In a job interview many years ago I was asked what do I think is the most important component in Christian Theology? I said “reconciliation,” and tried to say why. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but I think that if in a similar position that I would still say the same thing.
The Gospel stories and I think Paul’s letters are focused on how “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself,” and how the good news of Christ overcomes barriers that can divide, and brings healing, forgiveness and the possibility of new and deeper relationships.
The wonderful thing that emerges from the story in John today is that these encounters can happen in the most surprising places.
We have been very pleased at St Mary’s that the church is now open in the day and we want folk to come in and pray or be still and enjoy the space of the building.
In some ways you would think an ancient church is the type of place where you would have an encounter with God or find inspiration.
People do come in and say that they really appreciate the opportunity to reflect.
Although this is very welcome a theme in the Gospels that is also mirrored in people’s spiritual experiences is that is not so much that we go out looking for an encounter with God, but mysteriously it is a more a case of God finding us.
The “wind blows where it wills,” and the Holy Spirit is resourceful and the location for these life changing encounters may be in a church or it might be on a train, in an office, or at home or walking by the canal.
I always find inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr. (a great Baptist)
There is a turning point in his ministry during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in early 1957 when he starts receiving threats to harm him and his family. He is near breaking point and wants to give in and one night he hears the voice of God speaking to him and telling him to hold the line and stand firm. He is not to give in but to stand up for truth, stand up for righteousness and he will know that Jesus will never leave him, he will never leave him alone. This experience does not take place in the Dexter Avenue Church, but at two in the morning in his kitchen whilst he holds a mug of coffee.
God can meet us in when the time is right and we may stumble into something that might be life changing.
This is certainly the experience of the Samaritan woman whose story is told in John.
I don’t think it is controversial to say that Jesus lived in a very patriarchal and prejudiced culture.
A woman and a Samaritan is making her way to the well at the hottest part of the day whilst Jesus tired by his journey sits at the well.
He sees her and asks for a drink and the woman is amazed that he is even speaking to him, “a woman of Samaria.”
Fortunately, Jesus has no problem speaking to woman and he is not prejudiced. He initiates the conversation; he reaches out and draws out her story. The conversation then becomes a deep encounter that is life changing. It is one of the longest recorded conversations that Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels.
The woman is intrigued and most likely baffled by what Jesus means by living water that those who drink from will never be thirsty again.
It is a wonderful image, the gift of water that will become a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” it is the gift that keeps on giving.
The woman wants this water so she would never be thirsty and not have to keep coming out to the well in the heat of the day.
We are starting to see in the story that this is a genuine encounter in which she is being taken seriously and spoken to with respect.
She is not made to feel as if she does not matter, but her questions and inquiries are met with a response.
A door is opening and her faith is being awakened and from this small start everything else will follow. She listens, asks questions, consider and marvels at what he says. She is shocked and surprised that he even speaks with her to become deeply moved.
Jesus asks her to go back and call her husband, to which she replies that she has no husband and her truthful response is acknowledged.
If she was expecting condemnation it is not given and after saying that he is a prophet, she asks him about where people worship, and then at the end Jesus tells that he is the Messiah.
The disciples return and we are told they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said why are you speaking to her or what do you want? I’m sure if you were following Jesus you have to be open to the unexpected.
The woman goes back to the village and basically starts telling people about Jesus. She becomes an evangelist to the Samaritans.
She becomes one of the first Christian missionaries: … she can’t wait to set down her water jug to run and tell the people that she’s met the Messiah and, by the way, he’s practically on our doorstep.
The story is now about the mystery of reconciliation. Those who were looked down upon and even hated are responding and because of the woman’s testimony they offer Jesus and his disciples’ hospitality and come to believe that “he is the Saviour of the world.”
Now is the time when barriers are being overcome and Jew and Samaritan are being brought together, as soon Jew and Gentile will start to worship and pray together as in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ all the walls that divide come tumbling down.
It is also the story of unlikely encounters. A woman who comes to a well on a hot day has her life transformed. We always be open to the possibility that God in Christ may always be looking out for us and we need to be ready to be encountered in unlikely places.