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Sermon for Lent 3

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

r and Chaos; Abandonment and Hope; New life in Dry and Dark Places

Just as we familiar with the story of Nicodemus and Jesus from last week, the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria is familiar territory.

And, as you’ll see from Partnership News, there is much that these stories have in common and yet much that they have which is in stark contrast to each other.

Nicodemus, a man, with a name, and a man of position, status and a Jew; the woman was a woman, from Samaria, with no name that we know, an outcast, with little status and a Samaritan. 

Both of these stories happen sandwiched in between visits to Cana, where Jesus had left after turning water into wine to come to Jerusalem for the Passover.  There He meets Nicodemus.  Leaving Jerusalem he goes into the surrounding Judean countryside before heading off back to Cana, passing through Samaria on the way where he encounters the woman.

Sandwiched between visits to Cana it’s not surprising that there are links between the stories and the theme of transformation, one of the most obvious of which is that Jesus offers new life and transformation to all people, from the highest to the lowest, from those with a conventional religious background to those with none, to women and to men, those who are respected in society and those we see as outcasts.

So what can we learn from these encounters, especially in this time of Lent?  Are we to be challenged just as Jesus challenged Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria?

As we look to the nature of the challenge to these individuals we see two different situations and contexts.  To Nicodemus, his world was very neat and ordered.  He was educated, articulate and followed the law and its outworking to the letter.  He would be in the temple and synagogue at the right time, wearing the right clothes as he came to worship God.  A very ordered life.

But to that life, Jesus brought chaos.  Following Christ was not about adherence to the law and to the routines and rubrics which we so familiar to him, it was about being born again, from above.  His ordered life needed to be disturbed and challenged if he was to grow in a relationship with God.

For the woman, it’s clear her life was just the opposite.  What we might generously call her family life was certainly chaotic with any number of different men seemingly involved.  To this chaotic life, Jesus brings the order that comes with new life, an opportunity to leave the chaos behind and to move on.

Lent is a good time for us to consider both of these areas.  In our ordered Christian lives are there areas where God wants to bring a little chaos, disturb us a little out of our routine and complacency so we can be more active and alive for Him? 

And, in contrast, are there areas of our lives which are too chaotic, too disorganised and lacking focus on God which similarly harms our ability to be truly focussed on and effective for the God who wants to use us to join Him in the task of transforming lives and creation?

Order and chaos, Chaos and order.  Where do we need a bit of chaos and where do we need a bit of order?

When we look at the woman of Samaria, out in the midday sun, it’s easy to think she must have been a woman of low reputation.  She was almost certainly some kind of outcast, she may even have turned to prostitution to make ends meet. 

But John tells us she has had five husbands in a society where a woman, even if the innocent party, could not file for divorce.  Perhaps John is also telling us that apart from anything else she has been abandoned, perhaps taken advantage of repeatedly, and certainly let down on multiple occasions by different people. 

Some of that may have been her own making, but Jesus seems not to care.  She’s feisty, some might even say she had an attitude problem!  She answers Jesus back repeatedly and seems to have an answer for everything.  ‘Whatever’ might be her by word today.

Jesus let’s her speak even though he knows her story, perhaps better than she does herself, and offers her hope and new life.  He does not abandon her, He does not take advantage of her simply speaks the truth to her and offers her a way forward, which it appears she accepts.

For each one of us there are areas of our lives which we can feel hopeless about, areas of our lives that seem to master us rather than us mastering them.  Areas where we can feel a bit abandoned and desolate.

Jesus offers hope and the opportunity of a new start in the all places, including those that feel dark, abandoned and desolate.

In different ways both Nicodemus and the woman at the well meet Jesus in dark places, yet these are the very places of encounter with new life.

For Nicodemus, perhaps the darkness of the night represented the fact that he needed to come into the full light of Christ as he was born again.  His mind needed to be freed from the ritual of the law that ensnared and shaped Nicodemus’ thinking so he could come into the freedom of the new life in Christ.

For the woman, perhaps the darkness of her life represented the fact that she needed to come into the full light of Christ as she drank of the living water.  Her body needed to be free from the things that trapped her and stopped her being free to be herself so she could be the transformed person that Jesus was inviting her to be.

Lent is a time of reflection.  It’s also a time when both our minds and our bodies can be freed and renewed.

For some of us it will mean letting God create a little chaos in our ordered lives so He can take us just a little out of our comfort zones and our familiar ways so He can use us to bring new life and living water to others.

For some of us it will mean letting God create a little order in parts of our lives that are in a bit of chaos so that we can be more effective and true to the calling God has for each one of our lives.

For some of us it will mean letting God create a little light in the dark areas of our lives, areas where there are things we need to sort out with God.

For some, it will just mean being a little more open to drink of the living water in our parched lives as we allow Christ to renew and refresh us as He did Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, and everyone who encountered Him wherever they would meet Him.