Sunday, April 14, 2013

Detail Work (John 4:39-42)

This sermon is one of three using ideas from Scott Chrostek's sermon series "R.S.V.P.: Responding to God's Invitation with Power and Grace."

"From small things, Mama, big things one day come."
-- Bruce Springsteen

One of the reasons we may not answer God's call on our lives is because we don't recognize it as God's call. Last time we looked at how knowing God's identity -- the great I Am, Creator of the Universe -- can empower us to answer the call. This time we will look at how understanding that God may call us to even the smallest of things can do the same.

We perhaps expect God's call on our lives to be for something really big. After all, it's the great I Am, Creator of the Universe on the other end of the line and it makes more sense to us that he would not bother with the piddlins. If you're in the business of creating 13 billion light-years of observable space and all of the stuff therein, you are a big-picture sort of being.

But our story today shows us that Jesus was almost exclusively concerned with detail work. As he rests by a well near a Samaritan village, he notices a woman who has come to draw water. Now, people who live without air conditioning are no more enamored of work during the heat of the day than are people who live with it. So most water-drawing would have been done during the early morning or in the evening. In fact, anthropologists believe that the well served a social function for the women of a village as well as the practical function of getting the day's water.

Which is exactly why this woman would be going when she did. We see during her conversation with Jesus that she didn't provide a very good example of how to live a life. Married five times and now just living with a man -- we're not judging her as a person if we say that there's something about the way she's been living that would draw the kind of attention small-town social groups would looooove to comment on. In order to avoid that kind of activity, the woman goes to the well when no one else would be there. It's a small thing, but Jesus notices it.

He then asks her for a small favor -- a drink. Perfectly ordinary thing for someone who has no means of getting water from a well to ask of someone who does. In the ancient Middle Eastern culture of hospitality, nothing could be more run-of-the-mill.

Except that this woman is a Samaritan, and Jesus is a Jewish Galilean. Most of us recall from our Sunday school that Jews and Samaritans mixed poorly and preferred not to mix at all. Which means the woman remarks on it, and thus begins her conversation with Jesus that will lead to her first recognizing him as Messiah and then telling her village about him.

And then, as we see, the entire community comes to follow Christ: First because of the woman's testimony and then because of Christ's own words to them. The small act of asking for a drink leads a whole town to know Jesus.

When Saul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was blinded by the encounter. Waiting at the home of a Damascus Christian, he didn't know who he was with or what was going on. He didn't know what would happen to him. Then a Christian named Ananias came to see him, answering God's call. He laid hands on him, called him "Brother Saul," and Saul was healed. I believe the word "brother" from Ananias was as powerful a gesture as God's own healing mercy and had as much to do with Saul's recovery as anything else. Even though it is just one small word, it has an impact far beyond one man or even one city -- through Paul, the gospel became known throughout the Roman Empire.

I read a story once of a Detroit community group in an impoverished neighborhood that applied for a grant to a foundation headed by Lee Iacocca. The group made their pitch and Iacocca said something like, "Thank you, Mr. Miller -- we'll consider this and I think we can help you." Afterwards, the group celebrated because they would receive their grant, but the man who made the presentation was quiet. Someone asked him, "Aren't you happy? We got the money!" He said, "Oh yes." "Then why are you quiet?" The man was silent for a moment. "Lee Iacocca called me Mr. Miller," he said. Low income folks don't often get courtesy titles when they deal with the people helping them, but he had been called Mr. by a man of Iacocca's wealth and power.

We can and should pray for ways to make our churches and our faith known to the masses. Ways to show the world what the word and work of Jesus Christ can mean in the lives of his children. But we can't neglect the call to make those same things known in the lives of the people down the street or around the block or in the store or across the classroom or at the next desk or in the other office...

You get the picture. Following a Christ who made a drink of water the way to reach an entire town means remembering that there are no things to be done that are so small they cannot be done for God.

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