God doesn’t always do what we expect or would like God to be doing in our lives, and folk are always looking for someone to blame when things go wrong.
The Israelites had been saved many times by God after they left Egypt: God had exercised his power over water, over the Red Sea, causing the Israelites to pass by safely and Pharaoh’s armies to be bogged and drown. God had caused undrinkable water to become sweet when the Israelites first had a undrinkable water crisis in the early days, and God provided food in the form of manna on a regular, in fact daily, basis for forty years. Instead, however, of resting in the secure knowledge that God will provide for us all if we have faith, the Israelites lurched from crisis to crisis, drama to drama. As far as they were concerned, God wasn’t providing sweet gushing streams as often as they would have liked, and they were not backward in letting Moses know about it. As Moses observed, they were a “stiff necked people”. I wonder if God sometimes wondered whether the wrong people had been chosen to forge a covenant with? Of course, in those moment of crisis, which we all experience, it is very, yes VERY hard to hang onto faith that God will provide. I suspect that their faith in God receded as quickly as the pangs of thirst grew. So they didn’t blame God, they blamed the person in front of them. No wonder they were getting close to stoning and killing Moses. The memories of the harsh treatment by the Egyptians, the mind numbing objectification of slavery was fading, to be replaced by golden memories of available food, solid homes and drinkable and available water. Ah, those good ol’ days in Egypt!
But Paul teaches us and his Roman correspondents a new lesson. He tells us that when we believe and have faith in God, we can come to have peace with God, and peace in our hearts. That’s all fine when life proceeds smoothly, but as we all know, life isn’t a sweet smelling bed of rose petals all the time – sometimes there are thorns lurking! Sometimes, water in a desert runs low, sometimes there is poverty, job loss, sickness and even death to contend with.
Paul reminds us that we can gain the strength to live through those dark times. I suspect that somedays Paul had the mind of a mathematician, for he is very good at speaking in logical proofs. He tells us that suffering produces endurance, or resilience to use a contemporary buzz word, that resilience produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because we have God’s love poured into our hearts. That doesn’t mean that we should wander around looking for bad things to suffer in order that we can build up our resilience, and prove that we have hope and God’s love within us. My suggestion, is to live life to its fullest, enjoy and give thanks for God’s blessings on our life, for undoubtedly challenges and trials will be confronted along the way. I would encourage you to rest in God, to enjoy and recognise God’s peace within your soul, and to truly share it with those around you, in your family, and with those you meet each day. For that is one of the truest forms of evangelism.
Talking of evangelism, it is worth remembering and celebrating our sometimes unsung women evangelists in the Bible – and today we remember the Samaritan woman that Jesus met by the well. There was a risk, just for a wee while, that the movement that Jesus was creating was heading down the same exclusive path as its Jewish parent. Have a think about it, he had gathered twelve disciples around him. Twelve men, twelve Jewish men. Well, those 13 Jewish men had walked up to the well outside of the Samaritan city of Sychar, and Jesus sat by the well while as his followers went to fetch food for them all. I suspect that they didn’t really expect Jesus to interact with anyone. I think that sometimes we find it peculiar to realise that others experience Jesus in styles very different from our own, and when they bring it into our church, it is often vigorously resisted. I see that in the dis-ease that Catholic Anglicans express when confronted with a more Evangelistic form of our Anglican worship, and vice versa too. Never mind how different denominations worship Christ. We are so guilty of putting Christ and our worship in a strong box, aren’t we?!
Instead of Jesus sitting quietly, as though someone had pressed “pause” when the disciples left him, we see our God moving and acting in ways that might surprise us. If you think this is a long bow, recall the disciples’ disgruntlement when they return with food, and he rejects it, saying he doesn’t need it. They are put out and wonder whether someone else has fed THEIR Jesus. Yes, their Jesus, the property of the disciples. Still not convinced? How about when they search a town looking for him whilst he has slipped away to pray. We can’t contain God for our own purposes, and we waste huge amounts of energy trying to do so.
Yes, we see Jesus, Son of God asking a woman, not even a Jewish woman, for a drink. How many cultural rules were broken in that one exchange? We see our God engaging with a person rich with resources that can be put to the aid of God. On the surface, this aid appears to be water for a thirsty man, but really she had so much more to give. She and Jesus begin a form of verbal sparring, but eventually, he tells her, which he rarely did, the truth about his identity. He tells her that he is indeed the Messiah. In turn, she forgets all about the water and runs back to the city to tell the citizens to “come and see”. She doesn’t convert them, she doesn’t insist that they confess their sins before heading to the well, she simply tells them that she has found the Messiah, and that they should come and see. Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Her resources were in contacts, in laying out what she knew and then inviting them to come with her to learn more. “Come and see” , indeed.
Three interesting things happen from here. The first is that the church is forced to become inclusive, no longer the bastion of Jewish men, but the gospel acknowledges that these citizens of this Samaritan city – men and women- come to acknowledge Jesus as Christ and Messiah, and through the initial evangelism of a woman. What will the world come to?
Secondly, the dependence on the temple in Jerusalem was broken, believers were free to worship and to acknowledge God’s presence throughout the world, and to worship him in truth and spirit.
Thirdly, towards the end of the passage, Jesus talks to his disciples about the harvest, saying “one sows and another reaps”. That they had to free themselves of thinking that it would only count if they had brought people to believe in God from Go to Whoa.
No, the disciples, and now us, need to understand that we are very unlikely to be the only Christian influence in a person’s life. Look, for instance at the wonderful work that Di Grinter and other Sunday school teachers, and children’s ministry helpers have done in the past in this parish. Yes, we have very few children now, but one day, those who have passed through here may quite likely find themselves in church somewhere else, listening to a story from the Bible, and recognise it from their time in the Sunday school in this parish. The ground work, the foundation of story was laid here, now another layer of understanding can be placed over it, all working towards a deeper love of God. For this, I give thanks for the Sunday school, and in particular this week for Di Grinter, as we bid her a safe journey to her new home. Never, never think that your efforts were wasted.
May the Lord be with you!