3rd Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020

“One-at-a-time Ministry: A Woman’s Spiritual Thirst” – John 4


3rd Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020


Introduction: One-at-a-time Ministry

For the better part of six decades – from 1947 – 2005, evangelist Billy Graham ran crusades that attracted tens of thousands of people to stadiums all over the world. At those crusades he had altar calls where he invited people to come forward as they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Jesus had some of those large gatherings, too – a crowded house, and hillsides full of thousands of people where he miraculously fed them with fish and bread. But in John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we find the opposite – almost chapter-long stories of Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God into people’s lives… one-at-a-time. Last week, it was the chapter 3 story of Nicodemus, and the conversation about Baptism, and the famous John 3:16. Today our Gospel reading from chapter 4 features Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar.


  1. Samaritans in Jesus’ time (and ministry)

There are a few notable stories in the accounts of Jesus’ ministry that deal with Samaritans, so it’s good for us to learn a little bit about Samaritans and their idiosyncrasies as we consider today’s Gospel lesson story. The Samaritans were descended from Israelites who were left behind after the destruction of the city of Samaria in the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians. The Assyrians imported some foreigners into this area, and Jewish people became intermingled with those foreigners, those Gentiles through intermarriage. It was both a physical and a spiritual watering down of the former Jewish purity. Samaria was the area between Jerusalem and Judea in the south, and Galilee in the north. The Samaritans accepted only the 5 Books of Moses as authoritative. They worshiped on Mt. Gerizim, rejecting Jerusalem and Mt. Zion as the holy places. The Jews regarded Samaritans as outside the bounds of the covenant people of God, and avoided them, even to the point of going around Samaria when going from north to south, rather than going through that unclean territory. 

These are the times that Samaria or Samaritans are mentioned in the Gospels:

– Jesus sent out the 12 disciples on a mission trip, but they were not to go to the Samaritans;

– Jesus sent messengers to a Samaritan village, but the Samaritans did not want Him to come;

– Jesus was once accused by the Jews of being a Samaritan and of having a demon;

– Jesus told a parable about a hero who helped a man who had been beaten up by robbers, and that hero was a Samaritan, the Good Samaritan;

– Jesus once healed ten lepers, and only a Samaritan leper returned to give thanks for that healing;

– and then there is this John 4 account of Jesus’ one-at-a-time ministry with the Samaritan woman at the well.


  1. The Samaritan woman
  2. Knew her place

The Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well knew her place in society. She knew that she was a Samaritan, and that Jesus was a Jew, and that Jesus really didn’t have any business talking with her. She knew that she was a woman, and that Jesus was a man, and that Jesus really didn’t have any business talking with her. She knew what kind of woman she was – one who had had multiple marriages – and what kind of man Jesus was – a rabbi – and that Jesus really didn’t have any business talking with her. 

But that didn’t stop Jesus! In fact, He initiated the interaction and the conversation with His first request, “Give me a drink.” He didn’t let those Samaritan flaws erect a barrier between the woman and Him. More than that, He offered to her the gift of God… a life-giving water that truly quenches thirst and that springs up to eternal life.


  1. Knew her need (thirst)

The woman also knew her need, her life’s thirst. She wanted that thirst quenching water that Jesus offered so that she could avoid those high-noon visits to the well, visits that would keep her from having to face and be gossiped about and be confronted by the good and righteous women of the town.

She had a thirst to be accepted by the other people in town rather than to be ostracized by them.  

She had a thirst to have meaning for her life, and to be in a mutually satisfying relationship rather than to be a piece of property for a man to discard when he was tired of her or when she displeased him.

She had a thirst for true answers to the spiritual questions she was asking – Where is the proper place to worship? What is the identity of the Messiah?


  1. Felt her guilt

This woman knew her place, she knew her need, and she also felt her guilt. After Jesus spoke about living water, eternal water, she pleaded “Give me this water…” Jesus’ reply was: “Call your husband, bring him here, and we’ll all discuss it together.” That’s when she had to make the painful admission, “I have no husband.” Jesus – all knowing as He was – replied: “Well, at least you’re telling the truth but not the whole truth… you have already had 5 husbands, and you’re not married to number 6.” When she was confronted with a topic that was not in her comfort zone to discuss, she did what any woman in her right mind would do… she changed the subject!! She knew the Commandments – they were from those first 5 books of Moses that Samaritans were familiar with. She knew that the 6th Commandment forbade adultery. She felt her guilt and, like most of us, she was awkward and uncomfortable to address that guilt.


