As I have said before, I am a Yankee fan – what’s not to love? Right? I mean all those championships – the history – the lore – and the storied players.
Now, I do like a lot of the recent Yankee Greats – like Aaron Judge – Mariano Rivera – and Derrick Jetter – of course – but I’m partial to some of the all-time Yankee Greats like Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, Roger Maris, Lou Gehrig, and of course the great Yogi Berra.
Did you know that Yogi Berra played 18 seasons as a Yankee and won 10 World Series as a player? He went to 21 World Series in his career. He won 3 more World Series as a coach. And he is only one of 6 MLB players to be the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He provided anti-aircraft cover on a boat during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.
You may or may not have known all that about Yogi Berra – but I’ll betta you did know he was known for his Yogi-isms – or those colorful sayings – some of which have just folded right into our vernacular.
For instance, and I love these, he once quipped, “Baseball,” he said, “is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” Once he explained to someone why he no longer went to a restaurant, he said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Of course, there was the famous, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Yogi was once invited to be the guest of honor at a banquet. He was given the chance to speak and he said, “Thank you for making this day necessary.” And then in the early 1960’s he witnessed Mantle and Maris repeatedly hit back to back home runs and he said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Berra was also reported to have said, “You can observe a lot by watching;” “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours;” “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
But perhaps my favorite saying – and one I hear more often than any of others – is, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
I like that one – a lot – because it can apply to so many things: sports, long-boring movies, classes, lectures, oh and sermons – good grief the torture some people go through when the sermon just keeps going on – (I’d like to ask forgiveness of all the people who had to endure so many of my sermons…).
But you know, that saying can be applied to people, too. If I have learned anything at all from eavesdropping on Jesus – anything at all from reading the Gospels – anything at all from being a pastor – I can attest to the fact that a person’s story – well – “It ain’t over till God says it’s over.”
What I mean is that – often – perhaps too often – we can be pretty quick to write someone off – and perhaps worse – we can be pretty quick to write ourselves off, too – as if the things we did or said or didn’t do when it counted were the end all be all – as if a person can’t change – but if Yogi Berra’s right – and I think he is – it ain’t over till God says it’s over.
I say that because of an account between Jesus and a woman in Samaria that is found in the Gospel of John. It is a rather long text – it is John 4:1-45. I’ll leave it to you to find it in your Bible or search it up on esv.org. But I’d encourage you to read it because it will help you to get to know Jesus again – or – perhaps even for the first time.
At any rate, let me surmise the text. Right after Jesus had a late-night conversation with an important leader/professor type – a man named Nicodemus – Jesus and his disciples took a trip out to the countryside – and then headed on to Galilee. They decided to go through Samaria – which was rare because most of the time Jewish people avoided Samaritans.
In a nutshell, Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other because way back in the 580’s BC the Babylonians conquered Judah and destroyed everything – including the temple. They carried the best and brightest people to Babylon. So – when you think of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Daniel – that’s the time frame – and those are the sort of people that got carried away to Babylon. Those folks who were carried off – longed to return to Jerusalem and they held on to their faith.
But there were other folks who didn’t get carried off to Babylon – and the Babylonians actually brought some other people that they conquered to Judah – to the region of Samaria. And remember – Samaria had been conquered by the Assyrians as well. The Jews who remained in the region – intermarried with these folks – which was not something that folks in Babylon were apt to do. And the folks who remained and intermarried also continued on with some elements of the Jewish faith but not all – and they sort of mixed and mingled that as well.
So – when the Jews began to pour back into Jerusalem – which was about 400 years before the birth of Jesus – they had an immediate disliking for the Samaritans and vice-versa Samaritans. There were a few times when they attacked one other. At any rate, they sort of tolerated one another – as long as people stayed within their lane. The simple fact is – the Jews wrote the Samaritans off – like Gentiles – and the Samaritans wrote the Jews off. They just didn’t like each other – and they often avoided each other and avoided their region.
