Sermon for 5th Week of Lent: John 4:5-42 “Unconventional Faith & Discipleship”

We read the text as “Reader’s Theater” this week, and I preached in interludes. This is a better way I believe, because if you simply read it, people WILL check out. More importantly, this is a conversation, and encounter, and an unconventional one at that – and isn’t his relationship with Jesus just that?

If you take a look at your bulletin this morning you’ll notice that today’s reading is really long.  Which means, if I just read this straight through, you’re mind will start drifting at some point…..what am I doing for lunch, it’s so nice outside, look! A squirrel; and now I have to listen to this guy preach after this too? Hey, I’d be thinking the same thing too if I were you. 

So we’re going to change things up a bit today.  We’re going to do a “Reader’s Theatre” version of the story.  We’ll read this like a conversation….but that is really what this story is – it’s more than just words on a page. It’s a conversation…..a conversation where people encounter  Jesus.  And honestly that’s better I think, because isn’t that’s how we want our relationship with Christ to be….more about experiencing Jesus rather than just hearing about him?

So we’ll listen in on the conversation, and then pause to make sense of it.  We’ll explore two questions:  One, how does one show faith?  Two, what does it mean to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus? 

Our story begins with the first question: what it means to have faith.  As you listen to the conversation, ask yourself:  How do you think this woman is exhibiting faith?  And now, without further ado…..

Narrator: So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well alone, his disciples had gone to the city to buy food.  It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water.

Jesus: Give me a drink.

Woman: How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?

Jesus: If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

Woman: Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Woman: Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus: Go, call your husband, and come back.

Woman: I have no husband.

Jesus: You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!

Woman: Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.

Jesus: Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Woman: I know that Messiah is coming – who is called Christ. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.

Jesus: I am he, the one who is speaking to you.

So, what do you think? How is she showing faith? [I asked for responses from the congregation]

A few things to note: this conversation isn’t normal.  It frankly, goes against convention – Jesus is a Jew who is talking to a Samaritan, an outsider; one less righteous, sort of lowlifes.  Not only was Jesus talking to a Samaritan, but a Samaritan WOMAN – and in broad daylight.  And in terms of social convention of the day, YOU JUST DON’T DO THAT.

What’s interesting is while Jesus offers her living water, she asks questions.  And these questions draw her deeper into conversation with Jesus, and eventually she essentially asks the million dollar question, “Are you the one?”

I wonder, this idea, this notion of the gospel – that God offers us unconditional grace and salvation through His Son is well, unconventional.  Grace being a gift of living water that leaves us never thirsting?  Like the Samaritan woman, we know that’s not how life works.  There are rules to follow, rituals to observe; there’s never enough time, enough money, enough energy; there’s debts to settle, there’s penalties, there’s sins to repay.

But there it is: Jesus offers living water of grace and salvation. And like the Samaritan woman perhaps we start asking questions.  We question over and over because well…..what if it was true?  And we ask the million dollar question as well: What if this Jesus guy was really the Messiah; the light in our darkness, the one who brings hope to the nations…..hope to people’s lives? Is he the One? 

If we follow this woman’s lead, then all these questions we have….we ask them – in curiosity, wonder, doubt, skepticism, – and in doing so we exhibit faith.  In those questions…we are encountered by the Messiah, the one who is called Christ.

Which brings us to issue number two: What does it mean to be a disciple, and what does it mean to be doing the work of a disciple?  And that brings us to the next part of the story.  And for this, I’ll need a little audience participation.  You’re playing the part of Jesus’ disciples… you have a few lines.  But I’ll prompt you, so no worries.  Here we go!

Narrator: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

Woman: Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?

Narrator: They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them,

Jesus: I have food to eat that you do not know about.

Narrator: So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them,

Jesus: My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?’ But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.

Narrator: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.

Woman: He told me everything I have ever done.

Narrator:So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and her stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer what you said we believe 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.”

So, before we address the question of what does it mean to be a disciple, let’s start here first: who is being a disciple here? Who is doing the work of a disciple? I asked for responses from the congregation]

If you back to chapter one, verse 39 of John’s gospel, as the first disciples start following a Jesus and ask a Question of their own, Jesus responds with three little words: “Come and see.”  Maybe be these words sound familiar. Fast forward to today’s story – “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  Come and see….this is what it means to be a disciple.

You see, the words “come and see” are an invitation.  They’re words that invite people to go deeper into the encounter by following Jesus along the way. And it’s this Samaritan woman, not the busybody, food searching disciples who do this.  Come and see….an invitation.

And in this invitation, this woman’s testimony, others come to know Jesus for themselves through their own encounter. Perhaps, they got ask their own set of questions…..and they, just like the woman, encounter and see that this Jesus, The Messiah, the Christ – is the one who offers the living water of grace – brings light, brings hope.

Faith and discipleship……I wonder, in this unconventional story, if perhaps we end up with notions of faith and discipleship that are unconventional, but somehow connect to our lives beyond the conventional ways we think of them.

Faith….rather than having all the answers….rather than thinly saying you believe that being Christian is the answer to all life’s problems…..Faith is asking questions that take you deeper into exploring who Jesus is and what this living water called grace is all about.

Discipleship…..rather than doing more and giving more to church, rather than going out and telling and convincing people that “Jesus is the answer to all life’s problems”…..Discipleship is inviting others to consider this extraordinary story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, what it means for their lives.

The come and see….and they ask, perhaps, their own questions.

Maybe this will shock you….but I have a lot of questions about God and faith.  And I have a lot of doubts.  And honestly, I don’t have a lot of answers – I don’t have answers when someone has a sudden stroke or a loved one’s heart fails all of a sudden.  I don’t have answers when troubled people walk onto the most guarded and secure places in America and open fire on sailors and soldiers. I don’t have answers when are friends pass on in death and yet we remain to face it, seemingly alone.  In tragedy & suffering & uncertainty…I don’t know if there are answers.

And there are a lot of pastors and churches that will tell you they have answers.  They will tell you it’s God’s plan.  They’ll tell you it has to do with the world being an evil place and your sins – as in how “unChristian” you’re acting.  They will tell you it’s God’s way of getting our attention. 

But while those are answers, and I’m not saying they’re fundamentally good or bad, I have to say that those messages don’t seem to provide any HOPE.  And hope, a way forward in suffering, tragedy, and uncertainty in our lives….I think we sorely need that.  And perhaps, only faith that exists as questions and a life of discipleship where Christ invites us to ask those questions together is where living water….the grace and salvation of God and the hope of life that comes with it – is found.

And frankly, I’m interested in those questions.  In fact, I’d encourage you to send them to me in an email or write them on a post-it note…and maybe we can find a time to get together and wrestle with them together.

Questions about suffering, tragedy, and making sense of them, I wonder if we don’t avoid and shy from them because they make us weary.  But it is exactly in that place of weariness where God meets us in Christ.  Christ the rock, from where living water springs forth – grace and hope poured out for the desert of our thirsty and weary souls.  Amen.

(We sang the hymn “Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land” after this);


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One response to “Sermon for 5th Week of Lent: John 4:5-42 “Unconventional Faith & Discipleship”

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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