  1. Our Spiritual Thirst

Like most of us… yes, most of us are no different from the Samaritan woman. We may not be ostracized from society because of our ethnic background, or because of a blatantly sinful lifestyle. But we do sin, and we do sense the guilt of our sins, and we do feel awkward and uncomfortable to address them, defensive even. You remember those times, those situations when your spouse, or your kids, call you on the carpet for something you’ve done and YOU want to change the subject… and talk about something less uncomfortable. Yes, most of us have a thirst in our lives. 

What are our thirsts?

– we want to be, we thirst to be… recognized as a fine upstanding person;

– we thirst to be accepted, loved;

– we desire meaning and purpose in life;

– we want to be known as being not hypocritical, not judgmental, but tolerant, worldly wise, political but not too political. 

We sometimes seek to have the thirsts of our lives quenched by things like: money, fame, popularity, travel and adventure, fashion, possessions, human relationships, activities and busyness, our own importance or accomplishments (that’s pride), and power/position/influence at work or in family. 

We seek to have our soul’s thirsts quenched, but those things won’t do it. Nor will some other religion or philosophy of life quench the thirst of a life troubled and beset by sin and guilt. Buddha can’t do it, Mohammed can’t do it, new age thinking can’t do it.


  1. Jesus

Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman is such an important one-at-a-time ministry because it tells us and shows us that there is a place where spiritual thirst can be quenched, it tells us and shows us that there is a person who does the quenching. Jesus gave us such a graphic image of His work. What image is more common than water? He is like a cool, fresh spring of water that never stops, and that fills our every need. 

When our need is for… dealing with our guilt and sin, He did that on the cross, completely and irrefutably forgiving our sins, saying “Father, forgive them.”

When our need is for… acceptance and love, He says: “I have called you by name, you are mine!”

When our need is for… meaning and purpose in life, He directs us to His teachings which say, “The Kingdom of God is worth everything in life,” and “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” and “If I have been a servant, you be a servant,” and “Love one another as I have loved you,” and “Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” and others.

When our need is for… a Saviour, Jesus reminds us of His own identity… “I AM… I AM the Messiah.” That’s what He clarified for this unnamed woman – “I AM the Messiah!” (Incidentally, we heard how the woman went back to town to talk with the people that she probably rarely talked with otherwise. She told them what happened and asked, “Can this be the Christ?” At the end of the story we hear that many believed because of the woman’s testimony, and many more believed because Jesus stayed and talked with them personally – one at a time – for two more days. They concluded that Jesus was indeed the Saviour of the world. And their thirst was quenched, too.)

When our need is for… hope for the future, Jesus has / Jesus is a spring of water welling up to eternal life. That’s what we all need right now, isn’t it – hope for the future? This whole virus thing is creating a sense of fear. It’s making people – maybe you – uncertain about the future. Will I get sick? How will my job be affected? Will my investments rebound or have I just lost thousands and thousands irretrievably, and how will I cope in the future? How will the world change? This is a big deal, and it’s becoming a bigger deal with every passing day. Have you noticed on the news feeds that everything else seems to have been left on the back burner? It’s been a few weeks since we have heard about pipeline protests, and the situation in the middle east, and natural disasters, and Trump!! There is only one thing on the minds of people these days – and that is health, and life. A lot of those other issues pale in comparison to basic issues of life and hope. Today, Jesus is saying to us, as He did to the Samaritan woman: “I am the Messiah! I have everything under control. I have exactly what you need – water for life, and water for eternal life. Trust Me… and trust in Me!”  

Today is the Ides of March – a day remembered for a famous death. It was on March 15, 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus, Cassius and other Roman Senators. “Beware the Ides of March” was that line made famous by Shakespeare – the warning of the soothsayer to Julius Caesar. But it was to no avail – Caesar was killed. On this Ides of March – we want to remember life – the life that Jesus lived, the life that Jesus gave, the life that Jesus continues to give to us, the life that – even if it’s threatened by a pesky little virus – wells up to eternal life. 


