Seeing for Ourselves
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
From John, chapter 4
Everyone loves a good story, right? Take a moment to think: what is one of your favorite stories? Perhaps it is a novel or a movie. But if we really think about it, our favorite stories are often closer to home. By the time of my birth, my mother’s father had had multiple heart attacks and strokes and was in pretty poor health. But he was such a kind, gentle man that I loved to hear my mom tell stories about Pop Pop in his younger years. One of my favorite was the story of how one afternoon Pop Pop had fallen asleep in his recliner. He wore spectacles. My mom and her siblings got shaving cream and they very carefully smeared shaving cream across each lens. When Pop Pop woke up, he leapt out of his recliner, startled by a world smothered in white foam. The kids giggled at how they had tricked him and they weren’t punished because their father was so good-natured. As I said, by the time I came along, no one was permitted to startle Pop Pop because of his heart and I never saw him move quickly. So, I loved that picture my mom’s story painted of my grandfather. Everyone loves a good story.
And, although we don’t always recognize it, we all have a story to tell. Sociologist Brene Brown emphasizes this. Each one of us has a story; our stories are powerful and revelatory. We just need to recognize that truth.
In my opinion, scripture is filled with amazing stories, especially the gospel of John. This morning I’ll share one of those stories with you: the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I’m not going to read it. I’m going to tell it. Now because we are not first-century Jews, and because we are not hearing the gospel in one seating as a first-century audience would have, I want to provide just a few background details before we begin.
So, without further ado, John, chapter 4, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman:
Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea back to Galilee and “had” to go through Samaria. While the disciples headed into town to get food, Jesus sat down next to a well to rest from his journey. It wasn’t just any well, but an historic landmark: the well that Israelite patriarch Jacob had given his son Joseph.
It was around noon and a woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said, “Give me a drink.”
The woman was surprised and said, “How is it that you, a Jewish man, are asking a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?”
Jesus replied, “If you knew who I am and what I have to offer you, you would have asked me for a drink, and I’d give you living water.”
The woman said, “How are you going to do that? You don’t even have a bucket. Are you more special and powerful than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?”
Jesus replied, “When you drink the water out of this well, you have to keep coming back for more. But if you drink the water I have to offer, it will become like an ever-flowing stream, bubbling up and offering life eternal.”
The woman said, “Awesome. I’ll take it so that I don’t have to keep dragging myself back to this well.”
Jesus said, “Go get your husband.”
The woman said, “I’m not married.”
Jesus said, “You’re right. But you’ve had five husbands and right now you’re living with a man you’re not married to. What you’ve said is true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can tell you’re a prophet. So, let me ask you a question. My people have been worshiping a long time on this mountain. But you Jews say the only acceptable place to worship is Jerusalem.”
Jesus said, “Woman, the hour is coming – in fact, it’s already arrived – when people won’t be hung up about associating God with geography and buildings. Authentic worship, the kind God desires, is about spirit and truth.”
The woman said, “I know the Messiah, the anointed one, is going to come and he’s going to teach us all about this.”
Jesus responded, “That’s who I am.”
Just then, the disciples returned and they couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw Jesus talking with this Samaritan woman, but they knew better than to question him about it.
The woman was so excited about her encounter with Jesus that she ran back into town. She didn’t even take her water jar. She just left it there. She found her fellow villagers and told them, “Come and see! I just met this man who told me everything that I have ever done. What do you think: could he be the messiah?”
Now, their curiosity was piqued by what the woman said. So they went out to the well to meet Jesus and talk to him themselves. And many of them became disciples of Jesus; some because of the woman’s story and others by talking with Jesus themselves. They told her, “It’s not just because of what you said, but we’ve experienced for ourselves. We believe this is the Savior of the world.”
This story is not unique within the gospel of John. This is a gospel filled with accounts of people sharing their experiences with Jesus, telling those stories to those around them. It starts in the very first chapter when disciples whom Jesus calls go and find friends and family and invite them to also follow. Having met and engaged with Jesus, they share who they have experienced him to be: the Messiah, the fulfillment of Hebrew scripture. They too issue the invitation to others to “come and see” for themselves.
This Lenten sermon series is entitled “What Do You See?” and “seeing” – like light and truth – is an important word and concept in John. To “see” in the gospel of John means that we comprehend who Jesus is and what he has to offer us. In John, seeing really is believing. If we are able to see and understand who Jesus is, we will come to trust him with our lives and he will bless us with life eternal.
But it is not enough to simply “see” for ourselves. We discover in the gospel that those who truly see are inspired to invite others to come and see for themselves. This is not evangelism by apologetics, which consists of arguments in defense of religious doctrine. This is evangelism through truth and relationship. It is about us sharing our experience with Jesus with others, telling our stories, so that we pique the curiosity of others who then seek out Jesus for themselves. We pique their interest and allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest.
Some of you know I am currently being trained in coaching. During our first training module, the instructor set aside time for us to craft what we would say to others about coaching. His point was that, if we really believed people could benefit from coaching, we ought to be able to explain it with clarity and conviction.
Friends, I hope you believe that others can benefit by being in relationship with Jesus; by seeing who he is and what he has to offer them. And, if you do, then I’m going to ask Lisa to play a verse of a hymn right now and for you to take just the length of that hymn to consider: what is a story about your experiences with Jesus that you could share with others that would encourage them to come and see for themselves? What is a story about your experiences with Jesus that you could share with others? Because everyone who has a relationship with Jesus has a story to tell about that relationship.
Our stories are powerful and revelatory. We just need to recognize that truth. We all have a story to share.
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