Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow Church 10 a.m. on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, 15th March 2020

Romans 5 vv 1 -11 Peace and joy come through suffering approached positively John 4 vv 5 – 42 Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Sychar

1. Introduction

The Duke of Sussex arrived in the French port of Marseille. When the official asked him for his passport, he had to admit that he had none. He was summarily required to present himself at the Town Hall and apply for one. He soon found himself before a municipal clerk, who was bowed over his paperwork on his desk. The clerk took out a passport form and, without looking up began to fill it in.

“What is your name?” asked the clerk.
“Augustus Frederick” replied His Royal Highness (no, not Harry, for the year was 1791).
“No other name?”
“Who do you belong to?”
“To my father and mother.”
“Are you of the department of the Mouth of the Rhone?”
“No sir”
“Of what department are you?” (Pause)
“Of the department of the River Thames”
“What is your father’s name?”
“What trade does your father follow?”
“He is King of England.”

When Jesus arrived in the region of Samaria at the town of Sychar he was met by a woman coming to the well outside the town. After a considerable conversation in which the woman diverted attention from her personal situation, to controversial questions about the correct place of worship, the woman says:

“I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus responds, “I who speak to you am He.”
The King of kings arrives in foreign territory

I think that this account of Jesus’ ministry is the most amazing account of the all four gospels, with perhaps the exception of the raising of Lazarus. This morning I want to look at three aspects of this encounter, reconciliation, redemption and the laying of a foundation.

2. Redemption and Reconciliation

I have spoken before of Jesus’ concern for the poor, the despised, the marginalised, including especially the Samaritans. Jesus could have avoided going through Samaria on his return with the twelve, to Galilee but he deliberately goes by the shorter route albeit with the risk of re-buff, as did happen on another occasion. He deliberately waits at Jacob’s well outside the town, whilst the disciples go into the town to do some shopping. The well would have been a place of meeting for many, but more so in the cool of the early evening; not at midday. A woman comes on her own, probably deliberately when others did not normally come, for she may have been ostracised from society, seeing she was living with a man to whom she was not married and that she had had five husbands. Life may have been particularly hard for her; we don’t know what had gone on before. Perhaps she was strong minded and not prepared to put up with abuse from her previous husbands. In Jewish society and probably in Samaritan society it would have been considered improper for a man to speak in public with an unknown woman. Jesus is prepared to step outside the conventions of the day. Jesus doesn’t judge her. Far from even preaching to her to repent of her sins, he asks her to draw water and provide him with a drink. In outreach we need to be unjudgmental and willing to receive as well as give. The woman is a bit taken aback by Jesus’ friendly approach. The conversation very quickly and naturally goes on to spiritual issues, using water as an illustration of spiritual refreshment and renewal.

When the subsequent conversation goes on to the correct place of worship, whether Mount Gerizim, visible to them, being about 2 miles away, or Jerusalem, Jesus far from taking up sides, gives an answer that is not localised in a particular place but is universal, relating to our inner attitude and condition. We can worship God anywhere. The principles are to worship God in spirit and in truth. Today some people say that the Book of Common Prayer is the only form of worship that they can use. Others say we must use contemporary language if we want to reach out to people outside the regular fellowship of the Church. Others go further and say we should have a greater spontaneity in our worship and be led by the Spirit, rather than constrained by set liturgies. Some like to express their worship with their whole being, praising God with their arms outstretched. Let us be open to worship God in a variety of ways whether using the Prayer Book, Common Worship or quite different, approaches such as Messy Church. Let us accept one another. As the Coronavirus progresses, we may have to limit further our worship activity. Let us whether together or on our own, worship God in Spirit and Truth.

In this account of Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritan woman, he both redeems her to God and reconciles Jew and Samaritan. He is the Great Redeemer, the Great Reconciler.

3. Church foundation

Jesus is also laying a good foundation for the future Church in its progressive outward movement and universal principle. In Acts 1 v 8 Jesus, shortly before his ascension, instructs his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That third stage was reached very quickly, soon after the stoning of Stephen, one of the seven chosen deacons. Stephen in his speech before his stoning refers to Jacob’s body being brought back from Egypt to Shechem; to land which Abraham had bought. Probably Jacob’s well was close to Shechem, a town perhaps 10 miles SE of Samaria. It was near Shechem that the returning exiles of Israel built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Both town and temple were destroyed in the first century BC. The village of Sychar, only about ½ mile from Jacob’s well, was built up to be a town, in effect replacing Sychem. Philip the deacon, who would have heard Stephen’s martyrdom speech and during the subsequent scattering of the Church from Jerusalem went down to a city in Samaria, very likely actually went to Sychar, before perhaps going on to the city of Samaria. Jesus’ ministry, a few years before, had laid an excellent foundation for people to come to faith in the risen Lord Jesus. The unnamed woman of Sychar had brought a large number of the townspeople out to Jacob’s well to meet Jesus and now they not only believed him to be the Messiah, but that he had died and risen. The Samaritan Church was founded.

The Church of England is making a considerable effort to be a missional Church, to reach out to those outside its regular worshipping community, to have a concern for the poor, the marginalised, the immigrant, the people who are in the BAME category, Black, Asian and minority ethnic origin, to LGBT+ people, We recognise now that the way we treated immigrants from the West Indies in the 1950s and 60s, the Windrush generation of people, who had been encouraged by our government to come and work in the UK, was at times quite appalling.

On 29th February I attended the Bishop’s Study Day for clergy and Readers. The title of the study was ‘Scattered and Gathered – Fruitfulness in the whole of life”.

The main thrust of the day was that we place too much emphasis on the clergy when we think of the mission and evangelistic activity of the church and not enough emphasis on all church members in the their daily occupations as they meet people uncommitted to Christ, perhaps some, like the woman at the well of Sychar with an openness to hear and commit themselves and others who will never be regular churchgoers but will be influenced for good by the way we conduct ourselves at work, in leisure activities and the other aspects of our daily life. There are normally about 60 of us here on a Sunday morning. During a week, if we each meet with only 10 people, that is overall 600 people in just one week, who have been influenced for good (or ill) by our daily life. About 6% of the population of the UK regularly attend a church at least once a month. If each person in the 6% has a significant meeting with 10 people during the course of a week then about 56% of non-regular churchgoers, over half the population of the country will have been influenced by church members.

Tremendous opportunities. In our Deanery Ash Wednesday our Area Dean, Andrew Axon, in his sermon encouraged each of us the make Lent a season of deepening our relationship with Christ. I have never met the present Duke of Sussex, albeit I have once met his grandfather, but I look forward each day to meeting with the Son of God, the Messiah, or Christ, our Lord Jesus.