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Come and See!

(Sermon preached at Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, in 2018)

John 4:5-42


Today’s Gospel reading may well be the longest reading you have ever heard read at worship.  Which is why I asked David Barnes to help me find 3 readers to do a dramatic reading.  Thank you Tosca, Liam, and Lucas—you did a wonderful job!  Today’s reading was almost an entire chapter and the chapters in the Gospel of John are long!  The entire chapter had to be read if for no other reason than the fact that Jesus talks longer to the woman at the well than he does anyone else in all the Gospels—longer than he talks to any of his disciples, longer than he talks to any of his accusers, longer than he talks to any of his own family.  In the Gospel of John, she is the first person Jesus reveals himself to.  She is the first outsider to guess who he is and tell others.  She is the first evangelist, John tells us, and her testimony brings many to faith.  If I asked you for a list of miracle stories in the Bible, would this one be on your list?  I doubt it.  And yet, I believe Jesus performed a sign here.

Jesus’ choice of her is a curious one, because when this woman is described as an outsider, she really is an outsider!  The woman at the well was a triple outsider.  In the first place, she was a Samaritan.  Let me give you a bit of history here in order that you may appreciate the bitterness between the Jews and the Samaritans.  The region of Samaria originally had been the center of the northern Israel tribes.  But then it had been overrun by the Assyrian Emperor Sargon who then shipped non-Jews from what is today Iran and Iraq into the region of Samaria.  The mixing of populations was intentional and was designed to reduce indigenous nationalism.  Not surprisingly Israeli and Assyrian intermarried.  But the Judeans, who were centered around Jerusalem in the south, having escaped Assyrian conquest, wrote off their northern fellow-countryfolk as mixed-bloods, as half-breeds, as impure.  Rejected as non-kosher and unclean, the Samaritans set up their own competing shrine on Mount Gerizim.  In the second place, she was also, of course, a woman.  In Jesus’ time, women were not what you would call liberated.  They were not even allowed to worship with men, whose morning devotions included the prayer, “Thank God I am not a woman.”  Women had no place in public life.  Women were not to be seen or heard, especially not by holy men, who did not speak to their own wives in public.  One group of pious men was known as “the bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman coming down the street, even if it meant walking into a wall and breaking their noses.  She was a Samaritan and a woman; but that was not all.  She was also a fallen woman.  Respectable women made their trips to the well in the morning, when they could greet each other and discuss the latest Oprah book and exchange the latest gossip.  But this woman was one of the people they gossiped about, and the fact that she showed up at noon was a sure sign she was not welcomed at their morning social hour.  As Jesus soon figured out, she had been married as many times as Elizabeth Taylor and was living in sin at the moment, which made it all around less painful for her to go to the well alone, after the others had gone.

So imagine her surprise when she comes in the heat of the day with her water bucket balanced on her head and sees a strange man sitting beside the well.  He could be anyone.  But when he lifts his head and asks for a drink, she is shocked to see that the man is a Jew!  He’s no half-breed, no Samaritan.  What in the world is he doing there?  Has he lost his way?  Has he lost his faith, to be talking to her like that?  The Jews have endless rules about what they may and may not eat and drink.  She knows that much at least, and she knows this man will be breaking the law if she lets him sip from her bucket.  So they talk about it, and what I find so fascinating about this long conversation is that they don’t seem to be on the same wave-length.  For example, the woman, after a lengthy exchange with Jesus about water, finally asks for the water that Jesus has to offer, saying, “Sir, give me this water.”  Instead of responding to her request for the water that he has to offer, Jesus tells her to go fetch her husband.  It is an abrupt change of subject, to which she might object.  She might say, “I thought we were talking about religion.  Why are you suddenly getting so personal?”  OR SHE COULD HAVE LIED.  Instead, she looks Jesus right in the eye, and tells him:  “I have no husband.”  With that tiny bit of truth from her, Jesus tells her the rest of the truth about herself:  “You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you are living with now is not even your husband!”  What is important to note is that Jesus does not pull away from her. If anything, he gets closer.  He still wants a drink from her, and he wants to give one too.  The intimacy of it all seems suddenly too much for her; so she changes the subject back to religion again, trying to draw him back into an argument about Jews versus Samaritans.  You can hardly blame her.  If this strange man knows about all her husbands, there’s no telling what else he knows about her; and she decides she would rather not find out!  So she changes the subject in order to step back from him and cover herself up again.  But it does not work.  For when she steps back, he steps toward her.  When she steps out of the light, he steps into it.  He will not let her retreat.  If she is determined to show him less of herself, then he will show her more of himself.  “I know the Messiah is coming”, she says; and he says, “I am he.”  It is the first time Jesus has said that to another living soul.  It is the moment of full disclosure, in which the “triple outsider” and the Messiah of God stand face to face with no pretense about who they are.  Both stand fully lit at high noon for one bright moment in time, while all the rules, norms, regulations, codes, restrictions, taboos, history, that separate them fall forgotten to the ground.

