Login / Signup

Free Access

The Bridge at Sychar

To The Cross and Beyond
Cycle A Gospel Sermons for Lent and Easter
A great deal of the Bible is quite understandable by itself. To grasp much of the Bible we don't need tons of background, familiarity with ancient languages, or an advanced degree in archaeology. Then we approach other passages where we need the collective wisdom from the church's scholars to open up the fuller meaning.

We're at such a place today. John chapter 4 speaks much louder of God's grace when we review some background information. First, the history between the Jews and Samaritans was vicious, with grievous wrongs having been committed by both groups. Second, this text is full of puns that aren't obvious in an English translation. Consequently, reading English we don't understand why the woman doesn't immediately catch the drift of Jesus' words. Third, we need to know -- without too many gory details -- that nearly everyone at Jesus'time could offer half a dozen reasons why he shouldn't be talking to this woman.

When we delve into the customs of the day, we find that her coming to draw water at noon is a giveaway that she's a social outcast. Women drew the water but certainly not at noon in the heat of the day. She's a Samaritan woman who's an outcast of the Samaritan village, yet the Samaritans as a whole are outcasts from the Jews. So, we've got one ethnic community (the Jews) that throws out what it considers its human garbage (the Samaritans) and that community then points to one of the lowest people on their social register: this woman.

Jesus' conversation with the woman is scandalous. We catch a glimpse of this opinion when Jesus' students return and the scripture says, "They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman" (v. 27).

Jesus reaches out to a person who's least valued in her community. A friend of mine used to say that if Jesus came to our town today, he'd be driving a beat-up, old pick-up truck and the first place he'd go is the tavern. It's Jesus'style as we read the gospels. You'd certainly never guess that by looking at what's become of his church. Don't we all look nice and proper? Jesus, however, reaches out to everyone, not just by what he says, but literally by what he does.

This isn't just Jesus' style. It's also the main theme of the Bible. We don't work our way to God by being good, studying religion, or even seeking God. No matter how we view it from our perspective, the Bible tells the true story: God searches for us. In the Bible God always reaches out to us first. God takes the initiative. So, here at a well in Samaria Jesus isn't just crossing ethnic, religious, moral, or even sexual boundaries. Through Jesus God is reaching out across all eternity.

The city of Istanbul, Turkey, sits on two continents: Asia and Europe. In 1973, the first Bosphorus Bridge linked the two halves of the city, connecting the two continents permanently for the first time in history. Think of Jesus as that kind of bridge, spanning from eternity to time, from heaven to earth, from God to us. Through Jesus God is reaching out to humanity, bridging the gap between us. Jesus sits down outside the ancient village of Sychar, but where he meets the woman isn't just a well. It's a bridge.

The woman doesn't understand what's going on until later. Jesus' students also don't catch the meaning of the encounter. We, however, have the entire gospel of John and the rest of the New Testament to help evaluate the significance of Jesus' meeting with a Samaritan. God's offer to humanity is wrapped up in Jesus' conversation with this woman on heaven's bridge.

Notice how Jesus links us to God. Jesus focuses only upon the person he talks with. Even in a crowd Jesus can aim his attention to one person at a time. He's never just doing something in general or for symbolic effect. He's genuinely and specifically relating to this one woman whom others, even of her own outcast ethnic group, don't respect.

In this case, Jesus makes contact with a request, "Give me a drink" (v. 7). Then they chat about water, wells, springs, and worship, which was pretty natural stuff at the time. The more arid the region the more important water is. Plus, as stilted or artificial as the discussion about water seems, we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that other people at the time spoke in such symbols about worship and God.

Jesus asks for a drink. He's not afraid of her or her sin. She's important enough to give him a drink and to engage in a conversation about life's ultimate concerns. We can put ourselves in her place and realize that on the receiving end of a conversation with Jesus, yes, we recognize our sinfulness, as does Peter when Jesus in the boat with him tells him to let down his nets for a catch. A whole night already fishing and they've caught nothing, but obeying Jesus, they catch so much the boat starts to sink. When Peter figures out what's going on he falls on his knees and says, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8).

An uncomfortable awareness of our sin is one response to meeting Jesus. Yet, that's never the last thing we realize. Jesus, as with Peter and here with the woman, goes beyond our sinfulness to our essential value with God. Jesus wouldn't be here if God didn't love us. That is what's most important to understand because when it finally sinks into us that God loves us, we not only change our minds about God but about ourselves.

John Calvin was a forebear of our Presbyterian approach to the Bible and the Christian faith. Basically he said in his gigantic Institutes of the Christian Religion that of all there is to know about life, the most important are 1) to know about God and 2) to know about ourselves. Learning that God is our creator means that we aren't a speck of dust free floating in a meaningless universe. Learning, as does the Samaritan woman, that Jesus is God's emissary of eternal life restores us to our true place as creatures granted the very image of God upon us.

