Chance Encounters: Christ Reveals Who We Are
Topic: Christ Seeks Us Scripture: John 4:1–4:30
Sojourner Truth, the great abolitionist and helper of slaves, declared, “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.” We’ve seen a lot of religion without humanity. Such judgmental religion condemns and looks down on and makes people feel miserable. In our text today, Jesus shows religion with humanity in it. He is kind and decent toward a woman of Samaria. This life-changing encounter began with his very human need. He was thirsty, and he asked for a drink of water. In this request, though, His intention was to meet a human being on equal terms. He wanted to empower her spiritually. The barriers that might have kept them from meeting were of no concern to Him. Most of us have a way of avoiding talk about the deepest things in life: meaning, love, and purpose. We don’t expect to go there in a casual conversation. We lack the vocabulary. We don’t want to violate someone’s personal space. We don’t want to seem holier-than-thou. We might wonder if we are really loved by God, so how can we possibly convince someone else?
In the presence of Jesus, our self-perception changes. All the touchstones that define who we are, relatives, occupation, hobbies, values - can also prevent true self-knowledge. We seem to be merely a list of preferences and experiences, rather than a child of God. We could take a cue from the Lord. When Moses asked to know God’s name, the answer was: “I am who I am.” Maybe that’s all we need. We’re daughters and sons of our loving Lord. We are who we are.
The 14th century mystic with a funny name, Hildegard of Bingen, said, “We cannot live in a world interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope-full world. Our task is to take back our own voice, to see our own light, to do our own listening. Like billowing clouds, like the incessant gurgle of the brook, the longing of the spirit can never be filled but only embraced.” Our experience must be our own, not someone else’s.
What can it mean for us to be in touch with that living water within, which Jesus says is a great gift? His image is of a spring bubbling up under its own power. Such a bubbling spring was considered a miracle in that desert land. You didn’t have to dig and scrape the dirt in search of it: it simply appeared, with a will of its own.
Our task might simply be to let it happen and to not block the Spirit by negative thoughts or lack of faith. When I was young, I built a dam that completely stopped the small stream behind our house. Soon enough, the police were at our door. They said the dam was so effective that the stream was backing up into the neighbors’ basements. They stood over me as I dismantled the dam until the water flowed free and clear once more.
In Lent, we try to remove the debris and let the spirit flow through us again. God will speak and act through us if we allow it, just don’t try too hard. Don’t try to engineer the outcome. Step aside, and let the Spirit roll.
The inner dialogue of prayer is part of the flow. We can carry on the conversation with Christ. We can talk with the Lord, and listen, too. I have an eight-year-old who might dispute the idea that listening is part of conversation-she talks non-stop. We can speak and listen.
A great gospel song sung by Jim Reeves and others asks, “How long has it been since you talked with the Lord, and told all your heart’s hidden secrets? How long since you prayed - how long since you stayed on your knees till the light shone through?” That musical question makes us stop and think.
In the end, the woman herself became a vessel of faith. Symbolically, she abandoned her water jar at the well and ran back to town, carrying not water, but word, word of the Messiah. Her new vocation was spiritual. Water still needed to be hauled, all the chores were still there, but now a primary purpose stood over them all: to share the Spirit, to point others to where Christ could be found. That was her passion now.
The townspeople said later in the chapter, “We don’t believe because of you anymore, we’ve seen him for ourselves.” Okay, whatever. She played an undeniable role in their faith development. She inspired others to search. It’s our privilege to be inspired by the incredible witness of our church members who are going through some very challenging times. They do so with grace and good cheer. It’s a miracle to behold. Such faithful witness moves the rest of us forward in our own conversation with Christ. May the living waters of the Spirit flow through us, too.