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Let’s See What God Will Do!

Speaker: Jake Joseph

March 15, 2020

The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
John 4: 5-15, 27-30
Let’s See What God Will Do!
First Church Guilford, Connecticut

Today, we are in an unprecedented moment. We, as humanity, are faced with our own mortality, the reality of life and death, and our interconnectedness to each other and to God. While it hasn’t been my practice at First Church to pray before preaching, I would ask for your prayers this morning. Let us pray: O God, you are our rock and our redeemer, our safety in every storm of life and our calm with new urgent news alert on our smartphones—help my words and reflection to bring comfort and a sense of your presence even when we feel most uncertain. Amen.  

“Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.” When we think that we have God’s number, we have found the limits of the power of the Divine, we lose hope—we call to the heavens, “God, you have no bucket and the well is deep!”

Our story today comes from a different kind of Gospel than Matthew, Mark, or Luke—those Gospels are canonical or narratives, histories, and are concerned with telling linear, logical stories. Those Gospels are for normal times.

John, on the other hand, is a Gospel written for a later community (the Johannine Community 100 years or more later) that was in daily peril, that needed hope, and was in macro-crisis around both survival and identity. Exiled and isolated (quarantined) from traditional communities (living on the edge of life and meaning), we hear a different conversation with the Divine Question of Christ than the comfort of Luke or the scholarship of Matthew.

The late Biblical Scholar, Dr. Gail O’Day, was an expert on the Gospel According to John. She wrote that, “The Gospel of John, unlike the other Gospels, begins not in story but in song. John 1: 1-18…consists of a hymn… the primary purpose [is]…hymnic celebration of the grace that believers have received from God through Jesus.”[1]

Likewise, in our story today from John Chapter 4, we find ourselves in the middle of a song—a liturgical action of hope. We hear John’s people collectively calling out to the Spirit, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep!”

This story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is uniquely found in the Gospel of John. That means, since it was written 100 years after Jesus lived, that it might not be part of the cannon of the so called “Historical Jesus,” but this is part of the equally powerful Jesus of narrative and faith. Through the Holy Spirit, tradition tells us this story of a Jesus who starts a conversation with someone forbidden by 300 years of conflict between Jews and Samaritans and gender norms. The Samaritans were the remnants of the ancient Northern Tribes and had a different sacred site for worship than Jerusalem. This isn’t a story of history—it is a story of cosmic realignment. Jesus starts a conversation, offers something new, and yet we respond with, “Sir, the well is deep and you don’t appear to have a bucket!”

Gail O’Day studied the meaning of this passage for our faith. She once wrote, “When Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman at the well… he meets someone who provides a striking contrast to all that preceded. When Jesus speaks with Nicodemus in John 3, he speaks with a male member of the Jewish religious establishment. In John 4 he speaks with a female member of an enemy people. Nicodemus has a name, but the woman is unnamed; she is known only by what she is—a foreign woman. The conversation between Jesus and the woman is a scandalous conversation…The disciples want to ask Jesus why he is speaking with her, but their question remains unvoiced (verse 27). Their protests reflect traditional cultural and social conventions and expectations; however, Jesus will not be limited by such conventions and restraints. He breaks open boundaries in his conversation with the Samaritan woman….’”[2] “The formative issue for the Gospel of John seems to have been the question, Who is Jesus? The Gospel narrative is an attempt to provide fresh answers to this question. It seems to move the reader away from overly confident assumptions, false certitudes, and complacency about Jesus’ identity.” It offers each reader of the Gospel the opportunity to discover Jesus for [themselves].”[3]

Today, we are also in an unprecedented time when we are, like the Johannine Community, face to face with our own, “overly confident assumptions, false certitudes, and complacency about God and life. We turn to God and daringly declare, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep!”

The Woman at the Well story is a dialogue initiated by God. Jesus (God incarnate) chooses that well, at that time, and changes the world, but he has to first earn her trust. She knows that he shouldn’t be speaking with her, and the consequences are worse for her than they are for him, yet she persists.

