That God Gave God’s Only Son…

Sermon for Sunday, March 12, 2023 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42

(Part Two of Sermon Series on John 3:16 – Part One)

Last week we talked about God loving the kosmos – every nook and cranny of creation – into being. We focused on the first six words of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” The next few words tell us what God does because God loves the world. And that’s what we’re going to focus on today.

For God so loved the world that God gave

Let’s just pause there for a minute. Let’s pause on that verb “gave” and appreciate the truth that Jesus shares about God. God loved creation so much that God gave. God’s love propels God’s gift-giving. This giving expects nothing in return. This giving is free, not earned or purchased. This giving is an outpouring of God’s love, which is the only thing God’s love ever does. God’s love pours out; it spills from a wellspring that never runs dry; it gushes up like living water, bringing new life to creation.

And in this great story of God’s presence in creation, this love pours out as a particular gift. For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son

The gift God gives because God loves the world so much is God’s own self, born with chromosomes from a mother who gave God the gift of saying ‘yes.’ In its poetic beginning the Gospel of John tells us this gift is ‘God’s Word’ made flesh. A better translation might even be ‘God’s Story’ made flesh; that is, the human embodiment of God’s epic dream for Creation, the One who calls all of Creation back into right relationship with God.

God gives this gift of God’s own self in the person of Jesus, an itinerant wisdom keeper from the backwoods of the lands conquered by the Roman Empire. One day, Jesus was traveling through Samaria, a region that Jesus’ country looked down upon because of old tribal animosity. Tired out from his journey, Jesus takes his ease by the town’s well. A woman of the town arrives with her jar to draw water from the well, and Jesus asks her for a drink.

The woman is taken aback. Everyone knows their peoples don’t get along. But instead of running away – this is her town’s well, after all – she says “Why are you asking me for a drink?” And this is where things get interesting.

Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” If you knew the gift of God. What is the gift of God? What did God give to the world God loves so much? God’s own self, the Word made flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the gift, and he reiterates this by saying he’s also the one asking her for that drink.

The question is: how does Jesus give himself to the woman? Early hearers of the Gospel might think he’s about to give himself to her in the bonds of marriage. The well, after all, is where many key figures of the Bible found their spouses. And we know that John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom. But, that’s not what happens. He doesn’t settle down for domestic life in the Samaritan city.

So, how does Jesus give himself to the woman? And how does Jesus give himself to us? Remember, Jesus is God’s Story in human form. In their conversation, Jesus reveals to the woman his divine identity. She asks about the messiah, and he says to her “I Am.” Those two little words, “I Am,” are Jesus’ way of sharing that divine identity, because they echo God’s name at the burning bush with Moses. “I Am Who I Am,” God says. Put another way, “I Breathe Life Into What I Create.” Or put a third way, “I Am the Author of the Story.”

Jesus shares this divine identity with the woman at the well. He meets her at noon on that hot day in the middle of the city. He meets her in the midst of her trials and her triumphs, her joy and her grief, her doubts and questions. He meets her with the gift of God’s Story in the flesh. And when she meets him back, she learns her place in that story. She learns who she is at her core, at the deep place where her life intersects the story God is telling in Creation.

That’s why she says to the townspeople later on, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” Taken at face value, this is the biggest of exaggerations. In their conversation, Jesus mentioned a little bit about her marital history. That’s it. But taken from the perspective of her finding her place in God’s story, her witness to the townspeople makes perfect sense. She feels truly known in a way that she can’t put into words. She has received the gift of finding herself in God’s story, and her life will never be the same.

God loves the world so much that God gives every nook and cranny in Creation the gift of finding its place in God’s Story. For most of the elements of that Creation, receiving this gift is second nature, or perhaps first nature. The gift finds expression in the dolphin leaping, the flower following the sun, the gravitational dance of celestial bodies. But we humans are a thick lot, and we need help to find our place in the story. That’s where the gift of God’s Beloved encounters us. In our walks with Jesus, we discover our unique places in the story God is telling. We explore our own giftedness. We find the places in the world that are hungry for justice and peace and community and love. And then, with God’s help, we discern how best to use our gifts to feed that hunger.

The story God is telling is far from over. Right now, we are the characters in the story. That’s God’s gift to us. Our gift back to God is to participate in the telling.

Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash.

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