For many of us, our fondest memories of the church experience, at least here in the states, are filled with being together physically in a space, usually in a building called, “the church.” When I first began to envision starting a new church in my own community, that is exactly what I pictured we would become as well.
Bring on Covid in early 2020, and everything changed. Most churches went digital. I at first resisted, until Easter 2020 when I began doing recorded messages. We didn’t really have a “congregation” at the time, but this was a way for us to minister to folks at home. Fast forward two years later, and while most churches have decided to no longer focus on digital but instead put most of their effort on those physically present, we have remained, and even expanded, our digital only focus. God opened my eyes to a need for those that cannot or do not choose to attend physically.
The truth is, there is a prevailing attitude among many Christians that if you aren’t physically in the building then you are not part of the Church (Big C). I’d never personally thought that, but my eyes were awakened to it for sure especially since all the arguing around Covid and “closing the doors” to now receiving messages about us not being a church because we are digital only. My wife has severe anxiety issues, and with Covid, a heightened sensitivity and fear of contracting the virus. She’s not the only one, there are many others out there still not comfortable, or due to health reasons, can’t gather physically. And that is okay. You still need a church community, a family, a place to belong to, to encourage you, to help build you up in the faith, to pray for you, to include you in the life of the Church.
So to you that cannot, or maybe choose not to, attend a physical gathering for a church community. We want to say, you still have a place of belonging with many digital churches out there. You are still part of the body of Christ! We, Innovate Christian Community Church, apologize for those that have demeaned you for not attending. We recognize there are many physical and mental barriers for some that keep them from physically gathering. And we’re here to tell you, “that’s okay.” Our hope is that you would find a community, digitally, to belong to even if it isn’t ours.
The truth is that most of us enjoy gathering together, as those are our fondest of memories of the church experience. Maybe you can’t right now. Maybe not ever with a large group. You can still gather digitally and make new memories of belonging, family, and be included.
I still get questioned, “when are you going to open your doors,” i.e. gather physically, become a physical church, etc. The truth is, we aren’t! I am thankful to God that He has opened my eyes to this need and thankful for every person He has brought our way to minister to…and with! The “with” is the other part of this. You have gifts, talents, abilities, and a calling (purpose) God has given you. We want to encourage, empower, and equip you to make use of these gifts for the Lord’s glory.
I don’t want this to be a sales pitch for us, but an encouragement to you if you’ve been made to feel there is no place to belong in the Church for you, there is. There are many churches, digitally focused on including you, and welcoming you into their family. We are just one of them! It is important to me to let you know, you have a place of belonging and are not to be left behind just because you don’t gather in a church building.
Innovate Church includes the homebound, the anxious, the depressed, the lonely, and the forgotten, in a caring community for the purpose of building God’s Kingdom together with Him.
Think back to a time where you have been really thirsty. I mean REALLY thirsty. Your mouth was completely parched. Tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth. You were to the point that you couldn’t talk clearly. You’d take anything you could to drink. Maybe not Bear Grylls kind of thirsty, but you might have been close to it.
When you’re that thirsty, how do you quench it? Usually when I am this thirsty I actually have a taste for something other than water. I drink water most of the time. But for some reason when I am really parched thirsty, I get this desire for something else. In the past it has been milk. Mind you I don’t generally ever drink milk unless it’s in cereal or my coffee. Yet, for some reason, there have been times when I’ve come into the house, extremely thirsty, and grab the milk container and guzzle down a cup. It’s been a while now that I’ve done that. Now I might down some chocolate milk…but who doesn’t like chocolate milk right?
Have you ever been so thirsty you’d drink just about anything?
What about your spiritual life? Have you been spiritually thirsty? Maybe even felt abandoned by God? Maybe you’ve experienced abandonment by others in the world, and feel as though God too has abandoned you. Maybe you’re missing something inside and you’re not even sure if it is God, if there is a God, or what. You only know you have this emptiness you want filled.
The story of the woman at the well may be familiar to many of us in the faith, but I believe it speaks to some of these feelings of thirst and spiritual dryness. It speaks to a thirst for something, for water, for God, for friendship, for community, for acceptance maybe.
This story is about an interaction Jesus had with a woman. Not just any woman, a Samaritan woman. And if you don’t know what that means, the short end of it is, these were people the Jews absolutely disliked. They were considered halfbreeds, because they were a mixed people, Jewish and Gentiles, (goes back to Old Testament times). Along with the racial and thnic differences between them, they also had some differences in their religious thoughts/beliefs. They were both Jewish, but they had differences. Kind of like different denominations. Things that shouldn’t divide, yet they do.
Let’s read the full story found in John chapter 4:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 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 now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 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 is seeking such people 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 (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
In the beginning of Chapter 4, John explains that Jesus had left the region of Judea and is heading to Galilee and John says Jesus “had” to go through Samaria.
The truth is, He didn’t “have” to, but it was indeed the shorter way to go. It is generally taught that Jews would prefer to go around Samaria than go through it. It’s like trying to go to Missippi from Georgia, you have to go through Alabama. To avoid going through Alabama we’d have to go through Tennessee. It would take a 2.5 day walking trip from Judea to Galilee and turn it into a week-long journey to go around Samaria.
