Going Higher, Going Deeper

by Rev. L. John Gable

GoingHigher, Going Deeper by Rev. L. John Gable
March 12, 2017

The woman in our story this morning came to the well that day looking for water, but Jesus could tell immediately she was seeking something deeper still.  This is one of the longest and most fascinating conversations recorded in the Gospels, and curiously it never should have taken place at all.  Jesus was traveling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and John tells us “He had to go through Samaria.”  He “had” to.  Why, because Samaria lay between Judea and Galilee so this was the shortest distance home, perhaps, or was it because He was on a divine mission?  Samaria was forbidden territory for any self-respecting Jew stemming from centuries of enmity and the residents of Samaria, the Samaritans, while distant cousins of the Jews, were considered “outcasts, low-lifes, half-breeds and heretics of the faith.”

The hour is noon when Jesus and His disciples make it to Jacob’s well and  John is quick to show us Jesus’ humanity by telling us He was hungry, tired and thirsty, so He sent the 12 in to town to buy food, which leaves Him alone to visit with a woman He meets there.  Strike one.  No Jewish man would ever dare being seen alone with a woman who was not his wife.   Strike two, she is a Samaritan woman.  Given that no self-respecting Jew would ever pass through Samaria, they certainly would never have dared being seen visiting with a Samaritan.  Even the disciples were surprised to find Him talking with her when they return from shopping, but John notes none of them dared ask, “What’s she doing here?”  And then, just to keep us moving through the story, it turns out this Samaritan woman has a past.  That is the reason she is at the well at noon, in the heat of the day.  Drawing water is work to be done early in the morning or late in the evening, when it is cooler and there are other women there with whom to share conversation.  But this woman was not invited to such conversations; rather she was the topic of such conversations.  We are soon to learn she has been married five times and the man she is currently living with is not her husband.  Strike three!  But not for Jesus.  This tells us something about Jesus, doesn’t it?  It gives us good comfort that whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we’ve done in our past, none of that matters to Him.  All of us have a past, but Jesus comes to bring us a future.  Apparently this woman is the reason Jesus “had” to go through Samaria.  He came seeking her, just as He comes seeking each of us.  “So long as we imagine it is we who have to look for God,” writes Simon Tugwell, “We must often lose heart.  But it is the other way about – He is looking for us.”

These two unlikely companions fall in to conversation, first about water, but it is very quickly evident that they have no idea what the other is talking about, at least she has no idea what Jesus is talking about when He offers her “living water.”  She is thinking well water, He is thinking flowing streams of new life.

Their conversation is very similar to the one John records one chapter earlier when Jesus was talking with the Pharisee Nicodemus about being “born again.”  Jesus was offering spiritual rebirth but Nicodemus was stuck on the impossibility of entering again into his mother’s womb.

I was a by-stander to one of those kinds of conversations recently.  I was standing in line at Starbucks behind a gentleman who was ordering his drink.  I frequent this particular Starbucks regularly so know all of the baristas and many of their back stories.  They all know I am a pastor and I know that many of them are active in their own churches and several even engaged in their own ministries, including the one who was serving him that day.  As the gentleman began to pay he was instructed to insert his credit card in to the new chip reader, then wait a moment for it to be approved.

Several seconds passed and the barista said, “OK, you can remove your card.  You’ve been approved.”  “I’ve been approved?” said the gentleman.  “Yes, at least this time.  At least for today,” said the server.  The man replied, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could be approved every day, for your whole life”.  At that instant the barista caught my eye, then smiled at the gentleman and said, “I could lead you in that direction if you would like.”  The fellow simply smiled and said, “thank you” as he put his card back in his wallet and walked off to enjoy his drink.

Like the Nicodemus or the woman at the well, both were fully engaged in the conversation, but they were clearly talking about two very different things.  She was talking about water she had to draw up from the ground, just as her ancestors had done for centuries; He was talking about the living water of life.  She about her ancestors’ religious practices; He about the possibility of her own living faith.  She about the need to worship God in this particular place; He about the opportunity to meet God whenever and wherever we are.