A few people think too much of themselves, and they're certainly irritating to be around. But most of us think too little of ourselves and the rotten things we do to ourselves and others is because we think so poorly of ourselves. Adolph Eichmann was an example in Germany. He lost a job as an oil salesman in the Depression and failed as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Finally he linked up with the German SS and eventually headed the Nazi effort to find and murder Europe's Jews. As a failure he settled for being a servile bureaucrat who, though having nothing personally against Jews, performed a job that diluted his sense of right and wrong and ended in mass executions that slaughtered millions.

It's when we feel like horrible losers that we act like horrible losers. Christians don't have to become like the ultra secularists who worship self-esteem. Yet, we must realize that humans need a sense of dignity. We're created with it, and without it we feel, if not act, like we and others are without value.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker tells that, when she was eight, she was shot in the eye with a BB gun and that eye was blinded. Besides being blind, the injury caused a permanent, messy scar in her eye. She instantly went from being a bright, happy child to a miserable one, taunted by other children and feeling wretched. For the next six years, she says, she didn't look anyone in the eye because she never raised her head. She hated her eye, and when she was alone she ranted at it. She carried this inferior feeling all her life -- a damaged eye that sometimes rolled without her control. She regained some of her poise when surgery at fourteen removed most of the eye's ugly scar. But inside she wasn't healed.

When she gave birth to a daughter, she wondered what would happen when the child realized her mother's eye was different. When the child was almost three, she regularly watched the television show "Big Blue Marble," named for what the earth looked like from the moon. One day when putting her daughter to sleep, her daughter focused on her blind eye. Alice Walker wrote that she felt it coming, that someday her child would realize her mother's eye was different and would say something hurtful to her. Instead, her daughter said in amazement, "Mommy, there's a world in your eye," and she asked how it got there.1

It took someone who loved Alice Walker completely, unconditionally, to see a wonderful world where others saw only injury or disability, someone who accepted her as she was and thought she was beautiful. Not all of Walker's problems were settled there, but a whole bunch were.

Jesus arrives across the bridge from heaven to meet the Samaritan woman at the well. He expresses to her God's unconditional regard, God's ultimate concern for her. Sure, she first feels the sting of her sin, but that passes when Jesus won't give up on her. The woman, as do we all, needs to know about God and about herself. It's as though Jesus says, "You're so important that God sent me to you." Not all of her problems are solved that moment, but a whole bunch are. She heads off to the village to share her imperfect understanding of Jesus, and she's not only on the way to town, she's on the way to recovery as God's beloved creature.

That's what happens when Jesus shows up, meeting us at a well, at work, at a party, or a picnic -- even encountering us in worship! Yes, right here and right now Jesus shows up in worship so that our meeting him here is an experience of spirit and truth. Here he totally centers upon us, gives us God's entire attention.

When you talk face-to-face with Jesus, you're in the conversation of a lifetime and beyond. When you talk with Jesus, no one is more important at that moment than you. We don't have to cower because Jesus sees our sins. He's more willing to forgive our sins than we are to confess them. He'll start the conversation with us. He'll even summon us to come to him when we don't quite know what's going on. No matter how tired he is, he says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

I like the sign outside the chiropractor's office that says, "Crawl-ins welcome." That's Jesus. He wants us to come to him no matter what we feel like and no matter how we feel about ourselves. He's crossed a great bridge to get to us. Now, no matter what circumstances it takes to get us in a conversation, no matter what others think of us, Jesus sits here looking at us, loving us, and listening to us. He hears our pains and sees our problems, problems maybe we've had since we were eight, or 18, or 28. But he sees beyond them. He gazes into our soul and glimpses this wonderful child God created, able to enjoy the world and love others, and able to contribute to life and spread God's good news. And here's the best: Because Jesus loves us, what he sees in us is what really counts, and what -- in his love -- we become.

Now we build bridges from Jesus to others. We, like the Samaritan woman, spread the word about Jesus with whatever understanding we have of him. We now gaze into the faces of our families and friends, our neighbors and acquaintances, and see the very image of God waiting for the love of Jesus, awaiting the word about Jesus. That's why Jesus crossed the bridge from heaven to earth: to link us with God, to forgive us, and to love us into the people God created us to be. He's now working through us to restore this big, blue marble of earth to a world of friendship and peace. As we live for Jesus here, we realize that we are taking the first steps with him back across the bridge to heaven.

It's not just that God reaches out to us first. God reaches out to us always -- now through the Holy Spirit. Here at our Lord's table Jesus again reaches to us and hands us God's love in the form of his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us. Those who eat here will never be hungry. Those who drink here will never be thirsty. Amen.


