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Strayed Dog

Stray Dog 

John 4:5-42

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

I know I have told you about Jack.  He is the stray dog who has been a part of our family for the last 16 years, ever since he followed Michelle home from the bus stop when we were living in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The last couple weeks have been tough on Jack.  He’s an old dog – about 114 years old in human years.  In the last week he has had some seizures.  They are common for his breed later in life, he’s had them before.  But he’s not bouncing back as he use to.  We fear he may not be much longer for this world.

When Jack arrived at our door, we fed him and gave him some water.  Then we took all the appropriate steps to find Jack’s home, but nobody in the community stepped forward to claim him.  Jeana called animal control to see what they suggested. They said that they would take him for 72 hours, then, if nobody claimed him, he would be euthanized.  Jeana immediately hung up the phone and Jack was adopted him as a member of our family that very day.

We took him to the vet to make sure he was healthy. The vet said that he was a little malnourish, but beyond that, he was in pretty good physical health.  There were signs, however, that things were not right with Jack emotionally.  He was a very sad puppy.

We sensed that Jack had been mistreated in his prior home, and that, most likely, the culprit had been a man.  Jack warmed up to Michelle and Jeana very easily, and Michael was just a toddler at the time and Jack was always very affectionate when Michael was in the room.

Jack’s problem was with me.  He seemed fearful whenever I was in the room.  If I moved, he ran away.  If I stood up, he cried and trembled in fear.  It was as though he expected to be kicked.  Jack has obviously known little but heartache in his life.  It seemed obvious that he had been abuse and deserted – never liked, never loved, never accepted, included, or adopted into a caring home.

It took years of patient effort to assure Jack that he was a part of the family – and that our home was different from his former home.  It took special efforts on my part to make certain Jack knew that I was not like his former master.  I had to speak in soft tones.  I had to get down on the floor and gently play with him.  When I moved, it had to be slowly and deliberately.  Anything too sudden or unexpected would send Jack into a panic.

Jack became a completely different animal after a few years in our home.  He is a very playful.  He especially loved running in the snow.  We imagine that he missed the joys of being a puppy, so he was making up for lost time.  One of Jack’s greatest joys was taking Michael for a walk.  Then at the end of the day, Jack enjoyed jumping, and bouncing, and performing all sorts of tricks for Michelle in order to get a special treat before bed.

Jack has always been very protective of Jeana and the children.  If an electrician or plumber, or some other laborer is in the house, Jack would stand between the family and that person.  If the worker acted in any way that Jack perceived as threatening, Jack could take on a very intimating demeanor.  Jack has also been very good at informing us with loud barks and angry growls if anyone unexpected came to the door.  We feel safer having Jack in the house.

The real difference in Jack’s life was how he began to react around me.  He learned over time that he is my friend and I am his.  Until he became too old, Jack would run up to me nearly every day.  He would jump halfway up onto the chair where I was sitting, laying his head on my knee, looking for affection.  Of course, he always received it.  When Jack was ill – like when he would have and recover from one of his seizures, he would always look toward he to find comfort.  I would sit on the floor and he would lay on my lap and I would pet him and love him till his dizziness and discomfort would pass.

It has taken a great deal of time and intentional effort to build this relationship, but Jack now knows he is accepted.  If it is not too much of a stretch, Jack has found grace in our home – and by that grace, he has been healed.

Today’s Gospel lesson is also a story about grace and healing.  It’s about a Samaritan woman had experienced a great deal of rejection in her life.  She was like a hurting little puppy, like a stray dog on the side of the road.

Oh, sure, some of these hurts were her own creation.   That’s true to one degree or another for all of us.  Still, other of her wounds had been inflicted upon her by the actions of others.  When it comes down to brass tacks, however, these are distinctions without a difference.  The bottom line was that she was broken and needed to be put back together; she felt rejected and needed to find acceptance; she was hurting and needed to find healing.

Jesus is the healer in this story.

The Samaritan woman came to the well late in the day to get water.  The normal time to come to the well would have been in the early morning, before the intensity of the sun would begin to bear down on the people.  Early in the morning, the woman would go as a group to get water and enjoy a sense of community.  The fact that this woman came alone under the heat of the afternoon sun indicates that she was not welcome in the community.  She was excluded from the fellowship.

The text does not say why she came late – while she was being excluded.  The thought of many was that she had lived an immoral lifestyle.  There are hints in the text that this might have been the case, but no definitive evidence is given.  However, even if she had made a long list of mistakes, that is not a good reason to be excluded from the community.  In fact, just the opposite is the case.  Those who are broken need to be put back together.  Those who hurt need to be healed.  These miracles cannot take place if the community does not offer itself to those who need love and acceptance.

Carl Sagan was once asked, “What is the ugliest word in the human language?”

“The ugliest word in the human language…the ugliest word in the human language…the ugliest word in the human language…”  He repeated the statement several times, as he thought.  The he said, “The ugliest word in the human language is the word ‘exclusive.’”

If you have ever felt excluded from a group when you were in dire need of loving acceptance, you know that Sagan is correct.  If you ever look at this world’s hurting and broken and needy the way Jesus looks at them, you would also agree.  The ugliest word in the human language is the word exclusive.

