Talking life and faith
In November, we’ve been revisiting the Bishop’s rule of life for Liverpool Diocese: The inward journey … Pray, read the Bible and learn together… and the outward journey … Tell, serve, give. In this post, we focus on telling the good news of Jesus. We will do this by exploring an episode in the John’s Gospel chapter 4.
Leaving the comfort zone
Jesus travels through Samaria and bumps into a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation. Jesus could have gone the usual way for Jews travelling from Jerusalem to Galilee – east to Jericho and then north up the Jordan valley. This avoided Samaria, for as we are told in verse 9 ‘Jews did not associate with Samaritans’. However, for some reason, Jesus takes the more direct route through Samaria. He moves out of his comfort zone. For those who follow Jesus, this is inevitable at some point. I wonder how you feel about moving out of your comfort zone, going to unfamiliar places and mixing with unfamiliar people?
We pick up the story in John chapter 4 verses 7-15:
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Starting with everyday things
So, Jesus reaches out across the cultural barriers of his day - between Jews and Samaritans and between men and women. Jesus starts the conversation with the woman talking about ordinary things – being thirsty, drinking, and water. As the woman responds, we don’t know the tone of her voice, but she was probably surprised Jesus was even speaking to her, just as Jesus’ disciples were surprised when they later returned from town to find him talking alone with a woman (see John 4:27).
The woman’s tone may also have been slightly hostile given the long history of enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Yet Jesus answers her question with a statement which encourages the woman’s curiosity. And before you know it, he’s talking with the woman about the life of God welling up from within like a spring of water. And he’s pointing to himself as the giver of that eternal life. In the gospels, Jesus is often using the everyday things around him to help talk about God.
Now I’ve got a challenge for you … what everyday things could be the springboard for you to talk with others about the good news of Jesus? For example, how could hand sanitiser or face coverings open up into a conversation about faith and about Jesus? What about food or drink? Baking or gardening? Walking or travelling? Sun or rain? Books or films?
To take the first example, we see hand sanitiser or anti-bacterial cleanser everywhere at the moment. It reminds us of the hidden bacteria on our skin. We try to social distance and to clean our hands over and over again in an attempt to reduce the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. But even better would be a vaccine. So imagine a conversation a bit like this:
“Here we go again … More hand sanitiser … will this virus ever go away?”
“Yeah, I hope there’s a vaccine soon!”
“Hey, what if there was a vaccine for selfishness and greed?”
“What a difference that would make! Mind you, some people would need a lot more than a vaccine!”
“Putting faith in Jesus has been a bit like having a vaccine for me.”
“How’s that then?”
“Well, the bible says Jesus dies for our sins once and for all, and he overcame death. Now it’s like Jesus is working within me to kill off the selfishness from the inside and create new life. I find that praying is changing me. I treat people better and I find it easier to forgive people.”
I wonder where that conversation might lead?
Now lets pick up the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:16-26:
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
In keeping with the culture of the day, Jesus asks the woman to go and get her husband, so that they can continue talking without raising suspicions. And then, Jesus, with prophetic insight, lays bare the woman’s broken past. And the conversation moves on. First the woman distracts attention from herself by raising a religious disagreement between Samaritans and Jews, which leads to talk of the Messiah. But Jesus responses end with the revelation that “I am he”. The conversation return to Jesus, the Messiah, the one God has sent to put the world to rights. When we are discussing matters of faith with people, it's often helpful to try to bring the focus back to Jesus.
Come and see
In John 4:27 Jesus’ disciples return, astonished that Jesus was even talking with a Samaritan woman. But the woman forgets about collecting water and runs back to the town saying to the people “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” The chapter finishes with the people of the town coming to see and hear Jesus, some came to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony and Jesus’ own teaching. “We have heard for ourselves and we know this is truly the saviour of the world.”
So, what does it mean to come and see or hear Jesus today? Here’s a few suggestions:
· come and listen to a person’s story of how Jesus has made a difference in their life.
· come and read the gospels
· come and be with people working together as the body of Christ and treating one another with the forgiving love of Christ.
It could mean all of the above and more.
The question for us as followers of Jesus is: how will we tell people about Jesus and invite them to come to Jesus?
I finish with a verse from Scripture, 1 Peter 3:15.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Questions for further reflection or discussion:
· I wonder how faith in Jesus has made a difference in your life?
· I wonder who you might bump into this week and what everyday things could help you talk with them about life and faith?
· I wonder how you could be better prepared to give reasons for your faith and hope in Jesus?
St Andrews Podcast
In this week’s podcast, you can hear from a couple of members of St Andrews Church, as they reflect on their experience of talking with people about life and faith in Jesus.