March 19 Sermon, "Different Type of Thirst", based on John 4 :5-42

A fairly long Gospel reading today about Jesus meeting a woman at the well.
They have this long conversation and then the disciples return and she leaves.
Jesus has a few things to say to them and she tells people in town about Jesus.
But in all of this, there are two important message themes given to us.

The first has to do with barriers and boundaries between people.
An example of those are summed up by the woman when she says to Jesus “How is it that you, a Jew, asks a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?
She says that because barriers did exist between the Jews of Jesus and Samaritans.
Jesus’ fellow Jews who lived in Judea believed that they had the true religion.
Samaritans lived in Samaria; just north of Judea, and believed the same thing.

The other barrier the woman brought to light was the one between men and women.
So she was surprised that Jesus spoke to her “a woman” in a public place like the well.
Later, when the disciples returned we hear that they “were astonished that (Jesus) was speaking with a woman”.
There were social mores and boundary rules that prohibited such public interaction.

The funny thing about these differences is the fact that she and Jesus shared a common history in that they were originally both part of the same origin and history.
The woman highlights this when she speaks of “our ancestor Jacob” who secured the land Jews and Samaritan once inherited along with the well where they met.
And the other common heritage they had was simply that they were both human beings.

Barriers and boundaries are concocted by people to help us define who we are.
Boundaries are created to help us define identity and to maintain social order in life.
In this case you had religious-oriented and social/sexual-oriented cultural boundaries. But there are all kinds of boundaries and barriers that people set up all the time.
It’s been going on since the beginning of time,….which, of course, doesn’t make it right.

But its not just ancient cultures or other religions where that happens - it still does today!
In our culture today we are constantly reminded about how we are divided between all sorts of groups, between red and blue state, liberal or conservative, urban or rural, etc.
We also have boundaries in our hearts and minds that we think help us define what it means to be American, some of which can lead to racist attitudes.
I heard a guy on the radio recently speak of someone who asked ‘Where are you from?
The guy’s heritage was Asian but his family was here for generations, so he said “Iowa”.
To which the other person said ‘No, but I mean where?’ suggesting he was an outsider.

Yet despite our different political ideas and the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants, the truth is we’re all Americans, and have pretty much the same ideals and values.
And despite the fact that the world is full of different nations and races of people, we’re all God’s children, despite the boundaries we create.

And we do the same with religion that was done back in Jesus’ day.
We have boundaries between Christianity and other faiths but also within the faith itself.
We try to define ourselves by what we are not - e.g. Protestants are not suppose to do the things that Catholics do because they are different and not quite the true religion.
A good number of Evangelicals think many believers in Jesus are not ‘real Christians’.
Then you have many sects that set up boundaries from the Protestant Reformation - Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses to name just a few.
That list is long and the groups seldom even talk to one another, but you know what?
We all; Catholic and Protestant and its many groups, have the same history.
We all share the same origins and basic concepts about Jesus being the Savior.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus worked towards breaking down societal barriers.
So he taught lessons that spoke highly of the ‘Good Samaritan’ in that famous story.
He went to the Gentiles to teach and heal, even though they were off-limits for Jews.
He went to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers even though cultural and religious rules said such people were out of bounds, to be shunned and avoided.
He broke down barriers and reminded us that we are all deserving of God’s love.

Which leads to the second major theme in that reading from John today.
That is the barrier that exists between us and God

The conversation between the woman and Jesus surrounds much talk of water.
Jesus is thirsty, like the Old Testament story of the people in the desert.
But, in talking with the woman Jesus refers to what he calls “living water”.
And later, when his disciples return and assume he is hungry and want him to eat,
Jesus refers to ‘spiritual food’, like when he told the devil “one does live by bread alone”.

In both cases Jesus is talking of a different kind of ‘thirst’ and ‘hunger’ that people have.
The thirst of knowing the heart and soul and mind of the God above us.
The hunger of relating to and with and being in right relationship with that God.
Most people want to know that we’re all right with God and that God is all right with us.

The image of the cross can be used to help move beyond any boundaries of separation.
The diagonal beam can remind us to move past barriers separating us from others. 
The vertical beam can remind us to move past whatever separates us from God.
The crucifix then, can be seen as Jesus, with arms open pleading to us as if to say ‘Come on people,…let me bring you together with each other and with God’

Jesus, in this story but also at other times, says that he is the way for that to happen.
He’s the living water to remove barriers to knowing and being right with God.
He’s the bread of life to removing barriers in our relationship with others and be right with them.
He is the way to admit our own faults of creating barriers to our love of God and others.
As we hunger and thirst to be right with God and others, let Jesus nourish you.

Amen.