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First Christian Church, Grand Junction – Praising God, Changing Lives!

Changing Lives

July 3, 2016 Sermon
“Changing Lives”

1st Scripture Reading – Isaiah 43:15-19

15 I am the Lord, your Holy One,
   the Creator of Israel, your King.
16 Thus says the Lord,
   who makes a way in the sea,
   a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
   army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
   they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.

2nd Scripture Reading – John 4:7-10, 16-29

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[b] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

“Changing Lives”

You may have noticed that the words we put on the cover of our weekly bulletin and our newsletter have changed in the last few weeks.  You may also have noticed the the new words aren’t really NEW words; rather, they’re words that have been on the front of the bulletin cover before.

There’s a reason for the change.  And it’s not that communicating God’s vision for us as First Christian Church, Grand Junction, is a bad idea.  Rather, it’s to remind us all what Jesus was about in his ministry and what God has been about since the beginning of time:  changing lives. (PAUSE)

At one of the vital and growing congregations studied by the Mainline Evangelism Project, the pastor asks for one and only one report at every meeting of the congregation: staff meetings, Board meetings, committee meetings, elders meetings…every meeting.  The question the pastor asks is simply this: “tell me one life that has been changed this week because of our ministry.”  Y’all, for THAT congregation, the priority is changing lives.  They believe the primary message of the gospel is that Jesus changes lives.  And as followers of Jesus, they’ve made changing lives what they’re about, as well. Sounds like a pretty good approach to being church to me.

Jesus certainly changed the life of the woman at the well, right?  

The woman from our story went to the well to get water at about noon – the hour was given in verse 6, right before our reading for today picks up the story.  I’m not sure how much you know about people in hot climates who have to walk to wells to get water, but it’s pretty unusual for them to choose noon – when the sun is high –  as the time to do so.  In fact, there seems to be some agreement by scholars that anyone who went to the well for water at noon in the city of Sychar – where this interaction took place – on that day was most likely doing so to intentionally avoid encountering any other people.  We can guess all kinds of reasons for why that woman at the well might have wanted to avoid people.  She had had 5 husbands – so the reason could have been the shame of divorce or the grief of losing 5 husbands to death.  For SOME reason, she seems to have wanted to get to the well unobserved, get the water she needed for the day, and get back home.

Instead, she encountered Jesus.  And that encounter changed her life.  At the minimum, encountering Jesus changed her intention of getting water unnoticed and without conversation.  But it seems that this encounter with Jesus changed her life even more than that.  Because Jesus didn’t just say “hello”; no, Jesus began simply, with the small talk of asking for water, but he continued to the point of having the single longest conversation of all of Jesus’ conversations recorded in the gospels.

So that woman encountered Jesus.  When Jesus spoke to her, it must have given her quite a shock.  In that time and place, public conversation between unrelated men and women was taboo.  In that time and place, Jews, Jesus’ people, didn’t talk to Samaritans, not pleasantly, anyway.  But Jesus asked her for water and began a long conversation that led to the woman coming to believe that Jesus just might be the Messiah…and he – the Messiah –  talked to her, he cared about her, he offered living water to her.  The woman walked to the well at noon seemingly guilty or ashamed or grieving and wishing to be left alone.  But whatever happened in that conversation changed her so profoundly that she left the well SEEKING other people to tell them that her life was changed, that she had encountered the Messiah.

Y’all, that’s what happened when people encountered Jesus – they were changed.

  • Zacchaeus, who had spent his life as a tax collector profiting by taking from others, encountered Jesus and promptly decided to repay anyone he had cheated and to give half his remaining possessions to the poor.  That’s a pretty big change!
  • There was the rich young man who thought he had it all together, who thought following a bunch of rules was the way to do what God wanted.  He encountered Jesus and was changed by the discovery that God wants us to participate in God’s justice, God’s desire for those with means to take care of those without means.  That was a pretty big change.
  • There was the woman caught in adultery, standing before the scribes and Pharisees, expecting to be stoned to death.  She encountered Jesus and discovered forgiveness in place of condemnation.  That was a pretty big change.
  • There was the criminal hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ cross, a criminal who acknowledged that he had been justly condemned.  A criminal who likely thought life was just about to end for him.  Until Jesus spoke the words, ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  That was a pretty big change.
  • And there’s Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend.  As such a good friend of Jesus, maybe he thought he was immune to illness and death; there’s no way for us to know.  But while Jesus was away, Lazarus succumbed to illness and died, and was in the tomb four days.  But by another encounter with Jesus, Lazarus was raised and given new life.  That was a pretty big change.
  • And then there are all the people Jesus healed…and their friends and their families.  Big changes all around.

