Text Jn 4:1-26, Heb 10:19-25
The Story of one Nita Ganatra is very inspiring, born and raised in India, She knew of many gods and Jesus was one of them. She came to Kenya in 1982 as a result of an arranged marriage, in 1987 she started a thriving business but her marriage later fell apart in 1994, she is now a grandmother.
Her business brought her close to many Christians who would pray over her difficult marriage. Some of these friends became very close friends and invited her to church. In her words she felt a strong sense of belonging, acceptance and compassion. She went to church for a while and in 1994 she became a believer she relinquished her fears and her bitterness.
In 2002, she quit her well-paying job and became an intern in Nairobi Chapel volunteering her time for ministry. In 2005 she began a prison ministry, visiting, counselling, praying and donations- that has seen over 2000 people come to know Christ over 6 years. She has been in literally all the prisons in Nairobi, She is well known by both prisoners and wardens. The wardens call her and tell her the prisoners are missing her? Many People are surprised that an Indian aged lady has become a Christian and has left everything to come and serve them in prison. Set free from her own prison of culture, she is now on a rescue mission to set free those behind prison with the Love and Gospel of Christ.
We continue unfolding our theme this year, the church Next door. The church is the body of Christ and as God became flesh in Christ Jesus to serve humanity, we are his body, his hands, his heart and his feet- we must become authentic, relevant and get outside our four walls to impact our community with the LIFE of Jesus in this body. Every one of us as believers are by extension that body of Christ, if people see us they need to see Jesus. This is why we are the Church next door.
Last week our LIFE Convictions and Discipleship Deacon Larry, laid the foundation of LIFE Relationships. We learnt that Fellowship is the basis of Relationships in the Church. This Fellowship comes about when we have a decisive reality of God the Father as the origin of the church, when we have a decisive reality of Jesus Christ as the LIFE Centre of the Church and lastly Fellowship comes about when we have a decisive reality of the Holy Spirit as the resource for sustaining the church. The aim of all that we do then is to bring us to Fellowship with God and with each other. Without God there is no possibility of Fellowship.
Today we address, how does the church become next door? How should we go about relating to one another inwardly but also to the next door neighbor? In other words how do we go beyond our own prisons to free others.
Just like Nita Ganatra, we must get out of our small life boundaries into LIFE possibilities. We must get out of our own prisons of personal wounds, insecurities, personal and cultural differences to be the Church Next door. My thesis today is God’s LIFE defines the boundaries of fellowship in the Church Next Door
Nita’s story is very similar to the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4. A woman who literally bumped into the Church Next door.
Again a brief history, would help us appreciate this passage better, Jesus and His disciples are on their way from Judea headed to Galilee. Verse 4 should strike us that “Now He had to go through Samaria. Many Jews refused to take this route from Judea to Galilee; they preferred to go round a route that was twice as long and involved crossing the Jordan River twice. This was because there was great hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans which dated back in early history. Samaria once was only a Jewish territory in Israel, but when Israel was besieged by the Assyrian King, he later brought foreigners and exiled them right in Samaria. These foreigners had their own religious practices that included worship on mountains and in specific the venerated mount Gerizim in Samaria. These non- Jews and Jews later intermarried and raised a mixture of people with mixed religion of the Jewish and foreign mountain gods. The result was a hostile relationship of the pious mono-theistic Jews and the mixed religious Samaritans who were also familiar with the Jewish law.
Take note also the time and place this conversation took place. It was around mid-day and the journey was an uphill walk for Jesus and his disciples, which explains why Jesus was humanly tired and thirsty as any man can be after a long walk, but also it is striking that the woman would come to fetch at the well at this time. This was uncharacteristic as most women not only came to the well early morning for the use of the day and late evening for the use of the night, but that this was a social time for most women to catch up. So, why the woman would come alone? This and the conversation Jesus had with her, perhaps reveals some knowledge about her lifestyle.
Jesus begins a conversation with her from her life perspective and into God’s LIFE perspective.
While the discussion centered on Jesus request for water to quench his thirst, it is clear that the woman was the one who was really thirsty. She had a thirst for something more fulfilling, something more real and something more lasting, though she was limited by the boundaries, fears and limitations of her Samaritan life. She was a prisoner of her culture and background.
It may surprise you, but look around you in this community, some of the the beautiful and expensive structures around you may look like homes, but they are actually prisons. Prisons of people in their wounds, struggling relationships, people living in fears, loneliness and sadly they may not even know it?
How many know of a struggling relationship right now? I made new friends over the holidays….Just extending friendship and help. Our marriage lives, busy lives, school lives, career lives, technological lives in other words our small lives, our Samaritan lives can keep us from drinking the living waters of freedom.