Like this woman we too are searching, perhaps desperately, for what we think we want, but not necessarily for what we really need, to quench our thirst.  We seek to sate ourselves by drinking deeply of the assortment of waters the world offers only to find that we have to keep coming back to the well again and again because nothing satisfies.  We try new experiences, new relationships, new addictions.  We try going deeper within ourselves, or try out some new fad of spirituality.  All of us are parched, either desperate or despondent, without realizing it is a Who not a what we are searching for.  No matter what we choose instead of Jesus Christ, we will always have to go back to that same “well,” over and over again, to get more of that same “water” that just doesn’t last.

But Jesus directs her to a new source of life-giving water.  Pointing to the bucket in her hand He says, “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.”  Now admittedly, this woman had no idea what Jesus was talking about, but she knew she wanted what He had to offer, and so do we.

Jesus was leading her into an encounter with God by saying, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  He was revealing to this Samaritan “heretic” the full revelation of God: Father, Spirit and Son, the One who is the Truth, and she is ready to receive Him.  “I know that Messiah is coming,” she says, and Jesus replies, “I am He.” 

Pastor Don Moomaw refers to this as the story about “the woman who came for water and went home with the well.”  What of us?  Don’t we also see ourselves in the telling of her story as we too seek a deeper, closer, greater relationship with God?  This is the first of the three legs of our new Vision Renewal statement, the first of the three desires we heard from you when we started our Vision Renewal process:  Greater Faith.  We believe that each of us, believer or not, both the seeker and the found, that all of us desire a greater faith and deeper relationship with God, so we commit ourselves to this end: (I quote from the Renewal statement) “Tab will be a resource for Kingdom seekers who want to increase their connection to God, to provide opportunities for individual and congregational growth, and to support those opportunities with Biblical teaching, worship and prayer.  It will prepare His people to be more Christ-like through applied knowledge and engaged learning that results in a continually deepening faith and a foundation for serving God in the world.”  We know that that is your desire, so it is our desire to help us all find it.

If you were trying to find a friend who once lived in Nashville where would you go to start looking?  To Nashville, right?  (Give me a quick show of hands.  How many of you immediately thought, the internet?)

If you wanted to know everything you could possibly know about any given subject what would you do?  You’d start reading, studying, everything you could get your hands on, right?

And if you had questions about what you were learning you’d seek out experts in the field, people who had first-hand knowledge about what you were studying, perhaps even the author of the texts you’d been reading, right?

So what if you are seeking GREATER FAITH?  What might you do?  It would only make sense to start looking somewhere where God is known to show up, like the church, in a service of worship, where you could listen and learn and open your heart to His presence.  Perhaps you could start reading books about Him, but not just about Him, but that were written and inspired by Him through those who were closest to Him.  If God is speaking through His Word then it only makes sense that we would want to listen to what He has to say.  It would also make sense that we would want to seek out people who know Him, to ask them questions and to listen to their experiences.  If you see something in someone that you want for yourself, it makes perfect sense to ask them how they got it.

And perhaps what makes most sense of all, if you are seeking a greater faith and a deeper relationship with God you would also try talking with Him.  We call it prayer and it can start with a very simple introduction.  “Hey God, it’s me and I’d like to get to know You better.”  Believe me, you don’t need to say any more than that.  He already knows you better even than you know yourself, like Jesus knew everything about the woman at the well, because He made you and He loves you…no matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or how long you’ve been away.

Friends, we all come to the well thirsty, parched, seeking, and Jesus meets us there.  He meets us at the most unlikely times, in the most unlikely places.  When this Samaritan woman first met Jesus she saw Him only as a thirsty man, then as a Jewish man, but then as their conversation continued, she came to believe Him to be a rabbi, then a prophet, and finally to be the promised MessiahSome have said that verse 10 in our lesson today is the second shortest explanation of the Gospel anywhere, the shortest being John 3:16.  Here Jesus says to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Friends, that day she accepted His gracious offer, so may we who are also thirsty do the same today.  Amen.