Holy Conversation

The other day I watched as couple came into the restaurant I was at, sat down at a near by table, and immediately pulled out their cellphones and began searching messages or emails. I watched to see how long it would be before they talked to each other, nearly ten minutes passed before they lifted their eyes and said a few words to each other, and then they went right back to their phones.

Similarly, a few years ago I attended a Bishop’s Theological Conference where one of the topics was communication. After the last session, several folks went into the conference center’s social area, sat around a round table and pulled out their cellphones and ipads and began messaging, texting, tweeting, etc. They did this for nearly thirty minutes. They barely looked up long enough to give the waiter their order. There was no conversation.

There are lots of topics in our lesson from the Woman at the Well today. We could talk about life giving water; a sexually immoral woman; the forgiveness that Jesus has for this woman; or Jesus invitation to do what this woman did as she shared the presence of the God with the people in her village.

But the one thing that we never talk about; the one thing that stares in the face and we look beyond it; is the one thing that that has the most theological significance; it is a conversation.

Karoline Lewis on her blog this week makes this observation: “Jesus suggests that conversation matters for theology. That conversation is essential for faith. Lest we assume such claims, observe how religious dialogue happens today—

“I’m right. You’re wrong. So there.”

She concludes this portion of her blog with these words:

“We are living in a time when conversation needs to be cultivated and valued. Practiced and pursued. Longed for and lived. Without real conversation we lack intimacy and understanding; connection and empathy. Without real conversation, we risk detachment and distance. No wonder Jesus engages in and insists on conversation when it comes to believing, since believing in John’s Gospel is synonymous with relationship.”

Lewis suggests that in order to have meaningful conversation we need to be:

  1. mutually vulnerable,
  2. willing to ask questions,
  3. willing to take the time to do a conversation, and
  4. willing to be surprised when we have a conversation with Jesus or about Jesus.

Jesus has what I would call a “holy conversation” with the woman at the well. It is holy because Jesus is talking with a woman that no one else would talk with or associate with. Jesus is thirsty, the woman is lonely, she gives him a drink and they talk. There is no hurry here. The woman comes to the well in the heat of the day because she doesn’t want to see any one because she is a social outcast. Jesus is there. There is no chaperone. She is a Samaritan woman and Jesus should have no contact with her. Instead he takes the drink that is offered and talks with her. Jesus takes the time to talk with her, this is not a “Hi, how are you?” and off we go conversation. Jesus takes an interest in her. He knows her like she has never been known before and she is surprised in the conversation by the presence of God.

What Jesus does here at a well outside the city – a well where the only other person present is an outcast woman – he says, “I am he.”

Jesus proclaims that he is the Messiah. Not to the priests in the temple, not to the Pharisees, not to a king, not even to his disciples at least not yet, but to this woman of questionable reputation. “This is whom God is for because God loves the world.”

Now this story has some Lutheran components to it, because when the disciples return listen to the new conversation.

27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

The unspoken judgment is, ‘Why Lord are you talking to this woman, what are you allowing yourself to be defiled, tainted?’

But like good Lutherans they were afraid to ask the question.

28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

In the village she bears witness to who Jesus is and asks, “Is this the Messiah?” And the people follow her back to the well. While she is in the village, the disciples, having interrupted the conversation between the woman and Jesus, start talking about food. (How very “Lutheran”.)

31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

The disciples want to know who brought him food. They know he needs to eat. That is the Lutheran way. Then Jesus levels the disciples with these incredible words: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me to complete his work.” And the work is what he has demonstrated with the woman at the well: to love the world.

Holy conversations take place whenever we risk talking about Jesus and the kingdom.

I remember when I was in seminary and trying so hard to be relevant, being careful in how I talked about Jesus and the kingdom.

I was working on an island off the coast of Maine. We had invited some folks to dinner along with mother and father-in-law, who were visiting. The man and wife we invited were from Albuquerque, NM. Henni was an attorney and he was my hero. Henni was my hero. He was rich. He was cool. I was in my late 20s and really hoped to impress him at dinner.

We were indulging in Wisconsin cheese and sausage and having an adult beverage before dinner. Henni and my father-in-law were chatting. Suddenly my father-in-law started talking about religion. I desperately tried to change the subject. But Henni and my father-in-law kept returning to religion. Henni then asked the 64 thousand dollar question:

“Do you believe in Jesus?”

I wanted to eat dinner and drink some wine and Henni wanted to hear about Jesus. Just like the woman at the well, Henni was thirsting for something more! This was a holy conversation. I learned a great deal that night about Jesus (who surprised me) and the kingdom of God that surrounded us.

So let’s put away our cellphones and ipads and computers. Let’s unplug and let’s engage in “holy conversations.”

When we talk to one another Jesus may surprise you.