1. Alice Walker, "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self," reprinted in Comley, et al, Fields of Writing: Readings across the Disciples, Fourth Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994), pp. 46-52.
In addition to the lectionary resources there are thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)
Passion / Palm Sunday
31 – Sermons
120+ – Illustrations / Stories
37 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20 – Worship Resources
28 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Maundy Thursday
15+ – Sermons
80+ – Illustrations / Stories
18 – Children's Sermons / Resources
14 – Worship Resources
15 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Good Friday
20+ – Sermons
100+ – Illustrations / Stories
20 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20+ – Worship Resources
15 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
30 – Sermons
120+ – Illustrations / Stories
20 – Children's Sermons / Resources
23 – Worship Resources
34 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Plus thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)

New & Featured This Week

The Immediate Word

Elena Delhagen
Katy Stenta
Mary Austin
Dean Feldmeyer
Thomas Willadsen
Christopher Keating
George Reed
For April 2, 2023:


John E. Sumwalt
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
(v. 7)

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“Shame on you!”

These all too familiar words strike deep in the heart and can scar the soul. We carry the wound of shame as a body memory, like a soldier who bears a wound that never completely heals.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Bill Thomas
Mark Ellingsen
Bonnie Bates
Frank Ramirez
Isaiah 50:5-9a
The 2022 poll of the American Psychological Association revealed the highest levels of stress and weariness in the American population ever recorded. Commenting on this lesson and its reference to the need for the servant to sustain the weary (v.4), John Calvin observed that Christians “cannot escape this condition” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.VIII/2, pp.55-56), and then added:
David Coffin
In most churches I have served this is the week of Palm Sunday. The congregation sings “All Glory Laud and Honor,” as either the youth or other members of the church process around the sanctuary waving their palms. The processional text is usually read and sermon topic is based on this text (Matthew 21:1-11). Such ministry is not mutually exclusive to this passion set of texts today. It depends on which theme one chooses to emphasize this Sunday.


John Jamison
Object: A wipe-off marker board, markers, and eraser. The board can be of any size you can find.

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Around the end of the nineteenth century, a book appeared on the life on Jesus. Nothing surprising about that, you may think, but this was the first time that anyone had written a life of Jesus outside the gospels. It was like a starter's flag, for after that, numerous books were published on the life of Jesus.

All the books were different, and it became apparent that they all reflected the author's own perception of Jesus. It also became apparent that each author's perception of Jesus very much mirrored himself and


John A. Tenbrook
What really happened to the centurion who presided over our Lord's crucifixion? According to both Matthew and Mark, the centurion confessed that truly Jesus was God's Son. Luke says that the centurion simply asserted Jesus' innocence. But what went on in the centurion's mind as he watched this innocent young Galilean rabbi suffer a horrific death, forgiving his torturers and mockers, and promising Paradise to a fellow victim?

Did the centurion return to his duties as if nothing had happened to him? Or was this experience a life-changing one?
Gregory L. Tolle
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. (vv. 11--14)

Tony S. Everett
Johnny is four years old and he stopped taking naps before his second birthday. From his 6:15 am wake up (all by himself, no alarm clocks) until his 8 pm bed time, Johnny is in perpetual motion. He is running or talking or both all day long, and he expects the same from everyone around him. You can't be around Johnny very long without feeling exasperated and exhausted, yearning for just a few minutes of peace and quiet. You may know Johnny, or someone just like him.
Donald H. Neidigk
Come in! Come in! Do come in! Far be it from me that I should deny a visitor the hospitality of my little home. After all, it isn't really my home. I'm just a tenant. It belongs to the Lord, as does everything else you see around here, although I admit it isn't much. If I have an extra mat for a bed, or loaf of bread, or skin of wine, and you have need of it, consider it a gift from God to you.
Richard L. Sheffield
"Truly, this man was God's Son!" (Matthew 27:54 NRSV).

"Truly, this man was a son of God!" (Ibid., alternate reading).

"This man really was God's Son!" (Ibid, CEV) said the soldier, at the foot of the cross, as Jesus died.

So where in heaven was God while his Son hung there between heaven and hell; between life and death? Between the hosannas and the hallelujahs -- the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the not so triumphal exit come Friday -- and Jesus' triumphant return to life on Easter -- where was God?
Harry N. Huxhold
ABC produced a television program titled Strange World. The story line of a rather dull episode was that a young scientist set out to transfer the memory of the mind from one person to another. The experiment was extended to transfer the experience of death in the mind of one person to another. In order to carry out his experiment the scientist decided to kill in order to transfer the brain fluids from the dead person to the live person. What triggered the experiment in the first place was a fascination with death.

Special Occasion

Wildcard SSL