What if we gave up on all of our religious enterprises and rejected our religious addictions and submitted ourselves totally to the work of the Holy Spirit so that this congregation might be built up around Jesus and his gospel?

What would be different about us if we were that kind of church?

I am certain that I do not have all the answers to that question, but I am certain I am able to discern at least one part of the answer.   To be built up around Jesus and His gospel would mean that nobody is made to feel excluded or not wanted in this fellowship.

There are lots of people in our world who feel like my dog Jack felt in the home in which he lived before he came into my household.  They feel shell-shocked, broken, fearful, and rejected. When they come in contact with a people whose lives have been built up around Jesus, they ought to feel like, loved, accepted, included and adopted.  We ought to be a people who welcomes everyone.  We ought to be a people who exclude no one.

That is the type of church Jesus came to create.  I do not know how we got the other kind, the one that tries to be so dignified, respectable, prim and proper, but anyone who reads the New Testament knows that Jesus lavish grace on everyone – especially those who were left-out, used-up, and put-down by the rest of the community.

Sinners loved him because he partied with them.

Lepers love him because he accepted them.

The broken found hope when Jesus was near.

The hurting were healed when Jesus entered the picture.

When we stop focusing on our religious enterprises and give up our addictions to being religious…When our lives become built up around Jesus and his gospel…that’s the kind of impact we will have on people in our community.

We will find ourselves in the strangest places, connecting with all kinds of people.  It will sometimes feel odd.  It might even seem scandalous.  Nevertheless, with Jesus and his gospel at the forefront, we will experience the most magnificent ministry we could ever possibly imagine.

Look at the impact Jesus had on the women in today’s scripture lesson.  She was one of the left-out, used-up, and put-down.  She was rejected, excluded, and deemed unacceptable by everyone in her community – but then Jesus entered the picture.  He did not exclude her.  He opened himself up to a relationship with her.

She comes to the well, minding her own business, taking care of the chores.  She knows her place in the scheme of things.  She approaches the well and notices a Jewish man leaning against the well.  “You don’t want any trouble,” she says to herself.  “Just stay quite and go about your business.”  That was her aim.  Jesus had other plans.

Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

The fact that he would even speak to her was scandalous.

He was Jew and she was a Samaritan.  These groups mixed about as well as oil and water.  It would be like seeing Lady Gaga having lunch with Pope Francis.  There are some people that simple do not go together.  That is what it was like between the Samaritans and the Jews.  They hated each other.

The Samaritans were descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manassech who survived the Assyrian invasion in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  In the years following the invasion, the Assyrians and Israeli survivors intertwined and intermarried.

For the Jews, the intermarriage and assimilation of the Jews with the Assyrians was an abomination.  That is a big word, but it gets across the point.  The Jews thought that the Samaritans were an abomination before God.  They were less important than a stray dog you might encounter on the side of the road,  It is hard to open up lines of communication when that is how you see somebody.

There was a second problem.  In addition to the cultural prejudice, there were also some major theological differences.  The Jews believed that God was to be worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem.  The Samaritans believed that God should be worshipped right there in the view of the mountain that overshadowed the conversation between Jesus and this woman.  This long-standing doctrinal dispute drove a deep  wedge between the Samaritans and the Jews.

Then there was the gender-gap.  Jesus was a man and this Samaritan was a woman.  In the culture of the day, a man would never speak to a woman in such a highly visible public setting.  This was trouble waiting to happen.  Any man who would strike up a conversation with a woman in that society was up to no good.

What we from Jesus is that he was willing to ignore all the social customs and morays of his society in order to engage this woman in a conversation.  Jesus should not be speaking to any woman, let alone a Samaritan woman.  Being thirsty is no excuse.  Jesus should not be speaking to this Samaritan woman.  It is all a bit odd, scandalous, and (frankly) absolutely magnificent.

When we deal with Jesus, we should expect the unexpected.  And when our lives are built up around Jesus, we will become people who do the unexpected.

Jesus goes out of his way to engage this woman in discussion.   He chose to travel through Samaria, a route most Jews would avoid like the plague.  Then he took the initiative to speak to this woman when most others went seemed to go out of their way to avoid her.  Jesus actions even confound and confuse this woman.

“Why are you speaking to me?”

“Our people don’t ever talk!”

“Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus stepped right into a relationship.

People do their dead level best to avoid God, but God keeps pursuing them.  The reason is that God cares.  God loves.  God’s desire is that all people respond to His invitation to be in relationship.  He is not looking for us to observe some set of rules or engage in some sort of religious rituals.  Jesus does not want us to become religious.  Jesus did not come to establish a religion.  He came so that through Him all humanity might know of God’s desire for intimacy – for relationship.

The conversation began about water, so Jesus continues to use water to illustrate what he has to offer this woman.  “If you knew who I was, you would ask me for water, and I would give you living water.  If you drink the water I want to give you,” Jesus says, “You will never be thirsty again!”

