Sermon for St Edward’s, Sun 12 March. Readings: John 4: 5-42 & Exodus 17:1-7
This week it was ‘International Women’s Day’. So I love that we get this passage from John set today, with the woman at the well, because as we’ll see she was a ground breaking woman.
But before we get to her, let me tell you about a couple of other women who were ground breaking for the Lord.
Firstly Jackie Pullinger – who many of you will have heard of. Her book Chasing the Dragon has sold millions of copies around the world telling her story. She was a missionary who at age just 22, felt God call her to Hong Kong and the walled city. This place was lawless, full of gangs, opium dens, brothels, it was a place where even the police didn’t go, and yet God called her there. A young woman on her own in this place of darkness.
She was so faithful to God and was totally led by the Holy Spirit. She saw addicts come off opium with no withdrawal symptoms, through prayer alone. Now in her 70s, she is still evangelising she has changed Hong Kong and more.
Felicity and Perpetua are Saints we remembered this week on Tuesday.
3rd C African martyrs, Perpetua was a noblewoman and Felicity her slave. Both were arrested for their faith and thrown into prison.
Perpetua had recently given birth and still breast feeding – she wrote detailed accounts in her diary including the pain of not being able to breastfeed, while Felicity was pregnant and later gave birth in prison, aided by Perpetua.
Her pagan father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her faith. Perpetua’s answer was simple and clear. Pointing to a pitcher, she asked her father, “See that pitcher lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?“
Her father answered, “Of course not.” Perpetua responded, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”
The officers of the prison began to recognise the power of the Christians and the strength and leadership of Perpetua. In some cases, this helped them: the warden let them have visitors and to keep her son with her – and later became a believer. They were condemned by the Roman authorities for their faith and sent to the arena to be mauled by wild animals… they stood side by side and were finally killed by sword. Perpetua and Felicity are the patron saints of mothers, expectant mothers, ranchers and butchers.
Someone who you may not have heard of is Kathryn Kulman. Ministering in the middle of the last century in the USA, she was known as the ‘woman who believed in miracles’
She had her own past just like the woman at the well – she had a failed marriage and with some controversy, but after following the prompting of the HS she came back to a life of preaching, committed to serving the Lord and helping others meet him. After the war her ministry really took off and she began to pray for healing.
God gave her revelations about the Holy Spirit and she began to see healings happen in her meetings But she did so differently to others. Her ministry was quiet and calm – she despised the show of some ‘faith healers’, talking of them ‘fanaticising something so sacred’. Healings took place without her even laying hands on – just by people being in the meetings. She said she walked in the simplicity of being a handmaiden of the lord. [See God’s General’s by Roberts Liardon]
Her ministry grew and grew and she saw thousands of miracles happen, this was said to one of the leading ministries of the charismatic movement. Even the Pope gave her a private audience in the Vatican.
She ministered until just before her death in the 1970s.
All these women were filled with courage, were led by the Holy Spirit, into a different and ground-breaking lives. Stepping out in ways that were unexpected, against their culture or societal expectations and being so fully committed to Jesus.
Which links me to the woman at the well, who also had an experience with Jesus that changed her life and caused her to act in unexpected ways.
So here is this woman sat at the well, in the middle of the day. What do we know about her? Well, the fact that she was there in the middle of the day, the heat of the day and by herself tells us a lot.
The norm was for women to go to the well together to help each other draw water, and it would be at the start of the day in the cool before the sun got too hot.
For her to be there at that time and alone was dangerous, it was probably very hot and she was obviously labelled as an outcast. So before we even begin we know for some reason she has been rejected by her community.
We also know she is a Samaritan and she obviously recognised Jesus as being Jewish so she knew they do not associate with one another. And it’s helpful here to realise how much the Samaritans and Jews hated each other.
After King Rehoboam’s actions in the 10th C BC led to a schism in Israel, the northern and southern kingdoms were formed. Both sinned and were constantly warned by prophets and God. Them in 712 BC the nothern kingdom was defeated by Assyrians and whilst some people were taken captive, some remained in the land and mixed with this new ruling people. They were then half Jewish and half gentile and became know as Samaritans. They were hated for being half jews – reminds me of Harry Potter and kids being called a half blood or mudblood!
So here was a Jew and a Samaritan
A Jewish man and a Samaritan woman
A woman alone interacting with a Samaritan man.
This situation was very much out of the ordinary.
And into this Jesus shared with this woman, in a way she might relate to, who he is. The Living Water.
Imagine, the heat of the day, she has to come and get water, it’s hard work, no one to help her and on top of that there’s a strange man sat at the well where she needs to go. A strange man from a tribe hers hates . And not only that he wants her to give him water.
She was hot, weary and probably wary too. I mean alarm bells would have been going off right left and centre for me!
But he speaks this truth and in doing so he draws her into speaking the truth – are you greater than Jacob who built this well? well actually if only you knew the half of it!!
And then this line:
Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’John 4:13-14
Hot, thirsty, she must have been desperate for a drink and to get her water home – and she’s like: great give it to me then I won’t have to come back to this bloomin’ place again.
At this point I feel like she’s getting a little narked, like: I just need to get some water, can you move so I can do that and go home?
But then, he speaks into her life, prophesies to her – and in that she sees something else, it must stop her in her tracks and wariness. ‘I can see you are a prophet’ she says – but she needs more to understand why and what he is saying. What you’re saying doesn’t line up with what I know – our ancestors worshipped here but as I understand it your lot says we have to worship in Jerusalem
He then explains salvation to her – and she remembers her Jewish roots – I know the Messiah will come.
And there he is right in front of her.
And in meeting him her life is changed, she is so eager to tell people she leaves her water jar behind, presumably unfilled. And she goes back and calls the people, those who don’t want to associate with her at the well, and then in courage she goes to tell them – I think I have seen the Messiah! And they come,
And a few lines later we read:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said 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 Saviour of the world.’John 4:39-42
Because of this woman stepping out, overcoming societal norms, stigma and shame to share the good news, many of the people of her town came and met the Messiah and believed.
All these women responded to the good news, the truth of who Jesus is, in amazing ways, in courage, in defiance, in absolute faith.
So often women in the bible, as today, get overlooked or not accepted, or shamed, or not believed. And yet God clearly works through women to share God’s message.
Women are half the kingdom of God. This is not just about feminism and equality but about us being the whole church that we are intended to be. When we don’t allow women’s voices to be heard or roles to be filled by them, we are missing half of God’s plan to build the church. We will never be the full church God intended without women in their roles and places.
This woman at the well was one person who because of her testimony saw half her town become believers!
Jackie Pullinger changed a nation
Felicity and Perpetua are still remembered today over 2 thousands years after they died.
Kathryn Kulman helped people to meet with the power of Jesus and be healed.
All faced difficulties, rejection, confrontation and more often because they were women who believed.
and they believed in Jesus Christ, son of God. They refused to deny him but continued to tell people about him, in some cases to their dying day.
May they be examples to us, inspiring us to be courageous, bold and seeking equality for the glory of God and Christs’ church.