Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
Over this past week, I was listening to a sports talk radio station trying to keep up on everything that was being canceled or postponed. Then one of the announcers starts speaking of the cruise ship near San Francisco which had been waiting out in the Bay to dock and allow their passengers to exit.
But the virus had hit and that area of California was not so eager to let them into their port. The sports talk host’s mother was on that ship and he began telling us of her adventure. For the final 7 days on the ship everyone was in isolation. She could not leave her little room. Her food and water were brought just outside the door, an attendant would knock on the door, giving notice of the arrival. The attendant would quickly leave and the door could be opened. After she ate, the tray was left outside the door to be picked up, safely, later.
She couldn’t leave that room. She was isolated. Then came the news that her section of the ship was going to be taken from the ship and transported to land. What joy!! She could leave her dungeon. She could speak to other people. Soon life would be different. But in an instant, things changed. Another group had to evacuate before them. They had to get back on the ship. She returned to her room. She got fed just as before.
Happily, it wasn’t long before the evacuation occurred and she wasn’t retrieved. She was flown to Georgia and will be there for a while.
Can you imagine being all alone? Isolated? That is not something that many would enjoy.
Today is an odd day. I’m preaching this sermon to a camera. There are no parishioners here. For the next 17 days, at least, worship will not happen at Ascension Lutheran Church due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
Many of the medical professionals are encouraging social distancing and staying out of crowds. There will be more isolation from others in these days than we normally have.
I’ve titled this sermon “All Alone” not based on the fact that we’re not meeting as a congregation today, but in light of the experience of the Samaritan woman in John 4. This woman was all alone both in relationship with others as well as with God’s place in her life. She actually wanted her isolation. In John 4 it tells us of Jesus’ arrival into Samaria and this village of Sychar. In verse 6 we read, “It was about the sixth hour.” So what? I believe we are told that little tidbit for a reason. The sixth hour, in Jewish counting, is noon. 6 hours from the time the sun rises. I have read that no one goes to get water from the well at noon. They go at 6:00 in the morning or later in the evening. It’s cooler, everyone else is there. You can interact, catch up on the latest news, get your water and go home.
But she came at noon. All alone. No one else would be around. Why did she pick that time? She had a bad reputation, which she had earned. If she was there, with the others, she may have been asked about the ungodly choices she had made in the past and was making even then. In her conversation with Jesus, He revealed that He knew all about her, even though He had never met her before this. He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” But she said, “I have no husband.” Jesus then spoke again 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.” (See John 4:16-18) Maybe someone else’s husband? Maybe they didn’t bother to get married.
She was all alone, gathering water at noon and not at the normal hours because she wanted to be all alone. She wouldn’t have to see the eyes of others following her, nor hear their whisperings if she came near. She was isolated from others by her choice and probably by theirs. But even greater than that – she had isolated herself from God. She had to know that her actions in her relationships were not according to the will of God.
But the glory of this account is that Jesus did not want her to be alone from God, nor from others. In every way, He wanted much greater things for her.
Late this week we needed to change the church sign on the corner of our lot to let our community know that temporarily we won’t be having worship and other activities in our building. As the sign was being changed a young couple stopped and told us that they love reading what we had recently put up. In light of not being to get toilet paper anywhere, our sign read, “Toilet Paper in Every Stall; Gospel in Every Sermon.” When someone asked why that went up, I told them, “Ascension is a full-service church.”
Jesus served this woman fully. His work in her was going to take her from being all alone to being filled with the gifts of Jesus and then in a brand-new connection with everyone in her village.
When Jesus arrived at noon and began a conversation with this woman, He says to 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.” (John 4:10)
When Jesus says this, she is interested. Living water, maybe running water, would be easier to get. You wouldn’t have to get a bucket to lower it down into the well to get your daily needs.
But Jesus wanted to meet the needs of her soul, now and eternally. He didn’t want her to be alone, without God’s gifts of forgiveness, hope, and a glorious future. He says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14. Jesus used that same picture in John 7 when He stood up and spoke with a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John then adds the word, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (See John 7:37-39a) When I hear those words in John 4 and 7, the words of the gift of God’s Spirit that brings us God’s gifts of the fullness of life in Jesus, I think of the opening words in Isaiah 55, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)
The opening words of our text say, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:4) Had to? Yes. To see her. To give her life. She would no longer be alone in her soul but would have the living water, God’s vibrant Spirit within her. She would no longer be all alone.
What is also amazing is that her isolation from others ended, as well. Later in the chapter, we read, “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 Christ?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him.” (John 4:28-30) She became the sharer of living water to those in her town. It is like Andrew who told his brother Simon Peter about Jesus, “The first thing that Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41-42a)
She wasn’t all alone anymore. She had a Christian fellowship with her town. Listen to this: “Many of the Samaritan’s from the town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4:39) Jesus spent two days with the folks in that town and they told this 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.” (John 4:42)
The whole account of this woman and the town in which she lived, began in isolation from God, and from others. But all because of Jesus it ends with a faith in Him and a new relationship with one another. All alone? No longer.
When it was decided that we will not be meeting as a church in worship until April it made me quite sad. In many ways, we will be alone for a number of weeks. But then it gave me joy to think that our reunion with one another in worship and fellowship and service will come again soon.
Until then, we are not alone. We are united by this living water, God’s Holy Spirit, that He has granted us. We are united with a strong confession of the goodness of our God in our life. We are united as we pray for one another and as we pray for the needs of the world all around us.
I pray that God will show you that you are never alone. Amen!!