Based on a Sermon first preached at Westergate Methodist Church on Sunday 15th March.
We find ourselves in unprecedented, anxious and unexpected times. It is almost impossible to escape the unending media updates on the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, and at times it is hard to work out what is truth, and what is media spin, fiction and scaremongering.
It is likely that within the next few weeks we will find new barriers and boundaries placed upon us to seek to protect the vulnerable and control the spread of the virus; social-distancing, self-isolation, hand-washing, cancelling of events and closing of buildings among them. People are understandably anxious about what the next few weeks will hold, including whether we will have enough food and supplies.
But barriers are not new. Good or bad, they have always been part of human life, from the segregation of the feudal system and the slave trade to stories throughout scripture where we find kingdoms and walls and wars where people are divided and boundaried. And many boundaries we know today are human made, from walls and fences, to the meaning we human beings have place on rivers, forests, cliffs and mountain ranges.
As we come to John 4, we meet Jesus who ignores social, cultural and geographical boundaries for the sake of his mission.
Things had got a bit difficult, Chinese whispers spreading and anxiety growing, for rumour had it that Jesus was baptising more people than John. And while the truth was that Jesus wasn’t baptising anyone (4:2), at the time it was the rumours that help weight – not the truth.
So what does Jesus do?
He leaves Judea, and to do so he heads through Samaria – outsider land, a place that Jews didn’t typically go, to a people that Jews didn’t typically mix or socialise with. But Jesus is either ambivalent to the boundaries or intentially walks through them. It seems that boundaries were not so important to Jesus…
As the day goes on, Jesus is tired so as they reach Sychar, the disciples head for food while Jesus rests by the well; tired, hungry, thirsty, alone. Perhaps he’d been there a while when along comes the Samaritan woman, in the heat of the day. And ignoring social and cultural boundaries, Jesus speaks to this Samaritan, this woman, and not just speaks, but asks her for a drink too.
And as the conversation goes on (and there’s much more that could be said!), Jesus offers hope of living water, that will spring up into eternal life. The idea of a fresh, abundant, flowing spring of life excites the woman, gives her hope and she says to this Jewish bloke, give me some! (4:15).
This woman, in her conversation with Jesus, finds a sense of hope, life, freedom, self worth – as Jesus sees her as the human she is, without the barriers of social and cultural conformity. She declares ‘you are a prophet’ (4:19), and Jesus then declares that mountain and Jerusalem will one day not matter at all, because true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth (4:21-23). Not worship that conforms to human barriers and boundaries, but worship that is personal, individual, true, in spirit.
In her encounter with Jesus, this woman is set free, through Jesus simply speaking words of truth and compassion, and ignoring barriers of culture and society. She becomes an evangelist in telling the rest of the city of her encounter, and many also believe.
All because Jesus didn’t have a bucket, and didn’t care for cultural, geographical and social boundaries.
Jesus comes to meet each of us at the well, just as he met the woman at the well. He meets us as human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made. Filled with possibility and potential, love and compassion, mercy and grace, creativity and gifts and skills.
Each of us brings to the table of the work of God something no-one else can be. Being someone no-one else can be.
So where is our well? Where can we experience the transformation of Jesus presence?
Over the coming weeks, we don’t know what barriers and boundaries are going to be placed upon us, in an effort to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the nation, especially those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
But whatever boundaries may be put in place (which we need to respect and follow), Jesus doesn’t follow them.
Jesus doesn’t conform to human boundaries, Jesus meets us at the well, even if we’re isolated and alone, and says mountain or Jerusalem, church building or community centre, that doesn’t matter, what matters is worship in Spirit and in truth.
Gathering in a community of believers is helpful, encouragement, supportive, and we know that to belong to Jesus, to worship in Spirit and truth, is to be part of a communtiy of believers.
But we can be community without being sat next to each other, for a time. We have phones, some have email and social media, we overcome barriers and boundaries in different ways. Wherever we find ourselves over the coming weeks, in these days of anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus ignores the barriers and offers living water to all, that springs up into eternal life.
Jesus offers hope.
Hope that this too will pass.
Confidence that Jesus will overcome any barriers or boundaries that may come our way.
Assurance that he is always with us, no matter what.
Jesus does and will meet with us wherever we are, no matter what is going on in the world around us.