Of course, Jesus is talking about more than H20 from a well.  The woman is speaking of the physical, Jesus is talking about the totality of human life.  He is speaking about how the life and love of the Father is mediated through him, by the Spirit, to the entire world.  That’s something BIG and the woman senses it.  She’s hooked and wants to know more!

“Give me this water!” she says.  Perhaps she is a bit sarcastic.  Still, she knows that what Jesus is speaking about is something she needs.  It’s something the whole world needs.  “If it were only possible!” she may have thought to herself.  Her physical thirst needs to be quenched, but there is a deeper thirst within her that also needs to be satisfied.

“Give me this water!” she says.

This poor woman has been through the worst life has to offer.  She’s been battered, abused, tattered and worn thin.  Life has chewed her up and spit her out.  She’s like a stray dog along the side of the road.  Nobody seems to want her – till now.   Now there is some fellow offering her water that will forever satisfy her thirst,  She is ready for the good stuff.  But before that can happen, she needs to take an honest look at herself.  Jesus looks at her and says, “First go call your husband.”

Oh, can you imagine how uncomfortable she must feel.  It is like an arrow through the heart.  She’s been “married” five times – and the man she is shacked up with now is not even her husband.  She feels a bit of emptiness in the pit of her stomach.  What will she say?  What will she do?  What would you do?

We assume, don’t we, that she has been an unfaithful harlot of a wife.  But that is reading something of our cultural bias into the story.  Maybe she was a good wife who was divorced by a wicked and uncaring husband.  Maybe she outlived several spouses and is now looked upon as bad news and bad luck.  She’s living with a man now – he’s not even her husband.  But who is anyone else to judge.  They don’t know her story.  Maybe he is the best man she knows.  He provides her shelter and warmth and clothing and food.

Still, she is a sinner – like all the rest of the world.  Still her life is a broken down mess.   Sin has that sort of impact on people’s lives.

Bless her heart, she does the right  thing.  She fesses up.   She owns up to the reality of her brokenness.  She confesses the reality of her circumstances.  She could have lied.  She could have tried any number of strategies.  She did not do that.  “I have no husband,” she said.

I imagine that she probably thought that the conversation was about to end, but it doesn’t.  Jesus doesn’t do what a lot of people do when confronting the brokenness and sins of others.  He doesn’t run.  He doesn’t judge.  He doesn’t cast stones.  He stays right there – right up, face-to-face with the woman.

Sometimes we say such silly things about God.  We say, “God cannot abide being in the presence of human sin!”

Really?  Somebody tell that to Jesus.  He was the incarnation of God.  “I am the Father are ONE,” Jesus said.  “Those who have seen me have seen the Father,” he also said.

Jesus shows us that God is not repulsed by our sin.  That’s not to say that Jesus approves of our sin.  It’s not to say that he ignores our sin.  The truth is that our sin is so awful – it causes us such brokenness, heart-ache, an pain, that Jesus comes to be one of us among us.  He comes to the mess and brokenness of our sin torn lives to redeem us, to love us, to overcome our sin for us.

Let’s look at how the dialogue continues.

Woman: “You’re a Jew, I’m a Samaritan, if you know about real religion … tell me.”

Jesus: “It’s not about being a Jew, it’s about worshipping God in your heart. “

Woman: “I know the Messiah will sort all that out.”

Jesus: “I am the Messiah.  It’s not about religion … It’s about me!”

She wants to make this a discussion about religion, morality, or politics.  Jesus wants to keep the conversation focused on the goodness and grace of God that he had comes to embody for everyone.

We can debate the various theories of biblical inspiration.

We can discuss the pros and cons of being Catholic or Protestant, liberal or conservative, Pentecostal or liturgical.

We can hide behind politics as discuss the great social issues of the day.

But at the end of the day, all of these things are distractions.  At the end of the day what matters more than anything is that the Father one and only Son has come to us in the power of the Spirit to bring us all mercy, grace, and relational intimacy.  Jesus has come so that we might know that we are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted by the Father into the fellowship of the Triune God.

Confronted with the reality of this Jesus and what he was offering her, the woman is left with a choice.  She knew who she was.  She heard what Jesus said about himself.  Either what he was saying was true, or it was not.  She was invited to made a choice.

The choice is not whether or not God is going to love us.  That love is a done deal.  That grace is a certain reality.  The decision was whether she was going to accept and live by the reality of God’s love, or not!

That’s a decision we are left with as well.  We are so focused on wanting to haggle over religion.  There is something more.  Jesus is right before us with a glass of living water.  If we taste it, our lives will be radically and forever transformed.

Notice what happened when she gleefully acknowledged God’s gift and drank deeply from the well of Divine grace.

She had been broken, but then she was healed.  Next, she went to tell others about the one who she had found.  She did not join a church or become the adherent of some religion.  She became a witness and an evangelist.  She brought the message and testimony of healing to others.

That’s what will happen to us once we realize the truth that in Christ we have been made whole.  The truth that in Christ, we have been given “living water” that will eternally satisfy our thirst.  The truth that nobody is merely a dog along the side of the road, but rather in Christ we are the sons and daughters of God.

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