Essential Practices for Living the Christian Life
Called to Share the Good News
John 4:4-10, 27-30, 39-42
Today, as we continue our examination of essential practices for living the Christian life, we come to the one that most challenges many of us. This is the call to share the good news. When we hear this, we tend to think of the people who go door to door witnessing to their faith. Or the street evangelist standing on the corner handing out tracts. We think this is something I don’t want to do! I get that. Yet the call to share our faith and the love of God is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Today we are going to look at the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well and learn from her tips for sharing our faith that anyone can do!
When we were recently in the Holy Land, we spent time in ancient Samaria and went to a church that claims to be over Jacob’s well. It is a small Greek Orthodox Church, now in the heart of a bustling city. You go down a flight of stairs to see a well that still has water. I couldn’t help but think about how, possibly right here, Jesus had this rich conversation with the woman from Samaria. In the main chapel was a gorgeous processional cross that contained a relic. I asked what the relic was, and it is purported to be a piece of the skull of that woman. Even if it isn’t it was nice to think that she has been so remembered by the decedents of the people with whom she first shared the good news of Christ. The woman of a questionable past has become a venerated saint, because she was willing to share the good news.
Before we lift up her story as an example for us, we need a little context. In Jesus’ day, Jews looked down on Samaritans, even hated them. Though the shortest route from Jerusalem to Galilee was through Samaria, most Jews would take a road east of the Jordan River that took longer, to avoid the Samaritans. Jesus did not physically have to go through Samaria. He purposely made a choice to travel this way, stopping and drinking from Jacob’s well. I think he did this because he wished to challenge the notion that Samaritans were second-class people. This encounter with the woman challenged other stereotypes. One of these was that women were incapable of understanding spiritual truths so rabbis should not waste their time talking to them. It was up to the men in their life to tell them what to believe. And, she was a woman who had a very questionable past. She had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. It is no wonder that the disciples are later shocked to see Jesus having a deep and thoughtful conversation with one such as this! But this is exactly the kind of conversation Jesus liked to have. He reached out to people on the margins, people who were considered the enemy, debased, rejected by God, and more. He wished to let them know that in the eyes of God they mattered. Jesus offered this woman living water. Scholars believe that this was a different metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Jesus was offering the Spirit of God to come into her life, washing it clean, empowering her and filling her with goodness and love. Is it any wonder that she would leave her water jar and run back to town to tell all about what had happened? It didn’t matter if she had been shunned by them because of her past. She wanted them to get to know this Jesus, who was now her messiah, savior.
Let’s look at what we can learn from her story. First, she talked to people she knew. She didn’t feel the need to bang on doors and invite strangers to believe in Jesus! Now I am not saying that we should not find ways to reach out in intentional ways to those who do not believe. Some are called to this specific ministry. But as we mentioned, for most of us that is not our gift. This does not mean we don’t have to do anything when it comes to sharing our faith. We have all sorts of people that we know, or we interact with. These are the people whom we are called to be witnesses to.
Often we are literally given opportunities by them to share our faith but we are too self-conscious to take advantage. Perhaps right now during this isolation, you are striving extra hard to connect with your neighbors, to make sure they are doing all right. You might have offered to pick up some groceries or something else from the store for them, so they did not have to go out. They mention how this is such a nice thing you are doing, and it is. But I hope you are also doing it because you believe Jesus’ words that we should love our neighbors. Did you accept the compliment or share that this is part of how you live your faith?
I think about a chance encounter I had at the grocery store. I strive every time I go through the checkout line to thank the person and to empathize with them about how hard of a time they must be having. This time the person said, “You don’t know the half of it.” It was then I saw the pain in her eyes behind the professional smile. I said, “What’s going on?” She mentioned that she had learned, just before having to go to work, that her very sick mother had died. I paused and said, “I am so sorry. I am a pastor and I promise to pray for you and know right now that you and your mom are surrounded by God’s love.” She smiled genuinely this time and said, “Thank you, I guess I needed a moment of compassion.”
So, pay attention to all the ways God gives you to share your faith, your love, and be an instrument of compassion. It isn’t scary, it is just being intentional about what you are doing.
The second thing we can learn from her is that she shared her story. She let people know what Jesus had done for her. This was no great theological discussion but instead, she said, in a rough translation, “He knew everything about me and still said I was all right!” She let them know that this man was offering God’s love to one even with her past.
She had lived a very difficult and challenging life. Everything, until that encounter with Jesus, had told her that her life was unredeemable. It had likely hardened her and made her cynical. After all, why go to the well in the heat of the day if it were not to escape the comments and stares of the good women of the town. At what seemed the bottom of life she found God. Some of the most difficult times in our lives can often be the times that we find that we are closest to God.
Think about how you experienced God in a difficult time. Think about what that love and support meant at that moment. Is there a way you might be able to share a word of hope with someone who is struggling?
I recall reading about a woman who had lost her son to a drug overdose. She had been supported by her church through this challenging time. Sometime later she heard that another family she knew had just experienced the same kind of tragic loss. She remembered that one of the things that had helped her the most was a friend giving her a box with coupons for future things they could do together. In it was a card saying someday you will be able to breathe again and find out life is good. I want you to have something to look forward to. She made a box for this family with similar coupons and a note sharing her story and that she was there for them. Through their shared tragedy they grew closer together and went on to work with other families going through a similar loss. You have a story to tell, one that can help others. Share it knowing God can use it.
Finally, the woman invited others to see for themselves. She did not force them to experience Jesus just through her words, her vision, and her beliefs. She instead said, my translation, “I found living water, you can too.” That invitation caused them to go out and meet Jesus. If an encounter with Jesus could change someone like her, what could it do for them? They encouraged Jesus to stay with them for a few days and later they said, “We listened because of your compelling story but now we believe because we have experienced this love and joy for ourselves.”
This is what we are really about. We are not out to change people, to force them to believe. But to instead invite them to drink from the same living water that bubbles up inside of us, filling our days with love and hope. When we do, we find some will drink, and find new faith and life. Others may reject the offer but still be changed by our compassion. I want to think that clerk at the grocery store had a bit easier time the rest of her shift because she could recall that there are people who care when someone is hurting. I doubt she will ever come to church when we start having services again, but that doesn’t matter. For a moment she experienced the love of God through me.
We are called to witness. We do this by sharing our story, our compassion, and love with those around us inviting them to know God in Christ, the living water, a water that bubbles up inside of us. May we look for opportunities each day. Many of you have been gracious in saying how much you enjoy receiving these sermons and watching the services online. Have you thought about inviting a friend to watch and then talk about it afterward? If it was meaningful for you, it might be for them as well. That is the type of thing we are called to do.
Think of it, that woman who had had five husbands and was living with a man is, at least for that little church on the west bank, a venerated saint all because she asked her neighbors to come and meet the Jesus who knew all about her but offered God’s love and acceptance anyway.