3/7/99, L3A

“You have no bucket, and the well is deep...”
John 4: 5-42

n this section of John’s gospel he seems to be placing before us examples of persons who encountered Christ in a life changing manner. Last week we focused on Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night and was reluctant, at first, to believe. Today we hear the story of “The Woman at the Well,” a story that puts before us one who believes Jesus right away and becomes an instant evangelist.

The mission statement of our United Methodist Church says that our main job is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ.” Today we have a glimpse into how Jesus himself went about making disciples in our text by offering living water to one particular woman.

Christian history records many examples of persons who have come to Christian faith much like our Samaritan Woman.

Augustine had lived a life of sin prior to his conversion as a young man. The story is told that soon after his conversion he was accosted by a woman of the street whom he had known intimately prior to his conversion. She called out in a familiar voice, “It is I!” He resisted temptation and responded, “Yes, but it is no longer I.” He was a changed man, and soon he was renamed St. Augustine.

John Wesley studied at Christ College of Oxford University for five years, receiving a M.A. degree. He was ordained in the Church of England and served as an “Oxford Don,” or assistant professor of religion, for almost ten years. He had no inward assurance of salvation and felt himself a failure in his ministry although he was outwardly pious. He, and a small group of friends, including his brother Charles, got up at 4:00 o’clock every morning and prayed for two hours. They would then read the Bible for an hour before going to the jails and hospitals to minister. In fact, the Methodist Church got its name from the methodical way in which Wesley and his “Holy Club” lived.

In 1735 he volunteered as a missionary to the Colony of Georgia. Here he experienced a continuing uneasy feeling of inadequacy. On the way back from America there was a storm at sea. The little ship was about to sink. Wesley feared he was going to die and was terrified. He had no assurance of what would happen to him when he died. Despite all of his efforts to be good, death for him was a big black question mark. On one side of the ship was a group of German pietistic Christians known as Moravians, who were singing hymns. He asked them, "How can you sing when this very night you are going to die?" They replied, "If this ship goes down we will go up to be with the Lord forever." Wesley went away shaking his head, thinking to himself, "How can they know that? What have they done that I have not done?" Then he added, "I came to convert the heathen, but who shall convert me?"

The ship made it back to England where Wesley continued to seek experiential salvation. He continued to meet with Moravian groups and one night found his way to Aldersgate Street and a small chapel. There he heard a man reading a sermon which had been written two centuries before by Martin Luther, entitled "Luther's Preface to the Book of Romans." This sermon described what real faith was. It is trusting Jesus Christ only for salvation -- and not in our own good works. Wesley suddenly realized that he had been on the wrong road all his life. That night he wrote these words in his journal: "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." Wesley continued in his piety, but now from a position of grace and forgiveness. His ministry suddenly became very successful and folks flocked to hear him preach the gospel of grace; and soon the Methodist Societies were born.

Basic to our understanding of New Testament Christianity is that all persons are born separated from God, but can come to know his grace as the Spirit compels us toward Him. Much as the Samaritan woman encountered Jesus at the town well, so we run into Him along the way. Sometimes as a result of problems that naturally come our way we find that we do not have spiritual resources to handle them. In times like this many seek the Spirit. Sometimes they turn to books, sometimes the Bible. Others seek out a preacher. Television has become a familiar place where folks go for help. Sometimes they will give you a call, a friend in whom they have felt a resonating strength.

You may recall the story of Velma Barfield, a young woman from rural North Carolina who in 1978 was convicted of murdering four people, including her mother and fiancee. She never denied her guilt, but told a chilling story about her drug-crazed life. She had been the victim of incest and rape. One night, desperate and alone on death row, a guard tuned in an evangelist that she could hear down the long gray hall. For the first time in her life she understood that Jesus had died for her and she opened up her heart to forgiveness and acceptance. She began to tell her story to other inmates and soon she had a large following. The outside world got hold of her story and she developed a most unusual pulpit. Her conversion was genuine, but so was her conviction and she became the first woman executed in the United States in many years. In one of her last statements she said, “Just as the Lord has given me saving grace, and living grace, he has given me dying grace too.”

Is it any wonder that Velma’s favorite biblical character was our nameless woman that met Jesus at the well so long ago? Just as she experienced a new life filled with living spiritual water, so can each of us.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

3/7/99, L3A