Recently, I had an interesting discussion on an internet message board. One of the frequent posters had started a thread saying he had become an agnostic. What was his reason? He said that he had become frustrated with the way some Christians were acting. He did not appreciate the things they were saying and doing and because they were not living up to the way he thought Christians should act, he questioned the existence of God.
Internet message boards are not great places for interaction in such matters. Usually, there’s a whole lot of underlying emotion going on in people, and they are apt to read your responses wrongly. In fact, I told the guy that I would rather discuss this matter with him over a few cold beverages, but I did push him a little bit. In as tactful of a manner as I could think of, I asked him, “Who did you put your faith in? Did you put your faith in God or in people?”
It’s an important question, I think. I mean, I’ve run across this kind of thing numerous times. I’ve had people tell me they’ve quit coming to worship because of something someone else said or did. I’ve had people tell me they don’t attend church at all because the church is full of hypocrites. Oftentimes in congregations, personalities come into conflict; people don’t like decisions that are made; people don’t like a particular theological stance a pastor takes, and the end result is nearly always the same–they either stop giving or stop attending. They generally give the same sort of reason for their actions: I didn’t like what those folks did.
I ask again this morning, “What was your faith in? Was it in God or in people?”
I mean, there is no mystery that people are sinful. People are not perfect. People will always let you down. Let me say that again: people will always let you down. That’s not a comfortable thing for me to say while standing up here before you this morning because I have to face the fact that I am a person. I have to face the fact that when I look in the mirror, the person staring back at me has let people down. I have not been perfect. I have not always been there when people want me there. I have not always made the best decisions. I have not always agreed with others and told them what they wanted me to say. I’ve missed appointments. I’ve missed calling people. I’ve allowed other pursuits to take me away from responsibilities at times. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to say the same thing about ourselves as well. If you put your faith in people, you will end up hurt. You will end up angry. You will end up frustrated and upset. People are fallible, sinful beings. This is just a fact of life.
To take this further, we must ask: then what can you put your faith in? Can you put your faith in your job? In sports? In money? In acquiring possessions? In your family? In your children? In the government? In technology? In science? In your hobbies?
Here’s a dirty little secret that no one really talks about. You can certainly try to put your faith in these things. You can certainly become very involved in these things. All of them in some way, shape, or form offer you a promise of fulfillment. All of them offer you the promise of contentment and happiness. But stop and think about these things for a moment. If you are involved or over-involved in such matters, have you found fulfillment? Have you found peace deep within yourself? I’m pretty certain I can say that you haven’t. Why?
Because all of these things will never stop placing demands on you. They will actually try, in the long run, to consume you. They will disappoint you. They will frustrate you. They will tease you and ask for investment after investment after investment only to suck you completely dry and leave you wanting more. That is the cold, hard fact. Everything that we seek satisfaction in and put our faith in will demand more and more of our worship only to leave us highly unsatisfied and empty.
You may not believe me, but let me share with you something a very, very successful author once wrote. Maybe you know the name David Foster Wallace– he was not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. He rose to fame by writing and was invited to speak at numerous events. Unfortunately, he eventually killed himself. Shortly before he committed suicide, he gave a commencement address at Kenyon College, and he made this statement, “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship, and the compelling reason to maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you choose to worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age starts showing you will die a thousand million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is they are unconscious. They are default settings.”
That last statement is a bit disconcerting, yet, I think true. It is our default setting to look to such things to worship: to look to money, sports, people, possessions and other such things for our worship. In the Church, we call this original sin–seeking to depend upon ourselves to be god. And the result is always the same: emptiness.
Jesus offers us another path. In our Gospel lesson, He has an encounter with a Samaritan woman at a water well. Now, Jesus actually does some quite amazing things in this encounter. First, He overcomes some major cultural barriers. No Jewish man would ever be caught talking to a woman by himself. No Jewish man would ever be caught talking to a Samaritan because they were considered enemies. No Jewish man would ever dare to use a Samaritan’s cup or bucket to drink out of because that would mean defiling one’s self. Yet, here is Jesus doing all of those things with this woman. It surprises her greatly.
But there is a reason for Jesus acting in this manner. We know that Jesus came into this world for a reason. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.” Jesus is reconciling the world to God–even the world that was not a part of Judaism. Jesus wanted to offer this woman salvation, and He had to crash through all these barriers to do so. If he would have acted as most Jews acted toward Samaritans, the woman would have rejected Him outright. Therefore, Jesus leads with a very compassionate attitude.
The woman is taken aback, “How is it that you, a Jew ask me for a drink?”
Jesus knows He has an in. He knows He has shocked this woman and piqued her curiosity. He delivers a very important statement, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
If you knew the gift of God...what is the gift of God? Well, it’s grace. It’s Jesus. It’s God’s reconciliation of the world through Jesus. But the woman doesn’t know that just yet. She’s still having to work through things. Jesus still has to get her to the point where she will get this and understand it.
“Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” the woman asks. Clearly, she doesn’t get it yet. She’s still got her mind set on earthly things.
Jesus continues, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
This really gets the woman’s attention. “Give me this water!” she says. But she still doesn’t get it. She thinks this is all about physical thirst, but Jesus is going deeper.
“Go call your husband,” Jesus replies.
“I have no husband,” the woman retorts.
But Jesus doesn’t let this pass. He is now getting to the heart of the matter. “You are correct in saying that you have no husband,” Jesus says, “for you have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”
The woman is taken aback by this, “Sir, I know you are a prophet.”
Let’s stop here a moment because Jesus is really confronting this woman’s attempt to get fulfillment. Some want to argue that this woman is doing nothing wrong, but living with a man who she is not married to immediately makes her a social outcast. She would have been shunned by the fact that she had five husbands and was now shacking up. There is a reason she is coming to the well at noon instead of early in the day like everyone else would have done. She doesn’t want to deal with the cross ways looks that everyone else gives her. She doesn’t want to see them snickering at her. She comes to the well when no one else is around to avoid all that. Fortunately, she runs into Jesus.
The woman had spent her life seeking fulfillment through her relationships with men. This is where she thought she would find fulfillment and satisfaction, but all it led her to was relationship failure after relationship failure. It led her to shack up with another man before marriage. It led her to become an outcast and distrustful of everyone else in her village. Jesus confronts her on this in a loving, compassionate way. This woman was worshiping the wrong things. And Jesus diligently leads her to true worship.
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
If you knew the gift of God and who is speaking to you. The woman now knows the gift of God. She now knows who is speaking to her. And her life becomes transformed. Her life is changed to the point where once she was outcast and afraid of others. She once hid from others and avoided them. But, after encountering Jesus and His grace, she runs to tell them. She exposes herself, warts and all, to those around her and invites them to be transformed by the gospel as well. Her fulfillment is so complete after meeting Jesus and knowing the gift of God that she no longer allows the emptiness and shame in her life to dominate. She is at peace with herself. She can look at those who once scorned her and be in relationship to them.
Such was the transformation when she came to know the gift of God. It transformed her. If you knew the gift of God, it would transform you as well. Amen.