  1. The thirst of others

In closing, let’s also remember that there are other soul-thirsty people in our world who say what the Samaritan woman did that day, “Sir, give me this water!” Having ourselves received forgiveness, an inner peace, a certain hope for the future, and joy that cannot be quenched, being truly rich in our spirits, rich in faith, rich in grace, rich in love, the question Jesus asks us today is “Will you give others a drink from my eternal life well?” 

It’s hard to give a drink to someone half-way around the world, and it’s impossible to give a drink to everyone that’s thirsty. But it is possible to give a drink to a thirsty someone – one at a time – that’s sitting on your town’s well with no ladle or pail. How can you, by serving, connect people with Jesus the Messiah? There are lots of ways really, and maybe you will think of some virus-specific ways in the days to come. 

Author John Busacker gives two examples. In 1996, Bob, the owner of a small shoe repair shop in Minnesota, committed to sleeping in his tent in November until he raised enough money to provide Thanksgiving dinner for 100 poor and marginalized families. It took him only 14 days. It has become a growing and annual event, which has raised over $10 million to provide for the homeless.

Busacker, himself, took some book sale revenue to a stewardship seminar, giving between $2 and $60 to each participant in an envelope. They could not keep the money. They were to pray for God’s guidance, give the money away, watch where it went and share the outcome of their generosity. A pastor, for instance, subdivided his envelope and gave envelopes to his confirmation class. Two boys bought sandwich ingredients and made a “mess of sandwiches” for a Gospel Ministry shelter. One girl bought Taco Bell certificates to hand out to panhandlers.  

Will you give me a drink?

Although we don’t hear Jesus say them in the gospels, Paul attributes these words to Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” That day at the well, Jesus gave the woman an opportunity to sense that state of being blessed. If we keep our eyes open to the well-women and well-men that God places into our lives, we too will have the opportunity to be blessed by our giving, especially by giving them the living water that comes from Jesus. Amen.


Prayer of the Church


Almighty God, Giver of all things, we rejoice today in the goodness of Your creation, in Your mercies new every morning, and in the gift of a Savior through whom we have been delivered from sin and death. We give You thanks for Your Holy Spirit, for the gift of faith, for the promise of everlasting life and for the privilege of prayer.


We pray for the Church, purchased with the blood of Christ; for all who, filled with Your Spirit, preach and teach Your saving Gospel; for our growth in love and discipleship, and for the good works that manifest this love for our neighbor; and for our witness, that we may speak Your Word to those who do not yet know You.


We pray for the baptized in their vocation of worship, witness, prayer and works of mercy; for strength in the midst of temptation; for courage in the face of threat; for hope in times of despair; and for confidence amid doubts and fears, especially amid the uncertainties surrounding the impact of the spreading virus.


We pray for missionaries far and near, for the Lord’s blessing upon mission congregations, for younger congregations, for our steadfastness in the Word, for the flourishing of the work of the Kingdom everywhere, for the renewal of existing congregations, and for the Lord to prosper the work of the Church in every place, and especially our own witness of the Gospel.


We pray for the Lord to grant us a spirit of cooperation; that the Lord may remove from us prejudice and hate, and turn our hearts to the common good; for all the places where people teach and learn God’s Word; for the homes in which our people dwell; and that the Lord may make them places of blessing and love, where His name is honored and children are raised up to know the Lord.


We pray for the Lord to grant comfort, aid, healing and peace to the sick in their afflictions; for the dying near the end of their earthly lives; and for those who struggle with adversity and sorrow, [especially…]; and for the curbing of the Covid-19 virus in our land and in every land.


We pray for those who grieve the loss of loved ones; for our own endurance in faith through trials; for the Lord to make us ready to receive our Savior when He comes in His glory, as King and Judge of all.


We pray for the unity of the Church in doctrine and life, for our communion this day upon the body and blood of Christ, for the Lord to strengthen our faith and love for one another, for the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that we sing, and for the Lord to accept the tithes and offerings we bring in response to His goodness to us.


All these things and everything else we need, we pray to Almighty God, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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