I Have Been Changed For Good

Lent 3A I Have Been Changed For Good

March 19, 2017

John 4:5-42

 

The poet Lord Byron once wrote,

“Till taught by pain,

Man really know not what good water’s worth.”

 

Mpeeling Feriase is in pain.

The farmer from the tiny country in the southern tip of Africa called Lesotho (li-soo-toe)

Is once again walking the 60 miles up the mountain

To find grass and water for his cattle.

The last time he went,

The water had run out,

and he ended up needing to kill two of his cows for food.

 

It’s surprising to Feraise,

because traditionally Lesotho has lots of water.

In fact, from his village, Feraise can see lots of water.

It’s behind a dam, which has a pipe, and which sends water

not to Lesotho but to South Africa.

 

Fifty years ago, there was a deal,

And poverty-stricken Lesotho sold its water to South Africa.

 

It was a good deal on both sides –

until the effects of climate change dried up the rivers and brought a drought.

Lesotho is still bound by its contract with South Africa.

The government still gets paid for the water,

but the farmers and the shepherds lose out.[i]

 

When asked what he thinks about all this,

Feraise says something which the reporter thought

must be a traditional African proverb,

but which turned out to be Lord Byron:

“’Till taught by pain,

Man really know not what good water’s worth.”

Feraise knows.

 

The woman Jesus meets at the well knows too.

 

She says to Jesus,

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.”

 

“Till taught by pain,

            Man really know not what good water’s worth.”

 

Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well,

who’s thirsty for good water.

She’s aware of her thirst for physical water – that’s why she brought her water jug.

But Jesus helps her realize that there is spiritual thirst as well –

and by the end of their conversation,

she runs away forgetting about her physical thirst,

leaving her jug behind.

 

Now you may have heard some things about this woman.

Things that aren’t necessarily in the text.

Some have said that she was a prostitute;

that she had a nefarious past;

that the reason she was at the well in the middle of the day

was so she could avoid the other women,

who would likely choose a cooler time of day to carry water back home.

 

Some of that may be true,

but none of these assumptions are actually in the text.

 

What if she wasn’t a prostitute?

What if she had 5 husbands because she was a widow;

or because she had been divorced?

 

In all likelihood if she were divorced,

it would not have been her choice to make –

Men could write certificates of divorce, not women.

(And if she were divorced, it was likely because she was unable to bear children.)

 

Perhaps Jesus engages the woman at the well,

not because she is a woman of ill repute who needs forgiveness…

(Notice that he doesn’t offer her forgiveness)

 

Maybe Jesus engages her out of compassion

because he wants to reach out to someone who is thirsty;

who is spiritually thirsty for the gospel;

and he recognizes in her someone Malcolm Gladwell would call a ‘connector.’

Someone who once filled, will tell the story to others.

 

In this one interaction Jesus crosses so many barriers: gender, ethnic, religious:

He speaks to a woman;

He shares a cup with a Samaritan;

He talks about religion with someone of a different faith…

Today we might say that he engages in “interfaith dialog.”[ii]

 

In his book A Rabbi talks with Jesus, Jacob Neusner says

that for a rabbi to dialog with others was a sign of respect.

Jesus takes this 5-times married Samaritan woman seriously enough

to engage her in real dialog.

 

We can learn something from how Jesus talks with her.

We can learn something about having conversations

with people who have different beliefs and opinions from our own.

He doesn’t say, “I’m right. You’re wrong. The end.”

And now let me shame you on Facebook by posting how wrong you are…

 

Instead, this is how Jesus talks with someone of a different faith:

He sits down – no lectures here.

He’s open with her.

He encourages her to be open with him.

He listens to her.

And he tries to find some common ground.

 

When she points out the fact that Samaritans worship on this mountain,

and Jews worship elsewhere,

he seems to say that that’s not important –

the differences aren’t as important as the look to the future;

the hour is coming when it will be revealed to all of us and

we will all worship God in spirit and in truth.

God is that Spirit, he says.

 

And in that moment the woman realizes that she has received more than she came for.

She runs back home (without her jug) exclaiming, “He cannot be the Messiah can he?”

She has been changed by this conversation.

 

And it seems that as with all real dialog,

she’s not the only one changed – Jesus has been changed too.

He changes his itinerary – instead of going directly to Samaria,

He stays where he is for two more days.

 

When I was in London, my family and I went to see the West End production of Wicked.

It has some great music.

One of my favorites is the song, “For Good,”

In which the two main characters realize that not despite their differences,

But because of their differences, they have been changed “for good.”

“Because I knew you,” they sing,

“I have been changed for good.”

 

Whenever we have real dialog with someone different from us,

if it is open and honest dialog

both of us are willing to be changed.

Both of us are willing to be changed.

 

I received a remarkable invitation this week.

It was an invitation to join a Facebook group called,

“Muslim Families Invite You Over for Dinner/Lunch/Breakfast.”

How could I not accept?

 

Families from a mosque in Fairfax

are willing to invite complete strangers to a meal in their home.

The imam writes that families in his congregation

Want to make connections with more non-Muslim families

And they’d like you to come to dinner.

 

A week from Tuesday I will be having dinner in a stranger’s home…

The family happens to be from Syria and are refugees,

Settled here in the United States by Lutheran Social Services.

 

 

I’m hoping to make some new friends.

I’m hoping for both of us to be changed – for good.

I’m hoping to have some good Syrian food.

 

I’ve been thinking about what gave these families the courage

to invite strangers into their homes…

to know where they live

and where their children live?

 

I come back to Lord Byron:

“Till taught by pain,

man really know not what good water’s worth.”

 

Till taught by hunger,

man really know not what good food is worth.

 

Till taught by conflict,

we really know not what good relationships are worth.

 

Till taught by injustice,

we really know not what justice is worth.

 

These families have been through some extraordinary pain.

They have been taught by their experiences,

and they know the value of making real connections

with people who are different.

 

I daresay that they’re willing to be changed,

and are inviting strangers as guests at their tables

who are willing to be changed as well.

 

When we eat and drink with people who are different from us,

We are changed.

 

Every week we eat and drink with people who are in a greater or lesser way,

different from us,

at this table.

 

Today as some of our young people will receive their first communion,

in preparation we’ve talked about the meal that we share at this table,

 

We’ve talked about how Jesus said that there’s a place for everyone at this table.

We’ve talked about how Jesus comes to us in the bread and the wine or grape juice.

And we’ve talked about how when we receive him, we are changed.

We leave this table, never the same again.

 

The Samaritan woman at the well discovers that Jesus does that.

He changes us;

he surprises us;

he shows up in people who are different from us –

and because of him, we are changed for good.

Amen.

[i] http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2016/06/17/482459229/episode-706-waters-worth

[ii] https://bishopmike.com/

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