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Sunday, March 15, 2020
Instead we share Pastor Jessica Townsley's written Sermon: 
The Unlikely Noble Who
By: Pastor Jessica Townsley
Gospel Passage: John 4:5-42

The Unlikely Noble Who: A Sermon
Few things bring me more joy right now than the British television show Doctor Who. It’s funny how, when things are stressful, a little escapism can really help your mood. Now, it took me a minute to really get into it, but I persisted at the behest of my fiancé. Leave it to an Englishwoman to make sure her American bride-to-be becomes a “Whovian.” I’m going to get a little nerdy on you for a bit, but I have a point.

For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is a show about a time-traveling human-looking alien called “The Doctor” who flies around in space in a blue police box called a T.A.R.D.I.S. One of the biggest running jokes on the show is the way that every single person who enters this blue box is immediately taken aback by the fact that, yes, it is, in fact, “bigger on the inside.” Another running joke involves the Doctor’s appearance. You see, when the Doctor dies, they regenerate, and when they do, they look and act totally different. Different actors have played each iteration of the Doctor, men of all ages and, more recently, a woman.
Doctor Who is one of those shows that has a little bit of everything: intrigue, excitement, adventure, humor, sometimes even romance, but most of all: friendship. The Doctor doesn’t usually travel alone, but finds a companion along the way. The Tenth Doctor’s last companion is a woman named Donna Noble. Donna Noble is nothing very extraordinary. She’s a temp worker at an office in London. She doesn’t appear to be especially clever. She’s not overly adventurous or athletic or tough.
When they meet up, Donna Noble is getting ready to get married to the wrong man but is sort of mysteriously snatched from her wedding and suddenly appears in the Tardis, which is in space at the moment she appears. The Doctor, in trying to figure out how she got there, assesses that there’s nothing obvious about her that makes her special, and yet HERE SHE IS. A human. In Space. In the T.A.R.D.I.S. Out of nowhere. Unexceptional and unexpected. What’s just happened should not have happened. It’s against the rules of space and time!

Our gospel selection today from John gives us another example of a rule-breaking incident, this time between Jesus and the woman at the well. Like Donna Noble, she’s unexceptional. In that time and place there were very specific rules about how this man, Jesus, a Jewish teacher, should engage with her. A woman. Married five times and currently husbandless. A Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not get along, they were not friends, they did not engage with one another regularly and when they did, it wasn’t to exchange pleasantries. So, imagine her surprise when, in the course of her daily work, she takes her bucket to the well and a Jewish man asks for help getting a drink.
As readers of this text, we are alerted to its importance as soon as we realize a woman is mentioned. She may never get a name, but the mere fact that she’s a woman should make us perk up our ears. We should also remember that this story contains the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels. And it’s not with person of wealth or importance. It’s not with a disciple. It’s not with a family member. It’s not with a religious leader. It’s with this Samaritan woman.
For her part, the woman is amazed at the fact that he asks for anything at all. And then he begins talking about living water and she becomes fascinated. Think about it: She’s a woman who must carry water from the well back home each day and here comes this man talking to her about living water! She’s probably thinking, if he gives me this living water, I might never have to lug around this heavy water ever again.

So she asks Jesus to give her that water. Give me this living water, teacher-man!

Of course, we know he’s not talking about literal living water that will somehow make that work easier and after some conversation she begins to get it. She realizes that this strange Jewish man is speaking to her of something important, something even more central to her survival than even the water itself: he’s speaking to her about God’s grace and acceptance of her just as she is.

This is extraordinary. Why should God care about this lowly woman? She’s been married a few times, she has no husband to care for her. She’s a nobody. She’s other. She’s a lot like Donna Noble. Unexceptional. An unlikely protagonist in any story. And yet here’s this man talking to her about how worthy she is. No matter her past or her current circumstances.

Donna Noble’s travels with the Doctor lead her all over space and time, helping him save people and whole worlds. Through the course of this we begin to realize that Donna Noble is, in fact, quite clever. She is, absolutely, worthy of love and companionship. She becomes, in many ways, one of the most uniquely qualified companions the Doctor will ever have. At one point in time, she is the most important person in the universe, with entire planets relying on her to save them. She goes from zero to, quite literally, hero.
She’s not a nobody. And neither is this Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus sees in her something of value, recognizes her as more than an unmarried Samaritan woman, understands that in her there is an inherent dignity and worthfulness that God sees, even if others will not. Jesus gives her the good news that to God, she’s somebody.

By the end of this section in John, we find out that she went on to spread the good news given her by Jesus and that when she does, people believe. Not just one or two, but many. Her testimony opened up their world and provoked them to offer Jesus safe passage and shelter. Eventually, they will come to see for themselves that they are loved, but only because of her. Because of this nobody. Because of this unnamed woman. This unlikely vessel of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Like Donna Noble and the Woman at the Well, we are imperfect. Many of us often feel unexceptional or other in some way. But the good news of this story is that we are exceptional. We are worthy of the grace of God and of acceptance just as we are.

Right now, the world is hurting. We will be, if we are not already, somewhat isolated. We’re told to keep our distance from others, from the public, from our neighbors, even from our families. In times like these, times of uncertainty, we usually can lean on one another to find some comfort and peace, but that’s harder now. But now is not the time to wallow in our isolation. In our fear.
In our worry. We may not be able to visit our neighbors, but this is not the time to stop loving our neighbors. We may be told to stay home and hunker down, but this is not a time to let fear win. It is not a time for hoarding and every person for themselves.

As Jesus shows us, when someone is in need—whatever that may be—we are called to help however we can. We are called to love our neighbors.

This is not a time for selfishness and fear and despair; this is a time for generosity and hope and love.
Even if you can’t visit and party and have coffee together, check in on each other.

If you know vulnerable people who need food or medicine or, yes, even toilet paper, ask how you might be able to support them in this time.

Friends, we may have to stay in, but we don’t have to isolate ourselves from being the neighbors we are called to be.

So this week, even as you wisely socially distance, don’t forget to be the church.



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