We Saw It With Our Own Eyes…

John 4:4-42


The opening scene is of a pastor, Matt Jamison, leading worship for a handful of people, the large sanctuary swallowing up the sad few who have gathered for worship. They are about to pray for a sick girl who is in the hospital when the back door bursts open and down the isle stomps a man who then punches the priest in the face, kicks him in the gut as he’s lying on the floor, and then stuffs a sheet of paper in his mouth.

This is only the 3rd or 4th episode of this show I’ve been watching called The Leftovers. And in other episodes, this character hasn’t done much but stand on street corners holding up pieces of paper with pictures on them, and then listing off their misdeeds. As this particular episode continues, the priest is hunting down the history of a man who frequented the local casino and as he’s explaining to the manager what he’s after, the manager says, “I think I know what happened to your face.”

The premise of the show is that 2% of the world’s population went missing – The Departed, they’re called – on October 14. Everyone else is a leftover, contemplating and speculating about who is gone and why. This pastor’s agenda is, at least on the face of it, to prove that the people who disappeared or were taken were not holier-than-thou, to not assume they went to heaven. He seems deeply conflicted and he’s easy to hate, with his street corner yelling of people’s grave sins. And can I just say, as a point of clarity here, that “the rapture” is not biblical. It’s great movie and television show fodder. But it’s not a Biblical truth.

Cut to the scene we read today from the Gospel of John. The woman that Jesus encounters is not who you would expect to be the top recruit for Jesus. Because it’s the middle of the day and she’s there to get water, it’s probable that she was avoiding the morning time when there would have been many other women to talk to or be ignored by. After all, she’d had, well, how many husbands??

But wait, let’s establish the rules here, so you know the playing field.

Rule #1: It was astonishing for Jesus to talk to a woman. Men and woman, in 1st Century Palestine, were not permitted to talk to each other in just one another’s company. It was scandalous.

Rule #2: It was scandalous for Jesus, a Jew, to talk to the woman, a Samaritan. These were two groups of people who did not get along. You see, Jews and Samaritans had serious disagreements about plenty of things, but where to worship was a huge one. It might seem sort of sanitized to us now, but it was a big deal. Samaritans had developed their own version of worship, using only the first 5 books of the Bible and rejected all other books of the Old Testament. The Samaritans also built their own Temple for worship on Mt. Gerizim, and stated that their mountain was the dwelling place of the Lord, not the Temple in Jerusalem. These were fightin’ words!  You should also know that Samaritans were, in Harry Potter-speak, the Mudbloods of the day. They were dirty half-breeds.  Jews who married outside their own.

The pastor from my HBO show would be having an absolute caniption fit if he had been one of the religious leaders of that day. They were breaking the rules.

This woman with the bad reputation is the first missionary – the first evangelist – to go and tell others. “Come and see” she says to the people. I wonder if they were startled to hear her so insistent, to meet their eyes, to not slink by them. “Come and see!”

But do you know what caught me this time in this story? Right toward the end. The woman had been all around town, telling everyone she’s met Jesus and for them to come and see, and, gasp, they do. They come and see. They spend time with Jesus. And you know what happens? They see it with their own eyes. And, truthfully, I can’t help but here it a little condescending and snarky: ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

And maybe I hear it that way because I myself am wired that way my own self. “Yah, I’ll believe it when I see it.” Have you ever said that? When you fully expect that someone isn’t going to deliver on what they said they’d do, who they said they’d be for you. Yah sure, you bet. Whatever.

This weekend, I was at our fair booth for a few hours each day. And I invite you, I even challenge you to do this next year. Just give 2 hours to standing at the booth and watching Hutchinson and the greater McLeod county pass you by. This is what it means to go out – to meet people where they are.

And let me tell you, sometimes it ain’t pretty. There are plenty of times I think, “these are not my people” and I’ve got running narratives in my head of who people are or are not. And then, you smile at someone or you offer them something unexpected – a free root beer float – and something between the two of you changes. That’s what hope looks like.

Or, asking this man if he liked birds and would like a bird house, 20 minutes later, he’s still telling me about birds and the feed and the cost and the delight. That’s what hope sounds like.

At the game we run, the first part of the game is for the player to tell you what gives them hope, what gets them out of bed, what gets them excited for tomorrow and the next day. An elderly gentleman stopped by and said, “I want to play!” So I asked him what gave him hope and he paused. He looked down and then he met my eye and said, “I just finished my last cancer treatment.” We high-fived and he let me hug him and the distance between us as strangers was gone. That’s what hope feels like.

You see, standing at the fair booth isn’t about saving souls. Jesus does that.

Standing at the fair booth isn’t about making our church bigger. The Holy Spirit gathers us in.

Standing at the fair booth gives you and me an opportunity to show people that simply because we follow Jesus, it doesn’t mean we’re ready to judge everyone else and yell out their sins from the street corner or from the fair booth. It’s quite the opposite.

Standing at the fair booth is like you are the woman at the well. Listening to what Jesus has to say to you through the unlikeliest people. And sometimes you run right into the woman at the well and you find yourself connected and kindred. And maybe, just maybe, the people you meet will wonder just what makes a person sit at a booth or scoop ice cream and give away free stuff. Just maybe the whole thing will make both you and anyone you met stop and say, “I’ve seen it and heard it for myself. Jesus is alive and well in Hutchinson. Jesus is the Savior of the world, my world included.”

We’ve all got rap sheets that would be excellent fodder for any street corner preacher looking to justify his own. But God sent Jesus to make the rap sheet irrelevant and mutes the street corner preacher just long enough for him to hear that his own rap sheet is taken care of too.

That’s not just hope. That’s promise.

Thanks be to God.