This is a picture of my Shadow Priest, back when I played World of Warcraft like it was my day job. But that’s not really the Shadow Ender I plan on telling you about today. I did a thing this morning at church. Today, I got the opportunity to share a message that’s been slow cooking on my heart since late August. Below is the rough transcript of my sermon, delivered to you in vintage Sir Ender style, jokes and all.
First things first. I’m a millennial, so you know I gotta get a selfie.
Good morning church. Thank you to Pastor Keven for allowing me to speak this morning. The main reason I wanted to speak this morning is because you get some control over the music when you preach. I was hoping to delay the playing of Christmas music for one more week. Mission accomplished. I’ve noticed a trend with a lot of guest preachers where they briefly tell you their background, almost as if to give you their credentials to justify them being up on stage preaching to you. And since I’m not ordained, I suppose I have double the reason to do so.
I grew up in the church. My youngest memories of church are at St. James Episcopal Church on Dakota and Cedar in Fresno. I remember that I’ve always had a bit of a Pharisee of Pharisees complex like the apostle Paul. I can vaguely recall attentively listening in church while other kids my age colored in coloring books their parents provided them just so that they would remain quiet.
After that church, my family bounced around a bit before landing at Woodward Park Baptist Church on Maple and Teague in Fresno. I spent the majority of my formative years at this church, and would eventually meet my mentor, John, who has been discipling me for the better part of about 18 years. John was my chaperone for my very first mission trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries when I was 12. I quickly became very involved in ministry. John equipped me to start teaching Junior High bible study when I was in 8th grade and I accepted a call to ministry the following summer at my next Mexico mission trip.
I got involved in youth evangelism training through the SBC, continued to teach in Sunday School, and even had a brief stint on our youth Worship Team (Sorry, Nelson, you weren’t my first).
But my bread and butter became preaching. I had a tenacity for connecting Scripture to the Gospel, a skill which by the grace of God, I will demonstrate for you today. My claim to fame is my first sermon. John still loves to tell this story: We had gotten connected with an assisted living facility called Orchard Park and we would lead a worship service for them one Sunday every month. I delivered the first message there, and I preached on death. How we, as believers, have nothing to fear from death. How our ailing bodies will be replaced by new ones when we get to heaven. (With all the physical ailments in our church and on our prayer list, perhaps if you invite me back, I’ll have to give you that “new body” portion of it)
For those of you who don’t happen to know how I ended up going to church in Dinuba from Fresno, my wife used to be the youth pastor here. Well, she used to be my wife, AND she used to be the youth pastor here. Just about 4 years ago, we attended the Harvest Party together at Randy and Leah’s for the first time. I was hooked on you whacky Nazarenes once I saw Nelson’s board game collection.
When we interviewed with the board here, I joked that I felt like Abraham being called by God away from his family and out into the wilderness. I couldn’t have known then how apt of a description that was. And even though we finally have those traffic lights up on El Monte, I still think we’re out in the wilderness out here.
On This Day…
It’s kind of funny the way things work out sometimes isn’t it? This message is a combination of one thing that happened to me almost exactly two years ago and one thing that happened just over a year ago. I realized that this past week when I was preparing for this message. And if you’ve been reading my blog, you know just how much I love those “tiny inconsequential things that happen to have the biggest impact.”
Two years ago, on November 17th 2016, there was a Renew conference at the Save Mart Center that I attended with the Huckabys. Francis Chan was one of the speakers and he delivered a very powerful message, one piece of which would ultimately change my life forever. I’ll come back to that later on.
One year ago, on November 19th 2017, our worship team played Reckless Love for the first time. Some of you, maybe even many of you by now, know that I have been attending a 12-Step / Discipleship program in Fresno for the better part of two years. In fact, we’re bringing it to DNAZ for the New Year… SURPRISE!!! This program helped to flip my relationship with God on its head. You’ve heard me testify about this a few different times now. While nearing the time of my commencement, in September and October of 2017, before I had ever heard Reckless Love, my prayers, praises and thoughts to God looked like this: “God, thank you for your kindness and goodness which have allowed you to be patient with me while showering me with blessings.” “I think about, remember, and am overwhelmed by God’s grace frequently.” When asked a question about how I feel after praising God, I responded “I always feel on the verge of tears, when I truly praise him, so overwhelmed by his goodness and love for me, of which I am so undeserving.”