So many people in the Bible changed so profoundly by an encounter with Jesus.

But there’s a reason I tell you the story today of the woman at the well.  Her life wasn’t changed by some fantastical miracle, healing of blindness or leprosy or paralysis, resurrection of the dead, or anything like that.  Her life was changed by a conversation that crossed cultural and religious barriers, by a conversation that the ways of the world said shouldn’t take place but DID anyway, a deep conversation about life and what really matters.

Y’all, we can do that.  You can do that.  Every bit as much as Jesus could.

There is POWER in real conversation, deep conversation, conversation about the stuff that really matters.  Which reminds me of some research about why people outside the Church decide to visit a congregation and why they decide to stay there.

As part of the research for her book Unbinding Your Heart, Martha Grace Reese conducted some research about what brings people to church and what makes them stay.

Since you’ve heard me talk before about what brings people to Church, Reese’s research likely won’t surprise you.  The thing that brings the majority of people to church the first time is not great sermons, newspaper ads, television ads, direct mail campaigns, beautiful buildings or amazing music.  No…what brings most people to church for the first time is a personal invitation from someone they know.

But what makes them decide to come back, to STAY?  Surely it’s the pastor’s sermons…or the music program…or the children’s program, right?  Actually, no.  It’s YOU.

The number one reason people say they return to a particular congregation is that they received a warm welcome from the people they encountered there.  Those other things are important, but they’re not the MAIN thing.  The main thing is whether or not some people said hello to them and, more than that, stopped to talk to them and engaged in real life-changing conversation with them.  It might surprise you, but Reese’s research suggests visitors can actually tell when the people of a congregation genuinely care about them.

Just like Jesus with the woman at the well.  

People will come back when they have THAT kind of experience with the people they find inside these walls.

Disciples Pastor Dawn Weeks tells the story of a woman named Marta.

Marta came to church because a couple she knew invited her. She had been cleaning their house for about a year. One day, the couple struck up a conversation with her. They asked her if she had any family in town. She told them she had moved here to escape an abusive husband. She was raising her two boys on her own. Her own parents had died years ago. On impulse, the couple invited her to their church. At first, she demurred. She said she didn’t have the proper clothes. “Oh, come casual!” the couple said, “We do! We’ll meet you at church about 10:30. Then we’ll take you and your boys to lunch afterwards.”

They looked for her the following Sunday. Sure enough, she slipped in just after the service started. She had her boys in tow. They joined her on the back row. The sermon that Sunday was on the woman at the well. Marta sat at attention through the whole service. The couple that had invited her kept her boys busy with crayons and bulletin airplanes. Marta was entranced. When the sermon was over, she turned to the couple and said, “That story was for me. That woman at the well is me! I have been so alone!” As people greeted Marta warmly after the service, she beamed at the attention. Afterward, she commented to the couple who had invited her, “This is like a family!”

You – each and every one of you – know someone like Marta.  You know someone who NEEDS Jesus and this congregation in their lives.  You know people who need life-changing, life-giving conversation and relationships.  You know some people who need a changed life.

Do you know what Jesus said to his disciples after that encounter with the woman at the well?  This is my paraphrase:  Jesus told them there were hungry people like that woman at the well all around, people who needed what Jesus had to offer, what THEY had to offer.  He told them there were so many people ready for the gospel.  And then he commanded the disciples to go out and bring those hungry people in.

Y’all, there ARE hungry people all around…even now.  There are people who need a changed life.  Maybe we can’t miraculously heal people or resurrect people the way Jesus could.  But we can TALK with them and in conversation with them help them experience the amazing power of Jesus.  It’s time to bring those hungry people in.  It’s time to talk to people about your encounters with Jesus, about what you encounter here at First Christian Church, Grand Junction.  It’s time to expect that when you start that conversation, it will be a conversation that will change someone’s life.  Amen.

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