A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “More Than That”

“More Than That”

March 12, 2023


What just happened in this story? What might it mean for us?

Let’s start with the Samaritan woman. She purposely goes to the well at the hottest, most uncomfortable part of the day so she wouldn’t have to be seen by or speak to any of the women in her own community. She was trying to fly under the radar. Whether she was purposefully excluded by the other women or she had internalized so much shame about her life that she couldn’t face them, we don’t know.  But, we do know that she expected to be alone at the well. 

Imagine her surprise, her discomfort, that not only wasn’t she going to be alone at the well, but that a man, who had no business being at there – and a Jew – a sworn enemy of her people – was sitting there.  Nothing could have been more unexpected.

In an era when a man wasn’t even supposed to speak to his own wife in public, Jesus speaks to her – to someone that no one else would speak to. At a time when Jews and Samaritans worked hard to have nothing to do with each other, Jesus wants to share a drink.  Who does this guy think he is? 

Nothing about this scene makes sense. The Samaritan woman knows the norms about  when to go to the well – when it isn’t blazing hot – and was trying to get around them, to stay unseen. Jesus knew the norms, too – no Jew was even supposed to be in Samaria  – and yet he was intentionally breaking them.

For her.  For us. For love. 

Whether the Samaritan woman’s five husbands left her by divorce or death, this woman had no one in the community she could count on, no one who was a real friend.  In those days, a man could simply divorce his wife by standing in the public square and shouting three times, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.” Perhaps she endured this trauma.  Whatever happened, just to survive,  she is now relegated to the scandal of living with another man without the benefit of marriage and community acceptance.  She is heavily burdened.

Whatever she had thought or hoped her life would be, this wasn’t it.  Given all that she had gone through, she probably had a pretty low view of men.  And society. And mostly, herself.  It’s not a stretch to think she had been shunned, was deeply depressed and, perhaps, anxious. 

Imagine going for days or weeks or months or even years without ever having someone talk to you with kindness and interest? Without ever having a meaningful conversation? 

The Samaritan woman must have had a profound and painful thirst for connection and belonging. To be known, accepted, cared for, and respected. Think of all of the ways in this country that white culture has “invisibilized” people of color and migrants.  They don’t usually gather at our watering holes – unless they are serving us. Think of all those folks, who because of sexual orientation or gender identity or mental illness or addiction choose to self-isolate because of feelings of unworthiness.  

There are many people in this and every community who thirst to be seen, understood, and belong. Last week at the Cape Ann clergy meeting, we met with Shaina Doberman, Director of Younity, a center for young adults from 16-25 in Gloucester.  They serve youth who identify as LGBTQ+ or are homeless or mentally ill – or all of the above. She was asked what these kids most need. What do you think she said? (Pause for response) “They thirst for connection.” 

That’s who the Samaritan woman is.  Someone who thirsts for connection. 

But, it seems, that she – like many of us – has probably looked for it in the wrong places, places that can never satisfy.  How many in our community look for satisfaction through alcohol or drugs?  Or look in seemingly good places – like the longed-for job or marriage or home? Maybe we think that the new job or the new relationship or new home will satisfy us, will quench that thirst.  But, then when the boss turns out to be a tyrant or the spouse is no longer attentive or the house is a money pit… we face again the truth of our human condition.  Nothing or no one  outside of us can satisfy the longing inside of us. 

The Samaritan woman was thirsty. Until she meets Jesus. 

He is present to her.  He pays attention to her.  He recognizes who she is and what’s going on in her life without judgment or blame. Jesus recognizes that she has something important to give, to contribute, asking her for a drink..  He takes her words seriously and dignifies her questions with a substantive response, showing her respect. He accepts the Samaritan woman as she is.

For her part, as she is seen and known and regarded with respect, something within her quickens. She can feel it.  Her spirit is coming back to life. Who she is – the good, the troubled, the searching… with deep thoughts and feelings…what she has done and what she has failed to do… all of it is understood and accepted by Jesus. 

Their conversation turns on something inside her…a feeling of vitality, eternal life. In the presence of love, she is no longer defined by her needs, her shortcomings, or any of the identities (Samaritan, female, unmarried) that have kept her down.  Jesus sees her as more. 

Gloucester artist, Amy Kerr, is like a modern day Samaritan woman who realizes that she is more than any challenge that limits her. (Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-QAkvNqoEo&t=12s End at 2:19) 

Amy created over 20 portraits for her first show that opened in 2018.  At present, her 49th show is being displayed in New Hampshire.  It has likely been seen by 100’s of thousands of people, bringing a message of hope. 

Whatever is going on in your life… whatever weighs you down – a physical or mental illness, addiction, relationship struggles, job or housing difficulties…. remember – You are more than that. 

Whatever is weighing down a loved one…a physical or mental illness, addiction, relationship struggles, job or housing difficulties… remember, they are more than their issues. 

Whatever seems to be dividing you from someone else – whether differences in politics, religion or way of life, remember – we are more than our differences. 

As her conversation with Jesus unfolds, the Samaritan woman feels herself as more than all that has weighed her down. She leaves behind her water jug, the symbol of all that she is carrying.  Her inner spark is relit and she no longer worries about what others think of her; she is on fire to share the incredible news she has to give them… “Come and see for yourself this man, the Messiah, the embodied presence of God’s love.”

That invitation is for us, too. It is an invitation to prayer.  To conversation with God…To go to whatever well where you can hear the voice of God speak within. It could be this church. Or outside.  Or where musicians or artists gather.  Around a table. Or sitting with someone in need.

We are invited during Lent to prayer.  To conversation with God. To speak our truth, lay down your burdens and to listen for the inner voice of love. 

When we allow ourselves the blessing of a conversation with God in prayer, we realize that there is nothing to hide. All of who you are is accepted. Let that sink in. Our God longs to remove the barriers we place in our own hearts and to remove the barriers we place between ourselves and other people so that we can feel the Spirit springing up inside of ourselves. 

In the time of silent prayer that follows, you are invited to share your truth with God and listen for the voice of love. Satisfy your thirst for connection to the God who lives within you. Amen.