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John 4:5-42

March 12th of 2023 would have been my dad’s 74th birthday. He was a preacher and a church planter for the Church of the Nazarene. You wouldn’t know his name, you wouldn’t have heard of him. He was one of the many nameless, faceless people who died of COVID in 2020, who served in small churches, and never really retired. He loved people, loved his family, and he loved Jesus. I miss him every day, and I am grateful for his life that was a daily pointer to an encounter with Jesus and his compulsion to tell everyone all about the Savior of the world.

He was born and raised in Indiana, went to church all the time. His mom led Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. He preached sermons to the animals in his front yard as a little boy and his family told him he was born to sing and preach – not necessarily in that order. He was good at doing the expected until he went off to the closest denominational college. While there, he started exploring the broader corners of the world and wondering if there was some more lucrative path he could follow. He didn’t do anything too off the rails – just started reimagining what his life might be if he did something other than preach.

And then the Asbury Revival of 1970 happened.

In the days before social media, the news of the revival at Asbury College was carried by students from one place to another. Dennis Kinlaw, in his book “Preaching in the Spirit” tells of two Asbury students who were obedient to the Holy Spirit and went to Olivet College to share their experience. At a Saturday night revival service, these students told how God was at work in Kentucky. In response to their testimony of less than four minutes, many students who were present went forward and began to pray, others who were hearing the service on the radio showed up, and in this way God was encountered by the community in Kankakee, Illinois. The next day, about twenty carloads of students from Olivet (including my dad and my mom in one of them) took off to points around the country to share the story of God’s work in their lives with other schools and churches.

Two things happened that are relevant to my personal history on that trip my parents took to Nampa and as a direct result of the Asbury Revival: my dad recommitted to the call to preach and proposed to my mom (they had actually been on a break from their long time relationship). My very existence is rooted in the soil of the Asbury Revival and the obedience of those compelled to go and tell.

Often in this passage about Jesus and the woman at the well, we get hung up on who she was, what her sins were, where she missed out. But a big point of this moment isn’t who she was. It was her response to Jesus. She dropped the façade of who she had been, what marked her, what defeated her, what cordoned her off in a difficult space and she ran and told everyone about Jesus. The conversation they had was amazing already – she spoke of weighty matters that separated her from Jesus culturally and religiously, she confessed her complicated life situation, she recognized his prophetic insight and declared her hope in the Messiah’s ability to explain and set things right.

And when Jesus affirmed her, she didn’t wait around for more. She went and shared her experience with him to her entire community. Telling them of this prophet who got her and met her where she was. Jesus didn’t even have to send her – she just dropped her water jug and went. And of course, as others heard her testimony and further, encountered Jesus for themselves, they believed and recognized him as the Savior of the world. Any encounter with Jesus leads us to recognize him for who he is, to share that recognition with everyone we know, and serves as the entry point for others to also encounter him.

She remains nameless to us – only known by the very ordinary place of her encounter with Jesus. She was already spiritual – she knew the right words, the right arguments for her religious affiliations. She may or may not have been marked as a wayward woman for her marital status, but she became marked in a different way forever after – the woman who met Jesus and told everyone about him. The first evangelist converted at the first revival! And the ones who met him based on her testimony saw her testimony was true: “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”(John 4:42)

Recent news of another spiritual awakening at Asbury is a reminder that the Jesus who was proclaimed in 1970 is still the Jesus who meets us in 2023, and the perpetual legacy of the woman at the well is the continued proclamation of the Jesus who saves us all. Whenever someone is compelled to go and tell the story of Jesus, it is her legacy we replicate, her transformation we emulate, her encounter we remember.