Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent Year A
19th Mar 2017
Sermon for Lent 3 (Year A)
“Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did”. John 4.39
On these Sundays of Lent, we began with Jesus in the wilderness on the first Sunday of Lent; we were with him on the mountain top for the Transfiguration on the second Sunday and now we find ourselves in quite a different place, beside a well outside a small town called Sychar. There we meet Jesus and a Samaritan woman who gives him water at an historic old well gifted by Jacob, The Father of the Nations.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth’.
The dialogue with the woman at the well is a reminder of the sacramentality of conversation. You know what I mean: On the surface, English people are adept at talking about the weather. An Italian may talk about his family and a Russian about the meaning of life. All conversations are shared encounters, and they promise the deepening of our understanding and regard for one another. They promise surprise and illumination and profound communication. Suddenly we are sharing something which means so much to both of us. This is where we meet Jesus and the woman at the well this morning. Their conversation dwells firstly on the oddness of their finding one another, and then then we realise the depth of their understanding of one another as we listen in…
The woman at the well acts as Jesus’ interrogator, and the conversation she shares with Jesus is both direct and indirect. Though the outward form of the conversation revolves around water and life, the inner form has Jesus revealing something much more profound. He assumes that in this conversation, the woman is seeking something from him. This, he knows, is the ‘water’ ‘poured’ down upon us as God’s response to the longing of the human soul. He knows that she longs for God and that her questioning is never idle. She is the woman for whom St Augustine once addressed these words to God: “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”.
The Samaritan woman literally divines Christ. Divine can mean to do with God or it can mean to ‘discern’ or to ‘find out’, ‘to seek to find’ You have to imagine the water-diviner with his willow stick, plodding around large pieces of land until he finds the place where a well may be sunk. He cannot know this unless this odd piece of wood moves and shakes in a particular way. It is both a scientific and unscientific process by which water is ‘divined’ and deep reserves of water can be found underground. The conversation between Jesus and the woman is one in which the deep sources of Jesus’ spiritual authority are being summoned forth and expressed. The encounter is an architype for the encounter between the Christian disciple and the new convert. Such conversions then as now rest on both the revelation of God and conversation of persons.
The vocation for The Church is, in God, to ‘divine’ the meaning of our times and to experience them within the life which is Christian Faith.
Fr Christopher – A Personal Meditation on Life in Central London (written ten years ago, now):
Many are drawn to the idea of the City as a place of changes and yet also as anonymous. It is possible to conceive of the city as both radically anonymous and yet at the same time a place of crowded movement and change; a place which offers a blindingly vast range of choices and encounters but with little experience of a still centre. This represents a gap wherein lies the individual’s human longing. For many, there remains the existence of God and the searching for God... I believe that at the heart of every human life there lies a prayer. It is the prayer of life itself. It contains all your hopes and fears, your joys, your dreams, your longing… the whole of your life’s purposes and its future too. It is the prayer which makes it possible to reach out beyond what is known and to find the God there.
But for most people this prayer remains unspoken. It is unheard and unheeded. How can I know this prayer, and to speak it and to hear if it remains unuttered, or if there is no one to whom it can be addressed? In today’s London there need to be those places, inhabited by certain people, the people of God, who form a ‘divine society’. Within such a dedicated society the prayer of my life may find a source, a channel, the well spring of life. The prayer of my life, is the discovery that the Saviour we seek lies is nearer to us than we could have imagined. He is with us as ‘the divine assistance which remains with us always’…
Some of the people who have come to church have come as a result of getting to know someone each day and merely saying ‘Good morning!’ Some have come to Christ through a rigorous process of long conversation and soul-searching. Come what may, there is a sense in which while we worship God in His Church, we come to divine the divine presence and find that it stands for the discovery of God in our lives. As Jesus assures the woman and us at the well, it is the drinking of that spiritual water which satisfies a longing far deeper than we know…No wonder then, that she can say to friends “Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did”.