Sermon: Pardon The Interruption: Water That Quenches Every Thirst
Scripture: John 4
Date: July 2, 2017
Ok, there is so much to talk about when it comes to this moment of interruption and just a few minutes to do it. So hold on to something. It might be a bumpy ride.
According to my informal research, it was 1952 when leaders in the American church first began to notice that there was a growing demographic in American Society who had nothing to do with the church.
Up to that point I guess the assumption was that everyone in America had some connection to a church. After all, where else would they be. Nothing else was open on Sunday. No stores. Or restaurants. Or entertainment venues could, by law be open. But in 1952, someone noticed that while everyone else was in church, some people were doing other things. And so a poll was taken and the question was asked: “do you have any religious training in your background?” I guess that seemed more scientific than just asking “Do you go to church?” Well, shockingly for the time, 6% said “no”, they had no formal connection to the church. That was in 1952. Well in 1993, 41 years later another poll was taken in which that same question was asked. Of course, by that time most of the so called blue laws which prevented people from doing business on Sunday were off the books, although Sunday morning remained somewhat exclusively reserved for church going, and 35% said “no“, that they essentially had no connection to the church.
Well, recently another poll was taken which asked essentially the same question. Of course, today there is no longer any pretense of preserving any portion of Sunday for the church. Businesses, even schools, treat Sunday as just another day of the week. Church attendance is just one of many options for Sunday today.
And, not surprisingly, the number responding “no ” to any involvement in the church is well over 50%. In 2017, there are more persons who have no connection to the church and never have had, then there are people in the church. And even many of those we would consider “churched” are only marginally so. Many only turn to the church for Baptism and marriage and to be buried. Occasionally they may come for Christmas Eve or Easter services, or maybe once a month or so, but for the most part church is an interruption to their busy lives. The need to find ways to reach those whom we label as “unchurched” is greater than it has ever been, and yet in so many ways the mainline church remains stuck in a 1952 mind set. We are living in what many have called a post-Christian era but those of us in the church have been slow to recognize that. And because of that, nearly every mainline denomination has been in free fall when it comes to membership and attendance for the last 20 years or so. We talk a lot about the need to reach out to the unchurched, but we are still not doing a good job of actually doing it. So the question that confronts the church in 2017 is, how do we take the gospel to those who have not heard it? How do we make an impact on this increasingly unchurched generation? It’s not a new question really. In 1996 our own George Hunter was talking about how we need to go about reaching the unchurched and he wrote a book entitled Church For The Unchurched. And I pick it up from time to time and reread it because it is still just as relevant today as it was then. And in it, Dr. Hunter says this. To minister to unchurched people we need to start with two questions. First, Do we really want to minister to unchurched people?” And secondly, “Do we really want to spend time with them? Well in Jesus’s Israel, the assumption was that, with the exception of the Roman Occupiers, everyone was Jewish. Even the outcasts like the lepers and the sinners were Jewish and though their condition made them unchurched the assumption was that their greatest desire was to be back in the church. For the most part those who interrupted Jesus, though not always identified as such, would have been Jews because Jesus tended to live and minister in Jewish areas. And because of that the Gospel writers were very intentional in identifying those who would have been considered the unchurched who interrupted Jesus. And usually they didn’t paint very flattering portraits of non-Jews, mostly because, I think, those who wrote the Gospels questioned, much as the Pharisees did, whether Jesus should be even associating with the unchurched. And so Jesus is interrupted by a Gerasene demoniac. And a hated Roman Centurian. And Pontius Pilate. And, now perhaps worst of all, this Samaritan woman was one of those. John presents her as an outcast among outcasts. Coming to the well in the heat of the day because she was not good enough even to associate with the other Samaritan women. She was even a sinner in the eyes of the unchurched. So, out of her sinfulness really, she comes and interrupts Jesus, just when he has settled in for a nap. No crowds to minister to. He left them back in the church. He had even sent the Disciples off. Finally He was all alone. And then He wasn’t. And He was confronted with Dr. Hunter’s questions: Does He want to minister to this Samaritan woman? And does He want to spend time with her? After all, He could have just ignored her. Let her draw her water and continue to live a life of shame. And really that was what the church would want Him to do. Anything else would violate the law. When we are confronted with the unchurched, we have that option don’t we? After all they don’t live like we do. They don’t dress like we do. They don’t act like we do. Sometimes we fear that we will be tainted by the association. And the woman didn’t act like she wanted to engage Jesus. It was Jesus who initiated the conversation. It was obvious that the woman was very suspicious of Him. She had probably been hurt by other men who stood in judgement of the way she lived her life. After all, He would have had a pretty good understanding of who and what she was just by the fact that she was at the well in the middle of the day. She assumed a judgmental attitude on Jesus’s part.
