February 4, 2018

Out of the Way

Passage: John 4:7-26
Service Type:

Bible Text: John 4:7-26 | Preacher: Stephanie Haskins | There are some names worth committing to memory.  And for my part, I’d like to remember the name of a judge from Michigan, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.  Judge Aquilina is currently presiding at the sentencing of Larry Nassar, a former doctor to Olympic athletes, who has been accused of sexual assault many times over. Judge Aquilina made the national news this week for doing something extraordinary—for allowing Nasser’s victims to speak out, one by one.  And they have done so, powerfully.  It’s worth looking up.  At one point, Judge Aquilina said to the women stepping forward to speak: “I’m an adult.  I’m listening.  I’m sorry it took this long, but I assure you that all of the words that you and your sister-survivors have said and will say are being considered for sentencing.”[1]  When Nassar complained that listening to his victims was mentally taxing, Judge Aquilina told him: “You may find it harsh that you are here listening.  But nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured.”[2]  Judge Aquilina: you’re my hero.  Thank you.  You’ve gone out of your way to let these women speak their truth.
I wish that the woman at the well had a name.  Because she’s my hero, too.  Over time, the woman at the well has been unfairly maligned.  She’s been misunderstood.  Frankly, she’s been cast as a loose woman.  Typical, huh?  It shouldn’t matter, anyway—because our worthiness does not depend on our sexual and romantic history—but there’s nothing in this story that says she’s anything other than a woman with bad luck.  I won’t go into the details of levirate law—but in all likelihood the man she’s currently with is her former brother-in-law.[3]  But suffice it to say that she hasn’t done anything wrong.  She’s just a woman who goes out of her way to avoid other people at the well.  Instead of going to the well with the other women in the morning, and at night, as was the custom, she goes in the brightness of day.  And in the Gospel of John that means one thing.  This woman is ready for Jesus.
And Jesus is ready for her.  Now you have to know that Jesus goes out of his way to meet her.  John says Jesus is headed from Judea to Galilee and that he has to go through Samaria.  Which is ridiculous.  That’s like saying that to get to Des Moines, you have to go through Davenport.  You don’t.  There are alternate routes.  (And if you ask me, easier routes).  But clearly Jesus has a purpose in going through Samaria to get to Galilee.  There’s a reason he goes out of his way.  And that’s because Samaria is a place that no good Jew would go.  There’s a long and tangled history between Judea and Samaria, but two things are important to know.  First, Judea and Samaria share a lot of things in common, including religious things.  Second, they hate each other.  So it kind of begs the question: Why would Jesus go way out of his way, why would he add three extra days to his itinerary, just to travel through enemy territory?  Why on earth would he go so far out of his way?
So Jesus is tired.  And worn out.  And he’d like some water.  He goes to a famous and holy well in Sychar, and there he meets the Samaritan woman.  And then they start talking, which shouldn’t happen at all.  It shouldn’t happen because he’s a man and she’s a woman.  There are rules about these kinds of things.  It shouldn’t happen because she’s a Samaritan and he’s a Jew.  There are rules about these things.  And it shouldn’t happen because he’s a rabbi and she’s a Samaritan woman.  Don’t you know there are a lot of rules about these things? 
It begins when he asks her for a drink of water, and it’s possible their hands touch, and you can understand why a seminary friend of mine has always wondered whether Jesus was attracted to her.  (After all, he does ask about her husband.)  It doesn’t go fully in that direction.  But one thing does lead to another, and their conversation suddenly goes deep as conversations sometimes do between strangers.  At first, when Jesus talks about living water, the woman at the well does a Nicodemus.  She takes it literally, and wonders where this ever-flowing water might be.  But soon she understands.  She gets it.  The water that Jesus offers isn’t literally water, the water she pours into his cup.  The water he has to offer her comes from an unquenchable source, which is God.  And she has proof of this because Jesus knows important, intimate things about her life.  Not that she’s a sinner (we’ve rejected that interpretation, remember?).  No, Jesus hasn’t pegged her as a sinner.  Jesus understands that she has suffered.  I mean, five husbands, lost either through death or divorce, and a pseudo marriage?  What things this woman has seen, what things has this woman has suffered?  Jesus is ready for her, ready for her thirst, and ready for her understanding, because he went out of his way.  And this thirsty woman is ready for Jesus, for the light he shines and the living water he offers, truths perhaps she already knows in here, but needed to be reminded of.  And hey, if it comes from a handsome stranger, all the better, right?  Thank God she went out for water in the light of day.  Thank God she went out of her way.
It seems to me that most of us have at least one thing in our lives that we’re not proud of, or one experience that haunts us, or one relationship that seems irremediably broken.  We walk around feeling alone, as if we’re the only ones with a secret shame or persistent guilt or a history of trauma when the truth is the exact opposite.  Almost all of us have parched places within us that just seem dry.  Dry as a bone.  Why did Jesus go out of his way?  Why didn’t he take the direct route from Judea to Galilee?  Why did he take that awful patch of I-80 from Davenport to Iowa City, dodging semis left and right?  Why did Jesus go out of his way?  Maybe this is why.  Because God goes out of the way.  God travels to every enemy territory to show how far-reaching this gospel of love is.  God even travels to the enemy territory within, to show us that the parts of ourselves—the stories, the shames, even the sins—are not un-loveable or un-reachable.  Why did Jesus go so far out of his way?  Because he knew that God will travel anywhere, will go to any height or depth, breadth or length, to show the whole world that there’s no place, no place at all, that God’s love and truth cannot touch.  You might gush tears when it reaches you, you might want to turn your eyes away, you might say, “no, not me,” and reject it altogether.  And you have that choice.  But if you think for one moment that the gushing living water of God is not worthy of you, look at that well again.  Because there’s a woman there who knows otherwise.
There’s another woman whose name I want to remember.  She’s an attorney now, and she was fifteen when she first testified against her abuser.  Her name is Rachael Denhollander, and when she stood to give her victim statement to Larry Nasser, she chose her words carefully.  “I can say what you did is evil,” she said, “because I know what goodness is.  Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing.  And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet.  Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.  And it will be there for you.”[4]  Rachael, thank you for your words.  You went out of your way, and you didn’t have to, but you did.  You remind me that the grace of God knows no bounds.  You encourage me to come to the well and to bring my cup, and take my fill.  Because you’re absolutely right.  That water, that living, gushing, ever-flowing water is worth going out of my way.  Amen.   
[1] http://abcnews.go.com/US/judge-olympic-doctor-larry-nassar-case-acted-part/story?id=52462798.  Retrieved on 2/2/18.
[2] Ibid.
[3] There are many resources to learn more about this, but I recommend Karoline M. Lewis’s commentary on John (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN: 2014).
[4] This is quoted in my friend’s beautiful piece: https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/the-prophetic-voice-of-abuse-survivors.  Retrieved on 2/2/18.

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