She engaged Jesus in conversation and learns to trust and then believe in him. This is a story that we all need to read from time to time, especially in difficult days ahead because of three observations:

First, Jesus seeks us out and starts conversation with us. In the Mainline Church, sometimes we forget that we can have a personal connection with the presence of Christ. Jesus always seeks us out. This isn’t the territory of Evangelicals—it is the territory of Christian faith. We must be ready to meet God and to have that conversation.

Second, the history and the social rules don’t apply. Jesus breaks all of the rules in this story—and he does it on purpose. God is always doing something new, and we (even in the UCC) need to learn to trust that God is with us and has some level of Providence for the wholeness of humanity and the universe at work. We must learn to trust God again. 

Third, it is okay to ask questions, to doubt, to sit on the edge of the well of the eternal and dare God to find a bucket. The women isn’t easily convinced. We must remember that God will find a way and is okay being with us in fear, in falling short of our goals, in illness, in despair, in loss, and even in the Era of the Coronavirus.

I remember a time when I had to learn to trust God again, when I found myself on the edge of the well. When I first became involved in Habitat for Humanity, it was in my hometown of Fort Collins where I had been called to be the Associate Minister of Plymouth Congregational Church where I served until coming to Connecticut. 

I chose Habitat as my personal cause because unlike all of the other local non-profits, it was the only one, when you would go to a meeting or build day, where the Unitarian Ministers, the local imam, the synagogue, the UCC, and the Evangelical and conservative churches were at the same table together in common cause. Yes, there were edgier and newer “UCC justice causes” out there than Habitat and housing (hammers and nails), but I wanted to be at that table with those difficult people for me and I for them. Having grown-up and been rejected from the Assemblies of God church in that very same town for being gay, with Habitat, I was at table with the same people who had once made my life very hard—and yet we found a common purpose. 

Habitat was founded by Millard Filmore in Georgia based on a theology that is at the core of my belief system even today and is more relevant than ever in this time of fighting the virus. Filmore recently wrote, “Simply stated, the “theology of the hammer” is the understanding that our Christian faith mandates that we do more than just talk about faith and sing about love. We must put faith and love into action to make them real, to make them come alive for people…This theology is also about bringing a wide diversity of people, churches, schools, businesses and other organizations together to build and renovate houses and establish viable, dynamic communities. It acknowledges that our political, philosophical and theological differences exist, but we can all find common ground using the hammer as an instrument of God’s Love.” [4]

Theology of the Hammer—We all come to the well to meet Jesus with different kinds of buckets, but we all have something to share. In addition to learning to trust a real God of faith (and not just seminary scholarship) again, Habitat taught me another important lesson—how to trust God’s presence even in the most expected places. 

The Faith Relations Manager in Colorado for my Habitat Affiliate was a Fuller Theological School alumna and conservative Presbyterian named Erka. Despite or because of our theological differences, Erika would become someone I admired as local minister and emulate in my daily living and faith. At the end of every email she would write and in almost every conversation she would end with, “Let’s see what God will do!” Sometimes in the UCC, we specialize in believing that we control God by our actions. Erika taught me to allow room for Divine Mystery and possibility. Even us progressives can use a little of the hope found in a theology of providence—God’s guidance.

Let’s see what God will do! 

Today, like the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well, we are in a time where our conversations with God are what Gail O’Day called a “striking contrast to all that preceded.” We are living in a time when we are collectively screaming out, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.” Unprecedented indeed—for we may not gather in normal ways and settings with familiar faces again for a time to come, yet we must believe that God is moving, is living, and is with us.

We sit at the edge of a well and call out a strange, foreign, dangerous God- “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.”

We don’t realize the bucket God needs is the one we are holding. 

And yet—we might find some hope a sense of God’s presence and dare to whisper this hope eternal: Let’s see what God will do… let’s see what God will do next.

“Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.”

Jesus replies, “My bucket is the one your are holding and this is no time for ordinary water.” Each of you has a bucket of resources of love, of hope, grace, of care to share. Let us draw from the well of hope for each other in these new unprecedented times that are familiar to God.

Let’s see what God will do.

[1] Gail R. O’Day, “John,” Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, edits. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 382-384.
[2] Gail R. O’Day, “John,” Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, edits. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 382-384.
[3] Gail R. O’Day, “John,” Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, edits. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 381.
[4] https://fullercenter.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/the-theology-of-the-hammer-and-the-economics-of-jesus.pdf

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