“No More Regrets”

Due to the Bishop of Maryland’s March 12, 2020 pastoral directive “that all churches in the Diocese…must shut down public worship services beginning this Sunday, March 15,” I am not able to preach the following sermon at Grace and Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore on the Third Sunday in Lent at the invitation of the Rector.

Readings: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42

Collect of the Day: Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give…will never thirst; the water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4.14

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Who here hasn’t ever felt shame and regret? If we’re honest, all of us, at one point or another, have regretted things we did and/or didn’t do. The good news of the Gospel reinforced in Lent is that when we are honest about such things, sincerely repent of and humbly confess our sins to God, He redeems not only the person, but also the time lost between He and them. And from God’s love made visible in Jesus Christ comes not only the promise but assurance “of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel.”[1] That is why all repentant people have cause to “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation” (Romans 5.11).

This brings us to what Jesus said to Nicodemus during the night last Sunday: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Today, at Jacob’s Well in Samaria in the heat of the day, a local woman has been born anew by Jesus’ “[living] water welling up to eternal life” and the larger community, through her witness, knows that Jesus “is indeed the Savior of the world.”

In our wrestling with shame and regret, Jesus’ intentional passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee is good news. Any other Jew would have gone around Samaria, avoiding any and all interaction with Samaritans. Centuries of animosity dictated this, Jews resenting Samaritans because their Israelite ancestors intermarried with the local pagans and assimilated their religious practices.[2] Therefore, in Jewish minds, Samaria was a land of unclean half-breed race traitors. As inferred from the lawyer’s answer to Jesus in Luke 10, no Jew would have thought of a Samaritan as either good or their neighbor.

Not only is the Samaritan woman viewed in this way by Jews, but the fact that she has come to Jacob’s Well alone in the noonday heat instead of with other community women in the early morning or evening, in addition to having had five husbands and currently living with a man who is not her husband signals that she is a public sinner ostracized by her own people. Her multiple marriages and current relationship cause her to have an unpleasant reputation. She is a woman without a community. You can sense the shame and regret she bears. Hence, we see her come to Jacob’s Well alone.

Jesus’ request for a drink of water reinforces two things about Him. It first reinforces Jesus, “wearied as He was with his journey,” as “the [visible] image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15), God Himself come to us in human flesh who, except for sin, experiences the same human feelings and emotions we do. And with that, Jesus’ request reinforces God’s divine mercy seeking after us. “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman reinforces the vast depths of God’s unconditional love for the entire world. Despite our failings and brokenness and the fact that we don’t deserve God’s grace, He still seeks, “thirsts,” if you will, after us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, a Jew, talks with a Samaritan. Furthermore, He is a man talking with a woman alone. Both these things were considered not right to do in that time. Jesus, though, doesn’t care. He ignores the boundaries and labels the world puts on us. Jesus still reaches out to this woman. He reaches out to all of us. Jesus isn’t governed by human social constructs. He says in Matthew, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’[3] For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9.13). Saint Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). All of us are like this Samaritan woman—all of us need Jesus. He knows our need, everything all of us have ever done, and wishes to redeem us and make us new.

“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give…will never thirst,” Jesus says. “The water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “Give me this water,” says the Samaritan woman, “that I may not thirst.” Our acknowledgment of our need for Jesus changes us; it makes fall from us the shackles of shame and regret. Like the Samaritan woman, we become grafted into God’s everlasting Kingdom. “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world” (1 John 4.14).

Of today’s Gospel lesson, Saint Augustine says regarding the Samaritan woman

She is a symbol of the Church…Righteousness follows from the conversation.

We must then recognize ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come.[4]

The Church invites us in Lent “to make a right beginning of repentance.”[5] This is a plea for God’s people to listen to and act on His most holy Word. In coming together, we make known our want for God to “create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we…lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain…perfect remission and forgiveness.”[6]

Today’s Gospel lesson ends with the Samaritan woman, once burdened with shame and regret and viewed as a nobody, becoming somebody through Christ and a member of God’s spiritual family. Furthermore, she becomes an evangelist to her local community, who, too, come to see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is an interaction of which we all should take note, seeing not only that the Samaritan woman becomes a new creation in Jesus Christ, but how her transformation happens. She was truthful about her condition and acknowledged her need for renewal. Thus, the Samaritan woman became “justified by faith,” attaining “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1).

Saint Augustine was right: the Samaritan woman is a worthy example for all of us to follow. “Lord, I am not worthy: that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” God promises that He will save all repentant people and restore what had been lost. His love does lift away shame and regret and grants grace and redemption.

Do you, then, believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Hear again what He says: “The water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Good news for repentant people. Let our answer be the Samaritan woman’s: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 265.

[2] Note on John 4.7-42, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 168.

[3] Cf. Hosea 6.6.

[4] “The Samaritan Woman at the Well—Augustine” (www.crossroadsinitiative.com), Web. Accessed March 11, 2020.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 265.

[6] Ibid., p. 264.

 

Published by Brandt L. Montgomery

I am a Priest and School Chaplain in the Episcopal Church (USA).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: