The importance of Testimony

This is my sermon for the third Sunday of Lent based on John 4:5-42. I did go off script a bit so you may enjoy watching me preach. Here’s the video of today’s service… click here. If you forward the video, the sermon is at 18:47.

Stories are powerful. They convey spiritual truths and insights. I’m enjoying re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia – all 7 books… I’m up to No. 5. Our Lent group is, I hope, enjoying seeing what we can gain from C S Lewis’ writings. The course is based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plus Shadowlands as well as the saying of Jesus.

This Lent we are looking at the stories of the encounters Jesus had with certain individuals in the bible that were used as the preparation for baptism in the early church.  The focus therefore is on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian? Brief recap – last week, Nicodemus; this week, the Samaritan woman; next week it would be the healing of the blind man – except it is Mothering Sunday so we take a break from the Lent readings, then it is the raising of Lazarus.

Last week we thought about what it means to be born again, baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit and that it enables us to hear Jesus ‘voice and follow him.

Some stories are symbolic and resonate with our story and us. EG, Moses and the Exodus – out of slavery going through wilderness on way to Promised Land isn’t just about what happened then but is echoed in the story of Jesus coming to rescue us from the slavery of sin and bringing us into the promised land of right relationship with God – eternal life. Our New Testament reading refers to it as being justified by faith.

Stories maintain our faith as they’re passed on from person to person and generation to generation.

Jacob’s well.  I can’t resist sharing this photo. It is part of my story of faith – of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2018 and when I stood on the very spot where Jesus had his conversation with the woman at Jacob’s Well.

What’s your story of your pilgrimage or journey of faith? (everyone has a story) As we consider today’s readings, perhaps you can make connections with your experiences, not just as individuals but as a church community, and in particular about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?

When the going gets tough for the Israelites, they blame Moses and start arguing with him, wanting water to drink.  And they ask why he brought them out of Egypt and perhaps ask why God did that wonderful escape and now they’re thirsty.  They’d stepped out in optimism and faith, and it’s all going wrong, so they look back with longing to the good old days, with rose tinted specs no doubt.

In our NT reading Paul reminds readers that suffering produces, endurance, which gives us character, which gives us Hope… and that hope in Jesus and God doesn’t disappoint us.

I’m sure that if you look back at difficult times in your lives, where perhaps you wondered what God was playing at allowing horrible things to happen – times of dryness and difficulty praying perhaps – that he was indeed there with you.  That’s part of your story.

He provides spiritual water and food, as Jesus explains in his encounter with the Woman at the Well. (add image of Jesus and woman to story image)

Here it’s Jesus who is tired out from his journey and is resting by the well in the mid-day sun.   I was interested to see how the interaction between him and the woman went because it almost seems as if it is he who picks the quarrel with her.

She is aware of the history and their cultural differences, expressing surprise that he asked her for a drink.  What is he up to?  Why didn’t he just ignore her, which would be normal?

He had waited for her to approach then asked her for a drink, but evades her question by starting to talk in riddles – If you knew who I was you wouldn’t say that.   So she challenges him – are you greater than Jacob?   But she’s intrigued and drawn to him when he starts to talk about living water, although still thinking in concrete terms of H20 rather than spiritual water. 

Then when Jesus shows that he knows all about her past, and is still willing to talk to her, she recognises he is indeed special – a prophet perhaps, but still looks to the past and their traditions of where it is right to worship.

For the Israelites Jerusalem came to be the only place they could worship and for Samaritans it was a particular mountain.

Place was an important aspect of worship for them……. as indeed it still is for us.  Many people get attached to a particular church building.  

Many people become part of the church community via birth into a family who worships in a particular church.  

Almost all of the people who get married in church say it’s the traditional or right place – that all their family have got married at St Michael’s, no mention of God being important in their wedding or marriage.

But Jesus came to bring about a new way of worship that was not dependent upon place – well or mountain or Jerusalem, nor being dependent upon being born into the community of faith – Samaritan or Jew.

He says that true worshippers are those who worship the Father in Sprit and truth.  Indeed God is searching for them, seeking them out.

The woman responded to Jesus and believed he was the Messiah because he knew her inside out and accepted her.  She then became the first missionary or evangelist, telling others about Jesus.  She said, come and see….

Many people came to believe in him because of her testimony.  But more importantly they came to a deeper belief because they heard him for themselves.  We all need to hear for ourselves – God has no grandchildren. 

There are many who have never heard who Jesus really is. 

We are drinking from the well of the living water – Jesus.  We benefit from our relationship with God as a loving Father. hopefully we worship in spirit and truth.  But the living water isn’t just for us. 

When the disciples come back to Jesus at the well and start talking about food, Jesus says his food is to do the will of whim who sent me and to complete his work.  Jesus’ food is God’s work. 

Our Food is God’s work too.  We also grow spiritually when we continue to do God’s work.  And a big part of God’s work is to seek out those who will also worship in spirit and truth and become adopted sons and daughters of God.  It is our job to say to others “Come and see”.

Another, equally important aspect is to feed the poor and hungry, to get involved in social action.  Some people say we should do one and others say we should do the other.  But it isn’t a case of either/or but of doing both.

We’re all part of God’s labour force – some sow others reap.  But it’s God who gives the growth.  We participate by telling our stories of how we encounter Jesus, so that others will want to believe and hear for themselves.  The woman met Jesus at the well and despite her past, and indeed despite her present situation, he accepted her – he broke the rules of social and religious conduct to do so.  What’s your story of how you came to know who Jesus really is?  And are you willing to go and tell others so that they will believe enough to be curious enough to come and see for themselves?

Are you willing perhaps to give a newspaper or Hope magazine away at Easter? I am about to order some. We have some at the back of church – they should have been given away.

Pray for who to give one to. Pray for people who don’t yet know Jesus that you will be given the opportunity to speak to them about your faith.

If you don’t know what to pray, then ask the Holy Spirit who will strengthen you and empower you for doing God’s work.

You may think that you don’t have much of a story. You haven’t had an amazing experience – you weren’t a drug crazed; terrible person who has been transformed.  Well, most Christians aren’t.  But every Christians DOES have a story. And every Christian is a witness whether they like it or not. If people know that you go to church or know you are a Christian then how you act, what you say, IS a witness to your Christian faith.

Can they see Jesus in you? Love, joy, patience, self-control, standing up for justice, being merciful and forgiving?  The list could go on.

But the bible reminds us that little things can change the world.

Jesus said: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you”. (Luke 17:6).

Or a little yeast works through a whole batch of dough.

When Jesus saw a poor widow give two copper coins to the temple, he said  she has given more to God than anyone else.

When the disciples are told to feed five thousand people, with just five loaves of bread and two fish offered up by a small boy, when they are obedient, Jesus was able to feed them all.

Jesus has the ability to take our meagre offerings and turn them into something spectacular. The same is true for our testimonies. If we simply speak the truth, God will do the rest. 

So don’t be afraid to share your story, no matter how boring it may seem. For with God, even the humblest offering can change the course of the future.

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