The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

UNEXPECTED EVANGELISTS

Delivered 3/3/02
Text: John 4:5-42
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Who woulda thunk it? A Samaritan woman, having come to the village well to draw her water in the heat of the day - not early morning when the other women would come, meets a Jewish rabbi. He talks to her...in public even. He actually talks to her. Right out there in front of God and anybody (even though no one else is around, not in the noonday sun). This is not done. Jewish men do not talk to women in public, even their own wives. In fact, for a Jewish wife to address her husband in public without permission was grounds for divorce! But a Jewish man speaking to a mixed-breed, "racially-inferior" female???

And what was he doing here anyway? The animosity between Jews and Samaritans was such that most travelers would take the extra nine hours to go around Samaria on a journey from Judea up to Galilee. After all, Samaritans frequently ganged up and robbed Jewish pilgrims passing through their territory - which is why Jesus' later story of the exceptional GOOD Samaritan would be so striking.

He asks her if she would draw him a drink of water while she is filling her pot. She is surprised and a little irritated. "How is it that you, a man, and with your Jewish accent, ask a drink from me, a woman and a Samaritan?" Fiesty. Perhaps that is why she went through so many husbands. Or perhaps that is how she survived so many husbands and the ensuing isolation coming from the ostracism of a cold-hearted village.

Then Jesus said to 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." What? Living water? Who is this man? He has nothing with which to draw. Is he making fun? Is he suggesting that "Samaritan water" is not good enough? So she questions, and he confuses her even more - he begins talking about eternal life. She was not sure what was happening, but she was finding herself more and more fascinated. "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

The conversation continues. The reference to her love life and current living arrangements. So this spunky lady does what we all do when Jesus wants to talk with us about our personal affairs - she changes the subject. Religion. There's a good one. She says, "I can see that you are a prophet...clergy. OUR church says worship God in this place, but YOUR church says Jerusalem. Let's argue about that instead of talking about me." Jesus answers with the gospel for her that day and for everyone everywhere always: "A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Cities, states, nations, denominations are not holy. God is holy. God's people are holy. No more artificial divisions - Jews/Samaritans, Protestant/Catholic, Presbyterian/Lutheran/Methodist/Baptist - NO MORE DIVISIONS to separate human beings one from another. Good news. Gospel.

The story continues as the disciples return. The woman departs, goes into the village and tells of her encounter. The people are intrigued, come out to the well and, in their words to her, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world." Who woulda thunk it? What an unexpected evangelist!

I love the way she went about it. No theologizing. She simply told her story. "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did." Even her questions. "Could this be the Christ?" For those who wonder whether or not they could ever be an effective Christian witness, that is the answer. You have your own story to tell. Even your own questions. So tell it.

Suddenly, we realize that we are hearing all this on the first Sunday of Mission Month at First Presbyterian. And what is the mission of the church? To go and make disciples.(1) That was Jesus final instruction to the church. And what is the first step in the disciple-making process? Invite them in. Just as a certain Samaritan lady did so long ago.

Can you do that? Why not! Think about what you might say. Why is the church important to you? What times in your life has the church been most meaningful? Were there hours of difficulty and confusion during which the care and faith of Christian friends proved helpful? Who were some of the people who helped guide you on your spiritual journey? Those to whom you might speak a word for Jesus will care far more about your real-life experience of faith than any deep theological speculation, just like the people of Samaria.

And, if you are wondering, folks are ready to listen. In the words of Jesus, "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." Statistics indicate that half of the adult population in America is unchurched (unchurched being defined as those who have not been to worship within six months except for a Christmas, Easter, wedding, or funeral) - ONE OUT OF TWO! They may have their name on the roll somewhere but they do not attend worship. Sadly, we have some like that on our own roll right here. They are effectively unchurched.

But the good news is that three out of five of these unchurched friends say they would respond positively to an invitation to come. Your word of grace is especially important in times of stress: divorce, unemployment, birth, illness, death.

One more thing - be persistent...not obnoxious, persistent. And be specific. A casual, "Why not come to church sometime?" will not do the job nearly so well as an invitation to a certain event or service. If your friends cannot come to this one, do not give up. Invite them again to something else.

I have told you before of one fellow's efforts. This wonderful man was not well educated and his manner was somewhat rough and crude. He became a Christian and took the Lord's requirement seriously. He kept pestering his pastor to put him to work. Finally, the minister handed him a list of ten names with this explanation: "These are all members of the church, but they seldom attend. Some of them are prominent people in the community. Contact them about being more faithful. Here is some church stationary to write letters. Get them back in church."

The man accepted the challenge with rugged determination and enthusiasm. About three weeks later a letter from a prominent physician whose name had been on the list arrived at the church office. Inside was a large check and a brief note: "Dear Pastor, Enclosed is my check for $1,000 to help make up for my missing church so much, but be assured that I will be present this Lord's Day and each Lord's Day following. I will not by choice miss services again. Sincerely... P.S. Would you please tell your secretary that there is only one `T' in dirty and no `C' in Skunk."

Ah, those unexpected evangelists. To this day, that nameless Samaritan woman, the first unexpected evangelist, is revered in many cultures. In southern Mexico, La Samaritana is remembered on the fourth Friday in Lent, when specially-flavored water is given to commemorate her gift of water to Jesus. The Orthodox know her as St. Photini, or Svetlana in Russian. Her name means "equal to the apostles," and she is honored as apostle and martyr on the Feast of the Samaritan Woman.(2)

Can you do what she did? Invite friends and neighbors? Of course, you can. I will offer you a Mission Month challenge. You promise that, as God gives the opportunity, you will invite someone to church at least one time a week for the next year. Invite at least one person to church at least once each week for the next year. If you do...if everyone of you does it, there WILL be a response, and we are likely to see a year at First Presbyterian the like of which no one would dare to dream. Wow! Do it!

An unexpected evangelist. You...and you and you and you and you. After all, the "living water" which Jesus offers us is even more refreshing when it is shared.

Amen!


1. Matthew 28:19-20

2. Patricia Farris, "Unlikely Messenger," The Christian Century, 2/13-20/2002, p. 16

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