How many of us, when we travel somewhere, especially locally, avoid “those places” because of the “people” we’ve heard about that live there? Usually it’s due to a different ethnic or racial group if we’re honest, the low class, crime ridden, areas of your location. We’ve been told, “don’t get caught there at night,” right? Horror stories that probably have little truth to them.
Why Was She There?
Either way, Jesus was going through Samaria to get to Galilee. He stops to rest and for whatever reason, all of His disciples leave Him there at Jacob’s well alone to go get food. While there, this woman comes up to draw water from the well. John gives us the time of day just before this interaction is recorded…it is about noon time. It is nearing, if not already, the hottest time of the day. She was there at a time outside of the cultural norm, which would have been early morning. And she was alone.
Do You Wonder Why?
Have you ever read stories like this in the Bible and thought to yourself, “I wonder why?” This is one of those stories that should call us to wonder why. Why was she there alone? Why did she choose to go when she did? Why didn’t she go at the normal time when all the other women would have gone?
And then we read in this interaction with Jesus that she has had 5 husbands, and is now living with a man that wasn’t her husband. Then we think, “oh, that’s why.”
Is She Who We Think?
What do we then tend to think about her? She’s a sinner. She’s been married 5 times and left each marriage for another man? Then we put it together that she’s an outcast, and that is why she is alone. We almost justify it in our minds…”this is what she deserves.” We read into the text what our own presuppositions might be about a woman that’s been married 5 times. It’s her fault we jump to a conclusion about her. So we judge her right? We see Jesus’s Words to her as judging her, maybe, “He’s calling her out in her sinful ways.”
I want to challenge us on how we read this story. Not to make it say something it doesn’t but to give us a new perspective that came to me about it the other day. You see, I’ve always read it the same as I have described too. But then it hit me, what if? What if she’s not the one to blame in her 5 marriages? What if she’s been the one that was hurt? She couldn’t find a man that would stay faithful to her. A man that would treat her as he should? (Women were property in those days as well). What if the men didn’t value her and only took her for what they could get out of her? What if she’s had 5 husbands and each of them passed away? Now she’s lonely. Alone. An outcast of the community because “something has to be wrong with her, right?” Who knows what stories the locals may have made up about her.
Now put this same vision in your head about the last person you may have looked upon and judged their situation from the outside. What narrative did you add to their situation that might not have been the truth. How could you know the truth unless you knew the person? And maybe you needed to hear both sides of the story to discern “who’s to blame?”
What if Jesus’s words to her about being married and living with another guy, wasn’t a judgment but a recognition of her pain, her loneliness? What if He was truly being empathetic to her instead of calling her out for her misdeeds.
He Offered Her His Gift
Another thing to note about this interaction is how did Jesus introduce Himself to her? He didn’t begin with what she had done wrong, or the reason she was there alone. He offered her a gift. He speaks to her thirst for water, but He tells her He has living water of which she would never thirst again. I am reminded of his meeting with Nicodemus, a high religious character he told “you must be born again” in chapter 3 of John. Poor old Nick took it literal and asked how that was possible. Jesus meant being reborn by God’s Holy Spirit. Here we see this woman do the same. She is thinking of the literal water that Jesus is offering her. “Sir, give me this water so I won’t be thirsty again.”
The Real Thirst Quencher
What if the real thirst she had, or the quencher she needed for that thirst was not water, but was love? Acceptance? Belonging? Whether she was to blame for her failed marriages or not, she had a deeper need.
What are you needing right now? Has someone or something made you an outcast? Are you unable to “fit in?” Do you lack acceptance? Belonging? Or maybe you just know there is an internal thirst that you need quenching. You need the water of life that Jesus offers.
God says in the last chapter of Revelation, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life.” This is the water Jesus is offering. Not only His salvation, but also His acceptance, adopting us as His own through our faith in Him. Giving us a belonging to His own family.
I’m reminded of the old Gatorade commercials, as disturbing as they might have been, but as they had advertised themselves as the “thirst quencher” they ask the question, “Is it in you?”
So I ask you, is the Holy Spirit, the water of life, the cleansing waters of God’s Holy Spirit in you? Do you want it if not? He’ll end that thirst for you right here and now. It’s not something you can earn.
Notice Jesus didn’t tell the Samaritan Woman, “go, fix your life, then come back and I will give you the water you seek.” No, He told her He is the source of that living water, and if she’d ask, He’d give it to her.
Do you want that living water? Do you want that missing part of you to be filled? If you do, pray and ask God to fill it for you. Trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross to provide for you a way to be made right with the Father, by faith not works, and ask Him to give you His Holy Spirit, to live within you from now until eternity.
I leave you with a challenge, whether you are currently a believer or unbeliever. Remember to see through the outward appearance of situations and look for the real need they might have. Whether this woman was the sinner we generally behold her as, or if she was simply the victim of a hard life. She needed love. She needed acceptance. She truly needed a community to belong to. And that is the calling of the Church. To share God’s love to the deserving and undeserving alike. The truth is we are all undeserving, yet God so loved each one of us that He offers us His living water, through Jesus.