Good morning, Friends!
Thank you all for being here today. I appreciate you being here! Coming to worship is such an act of hope these days, an act of faith that God is still here, that things will get better, that we will survive and thrive again.
Last week at worship, Tanna Shipwash talked about what it was like for her to be a Quaker. She talked about growing up here, and discovering how different it was when she visited other churches.
I’m going to build on that today, and start by reading a story from the gospel of John.
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John – although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now Jesus had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (that is, Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”John 4:1-26
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”
Message – “Integrity” Josh Brown
This is a powerful story, and I’ve preached it many different ways. There are many different points to notice.
You can pick up on the point that Jesus was talking with a woman – which nobody would have expected in that time and place.
You can pick up on the point that Jesus was talking with a woman who belonged to the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be mortal enemies of the Jews.
You can pick up on the point that she had had many husbands. Christians haven’t always been kind or welcoming to people who have been divorced. And here Jesus is, talking freely and in a welcoming fashion with a woman who had been divorced more than once. If Jesus could be that welcoming, so should we.
But I think that two other points are the ones which really matter to us now. The first point is that Jesus said that he offered living water, a never-ending spring or fountain of the water of life.
Jesus wasn’t just talking about ordinary water, as he made quite clear. He said that whoever drinks the living water would never be thirsty again. He was talking about himself. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. He was talking about the water we’re all thirsty for, deep in our hearts.
One of the great saints, early in the church, wrote a prayer that said, “You have made us, Lord, for yourself; and our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you. . .”
There’s a deep spiritual hunger, a deep spiritual thirst, in almost everyone. It doesn’t take much to awaken it. There is a God-shaped place in every one of our hearts. And nothing but God will ever fill it.
We try to fill it, in lots of different ways. We bury ourselves in work, in distraction and entertainment. We try to fill that place with possessions. Some people try to fill that empty space with drugs or alcohol.
But there’s a place inside us, that’s made for God to be here. There’s a hunger for the living bread. There’s a thirst for the living water.
We all want something that’s 100% real. We don’t want to be put off with cheap substitutes. A lot of religion is kind of like fast food. It’s cheap. It’s easy to get. They sell it everywhere.
But cheap, fast food religion is no where near as satisfying as the real thing. It’s like comparing fast food with home cooking, made with vegetables picked fresh that day from the garden. Or it’s the difference between a fish that was caught that afternoon and served for supper, and a fish that’s been sitting out in the sun for a couple of days.
Do you hear what I’m saying? Do you know what I’m talking about?
We want the real thing, and we’re always going to be restless, till we find a spiritual experience that really feeds our hearts, a living water that quenches the soul-deep thirst in our lives.
Nothing fake, and nothing cheap, can ever replace it. And we know that, even if we don’t feel we’ve ever found it.
I still remember the first time I came to a Quaker meeting for worship. I came into that place of quiet prayer, and I thought, “Where has this been all my life? This feels like coming home, only I never knew it was home before!”
The other point in today’s Scripture, that I want to hold up, is the place where Jesus and the Samaritan woman were comparing the different religions they belonged to.
The Samaritans believed that God was only present on their holy mountain. The Jews believed that God was most near at a different place, in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews and the Samaritans had gone to war over this, generations before.
And the bitterness was still strong between them. The bitterness was so strong, that Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t talk to each other, or marry each other. If someone from a Samaritan family married someone from a Jewish family, both families would hold a funeral.
Jesus and the woman were talking about this, and then Jesus said, “A time is coming, when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . and a time is coming, and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Spirit and truth. That’s what I’m talking about. Another way to describe it is that we want to to worship with integrity.
A whole lot of the Quaker movement has always been the search for the living water of Christ. And a whole lot of the Quaker movement has been driven by our desire to worship with integrity.
We don’t want anything fake. We don’t want anything that feels false, even if it’s a custom or belief that’s accepted by most of the rest of the church.
We don’t want it to be our way, just for the sake of being different. But we aren’t going to put up with what other people say and do, if it doesn’t feel 100% right and 100% true.
At the time the Quaker movement began, and in many places still in the world today, religion is dictated by the government, or by the majority. How you pray, and when you pray, and what you pray, is officially decided by somebody else.
That’s not true everywhere. But it’s still true in a lot of places. And Quakers have been stand outs for religious freedom for as long as we’ve been around.
At the time the Quakers began, the king decided how everyone had to pray. There was an official prayer book, that was printed and distributed by the government. A copy of it, by law, had to be in every church. And nobody was allowed to step outside of it.
The only Bible that was allowed was the government translation. That’s what the King James Bible originally was. You could go to prison or have to pay a fine, for using anything else. Quakers didn’t like that.
Many people find comfort in liturgy, which means following a set routine with prayer and worship. The Scriptures that are read each Sunday are chosen. The prayers are written down for you. The order you follow, is already organized.
And there’s a comfort in the familiar. There’s a sense peace and connection, knowing that other churches, all round the world, are doing the same thing.
But the Quakers have always said, “What if it doesn’t feel right to sing a hymn right now? What if the Bible reading in the book isn’t where my heart is today?”
Quakers have always felt that some of the best sermons didn’t come from preachers, but from ordinary people, who spoke from their own experience with God, and who spoke from the heart, not a manuscript.
When Quakers began, in the middle of the Reformation, Protestant and Catholic armies, fought to the death, to try and enforce their understanding of religion on each other. People were thrown out of church, and even executed or burned at the stake, for having a different idea about what was going on in communion and baptism.
Quakers said, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! This kind of violence isn’t anything that Jesus would have wanted. This has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. If you want to be that way, we can’t stop you. But we’re not going to play those games, for anyone!”
Quakers are people who believe that the real communion, and the real baptism, are things which happen in our hearts. When we visit other churches, if we want to, we can participate with them. But as a group, Quakers don’t have any kind of outward, physical sacraments.
For us, what matters is spirit and truth. And even if that leaves us with a stripped-down, minimalist kind of religion, we’d rather have that, than anything which is fake or forced on us.
We have no creed. We have the gospel. And we have each other and the Holy Spirit, to help us understand it. We expect each person to study the gospel, and wrestle with it, and listen to the Spirit. We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all religion.
We have learned not to judge another person’s spiritual journey, because we know that we only understand in part. We are still learning. We know we make mistakes.
We would rather be too welcoming and too accepting, than to judge another person who is trying to find their way.
What we try to do, is to share what we have found. Not to make other people believe what we do. But because we believe that God reaches out to everyone. And maybe, what we have found might help someone else on their journey.
It’s all about spirit and truth. It’s all about the thirst that’s in everyone’s heart.
We can try new things. We can set things aside. We can go back to the most basic level of quiet prayer. We can listen each other into our own truth, and we can respect each other, even if we’re not in exactly the same place.
What we want is spiritual freedom, and what we want is spiritual truth. We won’t put up with anything that feels like a cheap substitute for the real thing, which is the love of God, the teaching of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.