3 Lent proper A3                                                                         
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 4:5-42 Sermon
March 23, 2014

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 1 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
TLH 324 "Jesus Sinners Doth Receive"
TLH 370 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling" 


TEXT (vs. 39-41):  “39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, 'He told me all that I ever did.' 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world. '"

            If you've been following the news this past week, most likely you've heard that Fred Phelps has died.  To refresh your memory, Fred Phelps was the rather mentally deranged person who founded the Westboro Baptist Church, an independent primitive Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  I highlight the word "independent," because there wasn't a Baptist group anywhere that wanted to be affiliated with him, including the primitive Baptists.

            Fred Phelps gained a lot of public notoriety when he began protesting and picketing funerals, especially those of fallen soldiers.  He claimed that all of the problems in America stemmed from God's judgment against society and the American way of life.  He was especially spiteful of homosexuals.  He printed signs that said "God Hates Fags" that he and his family would use in protest rallies.  In fact, the church's own website goes by that name, just in case you want to Google it and see it for yourself.  It's probably best that you do, since I don't think I can adequately convey the hate and spite that is being spewed.

            The 84 year-old Fred Phelps had been reportedly admitted to a Topeka hospice facility recently, and he finally died this past Wednesday, March 19th.  Social media sites reported that his end was near; and as you can imagine, many people had something to say about it.

            We would expect people to be rallying at this news, ready to pick up protest signs to picket the old man's funeral.  And some were indeed doing just that.  But what I found surprising, was the number of people who said "no."  Their reason was that they didn't want to stoop to his level, and that God would indeed take care of the situation. 

            I responded too.  Here's what I said:   "As much as I'd like to pick up a protest sign and picket his funeral, I'm going to pray for him/them.  Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts!" (he was still alive then).

            I've often wondered what Fred Phelps would have done if he had encountered the woman caught in adultery.  In his mind's eye, he would have probably been the first one to pick up a stone and toss it at her.  And I sincerely doubt if he would have ever tolerated someone the likes of the prostitute Mary Magdalene. 

            Since the woman caught in adultery from John chapter 8 came to mind, the account of the woman at the well in John chapter 4, which is our Gospel lesson for today, presents us with some similar circumstances; and I don't think it's only a coincidence either. 

            I think it's safe to say that the theology of Fred Phelps is at odds with any other serious Christian.  Apart from hating sin, and Satan, Jesus doesn't advocate hatred in any fashion or form.  In fact, it was just last week that we talked about what great lengths God went to because he loved the world.  The Bible is God's love letter to the world, and during Lent we see just how strong and deep that love is. 

            In our Gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus meeting up with a Samaritan woman.  It's a well-known fact that the Jews had an open hatred of the Samaritans.  So you see, espousing hatred in theology was not something that Fred Phelps dreamed up.  People have been at this detestable practice for a long time.  But that certainly doesn't make it right.        

            A lot of this hatred had to do with theological differences.  The Samaritan religion claimed Abraham as their patriarch, so it was closely related to Judaism.  However, the Samaritans claimed that their religion was the true religion of Judah, from before the time of the Babylonian Exile, and the time of the prophet Daniel.  They believed that the Jewish faith brought back from exile by the Israelites had become polluted.  In fact, the name "Samaritan" is Hebrew, and means "keepers of the law."  According to them, the faith as practiced by those who had miraculously escaped from being exiled into Babylon was the true faith. 

            This is the thought behind Jesus' words in verses 19-22 of our Gospel lesson:  "19The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." 21Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. "  Even though the background is similar, she is very well aware of the big differences between the Jewish and Samaritan religions.

            Jesus continues to work with her so she could get her theology straight.  In verse 22 he says, " 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews."  The Samaritans had many gaps in their religious practice; however Jesus minces no words when he points out that the Jewish faith was the only true faith that glorified the one true God.  It would be through Jewish lineage and the kingdom of Judah that the promised Messiah would come, a true earthly descendent of David's family bloodline.

            The Samaritan woman, whose head was probably swimming at this point, says to Jesus in verse 25:  "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things." 

            This Samaritan woman doesn't want to get into a type of theological discussion of who was right and who was wrong.  After all, she was no theologian.  She only knew what she had been taught.  Even so, she knew of the promised Messiah, the true Son of God who would be coming.  As far as she was concerned, the Messiah would be the one to unravel the theological differences and tell her who or what was right.

            Jesus responds to her very simply and directly in verse 26: "I who speak to you am he."  Fair enough.  He identifies himself as the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour whom she was expecting and wanting to straighten things out for her.  Jesus now needs to validate his true identity.

            This isn't as much of a problem as what we think it might have been.  Jesus does something that no other human being could possibly have done.  He tells her about herself.  He didn't say:  "Okay woman, I'm here with a listening ear and a shoulder you can cry on.  Why don't you pour out what's troubling your soul, and let me help?"  Granted, that's a good approach to take, but it wasn't what was needed in this case.

