Lent 3a – Sunday 27th March 2011
John 4: 5-42
Did you ever play knock-a-door-run-away when you were a child? In this pious season of Lent, I have to admit, I did. What great fun it was! Fun if you managed to make it round the corner before the householder opened the door and saw your backside scuttling off. Not so much fun when, from your hiding place, you heard your neighbour shout, “I know it’s you Neil Chappell. You wait till I tell your mum!”
The other night I was relaxing in our lounge, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the evening news, when all of a sudden the doorbell rang. You know what’s coming don’t you? I sauntered to my feet, strolled to the door, opened it and nobody was there. “Why you little rascal” – or some similar words escaped my lips in a fashion not too dissimilar to Homer Simpson, tumbling out into the echoing emptiness of the space outside my front door.
When I got back into the lounge Debby asked me quite innocuously who had been at the door, to which I replied, “Some pesky little kid playing a trick by running away. Very funny!”
There comes an age when playing knock-a-door-run-away loses its sparkle – I guess when you actually own the door on which the game gets played!
Have you ever played knock-a-door-run-away on God? You know, inspired by a wonderful sermon by your Minister, you think I’ll volunteer to run that group, but when push comes to shove you meekly say, “Actually Tuesday nights are no good for me.”
Or, to be topical, in a moment of spiritual devotion you pledge to give up chocolate for Lent and never make it past that first Mars Bar in the supermarket.
Or, at the end of your tether, you cry out in prayer, “God, if you answer this prayer I’ll do anything you ask of me” – hoping that God won’t spot you’ve got your fingers crossed.
Well, the good news is, no matter how many times we play knock-a-door-run-away on God he still answers the door every single time. We may get cold feet more often than Coventry City get new football managers, but God is still faithful, God is still constant, God is still good. He doesn’t hold the past against us, he doesn’t use it as leverage against future discipleship. He just opens the door with that warm and welcoming smile, with that look of concern and yet glowing pride.
That was why Jesus was so welcoming to the Samaritan woman at the well. Her past didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to hold it against her. He was knocking on her door.
Oh yes, that’s what I was going to say. The next bit of good news is that God doesn’t play knock-a-door-run-away on us. He finds it hilarious when someone plays it on me, but he doesn’t indulge it on us. If he knocks on our hearts, if he knocks on our lives, he hangs around to tell us why.
I came across a website this week that very eloquently made that point and then took me on to a new thought. Brian Stoffregen over at CrossMarks Christian Resources comments on this week’s lectionary passage:
I wonder, “Why does the woman need to ask for this gift of living water? Couldn’t Jesus just give it to her?” I get a little uncomfortable with “asking language” — it can easily lead to salvation being based on something I do. On the other hand, the only reason she would ask — open herself to this gift — is because Jesus has offered the invitation to ask. We don’t normally answer the phone unless it rings, or open the door unless someone knocks. Such responses are evoked by the ringing or knocking. So also the woman’s response to Jesus was evoked by his words to her. Jesus seeks to turn her into a seeker, seeking what she didn’t even know she needed, and what, at first, she misunderstands.
Isn’t that what is so amazing about this chapter. Of all the passages in the Bible used as a foundation for Mission this is perhaps the greatest. This is a direct invitation from God for us to get out into our communities and play knock-a-door-run-away – without the run-away bit obviously! Because even though we might feel like running away we need to have compassion for all those people who are seekers and don’t yet know it. They are waiting for us to come along. They are waiting for us to be the key that unlocks the longing that exists deep within them.
So, you can see the immense dilemma here. Are we the obstacle that stops people from coming to God? Or does God work despite us? If we are willing recipients of the great gift of love that God has given to us, then we dare not keep that to ourselves. We must share his gift, and we must listen to God.
In this day and age, when we are struggling to get people into our churches, when we can’t seem to think how to go about mission and evangelism, when people seem so disinterested in Christianity, it’s refreshing to discover that God creates opportunities for us. He turns our neighbours, friends, family and work colleagues into seekers, seeking what they didn’t know they need.
Anyway, must wrap this up, someone has just knocked on my door…