Sermon: Lent 3, Year A

Text: John 4:5-42

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

The best sermons have just three points to make: at College we were taught that, so one Sunday a fellow student stood before a busy church and said the following:

“The best sermons have three points to make:

1. Jesus is God.
2. Mary is his Mother
3. Go to Mass”

And then he sat down. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that ISN’T today’s sermon, although it is, I believe, the finest three point sermon in the history of Christendom.

There is, however, a fine three point sermon to be drawn from today’s Scripture and where we find ourselves in Elson at this time. All of my reading, and thinking and praying this week has drawn me back to these three key points:

1. Jesus reaches out to everyone
2. Our new church hall is not a building project but a mission
3. We need to pray about it

…except, I’m not going to just sit down now. I think it needs a little bit more flesh on it than that, and perhaps an explanation about how these points are connected.

Let us consider our Gospel for a moment…

Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 10:5 not to deal with Samaria – to concentrate on the lost sheep of Israel, and yet here Jesus is in Samaria. He was probably travelling through the area to get to another part of Israel.

The Samaritans were both ethnically and theologically related to the Jews, but were the remnants of the Jews claiming to be direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, left behind after the Asyrrian conquests in 722 BC. The Samaritans were close, but not close enough and although they shared a common heritage – this encounter took place at Jacob’s Well after all – they were social and religious pariahs. We have all heard and understood the subtext of the Good Samaritan to understand how scandalous this encounter is in polite Jewish Society.

The woman was coming to the Well not early in the morning, when others would gather for this daily, essential, communal chore, but at midday, when she would be on her own. The Samaritan woman clearly saw herself as an outcast amongst an outcast tribe: her turbulent emotional history – five husbands and counting – has placed her at the very edge of society.

And yet, Our Lord breaks the conventions of polite society, the norms of acceptability and he faces the scandal of others in actively challenging conventions in this encounter:

• For Jews did not address Samaritans. At all. Not at all.
• Jews would not ask for food or drink from Samaritans as it would be ritually unclean. Uncleanliness would make a Jew unable to participate in the nice ritual things that Jews like to do.
• Men would not address women they were unrelated to

And yet Jesus speaks to this woman, and not down to her. He speaks to her of matters spiritual with her. He responds to her questions with gentle, profound and timeless teaching for us all.

Christ speaks of the Living Water which only he can provide: the difference between the water of the well and the water of eternal life, the short-term (rather like that woman’s relationships) and the eternal relationship with God.

It is not just his words which teach, but the very way in which he does it, with someone on the outside, beyond the pale.

No-one is beyond Christ. St Paul said in the letter to the Galatians (and that is why we have pew bibles, my dear friends, look it up!) 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

Neither Jew nor Greek – regardless of being Jewish or anything else; slave nor free – regardless of social status, of course regardless of gender, regardless of … the list goes on, sexuality, colour, high church or low church – all are one in Jesus Christ.

And if Jesus reaches out, then we must reach out. If we are inward looking, then we are not Christ-looking, if we are focused on our own community, then we miss out on the opportunity, the responsibility, the charge we have to meet the needs of the lost sheep of Gosport, those in real need, in real distress, in real hardship, in real hope for the Gospel which redeems all of us.

It means moving beyond our comfort zones, beyond our existing giving, our current time allocation for Church and into a new discipleship which is based upon seeking social justice and making a difference in this community. We are starting to move out of our shell, and yet the Gospel calls us to do so much more.

Reflecting on this brought sharply into focus what we have been discussing with regard to the Church Hall. For this project has wavered and faltered and been amended and curtailed and put off and has lost its way in the past 20 years. We seek the reproviding of the church hall in the grounds of the church, the sale of the tired and worn out and a high quality replacement which will be of wide and significant benefit to the Elson Community. I believe it is a project whose time has come and is a key part of what we have just been speaking of – a radical opportunity to be Christ-like and to engage in this community in service to the wider community.

If we lose the vision for this, and see it about simply a building, a sale, a project, then we will have squandered the opportunity and ignored the clarion call of God. This project is a mission-project, it is about making Christ known in Elson in new and exciting ways, about using our assets to tell the story of Jesus to people yet unborn. There will be frustrations, anxieties and the overwhelming sense that it’s all too much, it’s not for the likes of us, that we are too poor, too old, too weak or busy. If we do that, then we will have forgotten that this is God’s work we are about to embark on. It needs to be grounded in prayer, rooted in devotion, based on faith and built to the Lord.

This brings us onto our third point of the sermon. For if we are to keep the focus of this project as a mission and not just a building project, then we have to pray, pray hard and pray often.

I therefore want to task the monthly prayer group with specific prayers for the future development of the hall; I want to call the people of Elson to prayer, each Saturday at 9:55 for five minutes of prayer before the Parish Office each week until this becomes a reality. If we can but pray for a few minutes each week, keep this in the hands of God and our vision at the heart of our ministry then we can achieve something worthwhile. You can all spare five minutes a week to pray specifically for this.

Living water is beyond what we can drink, what can run through our fingers, it comes not from the outside, but from within. The hall will not be the source of our faith or our outreach, but will be the fruit of that faith, the manifestation of that outreach. Do we want to be the spring of salvation? Do we want to deliver something of meaning, do we want to see the spirit bring forth something powerful? Let us therefore be encouraged, empowered and envisioned, let us seize what God is making possible for us… within our capability, within our grasp.

I need a small group of people to run with me on this: just five people to be my Lions of Judah, the heralds of our New Dawn. The task ahead of us needs people to come together to pray for it and to help it happen. Ask yourself whether you want to see this Church become once again the centrepoint of this community, the instrument of outreach, the mechanism of God’s love, and ask yourself if God is not calling YOU, not anyone else, not someone who sits in another part of the church, someone younger, someone older, someone with more experience or eloquence or money or O’Levels but whether you are being called to be a Lion of Judah, a Herald of the New Dawn and a catalyst for praying through and leading through and seeing through this mission in this place…

Let us pray for them to come forward… as God as called you to this, come forward and grab me after this mass.

So, after all that, to remind you of our three point sermon:

1. Jesus reaches out to everyone
2. Our new church hall is not a building project but a mission
3. We need to pray about it

Pray. Hope. Don’t Worry, and we will build for the Lord in this place.