            Jesus does it quite differently.  In effect, he's saying:  "Why don't you sit here and not say anything, while I tell you what I know about you."

            The one instance that John records is where Jesus informs her that he knows about her marital situation.  She has had a total of five husbands.  And furthermore, she is now living with a man to whom she is not married. 

            Just as a side note here, this is proof that God does not regard two people cohabiting together in a de-facto type relationship in the same way as he regards marriage.  In other words, there is a difference between getting married and just living together.  Marriage is more than just getting a piece of paper at the courthouse and going through a ceremony.

            This woman is astounded at what Jesus was able to tell her.  From what John records about this incident, we can deduct that the conversation between Jesus and this woman was very lengthy.  Most likely, he told her a lot of things about herself besides her marital situation, things that nobody else on this earth would have known about, which probably included a lot of her more embarrassing moments.

            Jesus didn't tell her this as a threat or to create any fear or uneasiness in her.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  Jesus wants to comfort her in her distress, and put her completely at ease.  He wanted to effectively communicate the love of God as it applied to her, even being the hated Samaritan she was.  Jesus reaches out to her in love, irrespective of her rather checkered sinful life.  He reaches out to her, as we talked about last week, not to condemn her, but that she might be saved.  Jesus had a beautiful future in store for her!

            Jesus' initial encounter with her was when she first arrived at the well.  Since it doesn't appear that Jesus had a way to get the water, asks her to give him a drink.  Right away, this woman knew Jesus wasn't just any ordinary Jew.  A good Jew would have gone thirsty rather than to ask a Samaritan for help.  So this action in itself surprised her.

            The metaphor that follows this, is where Jesus describes himself as being the "water of life."  The message he conveys to her, is that if you drink of him through faith, then you will never be thirsty again.  You will have the righteousness and assurance of God's love that you are seeking.  You will be accepted just as you are.  Your sins will be forgiven through faith alone.  That's what Jesus came to bring not only to her, but to the entire world, you and me included.

            I know what you did.  Those words can send chills throughout a person's body.  But Jesus wasn't out to frighten her or to condemn her.  The Samaritan found unconditional love and forgiveness, as Jesus laid out her sinful life right before her eyes.

            And the result of all this?  Listen to the conclusion in verses 39-42:  " 39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, 'He told me all that I ever did.' 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.'"

            This Samaritan woman had experienced something in her life like she never had before.  Jesus the Saviour ministered directly to her; and as a result, she had something within her that she couldn't keep to herself.  So she went into the town and spread the word amongst the rest of the Samaritans.  And as a result of God working through her, many people came to faith.  The Holy Spirit worked through her witness so many came to Jesus in faith, so that they would also have what Jesus had given to her.

            Every time I think about Fred Phelps, I shudder as I think about what he has done.  It's one thing to be a heathen and an unbeliever and act accordingly.  Society can readily identify the ways of a sociopath and others who have no conscience. 

            But when someone who claims to be a Christian pastor takes a Bible and uses it to espouse hatred, the world tries to make this stereotypical of Christianity in general.  And that's dangerous.  That's taking the Gospel message and completely ripping it out of the Bible.  That's making the Christian faith into something that it certainly is not.

            It doesn't take too much to see that Fred Phelps was mentally deranged.  Even his own church, the Westboro Baptist Church, excommunicated him back in August of last year.  Obviously things had gotten way out of hand.

            I'm hoping that with Fred Phelps' death, that the message of hatred will die along with him.  But it's going to take a while.  His church was made up of basically his extended family.  He had 13 children and 54 grandchildren, most of whom are still part of this cult he created.

            I could go on at length about the things this man did, and believe me I've only scratched the surface.  The family has said that there will be no funeral for him, which is probably about the wisest thing they could have done.  They said, "We're a church of the living, not the dead" as a way to justify this.

            Thankfully we are dealing with Jesus Christ, and not Fred Phelps or the Westboro Baptist Church.  Jesus knows our lives:  every thought, word, and deed.  He knows us just like he knew the Samaritan woman. 

            The important thing here, is that Jesus' knowledge of our sinful past isn't as important as what he does with that knowledge.  He doesn't tell us that God hates us, or that he wants us to burn in hell for eternity for our sins like Fred Phelps would.  Instead, he lovingly meets our sinful selves with understanding, forgiveness, restoration, and hope.  He wants us to be rid of the burden of sin, and that's exactly what he took from us and carried with him all the way to the cross.  Through faith alone, we have come to know our Saviour Jesus Christ, and all that he has done for us.

            Jesus offers us the water of life through faith in him.  We can drink of this metaphoric water and never have want for any more.  What Jesus gives to us in the Gospel through faith alone is exactly what we need to heal our sin-sick souls.

            And so as we walk together with our Saviour, we pray that many will come to know him and what he gives to us.  And we also pray that those seeking relief of some description will find it in Jesus Christ himself.