Jesus uses of the word “Living water- Now our understanding may be that of water that has living things like bacteria, but what Jesus meant was the water of LIFE. Something that she had never drunk before.
The nature of her relationships revealed in this conversation speaks of a woman who had been imprisoned in the limitations and wounds of her small Samaritan life- she experienced a vast array of emotions in her recent past but mostly disappointment in men, probable judgment and shame from the society, for it would be shameful when other women spoke about her hoping from one man to another and an injured self-esteem at the thought that something was wrong with her. Many scholars suggest that perhaps it was because of her inability to bear children or her inability to make men happy for whatever reason that she found herself in this lonely, empty predicament….. Just enough to try again.
It is no secret that we live in an imprisoned community, Imprisoned by fears, wounds, shame and insecurities and sometimes even among Christians. They say every house has that dark closet that we do not want our neighbors to know about- These closets keep us from meaningfully engaging with God and with others, like the Samaritan woman.
Our closets have shameful stories, painful memories, bags of hurt and betrayal- that second wife, a step brother you never knew, a lie well covered, the other child you never knew, the other job, you never knew… So we hide? We imprison ourselves.
Her Closet and Prison was full of betrayal. She had probably become averse if not distrustful to the word love. Because that word ‘love’ reminded her of just how she got here, how could she have agreed to that first date, that first lie, how could she have been fooled by that love over and over again, it probably reminded her of abuse, manipulation, betrayal and pain. The only love she had known was human love and it was thoroughly disappointing and fallen.
How does Jesus respond- How does the Church Next Door respond? As the Church next door how should we go about relationships this year as individuals or as a church?
The Church Next door is motivated by God’s Love not human love- Only God’s LOVE has the power to break into these prisons. Jesus does not condemn her or judge her. Jesus draws her out of her fears not by judging her but by loving her. The fact that Jesus was willing to talk to her, blew her mind away. The distinctions were very clear- you are a jew, I am a samaritan, You are a man, I am a woman….what is there to talk about?
There is already enough judgment in our community today, people have been called all the names out there already, The church next door is motivated by God’s Love that risks to welcome sinners without judging them.
Our relationships with people express our disappointments in name-tags like “that guy who is supposed to be my friend, or that man who calls himself a husband, that guy who I thought was the one… who used me and left me, or that neighbor who I thought I could depend on, or that boss who I thought understood me, or that pastor who I thought I could trust or that policeman who I thought would protect me, or that man was supposed to be my father, or that woman who pretends to be my mother… and the list is endless…the product is broken and hurt people in our society who have no energy and capacity or appreciation of the real thing which surpasses all these definitions- The Love of God.
We don’t try to love people (that’s human love) we trust God to LOVE people through us, that’s God’s LOVE.
The Love of God simply calls all of us Sinners Saved by Grace.
God calls us as the church next door to offer His LOVE that doesn’t condemn or judge but welcomes all alike. The Church Next Door is not afraid to take risks with the Love of God. If God has accepted us, who can judge anyone unworthy of God’s LOVE? God’s LOVE does not give up on people.
We must not give up on people, but offer God’s LOVE that always gives a second chance. This is the LOVE we must give to our spouses, our children our neighbors and yes even those difficult family or colleagues. Those that seem unlovable.
The church next door has nothing to hide and nothing to hide in.
Jesus freely offers her the Living waters, but again her small life limitations come in. She hides in her prison. After asking for a drink, in a bid to avoid this unwarranted and unorthodox conversation with Jesus, the woman hides.
First she hides in her prison of culture; “you are a Jew and am a Samaritan” Your ways are different from our ways. Humanly speaking we say –we cannot trust men from this culture, or people of this kind? We just don’t go together. I just can’t dance with him, their ways are different- Human love is imprisoned by differences but God’s love is enriched in our differences. Though we all come from different backgrounds, The church next door has more than relationships, we have fellowships- God’s LIFE making all of us ONE.
She then hides in her Prison of History and Heroes and heritage, Vs12, Are you greater than our father Jacob. Do you claim to be better and greater than the ones who have defined love before, are you greater than Romeo, You can never catch up with my late father, if only you were like him, her, them?
You don’t know me very well? To which Jesus seems to respond, What Jacob gave you was good but it was temporary, In other words, where are your heroes now? Why are you still thirsty?- Jesus says My Love will never leave you thirsty again. The Church next door is the place where history is re –written, like Nita when we find forgiveness it’s like it never happened in the first place. We love again, we trust again. Our healing is complete.