O the overwhelming never-ending Reckless Love of God
O it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety nine
I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it, still you give yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending Reckless Love of God
How Jesus Made a Woman at a Well, Well… Well
Enough jibber jabber. If you have your bibles, open up to John 4. We’re going to be looking at the familiar story of the Woman at the Well. Because I’m a recovering Southern Baptist, I do everything in sequences of three. And I could not abide letting Keven get away with only two messages in his “Quit Church” series. So, I’ve titled my sermon “Quit Hiding in the Dark.” But because I think I’m clever and I really like wordplay, I’ve alternatively titled my sermon “How Jesus Made a Woman at a Well, Well…Well.”
My hope, as we look as this passage together this morning, is that we’ll each find a bit of ourselves in this woman at the well. That a piece of her story will be our story. And as she encountered Jesus, I hope that we will too.
4 When Jesus[a] learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), 3 he left Judea and went again to Galilee. 4 He had to travel through Samaria; 5 so he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property[b] that Jacob had given his son Joseph.
Our first point today is that “There’s no mountain he won’t climb up.“
A brief geography and cultural lesson here: As the crow flies, Samaria is directly between Judea and Galilee. However, back in that day, Jews and Samaritans were fairly bitter enemies, as we’ll see in verse 9, and they would actually go out of their way to avoid travelling through each other’s territories. It would be like traveling from here to San Diego but going 2 hours out of your way to avoid Los Angeles during rush hour. And you might be thinking, well, actually that makes a lot of sense. Because everyone hates bumper to bumper traffic. And that’s how Jews felt about Samaritans. They were the bumper to bumper traffic of the ancient world.
But verse 4 says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. I have this picture of an ancient Jewish Siri trying to reroute Jesus away from Samaria the whole time, but he keeps on plowing forward knowing exactly where he wants to go, even though it makes no sense in that time period. When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.
6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from his journey, sat down at the well. It was about noon.[c]
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give me a drink,” Jesus said to her, 8 because his disciples had gone into town to buy food.
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
11 “Sir,” said the woman, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’?
These verses reveal a lot of additional context to this story. First, verse 7 reveals that the well is located outside of the town and this was likely not a short walk for the woman to get there. Verse 11 reveals that there was extra equipment needed to obtain water from this well, equipment that Jesus did not possess. Presumably, if this woman was there to draw water, then she had to have brought the equipment with her on this walk out to the well, likely a rope, a bucket, and a pitcher to transport the water. And she’s carrying all of this at noon, the hottest portion of the day.
One of my main chores at our house is doing the yard. Weed whacking, edging, mowing, fixing any sprinklers that my brother or I run over on a way too regular basis, the whole two yards, front and back. One of the things you quickly learn about yard work is that it’s better to start early. If I’m not finished by noon, I’m gonna be regretting it.
And we’ll find out in a bit why she’s out at the well at noon. All things considered, she’s probably lugging around 40+ pounds of gear, in the noontime heat, and this lazy, unprepared, Jewish man had the gall to ask her for a drink? I imagine she responded to his request with a sneer, or at the very least a hostile and caustic tone. Who did Jesus think he was?
Jesus, for his part, invites this woman into a life-changing interaction with him. He’s breaking no less than a handful of social, cultural, and religious rules simply by speaking to her. As I stated before, and as the woman herself asserts, Jews did not associate with Samaritans. They avoided them at all costs. Furthermore, in Jesus’ day and age, men only spoke to their spouses and female relatives. We can still see these social boundaries in place today throughout much of the Middle Eastern world. And finally, what we find out when we observe the Samaritan woman’s history, paired with what we know of Jesus’ identity, according to religious rules back then, Jesus should have avoided this woman like the plague.
Which begs the question: WHY?
“There’s no wall he won’t kick down.”
There’s no barrier that will keep Jesus away from her. From me. From you. Jesus’ love for her would not be stopped. He will cover any physical distance to find us. And He will break through whatever it is that might be between us.
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
11 “Sir,” said the woman, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well[f] of water springing up in him for eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
16 “Go call your husband,” he told her, “and come back here.”
17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Do you see her hesitation here? Do you see how she tries to misdirect away from the elephant in the room that Jesus brings up?
