A close up of a mans face with an open eye

Seen, Loved & Uplifted

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Lent 3A2023
John 4:5-42

After walking to Sychar, a city in Samaria, Jesus sits down beside a well, tired out by his journey and, apparently, thirsty. A woman happens to be drawing water at the well, and of course, because Jesus is in Samaria, the woman is Samaritan. Jews don’t talk to, touch, eat with, or any other way interact with Samaritans, and men don’t talk to, touch, eat with, or any other way interact with women beyond their family in the first century Mediterranean world. In this honor-shame culture with strict social rules, no one dared step out of line—but Jesus. As we have come to expect. Flagrantly ignoring all the social rules, Jesus starts talking to the woman at the well. Jesus and the woman have a long conversation by biblical standards and a meaningful one, but the most surprisingly thing about John chapter 4 is that it happened at all. When the disciples discover Jesus while he’s still at the well talking with the woman, they are astonished. But Jesus is just talking, with a woman, outside his family, with a Samaritan, his supposed enemy. Because he sees that she is just another person, at the well, drawing water. Maybe she too is tired and thirsty. In fact, he knows she is.

In our highly polarized world, where we make all sorts of assumptions about the people on the “other side” of all manner of lines, where we see first and maybe only people’s political affiliation or their race or their class or their immigration status, Jesus shatters the echo chambers of our social media, challenges our righteous indignation no matter where we fall on any spectrum, and straight up just shows us how to love people. He certainly knows that his conversation with the woman at the well is off-limits according to the social mores of his time, but the person in front of him is tired and thirsty and yearns for the living water only he can give.

Whenever I see a photo of Earth from space, I am surprised—because every globe and every map and every drawn picture of Earth includes the borders between countries. The borders themselves help us locate places on the map. As do bodies of water and countries’ general vicinity, of course, but borders are the most obvious way to determine where a certain nation ends and another begins. When I see Earth without the borders, I almost do not know what to make of it.

I think we view the people who share this planet with us in much the same way. We want to know where the borders are—borders constructed by race and class, education and employment, political affiliation and ideological persuasion, gender and age, sexual orientation and religion. All the things that make up our “social location.” We want to know where the borders are, who is in the same country as us, before we talk, before we open ourselves, before we risk.

If I may be blunt, friends, (may I be blunt?) all of these borders are just made up. By humans. I mean, people are all different and therefore, in my view, super interesting, and it’s important to see people how they are, just as Jesus saw the woman at the well in her entirety. But the power we give these borders is not inherent to who we are as people, just like the borders that separate the US from Mexico or Canada cannot be seen from space because those borders don’t actually exist except politically.

Jesus meets the Woman at the Well where she is, married 5 times and apparently in a grief-filled or awkward situation. Jesus meets her as he is, tired out by his journey and thirsty. While Jesus is the Messiah, this is not a story about how Jesus saves her so much as a story about how he sees her and loves her and offers her living water. The Woman at the Well is not a “wrong” or “bad” or “different” person to Jesus even though that’s the way Jesus’ disciples and generations of Christians may view this story. This is not a story about how we are to love people who are wrong or bad or different as if we could claim ourselves right, good, or the norm but instead a story about seeing people, loving people, and offering the living water we ourselves have received.

In a few weeks, we will have the opportunity to walk in the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Easter parade and then staff our booth at the spring fling following the parade on Saturday, April 8. We will get the opportunity to see people, love them, and offer them the living water we have received. I’m not talking about talking about Jesus, necessarily. I’m talking about seeing people as they are, loving them with a smile, our full attention, and a genuine curiosity about them, saying to those who might stop by our booth, “You would be welcome at Esperanza Lutheran Church.” Regardless of who stops by, regardless of what they’re wearing, what they say to us, what they look like.

Our opportunities to see people, love people, and offer them living water abound. Not just at church or church-related events but in lines at stores. With the cashier or bank teller. With our neighbor or our mail carrier or the server at a restaurant. The person panhandling at the intersection or the stranger who we think is out of place. Each person lives a full life, has goals and pursuits, has interests and a history as rich and vivid as our own.

I used to be married to a person who understood this better than anyone I know. Ben has a gift of seeing people fully, loving them, and offering living water. When we first met and started dating, I thought maybe he was just friendly to everyone because we were working at Bible camp together, and that’s what you do at Bible camp. But no. Later when we married and went to seminary on the south side of Chicago, Ben had relationships with every student, faculty, and staff person at seminary, from the president of the seminary to the security guards, from the staff in the bookstore to the people who cleaned at night. We moved to Iowa and then to Phoenix, where servers in restaurants we regularly frequented would sit down with us because Ben engaged them in conversation, where—I’m not kidding—people he struck up conversation with on planes came to be friends who flew to Phoenix to visit us, where he knew the names of every clerk at the Safeway on 7th Street and McDowell—and they knew his. What I learned from Ben is not that everyone is the same—because that’s not true. What I learned from Ben is that seeing others with my full attention, loving them, offering living water is the way I too get seen, loved, and uplifted.

Just as Jesus sees, loves, and offers living water to the Samaritan woman, Jesus sees, loves, and offers us living water, in an eternal sense, beyond what we can fully grasp but also through our neighbor. Just as we see, love, and uplift others, those very relationships lift us up. And for that, we can say: Thanks be to God! Amen.