One of my primary responsibilities at the seminary was the placement and supervision of students on their internships.  An internship is where you take everything you have learned in the classroom and apply it to a live congregation, to live people.  It is the process which enables you to really test whether pastoral ministry is your true calling.  For some, it is a make or break experience.  And for others, they come to discover painful truths about themselves.  One of my student interns, upon completion of a year-long internship far away from campus, reported to me how her internship was a transforming experience.  During her internship, she fell in love. She fell in love with one of her parishioners.  She fell in love with a parishioner who was married.  So during her internship, she had an adulterous affair.  She suffered tremendous guilt and shame.  Even though the relationship did not continue, the guilt and shame drove her to counseling.  She found no relief.  One day, wandering the streets, she happened to walk by a Roman Catholic Church.  Something led her to go inside the church, and to make confession.  She confessed everything.  And she walked out of that church with that burden of guilt and shame lifted from her shoulders.  She had found forgiveness.  She had experienced being born anew and transformed.  The Messiah is the One in whose presence you come face to face with who you really are—the good and the bad of it, the all of it, the hope in it.  That’s why I love and stand by Calvary’s invitation to you—“No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, welcome…really”!  You are invited to come before Jesus who shows you who you are by showing you who he is—who crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, drops all disguises and pretenses—speaking to you like someone you have known all your life, bubbling up in your life like a well that needs no dipper, so that you go back to face people you thought you could never face again, speaking to them as boldly as he spoke to you.  “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done”!


You see, that’s witnessing, that’s evangelism.  Though not a likely witness, she is a witness.  She is not even a convinced witness.  As she invites others to come and see, there’s still doubt in her mind as she wonders aloud—Can this be the Christ? is literally, This cannot be the Christ, can it?  Even so, her witness is enough—it is invitational (“COME AND SEE”), not judgmental.  It is within the range permitted by her experience; it is honest with its own uncertainty; it is for everyone who will hear.  How refreshing!  Her witness avoids triumphalism, avoids selling someone else’s conclusions; avoids peddling packaged answers to unasked questions.  Her witness carries no thinly veiled ultimatums and threats of hell, and  no assumptions of certainty on theological matters.  And because of her willingness to let her hearers arrive at their own affirmations about Jesus, they do:  “This is indeed the Savior of the world.”  And as far as I am concerned, that’s the kind of evangelism that everyone of us can practice.  Now all you have to say to others is—“COME AND SEE”!  And at Calvary, we add, “We welcome you…Really”!

2 thoughts on “Come and See!”

  1. I tend to associate “evangelizing” as a “hard” sales pitch with the primary goal of getting someone to “come to OUR church, OUR way of thinking and being,” and not the other ones because we’re better.
    The invitation to “Wherever you are in your journey, you are welcome here” can ring like weak altruism. It makes suspect whether any thoughts, beliefs, backgrounds or characteristics outside those of the evangelizer would be welcome. Once I’m in, are you going to try and change me? What do you want from me? The person being evangelized has a choice to stay and hear more or leave. A dilemma for anyone at cross-roads, particularly young adults, fresh out of school, learning new things, and want to venture out into the future. “We welcome you…Really”! acknowledges that.

    1. Gwen, your reply to my latest blog post is the reason I so love having folks like you in my Bible Study class. I learn so much from you, especially when you challenge me with questions and thoughts that I have not considered. Once again, thank you for reading my blog and for all your thought-provoking comments.

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