SCRIPTURE READING John 4:1-47 (The Message)
Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.
To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
“I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
“Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of peop le the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!”
MESSAGE “What Are Your Intentions?” Rev. James Renfrew
Each week between now and Easter we are exploring a new effort in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s called the Vital Congregations Initiative. The purpose of VCI is to build vitality in our faith family and in our ministry with the world around us.
Vitality is all about life, our excitement about being alive , excitement about our ministry being alive, excitement that every day we are making a difference.
We are up against people, habits, systems that don’t like to move or change, but we have hope, we have vision, and we are making a difference. We are a vital congregation, the lights are on and the piano is playing, but much more than that we have hearts reaching out in love, and we have many hands serving the Lord in our community.
Each week we will be learning one of the Seven Marks of a Vital Congregation. On Tuesday night our Bible Study talked about the First Mark, “Lifelong Discipleship Formation”
Jean, our oldest member at 98, when I talked about this first Mark on Tuesday commented that she’s been a part of our church for a long time, but we still have a lot to learn about being disciples. I love Jean’s experience and her honesty. To be a Christian is a lifelong exercise in becoming a disciple. The Bible Study conversation was also right on target, helping us think more clearly about new ways to grow in love and commitment, with the knowledge that we are always reforming and transforming as we move forward. It is a lifelong calling.
Today our 2nd Mark of a Vital Congregation is “Intentional Authentic Evangelism”. You can read a very detailed explanation of that in the bulletin, on page 5. But I like how Ruth Andes presented it as simply as she could in our newsletter: “Intentional Authentic Evangelism” means sharing the Good News by merging God’s story with your story in our relationships with those in our lives.
This kind of story-telling is not accidental, it is intentional. As Christians, our intention is to find ways to share the Good News with the people whom we know and meet. We sometimes think this is hugely complicated and only for those with the deepest knowledge and highest commitment to Jesus Christ. So I like how Ruth phrased it: merging God’s story with your story and then talking about it with others.
After worship today, we encourage you to stay for our Fellowship time in the Dining Room, not only because of the great goodies being served, but because we have a project for everyone, children and adults. Everyone will make a Friendship Bracelet. Make one, share it with someone, and then tell that person something about your story. It’s intentional, It’s authentic. It’s evangelism. It’s that simple.
A few minutes ago, I read one of the longest readings we ever do on a Sunday morning, the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. What appears to be a simple conversation is actually filled with tension and risk. It’s a dangerous conversation. Yet it opens a door, it opens a window, into a new possibility. And in the end the whole town is touched by it.
First of all, this well was a well-known hot spot for romance. Jacob and Rachel had met here many long years before and everyone remembered that story. But unrelated men and women were not supposed to talk in a public place without some sort of chaperone, and Jesus, a stranger, broke several rules by initiating a conversation with this woman from the village.
Second of all, people could be beaten up and killed for a conversation like this conversation at the well. You see, Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was a Samaritan. This translation in the Message puts it more bluntly than some other translations: “Jews wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to Samaritan!” It was very dangerous: threats and curses shouted, stones thrown, and angry mobs. By initiating a conversation with the Samaritan woman Jesus was asking for big trouble.
But I think we can be challenged by this story. When you complete your Friendship Bracelet after the service, you could give it to your best friend and that would be a very good thing. But you could also offer it to someone who is not your best friend at all. Offering a friendship bracelet is evangelism, especially if you are crossing some sort of boundary to reach out to someone who is not exactly like you. And especially if you have a story to go along with the gift, your story becomes God’s story.
My friend Jim Rice, who used to work for this Presbytery over three decades, once told me his definition of evangelism, his definition for sharing the Good news. The Good News happens when one beggar tells another beggar where bread can be found today.
You can see that happening at the well in Samaria. At the start it’s about water. Its’s not about faith or commitment, or Scripture or doctrine. Jesus and the woman are just talking about water, and how to draw it out of the well. Their conversation could have been about bread, and where to find it. It could have been about the weather. It could have been about the price of fish in the market. It could have been about taxes, or anything else.
But on this day, it’s about water, and before you know it, they’ve shifted from talking about a cup of cool water on a hot day to talking about living water and never being thirsty again.
Most conversations about faith begin with where people are right now and then talking about that. Sometimes a window or door opens in that conversation, and we catch a glimpse of so much more, what is and what could be.
I have never gone door to door selling the Gospel, but I enjoy meeting people along the way, telling the part of my story that has merged with God’s story. As a pastor I get to preach and pray and lead Bible Studies, but the place I most enjoy sharing the Gospel is in conversations like this one at the well.