John 4: 3-26/ Exodus 3: 13-15
Have you ever wondered what God looks like? Maybe you have the image of an old man with a beard who looks kind of like Gandalf the Gray from Lord of The Rings, or a skinny Santa Clause. Or, maybe you imagine the vision Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as God reaches out to touch the hand of Adam. We can get a little obsessed in this question. Genesis tells us that we, humankind, were created in the image of God so God MUST look like us right? Just wiser and obviously old since God was around at creation billions of years ago.
People have asked this question at least since the days of Moses. Moses didn’t see God in human flesh but instead in the vision of a burning bush. God had never been seen before and God was considered too amazing to look at so God was disguised in things like fire and cloud. But what was Moses supposed to do- tell everyone a burning bush spoke to him? Crazy!! He needed evidence so he asked for God’s name. Moses is told that God’s name is “I Am”. What a powerful testimony to God! I am, I am what? I am: creator, giver of life, love, justice, compassion, mercy, breath, bread, water, savior. I am, I exist, I am all you can ever understand and more.
They had never encountered such an all-encompassing God before. In Egypt, the Pharaohs were considered gods. The other religions that surrounded them thought of god as these wooden, stone, or metal creations that never really did anything. There were gods for each community and nation.-- It is awe inspiring to realize that all of a sudden they knew that God cannot be contained or assigned to any one thing. Think for a moment what that means- God is “I am” Whatever you can imagine- that is God. God is no longer this wise old man but everything- omnipresent in all of creation. It kind of makes me pause to think of God in this way, real and tangible but at the same time distant.
God made God’s self known to the Israelite people so that they could know that they were no longer second class citizens in Egypt but accepted and included in the bigger plan for God’s world. God provided them with acceptance, wholeness and meaning, leaders to guide them, food and water to help them survive in difficult times and a way to be in community with God and with each other.
As time passed people repeatedly forgot and remembered and forgot again this characteristic of God- people began to distance themselves from God.
Because God is in everything it became easy to overlook God’s presence, take it for granted. Prophets had become silent, miracles and healing began being attributed to magicians and false teachers. The people began to experience a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. They needed something to worship and focus their attention on so they focused on the temple and the rules of worship. Instead of imitating the acceptance they received from God-Only special people were allowed to do special things. Only people with a specific heritage, skin color, income level, only those who break the socially acceptable rules and wear the right clothes can come to worship and then only after they were willing to pay the tithe. Sounds a little familiar doesn't it? Churches all over the world still act that way. Christians only want to worship with people who look, think and act like them, sin in the same ways that they sin, and follow the same rules that they think are important. People remembered God’s name but forgot God’s spirit. God was still the great “I Am” but many people stopped participating in God’s plan and stopped imitating the character of God in their relationships.
The woman at the well was one of those people who were not accepted in the temple. She was an outcast. She was a Samaritan, a half-breed, part Jewish, part Assyrian heritage. Just by her lineage she was deemed unworthy of the attention of a Jewish person, much less a full-fledged conversation.
She was a woman which also immediately made her a second class citizen. Not only was she female but she had also been married 5 times- virtually unheard of in her day and let’s be honest- not exactly honorable in our day- and the man whom she was with now was not her husband. Not only was she shunned by the Jews but her own people had disowned her. Her status was so low that she couldn't even go to the well for water in the cool of dawn and dusk as her neighbors did- she was forced to go in the heat of the day instead.
Even in this brief encounter we can see into the brokenness of this woman’s life. Either she has mourned the death of husbands or been rejected by them. She is damaged goods- her friends and family have turned their backs on her. People gossip about her and make her feel small and useless.
Jesus takes this opportunity to allow us to get a glimpse not only of this woman but of ourselves. We have all felt rejected at some point in our lives. We have all felt unworthy of honor and ashamed of our life circumstances. And, as we get a good look in the mirror in the eyes of this woman, we also see into the heart and soul of God. Jesus doesn't seem to care who this woman is. He knows who she is- better than she knows herself and before she has a chance to tell him her story he is telling it for her. Even if she is all this and more- Jesus, the heart of God, shows her she is worthy and loved.
We believe that Jesus is God incarnate- God made flesh and for the first time people can see God. They can look into the eyes of Jesus and see the spirit of God. He isn't some old man sitting on a cloud. He is present with them, poor, dirty, thirsty and hungry just like you and me and this woman. God is no longer distant and in this interaction we can see all the things God is.
As Jesus interacted with the woman at the well and everyone else he encountered, we can see God’s spirit in the life of Jesus. When we see Jesus, we see “the true nature of God.” In Jesus we see God made flesh; we see the heart and soul of the great I Am.
This woman was a nobody. Everyone it seems Jesus cared about were considered nobodies: sinners, drunkards, adulterers, crooks, hypocrites, lazy, sick and broken, the very people that had been ignored or over looked by society. As Jesus cared for them, accepted them into his company, ate with them, drank with them, spoke with them and loved them they felt all the things that God intended for us to experience from the beginning, all the things God tried to teach the Israelites by taking the name "I Am" are encompassed in the life and actions of Jesus.
Jesus never told this woman she was forgiven or healed or accepted. He just did it. He welcomed this outcast into his world through conversation, companionship and the statement that she and all her people had been hoping and dreaming would one day come true- He is I Am. The Messiah had come and they too were part God’s plan for this world. When we come to know Christ, we are called to be like this woman who is overflowing with excitement over who she has just met. She is so excited she runs back to town- to all those people who have discarded her to proclaim the presence of the Messiah and share with them the same love, forgiveness and mercy she had received. She has seen the heart of God and she couldn’t contain it any longer.
When we see the heart of God- God wants us to do the same thing-Allow it to change us and overflow with the living water. But, maybe this world too has begun to forget who God is. It has been 2000 years since Jesus walked this earth. Have our memories begun to fade? Although we have story after story painting an elaborate picture of the heart of God, we still imagine him as an old man with a long beard. We argue and discuss what Jesus would have really looked like- blond hair and blue eyes or olive skin with dark eyes and curly hair?
Has our spiritual ADD finally kicked in? Have we gotten caught up with the physical, the social and the emotional brokenness that separates us that we have forgotten to look past all that to see the spirit of God in each other? We half-heartedly throw around the title Christian. We take it on but don’t acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it.
Dictionary.com defines the suffix -ian to mean one who has the same meaning and properties as the root word. As we accept the title of Christian we are claiming that we too have the same meaning and properties as Christ. That means that the God who is I Am is to be seen and manifest in each one who accepts this title. That we are to have the same spirit of God in our lives, that when people look at us and spend time with us they too feel the presence of God- the loving, accepting, challenging us to be better, forgiving and merciful God whom we confess.
What does God look like? God is still the Great I Am-omnipresent, in all of creation- including you and me. Jesus, the true spirit of God is seen every time someone acts with the heart of God. Can people see Jesus in you? As we seek to imitate the life of Jesus, we seek to imitate and show others what God looks like. Can you accept the challenge to be a little more Christian each day and in every encounter you have with Creation? It is a journey that only ends when we are made perfect in God’s love. But it is a journey we can begin again today.