noon? One still remains at home and does not go to get water. This is done in the morning when it is cool, or in the evening, when the greatest heat is over.
The stranger is surprised: What is this? Is she an outsider? Doesn’t she have anything to do with the others? Perhaps she has had bad experiences, is rejected and marginalized, insulted and ridiculed?
Even the woman is not enthusiastic about the stranger at the well. Is this one from Jerusalem? They have something against the Samaritans, their people. They also reject the faith of the Samaritans and insult them as unbelievers. In addition, water is precious in this area. It is not good if many strangers want to have something of it.
At the well in front of the gate, …
Two people meet there. They know nothing about each other they have prejudices and are concerned with their own worries and problems.
There is Jesus, a distinguished man, and
a simple woman who would rather avoid her fellow men.
Actually, they belong to the same people.
But the story of the previous generations has alienated them from each other.
Can they ever get in touch with each other in the face of their strong prejudices? Do they understand each other or don’t misunderstandings make it impossible to understand each other?
At the well in front of the gate, …
Jesus meets a woman,
and this meeting changed her life fundamentally.
Such meetings are needed.
How else can people find the source that really quenches their thirst for life?
Such meetings were needed, even as John wrote his gospel.
The Christians were a small, insignificant minority then. They were smiled at by some, But they were ignored by most of them.
Such meetings are needed today in our country, in our city, in our university.
Many people belong to any church no longer.They have left, or have never been a member.They cannot do anything with religion and faith, and they often don’t have anything to do with it. They have got the same prejudices as their parents and grandparents: Faith is unscientific and against all reason. Religion is something only for the weak, who think they would be better in life if they believe.
And then there are many, they have come to study or to research as a scientist here. Others have been politically persecuted in their homeland or have fled from war, violence and poverty. They don’t understand the German language and know little about how we organize our coexistence in Germany and Europe.
Some are Muslims or belong to other non-Christian religions and their culture and traditions are alien to us.
These are conceivably bad prerequisites to get in touch with one another or to fill the Audimax for a university worship service at the beginning of the semester.
Compared to the approximately 10,000 students studying at the BTU, our Student Christian fellowship is only a small minority. 15 to 20 students come every Tuesday to the fellowship meeting. At the Monday Morning Prayer we are two or three.
You are asking now: What this has to do with this preaching text?
Jesus gave a mission to his disciples.
He has left them an order. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we can read:
(Jesus says) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
(Matthew 28: 19-20)
That is, we should show the love of God to all people, so that this love becomes the source of true life in them.
We should not do this for our own sake, so that we may be a few more people in the fellowship. No, the others, our friends and fellow students, need such talks at the well, which make them discover where they can quench their thirst for life, recognition and devotion.
The Evangelist John introduces us with this “talk at the well”, how people come into conversation with each other, despite prejudices and misunderstandings, and how this conversation in the midst of everyday life becomes a meeting that can really quench the thirst for life.
In the midday heat – Jesus is exhausted and tired, the Samaritan woman busy with everyday things that are simply necessary for life – then the conversation begins, quite coincidentally, not planned, between the two only. At the well, in the midst of everyday life, they come into conversation with everyday life.
At the well, in the midday heat – nobody interferes with them. Thus the woman can dare to put out her invisible protective armor of prejudice and mistrust. She can dare to talk to the stranger and talk about something personal.
In the midday heat, she can be sure that no one will ridicule her or make a shitstorm over her.
It is a conversation in the middle of everyday life, but not in the public eye.
Jesus, the stranger, addresses the Samaritan woman. He is thirsty. She has a vessel to draw water from the well. She realizes: He needs me! He is like me, he is thirsty - like me.
I can do something for him.
So Jesus addresses the woman to what she can give. He recognizes that she is the one who can quench his thirst now.
This is how a meeting taking place on the same level. This can lead to a conversation, which doesn’t only remain on the surface.
In the beginning, however, the prejudices are still stronger. The Samaritan woman immediately realized that he belongs to those who look down on people like her – to their unbelief, to their other values, and life content.
Yes, she feels her prejudices even confirmed. The answer of Jesus sounds arrogant: “If you knew …, you would have asked me and I would have given you living water.”
Yet it is the woman who has a vessel.
Her(!) spring can quench his thirst!
This misunderstanding confirms her prejudices.
Indeed, Jesus’ speech of “living water” is ambiguous. Perhaps he himself was surprised that the woman misunderstood him.
They are standing by a well. The Samaritan woman immediately thinks of the bubbling spring that feeds the well with fresh, delicious water.
Jesus, however, speaks of the water that gives life and quenches the thirst for life.
This misunderstanding is productive. Otherwise, misunderstandings interfere with communication, but here the misunderstanding contributes to the fact that the conversation of the two persons doesn’t remain on the surface. The conversation about the thirst in the midday heat becomes to a conversation about the thirst for life.
Water means life. Jesus attaches to this basic human experience, as he points to himself – as a source, which can saturate man's life once and for all.
He ties in with the experiences of the woman and takes her and her situation very seriously. Moreover, he trusts in her very much.
He trusts in the Samaritan woman that she herself can become a life-giving source for others. This is great, isn’t it?
Jesus trusts in this woman doing something quite decisive.
Let us remember, Jesus said to the woman at the well: “… but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Jesus trust in the woman.
What do we trust in our friends and fellow students? What do we trust in those who live differently than we do –whether because of their faith, their political attitude, their sexual orientation or their cultural interests?
Yes, it is and remains a risk to trust in others. At the end of the meeting on the well the evangelist describes how the Samaritan woman becomes a life-giving source for the people in her place.
We can read at the end of the chapter:
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”
The Samaritan woman has discovered Jesus as a life-giving source and has become a source for others.
The question remains: How is this possible?
The first impression of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well is, "So you cannot talk to anyone!" The two of them are talking to each other.
They use the same words, but they mean something completely different.
But the way Jesus deals with the Samaritan woman is also impressive, too. This way creates proximity. He takes the woman seriously. Attention, interest, confidence – all this is experienced by the woman meeting Jesus at the well.And feels good to her - as good as a sip of water in the desert.
Nevertheless, the question remains:
How did it become possible that she discovered Jesus as the life-giving source? How is it possible that people with whom we live together and are in conversation discovering Jesus as the source of life?
The evangelist doesn’t write anything of Jesus' persuasion, anything of his fascinating charisma. He writes about the hope of Jesus.
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
It is and remains God's gift that a man realizes that Jesus Christ is the source of our life, so that everything else becomes secondary.
The coexistence of completely different people can succeed in this certainty.
In this certainty, we can approach each other, and tell each other of our experiences, expectations, desires, and longings.
In this certainty, as different as we are, we can go together, study together, research together, master everyday life together. We do not need to be afraid of misunderstandings, different languages and horizons of experience.
We only need three things:
the sense of what is good for the people we meet; Understanding and openness for their other situation and experience of life; the own experience of how Jesus Christ quenches our thirst for life.
For where Jesus Christ feeds our life as a source, we become people from whom life goes for others.
Jesus himself trusts in us to do this.
For he knows what he has to give.
And that is much stronger than anything with which we stand in his way.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.