A simple conversation
John 4: 1-42
It is a simple conversation.
I know it may not seem all that simple to you.
But to any minister, or leader of a church, this is a conversation we have had many times.
Imagine you are a minister.
Imagine you are a young, male, attractive minister who has a razor sharp mind and doesn’t drink. Could be anyone really.
And at the party you are minding your own business while others are enjoying themselves.
The minister is on edge, not because he is a minister, but because at some point he knows he will have ‘the conversation...’
‘The conversation’, or as some theologians put it, ‘the religious conversation,’ ironically has nothing to do with religion, and has everything to do with people feeling awkward and wanting to deflect this awkwardness away from themselves.
It might go like this...
‘I see your not drinking. Are you some kind of religious nut?’
And before you can say that you just don’t like alcohol your host appears out of nowhere and says, ‘This is the minister.’
And as soon as you hear that you know what has happened.
The host has discovered a sad drunk.
This is someone who is struggling. Maybe their marriage has broken up, maybe they have just been made redundant, maybe this is the first party since their mum has died.
Whatever it is this person hasn’t been coping. And this person thought that if they drunk a lot of alcohol at a party surrounded by people having a great time, that they would feel better. But surprisingly that hasn't worked. And now they are a sad drunk telling people their woes and ruining the party.
The host is horrified at this and tries to work out how to solve this problem. Then the host remembers that the minister has been invited. Well to be truthful the minister’s wife was invited because she is great at parties, and he has to come along as well.
As I said this could be any minster out there.
So the host thinks to themselves, ‘The minister can deal with this; that’s his job.’
So the host gently gets the sad drunk near the minister and tries to get them to talk with each other.
The sad drunk then notices this stranger who is not drinking and because drunks are like two year old that state the obvious they say what they see.
So just like Jessica my two year old granddaughter on a bus might just blurt out, ‘That person is really fat, have they eaten too much?’
So the drunk says, ‘’You’re not drinking. Are you some kind of religious nut?’
And then host then buts in and says, ‘He’s the minister.’ and disappears because now she has the two of us together it is my responsibility to sort the drunk out.
But the drunk doesn't want to be sorted out.
You see although the drunk has been telling everyone their woes, they don't want to tell those woes to someone who might try to fix them. They don’t want to hear anything at all that might lead to healing, because they are not in a place to be healed, they are in a place they want to moan about others and how others have ruined their lives. Their mess is others fault; they don't want to hear they can do something to fix their mess themselves, that they can do something to deal with their grief themselves, they can do something to make their lives better.
They are not in a place of reflective improvement; they are in a place of self pity. And they are more than happy to be in that place thank you.
So, drunk as they are, they need to get the conversation onto something other than themselves. And because they are feeling defensive and they talking to a minister they think, ’Let’s talk about something religious that puts the minister on the defence’.
‘I have always wanted to know...what about all the wars that religion has caused?’
If we look at this conversation like that, then this conversation makes all kinds of sense.
Here is a woman that is struggling.
She has no one who cares for her. The village don't care for her.
She has no children, because if she did they would be the ones getting the water.
She has no friends, because if she did she would have got the water with them at the start of the day when it was cool.
I suspect that she can’t have children and as soon as her first husband discovered that he divorced her. She then went from one bad situation to another, each man using her then dumping her.
The rest of the village treat her like dirt and in shame she goes alone in the middle of the day to get water. At least in the middle of the day she will be relatively safe because most people would be resting in the midday heat.
And there she meets a stranger.
He talks to her; she tries to palm him off.
‘Can I get some water?’ ‘No you can’t now leave me alone.’
Then she finds out he is some kind of rabbi.
That’s the last type of person she needs to talk to; judging her life, telling her all the mistakes she has made, she has more than enough self recrimination in her life thank you very much.
So she diverts the conversation, talks about the conflict of which temple people should worship in. He’ll justify why the Jews worship in Jerusalem, she’ll tell him that he is wrong and storm off and everything will go back to normal.
Only it doesn’t work out like that.
Instead what we have is everyone's moment of faith.
This is what faith is about.
If anyone has any faith, no matter how pathetically small it may be, it is based on this conversation.
You see what is really happening is that the woman is realising something special.
An amazing ‘What if...?’
What if there was a God.
What if that God didn’t blame her about the mess she had made of her life?
What if that God just wanted to talk to her?
What if that God felt she was important enough that he did talk to her?
The truth is that every act of faith that we have starts with us realising that truth.
God is with us.
He doesn’t care about the mess that we have made of our lives.
It’s not that the mess that we have made is not important.
It’s just that it is more important that we know He cares enough to still be with us.
We carry a lot of junk.
My children brought me an aquarium for my birthday.
I said, ‘But where am I going to set it up?’
And they pointed to a place on my study that there was no room for it.
To let you understand. I haven’t properly cleared the study in about 15 years.
You couldn’t see the floor because of all the stuff that had accumulated over the years.
I had financial records that went back to 2002.
It took me a day to go through all the documents I had that I didn't need and shred them. I had a full wheelie bin of shredded paper.
I had stuff that went to the autumn fayre.
I had 8 full bags of rubbish that needed to go to the landfill site.
I couldn't get the aquarium into the study for all the rubbish that was already there.
And to be honest, if I didn't have something really special to find a space for, I probably would have the rubbish there still, building up all the more.
If that is true of something as unimportant as rubbish, how much truer is it of emotion garbage?
All the hurts and the betrayals and the mistakes,
all the things we have done that we are ashamed of,
all the ego trips that we used to hurt others,
all the anger that we let loose on those that didn’t deserve it,
all the times we cut ourselves off from others because of slights that were only real in our mind,
all the self justification for stuff that we have done that we shouldn't have.
This woman had it all, we have it all.
And as long as we keep all that stuff, there is no room for us to take on other stuff.
And what we are really scared of, and I mean really scared of, is that if we got rid of all that garbage, then maybe there would be nothing left.
If we got rid of all that hurt and anger and self loathing then maybe our lives would be meaningless.
This woman lost it all, and she lost it all because she found something better to fill her life with,
the truth that God cared enough to be with her.
And she knew that truth, because there was God, talking to her.
And he wasn’t running away, and he wasn’t attacking her, and he wasn’t disgusted by her.
He knew everything there was to know about her, and he was there, having a conversation with her...she was important enough to have a conversation with.
That is the basis of all our faith.
God knows everything there is to know about us, and he is still with us, we are important enough to be there for.
The day I die I am sure that God will take me in his hands and say, ‘Jim, sometimes you talked such a load of rubbish.’
But on this thing...
On this thing I am sure,
that at this moment God is beside you saying, ‘’You know, that's you he’s talked about. I am here, right now, for you, always have been, always will be.’
So what would you say to him?
Would you be thankful?
Would you be happy?
Would you feel ashamed?
Would you try to divert the conversation on something less awkward?
Whatever you would say, don’t worry about it
He’ll still be there at the end of the conversation, waiting for the moment that we are confident that he won’t go away;
waiting for the moment we realise that He is happy to be with us, and we are happy to be there.
Let’s close our eyes.
We are alone in a quiet place.
There is just God and ourselves.
What do you want to say to him?
What does God want to say to us?
May we know the joy that God is with us.
May we know the peace that God will never leave us.
May we know the love that God waited for us.