“Thirsting for Spirit and Truth” Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Like the Samaritan woman whom Jesus encountered at the well, people today are thirsting for spiritual renewal that goes beyond what we can experience with our five senses, and truth in a world filled with lies and conspiracy theories.   Because God’s Spirit is still moving today, we can experience renewal in ways that gives us hope and brings unity in the Church, and we can discover truths that God is still revealing through Jesus.

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: John 4:1-42

Revivals and spiritual renewal have been on my mind a lot lately.  

In our newsletter a few weeks ago, I talked about the recent revival at Asbury College in KY, began at a chapel service and the Holy Spirit kept moving and the revival kept growing, until the university had to stop it after 16 days because people were coming from all over the country to get in on it, and it was getting out of hand and disrupting the students’ lives and studies on campus.

Then a couple of weeks ago I went and saw the movie Jesus Revolution.  This film tells the story of the Jesus movement that began in the1960’sin the hippie era, where a generation of young adults grew their hair long, got involved with radical political movements, and looked for meaning and happiness through getting high on drugs and free sex.

Some of these hippie-types showed up at the home of Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA.  They were longing for something more than what they were getting in life, and when they discovered Jesus, they experienced love and joy and purpose in life in a way they never had before. They became known as “Jesus Freaks”.  Anyone remember that song by DC Talk“what will people think, when they hear…”)

The Jesus Revolution movie especially hit home to to me because I experienced some of that wave of spiritual renewal when I was in high school and college.  The Spirit that sparked that movement spread to my campus at UCLA,

And it moved in my life and a lot of other lives of college students I knew during those years.

In fact, my older brother invited me to go with him to a couple of the worship services of Calvary Chapel, at the time they had outgrown their building and were meeting in a big tent in an open field.  It was pretty awesome to experience that!

Now to today’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well outside of Sychar.  In a real way, this also is a story of revival and renewal.

Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit moved in a way that profoundly changed the Samaritan woman, and in her excitement and joy she ran from the well back into town, telling everyone about her encounter with Jesus.

In fact, she was so overjoyed about this new living water that she had experienced, that she forgot her jar of water back at the well! That’s one of my favorite parts of the story!

The Samaritan woman was the first person that Jesus revealed himself to as the Messiah, and it’s notable because she and her people were outsiders and looked down upon by those of Jesus’ Jewish faith.

And this is what often happens in renewal movements.  God is a God who desires to reconcile people to each other, and God’s power through the Holy Spirit is able to break down walls that divide people and then form them into one body.

I mean look at this group here—we are from different countries and cultures, we speak different languages, we may even have some different views on politics and social issues, but we are all worshipping God together in this place.

I love the verse in Ephesians where the apostle Paul talks about barriers between Jews and Gentiles being broken down through Jesus:

for Jesus himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility in order to be reconciled to God into one body through the cross of Jesus.  (Eph. 2:14-16).

In the 1960’s and 70’s, one of the dividing walls was between the “Jesus Freaks”  and the “respectable church people”.

The church folks didn’t want that riff raff coming into their churches and messing up their orderly, comfortable way of worship and life.  At Calvary Chapel, they did not want the hippie’s dusty bare feet getting their clean church carpets dirty.

The Holy Spirit broke down that wall and reconciled those two groups of people together.   In a way, the church learned more of what it means to be a “hospital for sinners” rather than a “hotel for saints”, as the saying goes.

The same kind of barrier breaking happened in Los Angeles in 1906 in what’s known as the Azusa Street Revival.  It began at a prayer meeting led by an African American pastor named William Seymour, who was the son of slaves.

That meeting sparked a spiritual outpouring that led to a revival movement where walls of race, gender and age were all broken down.  It was during the height of the Jim Crow segregation laws, and racial reconciliation happened in a powerful way to those moved by the Holy Spirit at that revival.

And here in our story, Jesus opens a door for God’s love to flow like a new stream of living water into the lives of the Samaritan woman and her people.

The phrase in this story that caught my attention was when Jesus told her about worship taking place in Spirit and in truth.  Jesus mentions this twice, in two verses in a row, verses 23-24:

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.”

Well, volumes have been written about this phrase, and every commentator and pastor has their own take on it, so I’ll weigh in and offer my 2 cents worth (or maybe a nickel!).

The Samaritan woman mentions the different specific places where Jews and Samaritans worship,

And Jesus tells her that the time has come where God doesn’t have to be worshipped on the Samaritan’s holy mountain nor in the Jew’s holy place of Jersusalem.  True worship can happen anywhere, Jesus says.

Jesus is saying that posture is more important than place when it comes to worshipping and encountering God.

In fact, there at that well out in an ordinary field, the woman was having an encounter with God’s revelation of the spirit, and of the truth in the person of Jesus, who is the Messiah, the Savior, God in the flesh.

there that she encountered God’s spirit and truth in a way she never had experienced before, it was then and there that she tasted the living water that she was longing for,

the kind of water that quenched what I believe was her deepest thirst, her thirst to be known and loved and accepted for who she was.

