Who Do You Think You Are?

Sermon from Sunday, March 27, 2011
Paradise Lutheran Church, Thomasville, PA.
John 4:5-42

Who do you think you are? Have those words ever been spoken to you? Were they said in jest or were they said in an insulting way to inflict pain? Words have power and words can either give life or wound your soul.

 The woman in today’s Gospel lesson experienced both. I can imagine her walking the long road to the well for water. Who do you think you are? These words echoed in her mind over and over on the long walk in the hot noonday sun. She had to go at noon instead of in the coolness of the early morning because most people wouldn’t associate with her. She was a woman, who in those days was not much higher in status than a dog. She was an outsider, a Samaritan, one of those people, the enemy. She was a sinner. She had been married five times and the person she was with now was not her husband. Everyone assumed she was immoral, people gossiped just like they do today. But did they bother to ask why she had been married five times? Did it even cross their minds to find out if she had been widowed or trapped in a Levirate marriage – that law that forced her to marry her dead husband’s brother in order to survive? No, no one cared about the circumstances. No one cared about who she was. She was just labeled immoral and someone to be shunned. Stay away from the likes of her.

So she walked, alone, without friends, without hope. Day after day she walked to the well alone, perhaps several times a day to get the water she needed. She felt more thirsty when she left the well than when she arrived. Sure, the water was cool, but it was a heavy load to carry. But it wasn’t just water she needed or was burdened with. She thirsted for more. She wanted to be understood, to be heard, to be seen, to be loved. Loved? With tears streaming down her face she said, Who do you think you are? You are a nobody.

But today, today was different. There was a man at the well. Now, in those days a man did sometimes wait at the well for a woman. This, after all, was Jacob’s well. It was here that Jacob met his wife Rachel. Who could forget that beautiful love story? But this woman knew that wasn’t the case for her. She had been through one bad situation after another and was trapped in hopelessness. And no one cared to take the time to really find out who she was.

 But, who was this man who was sitting next to the well? And why did it look like he was waiting for her? As she reached the well, she got a closer look at him. He was a Jew! She started to back away when all of a sudden he said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” Would I give you a drink of water? She responded. You’re a Jew! Do you see me? I’m a woman, a Samaritan woman, an outsider. We are enemies! You want a drink of water from me? You’ll be breaking every Jewish law in the book? Do you know how unclean you’ll be labeled if you are even seen talking alone with me, let alone drinking out of the same cup? Are you crazy? Who do you think you are?

 I AM. You are……? I AM the one you are thirsting for? I AM. Her mind immediately thought of the words spoken to Moses on the mountain from the burning bush. But God was the only one who could make such a claim! Sure, as they continued to talk, this man knew about her past husbands, about her life, but…he didn’t pass judgment on her. He didn’t look at her with contempt. In fact, he looked at her with compassion. Was he a prophet? She pressed him even further with more questions. She wanted to know who he was. Where was the proper place to worship? Was it Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim as the Samaritans thought? Where is God to be found? He replied again. I AM where God is found. I AM the one who will give you living water, eternal life. Could this be true? Could this really be God who was willing to give this life to her, who knew her deepest fears and yet loved her anyway? Her eyes turned and gazed deeply into the well as she took it all in.

Haven’t we all been at the well at one point or another in our lives? Haven’t we too stared into the darkness of the well, the darkness of our souls and asked the same question? Who do you think you are? Have you felt misunderstood and have the voices echoed back from the darkness, you don’t matter. God can’t love you the way you are. You aren’t good enough. You’ve made too many mistakes. You’re poor or sick or afraid because you deserve all this pain. You’re a sinner. You don’t make a difference at all. Who do you think you are?

 Or maybe we’ve thought these words about others or even spoken them out loud. Who do you think you are to move into my neighborhood? You’ll devalue the property. You wouldn’t be homeless if you just worked hard enough. You can’t sit next to me at work, or school, or even church because you don’t think or look or act like us. You can’t be my friend because everyone knows your kind, are terrorists. Are we the ones who accusingly think or say “Who do you think you are?”

 Like the story of the woman in today’s Gospel story, Jesus is waiting at the well for each one of us. He deliberately comes to meet us where we are. He wants to be in relationship with us and transform us. He knows our past. He knows our pain. He knows what we are thirsty for and Jesus is ready and willing to give us His life that will nourish us. He wants to give us a love that will never run out. Jesus is ready to answer that question of “who do you think you are?” We are beloved children of God.

 And like the woman at the well, we too are transformed and eager to share his love with others when we engage with Jesus honestly. Prayer, a dialogue with God, changes us and fills us with compassion for one another, no matter how different they are from us, and even for ourselves. No one is outside of the love of God. God’s love and grace are bigger than any cultural boundaries or differences. God’s grace is deeper than our pain. God’s grace is more nourishing than anything we can find on earth. We need not fear, for God’s love is bigger than our past and God’s love holds our future. God’s living Word is the Word of life.

 Come to the table of God’s love and mercy today. Be nourished with God’s amazing grace and with the deepest love that never runs out. Amen