March 19, 2017
By John Partridge*
Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42 Romans 5:1-11
All of us want proof.
All of us have been asked to do a lot of things by a lot of people. But while it’s easy to do the simple things, we often need a little more information and support for the bigger things. For example, in any of my previous secular jobs, if my boss asked me to go down to the accounting department and pick up some paperwork, it wouldn’t be a problem. I could just leave my desk, walk over to the accounting department, and, even if I had no other information, I could ask around until I found what it was that my boss needed. In the worse possible case, I might have to call her, or walk back to her office, and ask for more information before returning to accounting to find the paperwork.
But if my boss asked me to go to pick up that same paperwork, personally, from one of our clients in Italy, then I would need a lot more information up front. Why me? Why can’t it be mailed or faxed? Are we combining this trip with a regular business trip when we would normally visit this client? When do I leave? How long will I be gone? How are my expenses being handled? For big jobs, you need more information. Similarly, the more that you are asked to do, the more informed you like to be and the less you know, the more you worry about the things that you don’t know. This is true even in environments where trust is assumed and where people are accustomed to following orders. It isn’t hard to imagine that when the 101st Airborne division was first surrounded at Bastogne during WW2, that soldiers wanted to know when they were going to get more food, and ammunition, and when they might, or if they might, expect to be reinforced or relieved.
It is exactly that sort of desperation, and that sort of questioning, that we see in our first scripture this morning from Exodus 17:1-7.
17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
We often criticize the people of Israel for a lack of faith, but I honestly believe that most of us, and most normal people, would behave almost exactly the same way. Granted, they were escaping from slavery, but they were being led by a man that few of them knew other than from old stories and legends and they had left behind a place where water was abundant and they were wandering in a place that was, quite literally, a desert with no water at all. And as they got thirsty, and as they worried about their children and their livestock, and they began to complain and to ask questions about when they might see water again. In the end, the people were demanding proof that if God was indeed with them, then Moses, or God, or somebody, should prove it.
And God does.
Moses strikes the rock, in front of all the leaders of Israel and water came out of the rock and provided all of the people, and all of their livestock, enough to drink.
Now we know that this is not always how God operates. In fact, most of the time God simply allows events to play out and chooses not to get actively involved. But on those occasions when God chooses to get involved, things get interesting in a real hurry.
Our scripture passage from the gospels this morning is a long one. It is probably among the longest passages that we find during the course of the year, but during the seasons of Lent and Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Easter and Christmas, the lectionary uses these longer passages to help us remember the great stories of scripture. For a few weeks we stop sipping from scripture and pause to drink deeply. And so, this morning we read from the gospel of John and we remember the time when Jesus met with a Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42).
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 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.)
10 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.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 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?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”
15 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.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “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.”
The Jews and the Samaritans disagreed on a great many things. In fact, they hated each other so much that it was only the presence of the Roman army that kept them from violent attacks on one another. But the Samaritans knew that one day the Messiah would come and explain everything, and they knew that when he came, that the Messiah would belong to them as well as to the Jews.
And Jesus simply says, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
And for them, the world literally changed in an instant.
The Samaritans were waiting for proof that the Messiah had come. The woman at the well knew a lot about men and she demanded proof that Jesus was more than just another man. The people in town didn’t take her at her word, they came to meet Jesus in person and get proof.
And Jesus gave them the proof that they wanted.
And, “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” They said to the woman, “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.”
We aren’t so very different.
The claims of the Bible and of Jesus are incredible and we often find ourselves thinking and acting just like the Israelites or the Samaritans.
We want proof.
And so, in Romans 5:1-11, Paul says this:
5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul says that the proof we want is to be found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus didn’t wait for us to “get good” or even to “get better” before he was willing to give up his life and die in our place. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, while we were still the enemies of God, so that we would have the chance to be rescued.
We no longer have the opportunity to demand proof from Moses or from Jesus in person. We have to rely upon eyewitness testimony, but many of us also have personal experiences that testify to the presence and the providence of God. Just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.” Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories.
Jesus is not dead.
He died, he was buried, he rose from the dead after three days, and he lives and reigns still today. He knows our thoughts and he hears our prayers. And, if we pay attention, he still offers proof through answered prayer and through our lives, and the lives around us.
Every day, God offers us proof… in our lives, in our friend’s lives, and in the world around us.
All we need to do is pay attention.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.