John 3:1-15, John 4:7-30,39-42, John 7:45-51, John 13:39-40
Readings from the Gospel according to John
John 3:1-2 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus* by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’
John 4:7-10 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[b] Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
John 3:3-7 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.* Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You* must be born from above.”*
John 4:11-15 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
John 3:8-10: The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
John 4:16-18 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
John 3:11-15‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you* do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.* And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.*
John 4:19-26 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c]say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
John 7:45-51 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’
John 4:28-30 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
John 13:39-40 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
John 4:39-42 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
We continue on our sermon series from Return to Resurrection today. What does resurrection mean? It can refer to physical resurrection – bring the dead back to life, it can also mean having the parts of us that are broken and dead inside us to healed and brought back to life, to wholeness.
Two very different people encountered Jesus in the Gospel according to John, and have two very different outcomes. They cannot be more different than night and day (pun intended). One is Nicodemus- a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews, one of the elite in society, and the other is the Samaritan woman – a woman who is as low as you can get in the social hierarchy. She is unnamed, probably shunned socially and rejected by her community.
One sought Jesus out, one just bumped into him at the well. And what followed after their encounters with Jesus were very different. Were they transformed after their encounter with Jesus? I am not so sure about Nicodemus, but I am absolutely sure about the Samaritan woman – who was so moved that she left her water jar – what she set out to do at the well in the beginning to tell others “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Have you ever been so thrown off and distracted by something that you totally forgot what you have originally set out to do? Or have you encountered something or someone that transformed you, resonated with you so much that you gave up what you were originally doing to do this new thing? I know how that feels – and I know many of you do too. Some of you have made changes in your lives, your careers, your choices because of some powerful encounter – an encounter that gave you purpose, meaning, hope, and love.
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman is the longest conversation He had with anyone in the Bible. And I believe, at some time or another, we would have an encounter with Jesus that is similar to the Samaritan woman. Here is a person who is fetching water at the hottest time of the day – likely so that she can avoid bumping into anyone, and here she is, bumping right into Jesus. She wasn’t looking for the Messiah, she wasn’t even looking to run into anybody. All she wanted to do, was to fetch some water.
It was Jesus who made the first contact. He asked her for some water. Was he really thirsty, or was it a conversation starter? I can only imagine how her response “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria” sounded like. To those who are not familiar to Jewish tradition, a meeting at the well, isn’t just a meeting at the well.
Meetings at the well often lead to a marriage. In Genesis 24, Issac and Rebekah was engaged at the well when Abraham’s servant, whose purpose was to find a wife for Isaac, met Rebekah at that well. She went down to the spring and filled her jar up, and she fed the servant and his camels. In Genesis 29, Jacob first saw his future wife, Rachel, by a well surrounded by sheep. The mouth of the well was covered by a large stone, but when he saw the beautiful shepherdess he mustered great strength and rolled that heavy stone from the well’s mouth so that her flock could be watered. In Exodus 2:15-22, when Moses fled from Egypt to Midian, he sat down by a well. The seven daughters of the priest came to fill their troughs, and other shepherds tried to run them off. But Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. Reuel, the priest, then invited Moses for dinner, and Moses married his daughter Zipporah.
So the Samaritan woman’s question – “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” isn’t just about people of different cultures talking, or a man talking to a woman, it was about crossing boundaries. She could be saying to Jesus, “Are you hitting on me?
She wasn’t timid – I could imagine her talking with Jesus with sass. Question. Here is a woman who has gone through much in her life. She knew her place. She knew the rules. She knew better to talk with someone who had different beliefs from her, someone of a different gender, a different background.
How much of this is internalized?
I, too have asked “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” when I encountered people who are different from me. I cannot help but ask “How is it that you, a straight person, come to this church?” Even though this church, FCC, is an inclusive church. It is a question that comes up almost instinctively. It is preconscious – it pops up without any conscious thought. It has been ingrained in me as someone who is different, ostracized, marginalized.
This is what the part of us that is broken and dead looks like. We internalise in ourselves that we are not good enough – not tall enough, not good looking enough, not smart enough. We cannot amount to anything good. We are not good. We internalise all the negative things people say about us, and we become ashamed of ourselves. For this Samaritan woman, it is the fact that she has had five husbands.
Jesus made contact. I wondered how that contact was like, to have this kind of impact on the Samaritan woman. I wondered about how Jesus said “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” Was it in sarcasm? Was it in love? She responded “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”
I can imagine Jesus saying it as a matter of fact, without shaming, without judging. I can imagine the look in his eyes that spoke to the heart of this woman. “I know everything about you. I know what you have gone through. I know your struggles, your fears, your desperation, your circumstances. I know you long to be loved, I know your loneliness. I know you. And you are enough. You are good.”
