1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.”
The woman in our story doesn’t understand right off what Jesus means by living water. That makes sense since I’ve been reading scripture for years and am not exactly sure myself. Maybe she thinks it’s funny that this traveler who needs to ask her for a drink since he showed up empty handed is claiming to have living water to offer her. Jesus elaborates to say that the water he gives will become a living spring inside the believer. It sounds like we’re talking about the Holy Ghost here. Jesus pours out living water on his followers; he baptizes them with the Holy Spirit like John promised he would.
Instead of simply satisfying us spiritually for a little while, like a good hymn or a single prayer can do, a deep relationship with Christ becomes a living, flowing spring inside us. That Spirit of Christ inside us bubbles up and fills us with love for others and desire for God. It fills us with spiritual gifts and keeps us going. Our spiritual batteries need recharging from time to time; sometimes the spring gets blocked up with debris of trauma or pain or neglect. But the Spirit’s spring is still bubbling on up inside us. It’s filling us with what we need not only for the daily journey but for eternal life with our Lord.
Like a mountain spring, the living waters within us keep on flowing, and they come from a single, deep and hidden source of fresh, cool water. God’s Spirit is one throughout the world, but each of us has a piece of that Spirit inside us; each of us can connect to God’s life because God’s Spirit lives in us.
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’ 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Jesus tells the woman that Jews have a clearer understanding of God through their long history of covenant. Then he goes on to say that even the true (Jewish) way to worship God isn’t ultimately important. What he’s getting at is that worshiping God isn’t about where or how we worship. It doesn’t matter if we’re worshiping in traditional or alternative style. It doesn’t matter if we sing hymns or praise songs. It doesn’t matter if we worship in the sanctuary or airport or outside. What God wants from us in worship is spirit and truth.
That means that we come to God spiritually: we come with our whole self, with open hearts and open minds. It means not going through the motions, but expecting God to show up. That means we don’t worship out of obligation or routine or guilt. We worship because we want to worship. We feel the calling deep in our souls to get in touch with God. Worship can mean being overwhelmed by the glory of God’s creation and giving praise. It can mean the feeling of gratitude for the love in our lives surging over us and lifting our spirit to God. It can mean the feeling of drowning in sorrow and calling out to God with desperate hope. It can mean the shudder of conviction when a prayer of confession speaks right to the parts of yourself you try hardest to hide and the assurance of pardon reminds you that God already knows about it and welcomes you anyway.
Worshiping in truth means that we come to God honestly. It means we bring our need and our hope when we worship. It means we look for deeper truth together instead of accepting easy answers. Worshiping the Father in truth means putting all our pretense aside and honestly seeking the Lord.
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
Here’s where the story breaks open for me. The woman doesn’t totally commit to Jesus yet. She’s still not sure if she’s seeing what she thinks she’s seeing. She’s only heard Jesus talk; she hasn’t seen him perform a miracle. She hasn’t entirely made up her mind yet, but she still runs off to tell her neighbors. She leaves so suddenly that she forgets to take her water jar.
This woman just met Jesus; most of us have been worshiping him for years. We spend most of our Sundays in church; we probably invest a good percentage of our income in the church’s ministry. We believe the central claim of the church, which is that Jesus is Lord. How often do we run and tell our neighbors about Jesus? How often do we invite coworkers to come and see a man who reveals our deepest secrets? When the woman tells others, the people from the town come right away to see what she’s talking about. I’d love to see what God would to in our community if we followed her example and urgently shared Jesus with others.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
When the disciples return, Jesus tells them he already has food. First he claimed to have living water, now he claims to have food too. Here he’s very explicit: his food is doing God’s will. When Jesus faces off against the devil in the wilderness he says the same thing: we don’t live by bread alone but by every word of God. When we seek and follow God’s will we find our needs satisfied. When we come to Jesus he makes springs of living water flow inside us. We seek sustenance in all kinds of places and activities. We look for meaning in sports or TV or success, but only following God really sustains us.
Don’t get me wrong, food is good and important for sustaining not only physical life but also relationships and community. Jesus isn’t replacing food with faith, but he is redirecting our focus. In the same way he takes an agricultural example to point out where the disciples fall short. They know by the weather that its time to bring in the harvest from their fields, but they don’t recognize when the community is ripe for God’s harvest. Even though the disciples don’t know it yet, God is gathering new people into the kingdom right before their eyes. Even there in the unlikely and much disparaged area of Samaria people are coming to God in a new way.
In God’s harvest no one person can claim the credit, and no one person has all the responsibility. In this case the harvest will arrive right after the disciples return to Jesus. They didn’t do the planting, but they get the fun job of welcoming a new crop in. Other times they will have the role of planting seeds for the first time and will have to move on without seeing a harvest.
Jesus’ point is that there’s different work to do for God’s kingdom and the harvest will be joyful. Each piece of work is important and it’s all part of the same ministry. Sometimes it’s hard because we minister without seeing results. We can trust that our faithful, loving ministry is planting seeds in some way, even if it takes a long time for anything visible to sprout and we may never know what ends up growing. Other time someone walks through our door with strong spiritual growth planted and tended by someone else and we get to enjoy the harvest. In the end we are all laborers in the same field and the harvest is God’s, so we can all rejoice.
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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 Savior of the world.”
The villagers went out to see Jesus because of what the woman told them, but they become transformed by Jesus himself. This is exactly how we want our witness to others to work: we may invite a friend to come with us to church, but what will really connect them to God is encountering God in community. When we invite someone they have an opportunity to meet Jesus for themselves.
Jesus speaks for himself. The woman was drawn in enough just from a short conversation with Jesus that she went and told her neighbors. The others came right away to see for themselves and were not disappointed. They spend a little time with Jesus and can tell that he is the savior of the world. Whenever we encounter Jesus in scripture we sense that there’s something important going on. There’s something about his words that draws us in even when he scares us.
Paul sees things more theologically. He almost never tells stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. Instead, he offers insight into what God has done for us through Jesus and what he’s doing for us now. Today, Paul reminds us that even before we knew Jesus he died to bring us back to God across the divide created by our sin. Since we know Jesus was willing to die for us at our worst, now that we’re at peace with God through that saving death what possible barrier could stand between us and a new life in God?
Christ died for us when we were sinners; now that we’re made righteous by his sacrifice he will not stop working in us until the new life we have in his resurrection is complete. In our new life with Jesus we labor and we rest; we plant seeds and we harvest; we welcome others and find welcome ourselves. We invite new friends into Christ’s story and we seek new roads God is calling us to walk. The road might take us to Samaria or Goodman Street or back to our old job with a new outlook. Jesus calls us and we follow in the joy of people at peace.
Thanks be to God.