The text for this past Sunday is one of my favorites. I feel like I say that just about every week though so it’s a little redundant. It was a long one – John 4:5-42. It’s hard for people’s minds not to wander with such a chunk of text but how can you break these things up? It’s the story of the Samaritan woman at the well which is a familiar one to a lot of us.
Every week this semester, Josh, Adrienne and I have been playing basketball in the West Center (the gym on campus) on Tuesdays and Thursdays when time and no meetings have allowed. It’s two against one and we go to 21 by 1’s and 2’s for a typical 3 pointer. The best we’ve ever done against Josh is 15 to his 21. The worst is 1. Sad times. Josh definitely takes a healthy joy in blocking my shots after me blocking his through out my growth spurt in high school. After one of these lovely work out sessions, we went back to Wesley and I was beyond thirsty. I asked them if we had anything besides water in the building. I’m not a complete water hater. Well, actually I kind of am. I just don’t really like it. How spoiled and snotty is that? True. Anyway, there were 3 or 4 students in the office at the time and we had a long, serious conversation over how I say the word, “water.” Why do they have to hate on their campus minister this way?
Apparently, maybe due to my strong Southern roots, say something along the lines of “warter.” When I should be saying “wa-ter.” Whatever. At the time of this conversation on Tuesday I had no idea that the text coming up was the one with the Samaritan woman at the well. I pick texts along time in advance and don’t always remember where we are. So on Sunday as I’m trying to read this text in front of a congregation and than later on in front of the students, I felt more than conspicuous and nervous about saying it – oh about a dozen times. I was so concerned about the pronouncement and trying to get the words right, that it would have been easy to miss the whole point of the text.
Some of us that may not always talk right or look right or use the right scripture or dress a certain way or do a certain job or belong to the special club or organization, we may sometimes be afraid to speak up and be real. In this week’s Neue This Week, they had a post from Relevant Magazine called Church Members Anonymous. It spoke about a pastor visiting Alcoholics Anonymous with some friends. It talks about some of the similarities he saw between AA and the church and the honesty he encountered in this meeting. He talks about being real and these moments of personal confession and being active participants in our faith community.
This Samaritan woman didn’t show up at the well for an AA meeting, but Jesus made no bones about knowing exactly who she was and what was happening in her life. The disciples walk up later and they can’t believe he was talking with someone from Samaria, much less a woman, and they didn’t even know about her husband history. If she were a college basketball team, she wouldn’t be the one that people would pick to go all the way in a go spread the Good News and people are going to listen to you kind of way. And yet, this little Cinderella story had the energy – she went around and rallied the people and told them about this man who could be the Messiah. She might not have been the one anyone would pick to do it, but her sharing about this man that knew her better than anyone got people out to meet the One she spoke of. In verse 39 it says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” She got them there just by sharing her story, her interaction with this man who told her everything she had ever done. And then they saw it for themselves and believed. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
She had this interaction. She had this experience. She felt this grace and had to share it.
I love it. It was never really the big shot teachers or the intidating people that none of us think we can live up to, but regular folks just like me and you that just spread this thing like wild fire.
A really, really old song that I think fits this well and one that I always think of with this text is Sierra’s “No Stone to Throw.” I know that is hugely old school Christian music and showing my age. I get that. But some of the verses say:
I’ve got no stone to throw,
No ax to grind,
I look in Maggie’s life,
And I see mine.
I see somebody searchin’ for somethin’,
A little love and understandin’,
And the longer I know the Lord the more I know,
I’ve got no stone to throw.
I don’t think any of us would get away with much in the face of Jesus. It’s like a kid caught with his/her hand in the cookie jar. Or with crumbs on his/her shirt trying to cover up the evidence. None of us has any stones to throw.
God can use any of us to spread the Gospel. None of us has messed up too much or for too long. None of us has won the perfection award for 10 years running. If we are honest, like at that AA meeting, we know that all of us struggle and mess up at times. Realizing that justifying grace that this Teacher, this man is speaking to me and is including and accepting me, is a big deal. And then we keep moving towards that repentance and renewal.
The thing about that justifying grace is not just that it leads us to sanctifying grace or in other words, moving closer and closer to living in right relationship with God, but it’s something we’ve got to share. There’s an urgency there to share what we have seen and touched and know. Just like this woman, we don’t have to do this all by ourselves. She just shared her testimony and the people’s interaction with Jesus did the rest. She just opened her mouth and told the world.
I agree with the AA story that what the world wants to see is people being real. They want to know that this is available for them too, not just a select few.
My challenge this week to the students and to me is that we intentionally pray for 5 things.
1. a family member (this one should be relatively easy, but hey you never know – it could be hard)
2. a friend (this one should definitely be easy. they’re your friend for goodness sake)
3. a broken relationship (when I described this to the students I literally break my hands together showing something breaking – this is a wound or something that hasn’t been resolved and forgiveness found, this is something that still needs some healing)
4. someone you’d least like to pray for (when I started this list was their someone that came to your mind that you were like – heck no, I do not want to pray for that person? that’s who we challenge you to pray for)
5. the lost among us (even down here in the crazy South, there are people who haven’t heard the Gospel, or at least not as it directly relates to YOUR life and YOUR experience with God – how are we sharing that? who are we sharing this living water with?)
Will that be hard this week? Probably so. Do we have to have a certain degree or knowledge to say the words? Nope. Do we even have to pronounce the words all in the most correct way? No. But I have a sneaky suspicion that intentionally praying for these folks may open our eyes to some other things around us and ways we can be in prayer and sharing in real and mighty and tangible ways with our neighbors. Are we willing to surrender a bit to the Spirit some of our time and energy and resources to see where this will lead? Are we willing to drop everything like she did to go and tell people?
Food for thought or should I say, living water for thought. And for prayer hopefully.