I know that feeling too.
“Those moments of doubting myself
And blaming You for all my brokenness
Those moments I wrestled myself
And You for the answers, for a little hope
When You became real to me
When You would not turn away
When You would not turn away
I will remember
I am an anchor of love
I am a beacon of hope for You”
I wonder if you could think about that moment God became real to you, and God would not turn away. I wonder if you can think about when you realized Jesus knew you – “I know everything about you. I know what you have gone through. I know your struggles, your fears, your desperation, your circumstances. I know you long to be loved, I know your loneliness. I know you. And I love you, you are my beloved.”
The Samaritan woman testified to that love she encountered by the well. I would like to invite you, if you are willing to write down your experience of encountering God and that moment God became real to you. I would be weaving your testimonies into the sermon next week
(silence as people write)
I have always had a dislike of Nicodemus. And yet, as much as I would like to deny it, I have been at many times Nicodemus too. He represents the many times I have failed at following Christ, even though I know what I should do, and what I ought to do. There are times I make feeble attempts doing the right thing, only to falter when I encounter resistance, or when the cost is just too much – just like Nicodemus. When the high priests and Pharisees were deciding to arrest Jesus, (in John 7:50-51), they asked, “Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” It was time to fess up – it was time to testify. Yet, he only managed to ask, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” The cost is too great to be seen defending Jesus, even though Nicodemus knew the truth. Did he not say to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are teacher who has come from God”?
Are there times when we are confronted to live up to call to follow Jesus, to live out values of love and justice, we can only manage to let out a squeak.
When Jolovan Wham contacted me about speaking at Speaker’s Corner to “Free Amos Yee,” I had a similar struggle. Amos Yee certainly wasn’t innocent, but he was just a kid who shot his mouth off. Putting him in jail isn’t right. I did think hard – after all, I am speaking out as a pastor, and religion is certainly out of bounds in Speaker’s corner, but I could not honestly be a follow of Jesus, and be ruled by fear, and not speak out when I had to. Of course, I did run my speech with a few lawyers to make sure I don’t run afoul of the law.
This Wednesday – I would be meeting with Rupa (Shane and Shehara’s domestic worker) and her friend who minister to other Sri Lankan migrant workers here. They had been meeting to worship on Sundays in the park but they have been chased away, and they are looking for a place to host their group. A lot of thoughts immediately came to mind – would they create more trouble of us? Would we get more conflicts here in church? Are they even aware that we are an inclusive church and most of us are LGBT? What if they are conservative? The reasons – excuses actually – came non-stop. They were all preconscious – I didn’t even have to think for these excuses to pop up. Racism, classism, sexism, all the -isms that is within are also parts of us that are broken. As I sat down, I saw the racism within me. While I criticize people when they suggested building up fences around the playground, am I not building fences here? Some fences are invisible. I sat down and had to think hard – I need to see more clearly, and I am grateful I am aware of what is going on inside me. At the end of the day, I think Jesus would ask me – how are you being a good neighbour?
Not all who seek Jesus will get it right. And sometimes, we encounter Jesus not when we set out to seek Him, but in the midst of doing mundane everyday things like fetching water from the well. We need to keep our eyes and our hearts open for these encounters, and we need to be ever-ready for resurrection so what is dead within us, is alive again. There will come times we have to choose between fetching water and following Jesus.
Jesus asked which of the three characters in the parable of the good Samaritan is a good neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers. I would like to ask – which of these two – Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman – is born again after their encounter with Jesus?
And which of these two we would strive to be?
Will we choose to leave our water jars behind, walk away from water only temporarily quench of thirst, things that distract us, things that do not satisfy but leave us thirsting for them again and again, leaving us addicted? Will we then realize and find within the living water gushing up to eternal life?
Not all who seek Jesus will find what they are looking for. Nicodemus found knowledge, but did not find life. Maybe he saw his faith as a private relationship with God. We are called to be like the Samaritan woman, who testified to love with every breath – one who found the living water within, and could not help sharing that water with all she encountered. “Come see the man who know me and did not judge me, but love me!”
“I know everything about you. I know what you have gone through. I know your struggles, your fears, your desperation, your circumstances. I know you long to be loved, I know your loneliness. I know you. And you are enough. You are good.”
Will we testify to love?