But – Jesus and his disciples didn’t avoid the region of Samaria on their way to Galilee. They went right through it and in fact when they got into Samaria – John tells us that Jesus was thirsty – and tired – so they stopped by a well around noon – when it was apparently pretty hot. In fact, John says that Jesus was weary. Now, most of the time, people didn’t go to the well at noon. They went in the early morning or evening to get water for the day – but when Jesus and his disciples stop at the well – there is a woman there and Jesus asks her to give him some water.
Look – that’s a significant thing on two counts. First – she’s a Samaritan and – second – she’s a woman – and men just really didn’t speak to women and Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans. Clearly, the woman is a bit freaked out on both counts so she asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”). It is a legit question for all the reasons I’ve already given you, well, at least it would be a legit question except for the fact that she has no idea she’s talking to Jesus. He tells her that if she knew who she was talking to, she’d be asking him for living water.
Of course, she doesn’t understand; she thinks he’s talking about water from the well – but he’s talking about the sort of water that quenches a spiritual thirst which is a deeper more profound thing than physical thirst. The sort of thirst that Jesus is talking about has to do with the void of the human heart and soul – the thing that so many people try to plug up, deny, ignore, or fill with the wrong things.
I mean – sometimes – often really – people plug things into their lives to fill up a gap in their heart/soul/lives. It can be all sorts of things. I’ve known people to fill up the gap with exercise – which sounds like a good thing – until it becomes an obsession.
I remember a scene in one of my favorite westerns – Tombstone. In the film, Doc Holiday and Wyat Earp are talking about an outlaw named Johnny Ringo. Earp asks Holiday what makes a man like Ringo. Holiday says, “Johnny Ringo has a great big hole in the center of him. He can never kill enough, steal, enough, or inflict enough pain to fill it.” I think Holiday is onto something; I think a lot of folks have a great big hole in the center of them and they try to fill it with all sorts of stuff – and those are the things that lead people to write others and even themselves off – as being too far gone – as being too far – as if their stories were over…but then we come to this conversation with Jesus and the woman.
Now granted, the woman of Samaria isn’t killing and stealing like Johnny Ringo – but we find out in our text that she is filling up the gap in her life with relationships. That’s a pretty modern gap filler when you think about – that’s a connecting point to the story of the Bible – it speaks to our issues.
Anyway – at one point in the conversation, Jesus asks her to go and get her husband. She tells him she doesn’t have a husband – to which Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” Now, I know, in our day the notion of relationships is a bit different – and that number of men in her life may not be so surprising but it was scandalous in those days; I’d be so bold as to say if we are being honest with ourselves – even by today’s standards the number relationships and the type of relationships raise the eyebrow; at any rate, we can tell that something is going on with this woman.
In those days, she would probably have been a marked person – written off – first – to the Jews because she’s a Samaritan – but even perhaps within her own community because of her relationships. Even today, in some religious circles – in some social circles – well – she’d be written off, too. By what she said about not having a husband, it seems she may have been a bit ashamed as well. She may have written herself off, too.
But not Jesus; he didn’t write her off. He didn’t cast her aside. He wasn’t finished with her. God wasn’t done with her story and it wasn’t going to be over until He said it was over.
If you read John 4:1-45, you’ll notice that the conversation Jesus had with this woman made an impact. So much so that she became an evangelist – that’s right – an evangelist – and went to her village and told everyone to come to meet Jesus. That’s an amazing thing, especially when you realize that Samaritans were largely written off by people who should have known better than to write anyone off (that may be a lesson for some – even today). In fact, John wrote, “many Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”
So there it is – a woman that most people would have written off meets Jesus – her life is transformed when she gets to know Jesus – so – she goes to a group of people that a lot of folks would have written off – and they too are transformed when they get to know Jesus.
I can’t emphasize it enough; a person that a lot of folks would have written off meets Jesus and her life is changed forever.
Jesus – I believe – is the key to that lock. And, like I’ve suggested before, it is good to get to know Jesus because when you do you may be surprised – first – that he hasn’t written you off and second – he hasn’t written off some other folks as well. Nothing that a person has done can keep their lives from being changed by Jesus – nothing. That’s a real encouragement to me for a lot of reasons. In fact, in our family – we often say – his (or my) story isn’t over till God says it is over.
God is in the business of transforming people; get to know Jesus (again or for the first time) and you’ll see what I mean.