The first six months after [Gone Girl] left, I avoided conversations about her as much as possible. We had originally met at the place where I still work, and so coworkers of ours would occasionally comment on her or ask me about her. I feared what people thought and what people knew or thought they knew, and I quickly became an expert at steering conversations away from her.
My mentor was raised Catholic and he could probably give you a dissertation on the difference between sins of commission and sins of omission. And I have a prelaw degree, so I was omitting the truth about the state of my marriage, not exactly lying, but at the same time not not lying.
It took a particularly nosy friend of mine to finally shatter through the facade I had tried keeping together. We were at a New Years Eve party my best friend was hosting, and she was making the rounds. She approached me and asked me where my wife was. I hesitated ever so slightly and told her, probably at her parents. She doubled down on her inquisitiveness. “You don’t know where your wife is?” She asked incredulously. At that point, I was caught, like a deer in headlights. “Well… no. She left me three months ago.”
We don’t know why this woman has had five husbands. Perhaps she left each one of them. Perhaps they left her. Maybe one died, or committed suicide. Maybe she couldn’t have kids and one of her husbands left her for someone who could. She might have been a black widow and she went around getting rich while getting away with murder. Or maybe she thought she had met Prince Charming and he turned out to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Maybe she just simply had bad taste in men. Now that’s one problem that I don’t have. I have excellent taste in men: Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds.
But seriously. This woman had a spotted past, one that was exacerbated by the culture of the day. And, with all of the other context clues in this passage, we begin to get a picture of a woman living in extreme brokenness and isolation. She comes to the well alone, which should have functioned as our modern day water cooler or office coffeepot. She comes to the well in the middle of the heat, probably to avoid the sidelong glances and whispers that she’s been enduring since husband #2.
And Jesus, at a first glance, seems to put her on blast. Calls her out. Throws shade at her. Whatever terminology millennials are using these days. But, if we look at Jesus’ words and especially his other interactions with “sinful” women, we can draw from those conversations to imagine how he dealt with this woman.
John 3:16-17 says,
For God loved the world in this way:[e] He gave[f] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
In John 8, a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus and he is questioned about how she should be punished. And he tells the accusers that “he who is without sin should cast the first stone.” After they all leave, he tells the woman that he will not condemn her either and sends her on her way. In Luke 7, a sinful woman approaches Jesus and anoints him with perfume, and washes his feet with her tears and her hair.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”
The Pharisee expected Jesus to recoil from her, no doubt as the Pharisee himself did. He expected Jesus to turn in disgust. But instead he forgives her sin.
I imagine that this Samaritan woman, (who, sidenote, identified Jesus clearly as a prophet, while the Pharisee failed to) I imagine that she expected Jesus to react to her as the Pharisee did. I certainly expected my friend at the party to react to me that way. But my friend didn’t, and Jesus didn’t react that way to the Samaritan woman either.
There’s no shadow he won’t light up.
I told you earlier how my chore at home is yard work. Weeding is an interesting beast to tackle. If you let it get out of control, like I did, the weeds grow super long. The first time I tried catching up (which is not the verb you want to resort to when you’re dealing with weeds), we had to just use a lawn mower to level the weeds and make the task more manageable. But that doesn’t actually take out any weeds, I can just see the base of them.
My tool of choice is the hula hoe. You kind of scrape the dirt and try to grab underneath the weed and pull it out of the soil. It’s fairly easy, and fairly low effort, but it’s also not the most effective method of weeding, because you don’t always get the whole weed. The most effective method is getting on your hands and knees and ripping those suckers out and exposing the weeds to the power of the sun. Weeds get scorched in the sun pretty easily, but you’ve gotta expose their roots in order for them to die.
That’s what Jesus does here. He lights up her shadows, her sin, her ultimate source of shame to kill her weeds, and to set her free from them and heal her.
At the very beginning of this sermon, I mentioned a message I heard from Francis Chan with the Huckabys. He preached about being one with one another and how that unity models the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He taught out of John 17:21-23:
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.
God used this passage on that night just over two years ago to light up my own shadows. After two or three weeks of the Holy Spirit working on my heart, I ended up in Pastor Keven’s office, exposing my own shadows, sin, and shame to him:
I have lied to a countless number of people. I have stolen from a kid who had very little when I was a teenager as well as from my best friend when I was an adult. I have cussed at my stepdad. I have held resentments and bitterness toward my family.
