What are we looking for? Woman at the well – Sermon

John 4: 5-42 (Briarwood, March 2014)

“He told me everything I have ever done.”

Good morning.

Let us pray.

O Lord, who knows all things.  The depth of the universe, the bottom of our hearts.  Startle us once more with your truth.  And let me speak and let us hear the word you have for us today.  Through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

At the end of today’s story, a woman, unnamed, of little social standing in her community, becomes a witness to Jesus, because, she says, He told me everything I have ever done.

The story doesn’t include it.

But it’s implied.

And we might as well just fill it in.

Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done….and loved me anyway. (Canon J. Cope, Washington National Cathedral)


Today’s story is a story where Jesus is revealed in a unique way in the Gospels.  And it’s a story where our human need and condition is laid bare as in no other way in the Gospels.

It shows the one thing every human needs.  Without it we shrivel.  Lose hope.  Stop growing. The one thing every human being needs to be fully human and that is:

to be loved



After breaking up with his fiancée, a young man realized the error of his ways when he wrote: “Dearest Marie, No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you! Yours forever, Jimmy…P.S. And congratulations on winning the lottery.

Not that kind of love.

Not today.

Not the kind this woman at the well is given.

The story takes place in Samaria, at a well at noon, with Jesus and a woman.

Which tells us right from the start, that this woman is, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, a “triple outsider”.  She is a Samaritan.  Those from the North who inter-married with Assyrians from the East.  Cutting off their right to be Jewish.  To be included in that faith.  She is a woman.  Strictly bound in Jesus’ day by social and religious regulations.  They could not worship with men, whose morning prayers included, Thank you God, I am not a woman.  And finally, she is a Samaritan woman at a well at noon.  Past the time mid-morning when all the women of the village would go to the well together and socialize as they gathered water.  In fact, you can pretty much hear them talking about this woman.  5 husbands, on her 6th.  Snicker, snicker, gossip, gossip.  And she’s at the well at noon, excluded by men, by other women, by society and by religion.

And so, is it any wonder, the power of her exclamation at the end of this story –

Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done (….and loved me anyway.)

Jesus speaks to her, engages her.  And in so doing, like the ice that will shatter and crack on the lake behind me in a few weeks, breaks right through everything about this woman, including her past, and asks her for a drink of water.

What follows is a strange conversation; almost one as if Jesus has met his match.  The conversation starts lightly, like the one with Nicodemus, but goes theologically, and subtle, and beyond physical thirst quickly.

“”He says, “I’m thirsty. May I have a drink?” She answers, “But Jews don’t drink with Samaritans.” He says, “I can give you living water.” She answers, “But you don’t even have a bucket.” He says, “If you drink living water you will never be thirsty.” She responds, “I’ll take some.””” (Buchanan).

And the kind of living water that this woman does receive from Jesus in this story.  The thing that gives her new life, enough to cause her to forget her precious watering jar (the one necessary for physical life) at the well, and to run to the village of people (that have been her judges and excluders), is this encounter with a man who tells her I am he (the Messiah) who tells her everything she has ever done…….and that’s right…..still loves her.  Without conditions of gender, religion, divorces or past.

That’s the life-changing living water that Jesus gives this woman in this story.  That changes her life.  That reveals so much about Jesus.  That says so much about what it means for us to be his followers.



if we want to follow Jesus,

to be called his disciples,

we are most welcome,

to make unconditional love

for other people

the chief

and greatest

mark of our lives.

But before that

we are welcome

most welcome

to put ourselves in the place

of this woman

in this story.

“You see, by telling the woman who she is,

Jesus shows her who he is.

By confirming her true identity,

he reveals his own, and that is how it still happens.

The Messiah is the one in whose presence you know who you really are—

the good and bad of it, the all of it, the hope in it.

The Messiah is the one who shows you who you are by showing you who he is—

who crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, drops all disguises—

speaking to you like someone you have known all your life,

bubbling up in your life like a well that needs no dipper,

so that you go back to face people you thought you could never face again,

speaking to them as boldly as he spoke to you.

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.” “ (Barbara Brown Taylor)

And still loves me.



We lost Fairlie Dawson this week.

She had been a member of Briarwood

since 1964.  She died at age 92.

I learned a few things about Fairlie

that I didn’t know,

in talking with her family this week.

Her parents,

inspired by the missionary movement

left Scotland in 1913

as missionaries in Nigeria

in the Hausa region.

Farilie was a baby, and a woman on the ship

looked at her mother and told her she

was doing a terrible thing

bringing a baby to Nigeria.

In any case,

Fairlie was raised their

by a mother’s helper

who spoke Hausa.

And so Fairlie’s first

language was Hausa.

When she was old enough,

her parents,

like other missionaries did,

sent her back to Scotland

to a special boarding

school for missionaries’ kids.

She eventually married an Engineer.

Eventually settled on Tampico Street

in Pointe-Claire.

And here at this church.

We didn’t know

how sick she was

until she had died.

But her grandson,

was here from California,

a techie who has

shaken the hand

of Barack Obama,

and said

that in the last few

days before she died

Fairlie was able to talk

a bit.

And one of the songs

she would say to her herself.

Was a song that mother’s helper

had taught her

in the Hausa language in Nigeria

so long ago.

A song that had stayed with her,

informed her

shaped her,

blessed her.

Yesu na kaunar wannan ni na sani.

Jesus love me, this I know.

He told me everything I have ever done….and loved me.


the same is true for us.

In Jesus we are loved

without condition.

Whatever we have done.

Wherever we are.

Whatever our lives have turned out to be.

Yesu na kaunar wannan ni na sani.

I don’t read them very often,

but I want to read you

a story.

Ted Stallard undoubtedly qualifies as the one of “the least.” Turned off by school. Very sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen — as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers.

If only she had studied his records more carefully. They read:

1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.

2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.

3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too.

At day’s end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents.” He left.

Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude.

The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them. Especially the slow ones. Especially Ted. Surprisingly — or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few.

Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then, one day, she received this note:

Dear Miss Thompson:

I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.

Love, Ted

Four years later, another note arrived:

Dear Miss Thompson:

They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.

Love, Ted

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson:

As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

God’s unconditional love

is here, available,

in the risen Jesus.

That is the good news.

From our hymnbook:

My song is love unknown
My savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
Oh who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


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