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"Where Conversations Happen" Third Sunday in Lent - March 12, 2023

We’re still talking about conversation this week. Last week we saw how layers of a conversation unfolded between Jesus and Nicodemus, one example of how the conversational nature of Jesus in the gospel of John points us to the conversational nature of reality – of faith, itself. And I asked you to think of people in your life who embody that kind of conversation. But…it’s not just certain people who bring out conversation…there’s also certain places that lend themselves to that kind of conversation. Sure, conversations can unfold anywhere, sometimes in even unexpected places. But there are places we especially like.

For instance, I mentioned my grandparents last week. They had this screened-in back porch – chairs, porch swing, little tables with coke cans, ash trays, and bottles of aloe vera. I spent my summer evenings on that back porch in Odessa, TX. Listening to conversations unfold.

Where’s that place for you? Where is it? Where’d you have that “certain” conversation with your spouse…before they were your spouse? Not the “will you marry me” conversation. No, the one where you heard yourself saying things, sharing things, asking things…embarrassing things, words that surprised you…The kind of conversations where he says,

“So what do you love?”

And she says, “Hmmm…I love cheesy rom-coms, and murder mysteries, salty margaritas, and right now I’m into the music of Pachelbel…” And he replies, trying hard to impress…

“Yeah, I like Taco Bell too…but I’ve never really paid attention to the music they play in there.”

And both are slipping deeper and deeper…

Where do the conversations happen for you…coffee shop, corner booth in a dive bar, kitchen table, around a good fire on a cool night? Where do they happen? Because there are places…

I think one such spot in another time and place were water wells. I mean just look at the stories of old. Abraham sends a servant to find his son Isaac a bride – and there’s Rebecca…by a well; Isaac’s son Jacob – on the run from cheating his brother, spends the night in the wilderness with a stone for a pillow, dreams about angels doing somersaults on a ladder, wakes the next morning and sees Rachel…by a well. Moses, one day he’s going to slap a rock in the desert and water will flow, but first he meets his love…by a well.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I’m suggesting Jesus is playing Casanova here – I’m not. But, we’ve already learned that John’s gospel is highly symbolic and layered with all kinds of images and metaphors. So…perhaps John is trying to conjure images of those old love stories by the well BUT something different is going to happen. After all love, and marriage, and religion went hand in hand in the Hebrew imagination. The relationship between God and the people of Israel was envisioned as a marriage, a break in the relationship compared to adultery, and foreign women often represented the dangers of aligning with foreign gods. BUT…BUT…here’s Jesus…in a foreign country, with a foreign woman, next to a well – where the conversations happen…and something different is going-on. In this single conversation Jesus is crossing the boundaries of gender, nationality, race, and religion. And it is that, in this place – a rich, theological, and intimate conversation. All too often that part is overlooked – through a particular interpretation of dudes…a long line of impressive scholars, yes – but they were all dudes. An interpretation that labels this woman an outcast, an adulteress, and a flirt – and that’s what gets the attention. But listen to how New Testament scholar Cynthia Briggs-Kittredge sees something else occurring with this Samaritan woman.

I tell about her as the apostolic hero of John…whose vigorous conversation with Jesus illustrates profound theological insight and offers a vision of spiritual worship.

You see…despite what we see in Jesus, the Church has a history of men who were, shall we say, “uncomfortable” with the vigorous conversation of women in matters of faith. And I thank God, that’s changing…Because I have a daughter…who enjoys vigorous conversation and I want her growing up in a faith that honors and celebrates that…

“But Jesus calls her out for being married five times…surely that’s suggestive of her misdeeds.”

Some might say. Maybe. But, look at the gospel of John, it’s sweep, it’s narrative arch, it’s language, it symbolism…And if we do, does that mean we ignore that in Samaria, the place this woman calls home, from the time of Assyrian captivity to the day Jesus sat next to her they had seen FIVE FOREIGN OCCUPATIONS – each with their own deity to bow down before and worship. So…is this about one woman’s martial history OR is she the bearer of her people’s history…a history of forced occupation, forced religion, and forced worship…And here’s Jesus and through this conversation he’s revealing to her the nature of God…revealing a deeper reality where God is worshipped in Spirit and in truth. There’s no great sign here, no startling miracle – it’s a conversation at a place where conversations happened. Try to overhear their voices…

If you knew the gift of God….

How are you going to draw water? And what do you mean living water anyway…

The water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life…

How can I get this water….

Isn’t it something…that this woman who holds within herself a history of empires who forced her people to bow down before the gods of hate and power is now sitting next to Jesus who is embodying the nature of God as One who crosses the boundaries of race, nationality, religion, and gender to offer the water of eternal life…to talk about spiritual worship.

What if this story isn’t about a woman’s moral failure, but John’s imaginative way to reveal a boundary crossing God…Because notice what happens next. She becomes an apostle! She does!

She leaves her jug of water behind, runs into town, saying, “Come and see…come and see…listen to what I’ve heard…listen to what I’ve seen…” And you and I witness not just one person joining another person at a well, but God joining to everyone – no matter who you are. “A thirsty Messiah and a courageous woman discover they need each other to uncover a story. It’s a pretty remarkable metaphor for how God and humanity are intimately connected…” don’t you think…

We don’t have to be so angry. We don’t have to be so competitive. We don’t have to be so hard-nosed. We don’t have to be so right about everything.

Because we never know what might occur if we just sit down and have a conversation where the conversations like to happen.


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