Sermon For March 23, 2014

John 4:5-29

“What’s In Your Bucket?”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:

To see a video of this sermon, go online to:

[Editor’s Note: Pastor Allen did not preach this sermon as printed.  He summarized it in light of the presence of the family of the child being dedicated and the length of the service.]

This past week at the Cleveland International Film Festival I saw during the “Ohio Shorts” program a delightful little movie made here in Northeast Ohio, Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 10.05.57 AM“Carrie’s Wish,” about a young woman and a moment that changed her life and her entire perspective on life.  Her younger sister, who was in high school, died tragically when hit by a car.  The older sister, in the midst of her grief, discovers a “summer bucket list” her sister had created, filled with fun and fanciful things she had planned to do and achieve during her summer vacation prior to her horrible death.  The older sister decides to follow her sisters hopes and fulfills each one.  In the process, she moves through her grief in a beautiful way, and recaptures a sense of purpose for herself.  [To watch this film, go to: ]


You know what a “bucket list” is, don’t you? Those are things you want to see or do or say before you “kick the bucket.”


The Bucket List movie poster onesheetOf course, I can’t help but think about the film from a few years back, “The Bucket List” (1) which is a touching story of two wildly different persons thrown together through fate who find their search for meaning in life has only just begun.  Carter Chambers is a quiet unassuming auto mechanic, played by Morgan Freeman, and Edward Cole is a high-powered hospital CEO, played by Jack Nicholson.  They find themselves in the same hospital room, forced together by Cole’s very own draconian cost-saving policies that force everyone to share a room.  No exceptions.  Not even for hospital CEO’s.


BucketListListAfter some difficult, but delightfully funny, misunderstandings, they eventually become friends, and make a pact that before the next time they almost die – or perhaps do die – that they will have accomplished as many items on their “bucket list,” as they can.  They proceed on what can only be described as a breathtaking adventure, tackling everything from visiting the pyramids of Egypt, riding motorcycles on the great wall of China, to confronting their fears about failed relationships and, of course, the greatest fear of all: the fear of death.


Overlooking a few huge leaps of imagination, the film has some marvelous moments, particularly as two of the greatest actors of our time, Freeman and Nicholson, attempt to show how lives can be changed for the better when deeply entrenched boundaries are crossed and painfully engrained fears are faced.


Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well Wall Painting, Church of St. Mary, 13th century, Ethiopia

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Wall Painting, Church of St. Mary, 13th century, Ethiopia

John’s gospel reports: So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)


You must know by now, after years of hearing me preach on this text, that what happened that day at the well in Sychar was no chance meeting.  It has “moment of salvation” written all over it.  The bad blood between Samaritans and Jews ran about as hot as, say, the bad blood between most Palestinians and Jews today, or, to bring it closer to home, between most red-blooded, die-hard suburban Republicans and blue-blooded, hard-n-fast urban Democrats.


You’ve also heard me tell you that women don’t go to the well in the center of town alone in the middle of the day unless they are on the outs with the other women; outcast, suspect, of questionable reputation.  You’ve been reminded by me on more than one occasion that Jesus took an extraordinary risk, as a single man, alone, approaching a single woman, alone, was forbidden in that culture in that day.  There were more figurative walls between these two people than there are real fences being built between the United States and Mexico.


But Jesus, never one to play by the rules of human games and pretenses, has a bigger mission.  He has the gift of eternal life that he wants to offer to this woman.


Jesus answered her, “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.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?…  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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”


But even with Jesus’ bold directness and the woman’s simple honesty, the insecurities and prejudices of the world attempt to ruin this holy encounter.  Concerns over her marital status and ancient religious prejudices rear their ugly heads, but these two people of good will stay focused, and success will come when grace becomes real in their relationship.


The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”


Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awaad

Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awaad

I recently listened to a moving interview via podcast with two equally amazing people who, like Carter Chambers and Edward Cole, and like Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, are intent upon a more redemptive, and eternal goal, rather than in reinforcing worn-out prejudices and familiar angry fears (2).  On the radio program “On Being,” we meet Robi Damelin, an Israeli who lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper.  Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian, lost his older brother Yousef to a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier.  But, instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, they’ve decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their common humanity.  They tell of a gathering network of survivors who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for lasting peace. They don’t want to be right; they want to be honest.