(In his book, Dr. Hunter offers a profile of the unchurched. First he says, they either don’t know or have misconceptions about Christianity and the church. I think in today’s world the church gets blamed for being a lot of things we aren’t. So often we are guilty by association.
Secondly, he says they don’t perceive life much beyond the reality of today. They have little concept of eternity.
Thirdly, they are morally adrift. And certainly, as the number of unchurched grow to be a majority, we become more and more a valueless society. We have lost our moral compass.
Fourthly, they perceive their life to be out of control. In a sense, chaos has become their norm.
And finally, they are spiritually lost, but they desire to be found. And so they try a lot of different things. When the unchurched are polled and asked whether they consider themselves to be “spiritual”, many of them would say yes. But that spirituality takes on many forms.
This woman’s life was in chaos. She was thirsty for order and meaning, and so when Jesus offered her living water, she couldn’t drink enough. “Give me this water that I may not thirst anymore”, she says. You see, the truth is that so many times we human beings become content with our lives, no matter how bad they are, because we fear to change. We fear that as bad as things are for us, that things could be worse. This woman expected judgment from Jesus, but instead she received redemption. We, too often we confuse truth with judgment and grace with condemnation. Jesus did not remind this woman of her sins in order to condemn her. In essence He is saying these are the things that are making you thirsty but I can give you living water so that you will never thirst again. This is not a story of condemnation. This is a story of redemption. And so the first lesson for the church is that we should not be afraid to present the truth but realize that too often what we offer as truth is perceived by many to be judgmental. It must be truth tempered by grace. Because the living water that Christ offers is not intended to just wash away our thirsts temporarily, but rather to quench them forever. Jesus could not do anything about this woman’s past, but it didn’t matter to Him. What matters to Him was her future.
Secondly, we need to go where the unchurched are, whether that’s Samaria, or the housing projects, or the schools or the bars. Jesus encountered people where they were. It might have once been true when church people said they don’t know anyone who is unchurched, but the reality today is that more of the people we associate with on a daily basis, wherever we are, are unchurched rather than churched.
This story tells us that there is no life so insignificant that it can’t be redeemed by the Living Water of Christ. But to offer that living water, we need to go to where the people are, whether that be in Samaria or the ends of the earth, in church or out of church, and we need to begin where they are and not where we‘d like them to be. We may not approve of the way they live their lives, or the way they dress or talk. But they are thirsty for the living water that flows through us into the world. Because most of them are not going to come to us. This woman would have never come to the Temple seeking Jesus. So He went to her.
“He knew who I was, and it didn’t matter, and still He gave me living water“ is what the Samaritan woman told whoever would listen about this Rabbi who came to the well for her.
“Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” John tells us, but Jesus did.
Jesus looked beyond the outcast, beyond the lifestyle, beyond the fact that she was not a Jew, and poured the living water of god‘s grace upon her. No judgement. No condemnation. Only truth. Only love. Only grace. May the living water of Christ’s love and grace flow through us onto the churched and the unchurched alike.
And finally, we must share what God is doing rather than focus on what He is not doing. We need to be witnessing to how God is transforming our lives. Christ the living water. How does He make a difference in the way you live and love and think? That’s what we need to be sharing with others. This week we sent our roaming reporter, Mark Walz out to talk with Carley Solomon about how the living water of Christ is transforming the way she lives and thinks and loves. Show Carley’s video That’s what people are thirsty for.
We must meet people where they are, not where we would like for them to be.
I read a beautiful example of this.
Richard Selzer, a medical doctor, learned first hand about the difference God makes in a life when we share Him. He tells the story of performing emergency brain surgery on a young woman to save her life. But in the process of the surgery he had to sever a nerve in her face that left her mouth twisted. Though she would live, her mouth would be twisted forever. And he recalls going in to the woman‘s room after the surgery and she looked at him with tears in her eyes and after he gave her the report on the success of the surgery, she said: “what about my mouth, doctor. Will it always be like this?” ‘‘l’m afraid so,” Selzer told her. And her husband, who was sitting next to her on the bed, took her hand and said, “that doesn‘t matter. What matters is that you are going to live.” and he leaned down to kiss her. But Selzer noticed that as he moved to kiss her, he twisted his lips so they would conform to her mouth. It’s that kind of love that we have to share. That’s the living water that quenches every thirst.
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
In his book, Six Hours One Friday, Max Lucado writes:
Remarkable . . It wasn‘t with the colonnades of a Roman court that He announced his identity. No it was in the shade of a well in a rejected land to an ostracized woman. His eyes must of danced as He whispered the secret. “I am the messiah.“
Don‘t miss the drama of the moment. Look at her eyes, wide with amazement. Listen to her as she struggles with the words.
Suddenly the insignificance of her life was swallowed by the significance of the moment. “God is here! God has come. God cares …For (even) me (and you.)
That’s the living water of Christ for the churched and unchurched alike.