Third Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2023
John 4:5-42

It happened again, at just the worst time. Another flat tire. I suppose there is never a good time for a flat tire. But this time it was really inconvenient for me. I was dashing out of one meeting, I had to get our daughter home, our new Head of School was in town, and I needed to get to a dinner with him. Now, being the man that I am, the pull myself up my bootstraps kind of guy, I started going through my options of how I could fix the problem. I could call triple A; but there wasn’t enough time to wait for the truck. I could leave the car where it was – but then it wouldn’t get fixed. I could change the tire, but then I’d be sweaty and grimy for dinner.

All the time I’m asking people – how can I help you? What do you need? But when it comes to me, when I’m in a pinch, I loathe asking for help. It’s like admitting that I don’t have my life together, that I’ve failed somehow, that I’m not good enough. And so what do I do instead? I suck it up, stuff it all down, grin and bear it, I try not to ask for help even when I really need it. And of course, I’m the one suffers for it.

That’s part of what makes this long gospel reading, both so beautiful and so strange. Jesus sits down to rest by Jacob’s well and a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. And Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink.” This is astounding. Here is the Lord God of the universe, the very One who separated the water from the dry land; this is the One who parted the sea so that the enslaved Israelites could escape Egypt; this is the One who provides water for them in the wilderness; this is Jesus, who will walk on water and calm the storm; this is the Christ who transforms water into wine. Jesus doesn’t need this Samaritan woman to give him a drink, and yet he says, “Give me a drink.” 

Those words set into motion a whole sequence of events. By asking her for a drink, Jesus immediately breaks down the wall that separates Jews and Samaritans, and between men and women. This wondering, holy man asks a favor from this woman with a questionable history and potentially sordid present. This upends all the social norms. The woman asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

But by asking for a favor, by asking for help, Jesus initiates a conversation with this woman; a conversation that repairs all those old wounds, that bridges the divide between Jews and Samaritans. And from that, Jesus reveals himself, “I am he, the one who is talking to you.” This is the first person to whom Jesus reveals himself as the Christ, the Messiah. It’s not to someone in charge, it’s not to a Judean man or a religious leader. It’s to this woman, all because he asked for a favor. 

But it doesn’t stop there. The woman then goes and tells the whole town, and then the whole town comes to have faith in Jesus. They say 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 truly the Savior of the world.” All because Jesus asked her for a drink of water. He asked for help.

I am not Jesus, let me be clear. But faced with a flat tire, a kid who needed to get home, and a dinner appointment, I asked if our new Head of School could help me out. And of course, he did. He was happy to. And from that, we got to know each better. He got to meet my daughter, one of his future students, he saw where I lived, we had a chance to talk in the car. From that, a relationship was forged. We now have to something to chuckle about, to make fun of. All because I asked for help. I promise I’m not making myself out to be a hero. Rather, I’m pointing out how pig-headed I was, that I would even be hesitant to ask for help; that I would deny someone else the opportunity to serve.

The old archbishop, William Temple, put it this way: “The way to call anyone into fellowship with us is, not to offer them service, which is liable to arouse the resistance of their pride, but to ask service from them.” The way to call anyone into fellowship with us is not to offer them service but to ask service from them. “Give me a drink of water,” Jesus says. This is how God chooses to form relationships with us; by calling us into service. Certainly, God could do it alone. God doesn’t need our help. But that wouldn’t transform any hearts. Now usually we tell ourselves that we cannot serve God until we are better people. Until we know more. Until we’ve got our lives sorted out. But we’ve got it all backwards. We don’t have to be saints to serve; instead, we become saints by serving. You can have had five husbands, and the one you’re living with now is not your husband, and still you can be the person that helps a whole town know the love of Jesus. This is good news. The good news is that you are worthy, you are capable of serving God. Whoever you are. If you are not perfect, well, join the club. We could still use your help. 

Beyond that, it is good, it is okay, it is right to ask for help. When you have someone over for dinner and they ask if they can bring something, say yes. That’s not a sign of weakness, you’re not saying that you’re too lazy to make a dessert; no, it’s a way to create a fellowship of mutual love. When you are in a bind, when you need someone to drive you to a doctor’s appointment, when you need someone to help pick up your kids from school, when you’re at home sick and someone asks if they can bring you food, when inevitably you have another flat tire – ask for help. By doing so, you will open up a whole new world of possibilities. By doing so, you are allowing someone else to work towards their holiness, you are providing the opportunity for that person to become a better follower of Jesus. And this goes for the church work, too. This is something I’ve had to learn. When we ask you to help, or serve, it’s not because we want to make you feel bad. It’s not because you look gullible. It’s not because we think you’re perfect because Lord knows none of us are. No, it’s because by serving Jesus together we grow closer as a church and to the Lord God. It’s just as Jesus said, “the measure you give is the measure you get back.” 

This very instant, at this very hour, Jesus is asking you for a drink of water; Jesus is asking you for help. Jesus is asking you to help him love the world, to create a better, more beautiful community. Stop coming up with all the excuses, all the reasons to say no. Say yes to Jesus, because even one changed heart can change the world.

This sermon draws heavily from and quotes Readings in St. John’s Gospel, by William Temple

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