Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
15th Mar 2020
Sermon for Lent 3 (Year A)
“Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did”. John 4.39
The dialogue with the woman at the well is a reminder of the sacramentality of conversation. You know what I mean: English people are adept at talking about the weather. An Italian may talk about his family and a Russian about the meaning of life. We have ways of ‘entering into conversation’, and many of our conversations are very small and not full of much great meaning. But all conversations are living encounters, and over a great deal of time, the deepening of our fellowship has proved to rest on the conversation as a meeting place for the expression of our lives and what they contain. They can be truly life-giving, and through them understandings may be deepened and enlarged. 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…
In the Church’s scheme for our Lenten readings, the element of place or situation in the Gospel contributes to its understanding. Christ is revealed as Son of God from different locations to both enlarge and to deepen the full significance of his presence. We began with Jesus in the wilderness on the first Sunday of Lent; we are with him on the mountain top for the Transfiguration 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. It is at this place that, through the witness of ‘the woman at the well’ we come to divine the presence of the Jesus once tempted in the wilderness, transfigured in our presence and now recognised as Son of God. All this happens as we overhear a conversation. The conversation dwells on the oddness of their finding one another, in which Jesus’ discloses himself as Messiah, and establishes a new teaching:
“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth’.
This is the witness to Christ which is fully of aware and cognisant, of the reality which is the God in whose presence all other things find their true meaning. The woman at the well acts as an interrogator, and the conversation she shares with Jesus as she offers him water from the well is truly sacramental. Though its outward form signifies one understanding, its deeper meaning speaks of the spiritual gift which has been given to all mankind. This is the ‘water’ ‘poured’ down upon us and is God’s response to the longing of the human soul. As St Augustine once said of God “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”.
It is possible, given the glories of the English language to find many meanings or nuances within one word. In this instance we have two strong suggestions from the word ‘divine’. Firstly, the word ‘divine’ speaks of God. In an old and often said prayer we say ‘may the divine assistance remain with us always…’ The story of the Woman at the Well, her conversation with Jesus and its outcome allow us to ‘divine the divine’. The Samaritan woman divines Christ. Secondly, divine can mean to ‘discern’ or to ‘find out’. 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 found underground.
The vocation for The Church is to ‘divine’ the meaning of our times and to set them within the life of Christian Faith.
Fr Christopher – A Meditation on Life in Central London :
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 sense of purpose in life as a kind of longing. For many, there remains, whether consciously or unsconsciously felt, the existence of God and the searching for God... In every individual there lies a prayer. It is the prayer of life, It contains within it 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 who has made you and who even now provides for your future.
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 those people, the people of God, who form a ‘divine society’. Within such a dedicated society can be uttered the prayer of my life, an encounter with the world, blessed and hallowed by its Creator and its sustainer. The prayer, which like the woman at the well represents ‘the divining of the divine’ is us like her finding that the Saviour we seek lies directly before us. He is ‘the divine assistance which remains with us always’…