Spirit and Truth and coronavirus

John 4

This week, like I guess many of us, I’ve felt empty. It is that sinking feeling which comes when you hear bad news.
Like they probably had on the Titanic.
Disaster is coming and there is not much we can do about it.
For many of us coronavirus has already led to a major disruption of plans. Some of our people are having to self-isolate: although my son has taken to the idea of self-isolation a bit too keenly, leaving university a week early to go to our cottage with 3 of his friends. Some have gone out to the dacha. And for those who are older or vulnerable, it is much more scary. 

In John 4, Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman. And Jesus offers this woman living water. "Whoever drinks of this water will never be thirsty again ... it will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life".
Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit but he is using poetic language.
We know what it is like to be dry and thirsty physically - and we also know what it is like to be dry and thirsty spiritually - longing for a love that will not let us down, for that safe place, for something or someone who gives us meaning and hope, who allows our work and our effort to flourish; longing for joy.
Well Jesus offers us this living water, his Holy Spirit, his presence to come and live in us, his love and his renewing life.

And when Jesus comes to us, I notice several things

1. We can face up to reality.

It is easy to become complacent. We think that we are masters of the world. We think that science or technology or money or education or security forces or governments mean that we can cope with whatever happens.
And when there are things that we are unable to manage: things like death and disease, we do the ostrich act: we stick our head into the sand and pretend there is no problem.
And yet at times like this we realise we are incredibly fragile and vulnerable. Global warming could wipe us out; so could a new severe ice age brought on by a meteorite strike or a huge volcanic eruption; so could a nuclear war or a global disease - just like this one but more critical.

People say that “Reality is an illusion created by lack of alcohol”.
It would be a joke if it was not so tragic.
We refuse to face up to reality, we push it away, we allow others things to crowd it out, we lose it in alcohol or in hockey/football or gossip or sex or our work or buying stuff

What is interesting is that when Jesus comes close, he exposes the things that we trust in, our false little gods, and we are often forced to face up to our fears, to our mortality, to our emptiness and shallow lives, to our sin and our deep vulnerability. And we forget that there is a God, that there are things bigger than life and death, that there is an eternal dimension, that we are desperately frail, and sinful.
We forget that we need God and that we need this living water.

Jesus meets this woman and allows her to face up to reality.
He deals with the elephant that is the room of her life. But he does it so so gently and with such love.

He asks a question which means she has to open herself up to him a little: 'I don't have a husband'. And then all Jesus says is, ‘You are right in saying that you have no husband. For you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband’.
He doesn't say, 'You wicked woman ..'. He simply states the fact.

You see, we can be honest with Jesus, because he knows us - and he knows the elephants in our room - he knows our emptiness and brokenness and fears and frustrations and sin. And he knows the ways that we try to fill that emptiness, to satisfy that dryness - even when it means we walk away from him. And he still loves us.

It is a bit like the small child who breaks a precious vase. They hide the broken vase away, and they are terrified that mum might notice that the vase is missing and ask questions. When they see mum, they run away, or tiptoe around her: they can’t face her.
But you see mum knows. And she is so sad that they are too afraid to open up to them. So she asks them, ‘Can you bring me that vase?’ And they know that she knows and so they finally confess. They say, ‘Mum I broke that vase and I’m very sorry’. Only to hear mum say, ‘I knew you had. I’ve already forgiven you and paid for a replacement. I just needed you to own it and admit it. And its OK. I love you’.

When Jesus comes close to us, he enables us, just as he enabled this woman, to face up to reality. But not in a negative or destructive way. He does it in such a gentle way. And he does it in love.

2. When Jesus comes close to us we are set free from our self-isolation

There are some times when it is right to self-isolate.
But there are many times when it is not right.

This Samaritan woman was collecting water at midday. 
That was odd. You didn't go to collect water at midday. It was too hot. And the old preachers say that the reason that she is there at midday is because she wants to avoid the other woman who would collect water later. Why? Because of her lifestyle she would have been a social outcast.
So she is self-isolating
But at the end of the story it is very different. She runs back to her community and says to everyone, 'Come and meet a man who told me everything that I have ever done'.

When we allow Jesus to come close to us, we allow him to break down the barriers that we put up between ourselves and other people.
Jews do not speak to Samaritans. They hated each other. Or perhaps they feared each other. Fear and hate go very close together.
But Jesus, a Jew, spoke with her.
And indeed, Jesus doesn’t just talk to her. He asked her to show him mercy. He asked her if she would give him a drink.
And men do not speak to women.
When the disciples come back, they are astonished to discover that Jesus is talking with a woman.

But Jesus did not see a woman. He did not see a Samaritan. He sees a person - isolated and full of guilt, and he asks of her mercy and he shows her mercy.
The story is told of the Amma (spiritual mother) who was walking along the road when three monks came toward her. They jump into a ditch to avoid her because she is a woman - who could tempt them. She said to them, 'If you were truly monks, you would not see me as a woman'.

There is a real danger that at a time of crisis, fear will trump love, prejudice will control reason, and we are tempted to withdraw.
Just because someone is Chinese or Italian it does not mean that they have coronavirus.

And yes, we need to be sensible and follow the instructions of the authorities, but we were not made to live alone, as little islands scattered in a huge ocean, and we cannot do this ourselves. If someone is stuck at home, we may not be able to visit them but we can take stuff round to them. We can be in touch on phone or social media.

Jesus came to break down barriers. And we need to plead with God to pour out on us his Holy Spirit so that we can love one another, so that our love overcomes our fear, so that we are set free from self-isolation.

3. When Jesus meets with this woman, he points her to himself.

As the encounter with Jesus gets personal, so the Samaritan woman turns it into a discussion about religion.
‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors [the Samaritans] worshipped on this mountain, but you [the Jews] say that the place where people must worship is Jerusalem’.

We are good at doing that.
Which version of the Lord’s Prayer should I say?
Which translation of the Bible should I read?
What is the difference between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism?
I am not saying that those are not important questions. But I am saying that we can hide behind the analysis and the theology and use them as an excuse to avoid the personal encounter with Jesus.

And Jesus, it is significant, does not back off. He does not say, as I suspect that many of us would say, well of course your way as a Samaritan is OK. Because it isn’t.
He is clear. Salvation is from the Jews - not because the Jews do everything the right way and worship on the right mountain - but because salvation is in Him, and he is of the Jews.

And Jesus goes on to tell her that he is the promised Christ, the promised Messiah.
Notice how there is a progression in the titles given to Jesus:
In her eyes at first he is a Jew. Then she asks if he is greater than their father Jacob. Then she declares him to be a prophet. Then she runs to her people and says, ‘Could this be the Messiah?’ And when the people of her town meet Jesus, they say ‘We know that this is truly the Saviour of the world’.

And it is so important that he is the Saviour of the world.
He is the saviour of Jew and Samaritan.
He is the saviour of man and woman.
He is the saviour of Moslem and Buddhist and Christian and atheist; of Chinese, American, Indonesian, Italian and Russian
- and he offers this living water to everyone.

True religion is about worshipping Jesus in Spirit and Truth.

It is about seeing the truth about ourselves, and coming naked and helpless to the Saviour who loves us, and it is about asking him to give to us this living water.

I can’t tell you that Jesus will keep us safe from coronavirus
I can’t say that Jesus will protect you or your family or your friends, or even that death will not touch us.

But I can say that He is with us, that nothing can separate us from his love, that he will - if we ask him - lavish on us, pour out on us, this living water.
He will fill us with his love so that we can begin to face up to who we are; so that we begin to glimpse, in a tiny way, his deep love for us and for others, and we will begin to love like him.


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