In my self-righteousness, I positioned myself like the prophet Jonah, who waited on a mountain for the judgment and destruction of Nineveh. I had felt that way toward my stepdad and my wife.
I have had other gods and idols before my God, looking to them for satisfaction and fulfillment, most notably through my job, my wife and our marriage, and the approval of other people.
I have been gripped by fear, manipulating and controlling others to protect myself.
I have withheld love from my family and my wife as a punishment for unmet expectations.
I have humiliated and cut down others, including my wife, using my words as weapons.
I have wielded anger as a weapon also, causing others to fear me. Just a few weeks before [Gone Girl] left, I punched a picture frame on our wall during a fight. I scared her. I could see it in her eyes. Truth be told, I scared myself.
I have coveted three of my neighbor’s wives, aching and longing for what they had when what I had fell apart. My lust has taken many forms over the years, most damagingly through an addiction to pornography that has consumed over 60% of my life, since the age of 11. According to the Bible, I am an adulterer, an idolater, and a fornicator.
I had such a low view of myself that I thought nobody could love me. My hidden sin had burdened me with immense shame and I was repulsed by who I saw in the mirror, and thought that surely a Holy God couldn’t bear to look upon me.
Romans 5:6-8 says:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And Ephesians 2:4-5 says,
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
My name is Devon, and I have a new life in Christ. God is recovering me from an addiction to pornography, fear, and grief from a divorce. In Galatians, Paul writes that “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Our worship team can come back up now. We’re gonna sing Reckless Love, of course. And as we do, we invite you to come up and allow this overwhelming love of God to climb over mountains to find you, break through walls to get to you, and light up shadows to heal you.
I don’t know what your shadows are. Maybe you’re an addict like me and you feel broken. Maybe your shadow isn’t your sin, but somebody else’s against you. Two years ago, God lit up my shadow of pornography, but he also used my friend at the party to light up the shadow of my rapidly deteriorating marriage. And it wasn’t until I started sharing what was going on that the shame of an impending divorce began to dissipate and my heart would start to heal. Maybe you’re trapped by fear or shame like I was. Perhaps you’ve been abused. Or did you abuse someone? Whatever it is, God desires to light it up and destroy it. Not to condemn you for it but to free you from the weight of it.
After Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman in verse 29, she leaves behind her water jar. Which is interesting because Jesus told her earlier, metaphorically, that if she drank of living water, the water he offered her, she would not be thirsty again. So she leaves it behind and brings anyone who would listen to her to experience what she experienced.
Jumping down to verse 39:
39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said[k] when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what he said.[l] 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
In a second here, we’re going to sing one more song this morning and we’re gonna give you all a chance to follow in the Samaritan woman’s footsteps, to tell us what God has done for you.
Psalm 66 says,
1 Let the whole earth shout joyfully to God!
2 Sing about the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awe-inspiring are your works!
Your enemies will cringe before you
because of your great strength.
4 The whole earth will worship you
and sing praise to you.
They will sing praise to your name.”Selah
5 Come and see the wonders of God;
his acts for humanity[a] are awe-inspiring.
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
and they crossed the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him.
7 He rules forever by his might;
he keeps his eye on the nations.
The rebellious should not exalt themselves.Selah
8 Bless our God, you peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard.
9 He keeps us alive[b]
and does not allow our feet to slip.
16 Come and listen, all who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth,
and praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had been aware of malice in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 However, God has listened;
he has paid attention to the sound of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God!
He has not turned away my prayer
or turned his faithful love from me.
We’re going to sing He Is Faithful. For the past two years, the meaning of the song has changed drastically for me. The bridge says that “He has paid the highest price. He has proven his great love for us.” This speaks to his death on the cross. That’s how he proved his great love for all of us. But lately, I sing this song and I think about how he has proven his great love for me, Devon. How he lit up my shadows to free me from them. How my aunts let me stay with them for a year before asking me to pay rent. How I desperately missed my [Gone Girl] so badly that I slept holding a pillow to remind me of her touch, but I receive no less than 6 hugs for every Sunday from Heidi, her kids, and Kathy. How God anchored me to this church through one of Keven’s sermons about faithfulness.
So we’re going to sing about His faithfulness to us. And when we get to the bridge, we’ll give you some instruction, but we’re going to invite you up to share with us how God has proven his love to you.