She realizes Jesus is dismantling her defense, caught in embarrassment; She then hides in the prison of skepticism and self defense “Give me this water, so that I will not come here to draw water.” To which Jesus responds with a most prodding question to bring her to the place of vulnerability. Go and call your husband, Jesus says…In many ways skepticism and being sarcastic keep us away from being vulnerable to one another. We must move from the surface into the real issues. The church Next door seeks vulnerability. Too many times we stop on the surface, but our relationship must go deeper into the skin? This question from Jesus opens her up and she is vulnerable and she confesses to Jesus, that truly her relationships had not been the best.
However she finds one more place to hide – the prison of religion, which many of us also hide in vs 20- Where should we worship” To which Jesus replies True worship is in Spirit and in Truth because God is Spirit. The place of worship is not limited to structures and buildings, but the place for God’s Life is in our Spirits where God who is spirit dwells in us. You can only worship that God you know and His word which is the truth has revealed him to us. In other words if the Church is set free, then we must not limit that fellowship only within these 4 walls, our fellowship is possible anywhere and everywhere with anyone and everyone because our worship is in Spirit and in Truth.
In the Church Next Door, there are no set places or structures, that’s religion but everywhere and anywhere any time works for the church next door.
Finally she gets to the point where a decision is needed, and almost makes the choice we all make “Procrastination” Vs. 25, to which Jesus simply responds by Revelation- I am the One. I am the one you have been searching for, I am the one who will fill you, I am the one who will truly satisfy you, I am the real deal. She finally comes out of her prison and enjoins the church next door. What happens next is she jumps up and goes into those others who thought they were free, but we truly bound to tell them of her new found freedom.
But how shall we define this LOVE different from how we know human love? Sometimes hearing the words agape and phileo or eros may not be as clear. I borrow a definition that has grasped my heart in trying to define God’s Love.
“God’s love is an exercise of His goodness, towards individual sinners, whereby having identified himself with their state, he has given himself to be our savior and now brings us to know and enjoy him in a covenant relationship.”
Let me explain
An exercise of His goodness: The perfection in God that causes him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creation. The principle that leads God to desire and delight in us and reaches its highest form in a personal fellowship in which He gives himself to Live in us and us in him, imparting ourselves in each other and the result brings glory to his name but also gives us the greatest joy and satisfaction.
Goodness towards individual sinners: His goodness is filled with grace and mercy as we are truly undeserving of such goodness. This is staggering, while Human love is conditional or is awakened by something in the beloved, there is nothing in us to invoke such goodness from God, but that His love is free, spontaneous, un-evoked, uncaused and simply his choice. It is not simply a blanket to people, but individual sinners- whosoever is you and me.
His goodness involves Identifying himself with us: While God’s goodness is such that it results in his praise and glory, he has voluntarily bound his happiness to our happiness, such that His happiness is not complete until we are happy. He saves not only for his glory but for our gladness and for this reason we can enjoy all his goodness.
His goodness resulted in the ultimate demonstration of love that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Most sacrificial way to demonstrate his goodness- For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten son.
Lastly is that this goodness should culminate or brings us to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation, a relationship which we permanently pledge to each other (such as husband and wife) but much stronger such that as we say all that I have I share with you, all that I am I give to you. God’s love is such that he says to us, all my attributes as God are available to you for your goodness just as they are mine for my glory. My grace shall be yours to pardon you, my power shall be yours to protect you, my wisdom shall be yours to direct you, my goodness shall be yours to relieve you, my mercy shall be yours to supply you, and my glory shall be yours to crown you. This is what God does for those He loves- the best he can and the best he can is simply incomparably the best. His LIFE fully lived out in our lives.
In conclusion: As the Church Next Door- We continue to drink from the water of LIFE, His unlimited LIFE flows into our limited lives giving us the Freedom, boldness and confidence to fellowship with God, with other brothers and sisters and with the next door neighbors. We are not afraid to ask or to be asked difficult questions. There is nothing to hide, Like the Samaritan woman we find ourselves leaving our limited pots and running back to the community that judged us set free. Our witness is stronger.
Listen to this conclusion in Hebrews 10:19-25.
This is the Church next door. Have you considered joining this kind of a church, Our LIFE relationship ministries offer us such opportunities, Join a LIFE group near you, Start an accountability group (Soul group), Our marriage ministries are places to strengthen our fellowship and drink from the living water.
What are some of the stories that have shaped your life positively or negatively? Share with one another.
What names, titles, fears keep you from participating fully in the church next door?
What areas do you find yourself hiding in that keep you from being the church next door
How can your story, invite others to the church next door- Where is God calling you out from hiding, to be vulnerable, to forgive, to act kindly.
Read and Memorize Heb 10: 22-25