These two people, who, by the world’s standards are on opposite sides of a frequently violent and seemingly intractable fence – again figuratively and literally – have chosen to breach the walls, not for warfare, but for peace.  They go to schools both in the West Bank and in Tel Aviv to talk about the pain of losing a loved one, and the commonalities of sorrows and of hopes that can bring us together. They tour the world together as living and breathing examples that our fear and our grief do not have to divide us, but can unite us.


I believe that the primary reason Jesus took the risk to talk to the Samaritan woman in the middle of the day in the middle of the town, going against all social standards, was not to judge this woman in order to give her eternal life, but to judge the false and misguided rules of society that kept women like her from living life fully.


The conversation that so many theologians and bible students point to that gives them permission to condemn this woman, and make it a story of Jesus judgment, are wrong! Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  If one takes the time to be a good Bible student, one sees clearly there is no judgment here. Too many people presume this woman has been flipping indiscriminately from husband to husband, sleeping around, and is, to put it bluntly: a slut.  How dare we!  How dare we take the prejudices of our society directly off the supermarket rags and apply them to our Bible like they were gospel.  Jesus took the time to get to know this woman, why can’t we do at least the same?


Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Mario Sironi, 1947. Christus Rex.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Mario Sironi, 1947. Christus Rex.

You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband… Understanding the culture of her day, we know that she as an adult woman had less power and authority over her own actions than a male child did. Is it not conceivable that five dishonest men have come and gone, leaving her life and livelihood up to the dogs?  She may be a survivor that Jesus admires! Or, is it not conceivable that she has had five husbands who have all died, leaving her fate up to the will and whim of her husbands’ families?  She may be a widow that Jesus pities, not shames.  (3)


Who are the people in your world that you judge first and then ignore, never ever getting to know?  Who are the people with whom God is calling you to make a “bucket list?”  Is it the teen on the corner with the homemade tattoos and baggy pants? Is it the person who moved in down the street that the courts have labeled a “sexual predator?” Is it the person on your pew that you have already ignored two or three times this morning? Perhaps Jesus might be calling you to take a risk, cross the line, get to know someone as human being first and foremost, and not as a label to be judged and discarded.


In the first scenes of “The Bucket List” Cole derides the mechanic Chambers as a “zombie” because of his stare and his quiet nature and Chambers distrusts the CEO Cole because… well because he is a man behaving badly. Through fate or the inner strength neither of them fully understands, they stop judging and come to recognize they need each other – across lines of race, class, and life experience – and their buckets become full to overflowing with trust and respect and, dare I say, love?


Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad have every reason to distrust each other, hate, even, each other.  They, too, are divided by race, class, and life experience. But they have chosen grace over judgment and work together to bring healing to their peoples, and thus to the entire world.  They recognize each other as human beings and that they need each other.  Their buckets are full to overflowing and the world is gifted by their trust, respect, and their love.


Christ and the Woman of Samaria, George Richmond, 1828. Tate Gallery

Christ and the Woman of Samaria, George Richmond, 1828. Tate Gallery

Jesus models for us the ability to see one another as a brother or sister, a fellow human being, and not as a color or a class or a set of life experiences.  He approaches the woman at the well with the weight of huge societal forces of division, bitterness, and anger looming over the town square.  But he sees this woman drawing water as one who has dignity and deserves his respect.  He knew what she had been through, though we do not.  He chose not to judge her, although history has judged her guilty hundreds of thousands of times.  Instead, he offers her abundant life, and having been respected in such a way, she offers that life to others. Clearly, her bucket is full to overflowing and we receive the gifts of both of their trust, respect, and even love… if we but hold out our buckets and receive this living water.


What’s in your bucket?



(1) Sydney Morning Herlard, Paul Byrnes, February 23, 2008 at

(2) Speaking of Faith, from American Public Radio, “No More Taking Sides” found at

(3) One of the last times I studied this scripture, I came across this idea in one of the resources listed at I regret I do not recall where I found it and who I should credit.