It was there that God’s Spirit broke down barriers of ethnicity and gender and longstanding traditions and hostilities to reconcile her to God. And it was there where she found the hope that she could be restored back into her community.

And it was there at Jacob’s well that the woman experienced truth with a capital T.  Folks, I believe that there is truth outside of the Christian tradition—the Church doesn’t have a corner on the truth or on God, we have so much we can learn from people of other faiths about worship and devotion, about how to live with humility and courage and grace and how to treat our fellow human beings.

I’ve shared before that I’ve learned a lot about worship and faith from my encounters with our Afghan friends who are Muslim.

I sensed this same kind of spirit from Grace and Yugo Prasetyo when they shared about their life among Muslims in the slums of Jakarta in Indonesia a couple of weeks ago.

Now, at the same time, since I believe that Jesus is God revealed in the flesh, I believe that he is the embodiment of truth in the fullest sense of the word.

And friends, we live in a time when truth is in very short supply!  There are all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories out there, there’s a false revisionist history trying to be made as we speak of what happened on January 6, there is a well-known lawyer who famously said “truth isn’t truth!”.  I could go on and on…

In the midst of all the lies around us, truth feels like a stream that has dried down to trickle.  And now more than ever we need an anchor with the word “truth” written on it, and I believe that Jesus is that anchor of truth.

So if we want to know the truth about what really matters in life, we look to Jesus, who taught and showed us that relationships are more important than “stuff”, and that inner character is more important that outward appearance.

If we want to know the truth about what it really means to love other people, we look to Jesus, who showed us the way of compassion, forgiveness, sacrificial, boundary-breaking love, and love for even our enemies.

If we want to know the truth about ourselves, we look to Jesus, who calls us beloved and welcomes us with open arms, even with all of our warts and flaws and failures.

There at Jacob’s well, the Samaritan woman experienced an outpouring of God’s Spirit on her life, she discovered the truth about God through Jesus, and she discovered the truth about herself, the truth that she was worthy of God’s love just as she was, no matter what had happened in her past.

It was a worshipful encounter, an experience of revival and renewal, and it set her on a new course in life, a life filled with new promise and hope.

That was 2000 years ago, but just like then, the world today is filled with people including us, who are like the Samaritan woman, thirsting for the spirit and for truth.

And just like then, God’s Spirit is still moving, in powerful and surprising and unexpected ways.

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts.  I think I’ve mentioned it before; it’s called the Holy Post, and it’s hosted by Skye Jethani, the author of the What if Jesus was Serious books,  Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales fame, and various other co-hosts and guest speakers.

The podcast started out talking about the Asbury Revival, and then how renewal and revival sometimes happens in supranatural and spectacular ways like it did there, but probably more often it happens in more subtle ways, and more slowly over time.

There’s a lot of truth to this; I don’t know about you, but the slow and subtle way has been how I’ve most often experienced spiritual renewal in my life.

One of the co-hosts, Kaitlyn Scheiss, then talked about how people in our western, American society today can get sucked into this mentality where people just come to assume that the supernatural realm doesn’t exist, that our dominant mindset is that the physical world that we can see and touch and hear is all there is.  And as a result, she said that there is this longing, this thirst for something that is beyond what we can experience with our five senses, this hope that there’s more to life than what meets the eye.

Now I think she–and I as well–would say that we DO experience God in many ways through our physical senses, like seeing a stunning sunset, hearing beautiful music, being touched by a warm hug, smelling a rose, tasting dark chocolate.

But without diminishing those experiences, I believe that we must be open to those more metaphysical encounters with God, things we can’t always explain or put in a box, but that we feel deep inside of us, that touch our spirits and minister to us in ways that satisfy our deepest thirsts and longings in life, ways that bring us renewal and draw us closer to the God who created us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, the God who loves us more deeply than we can ever fully understand.

You know how that Asbury Revival got started?  The pastor who spoke at that chapel service gave a message about love, about how God offers us a genuine love, compared to so much of the kind of love that the world offers us that falls short of the love that can be found in God.

The pastor then gave an invitation saying “if you feel like you’ve never truly been loved, come forward.  18 students came up to the front for a time of prayer.

And they stayed up front, and kept praying, and then started singing and weeping and then people who had left came back, and more people came, and there was this nonstop time of worship 24/7 for over two weeks.

God’s Spirit is still moving, folks.  God’s truth is still being revealed through Jesus.  The God who created us knows exactly what we need to satisfy our deepest desires and longings.

So during this season of Lent, let’s open ourselves up to the Spirit’s leading, to receive whatever God wants to give us, and to discover whatever truths God wants to reveal to us.

Like the Samaritan woman, may we be open to experiencing renewal, in ways that refresh our souls and restore our hope, in ways that draw us into closer communion with God, in ways that break down walls that divide us from other people and bring healing and reconciliation. AMEN.