The Power of One Woman’s Testimony

Meditation on John 4:5–30, 39-42

Pastor Karen Crawford

Third Sunday in Lent

March 12, 2023

Pastor shares her message:

My husband is a big fan of basketball—professional and college. Lots of basketball being played on our home TVs these days. I have been learning about “March Madness.”

But while the games are playing, I look out the window and say, “Look at the purple finches! Look at the red-bellied woodpecker!”

He invites, “Do you want to watch basketball with me?”

I answer, “I have to work on my sermon.”

Jim shared a heart-warming Associated Press basketball-related story with me a few weeks ago. Did you hear about Sister Jean? At age 103, she has published a memoir, Wake Up with Purpose: What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years.  [1]  She tells her life story, offers spiritual guidance, and shares lessons learned. “The beloved Catholic nun captured the sports world’s imagination and became something of a folk hero as the chaplain for the Loyola Chicago men’s basketball team that reached the NCAA Final Four in 2018.”

“At my age I’m always happy when I wake up,” she begins her memoir. “My alarm clock goes off each morning at 5 a.m. It takes me a couple of seconds to shake off the cobwebs. Then I sit up quickly. If I don’t, I might fall back to sleep. Can’t let that happen—I’ve got too much to do. First, though, I say a prayer. I put my feet on the floor and sit on the edge of my bed. Oh, God, thank You for bringing me this day and for letting me serve You once again. I then get myself cleaned and dressed and into my wheelchair. I don’t use the chair because I’m old. I broke my hip, and then I got shingles. I am hoping the chair is only temporary, but I’m not complaining. I know I’m blessed to have the chair and the ability to move those wheels, as well as plenty of people who are willing to push me around. Now that I’m clean and settled, I can begin my daily thirty-minute morning meditation.

“I take out my iPad and…study my gospel reading for the day. I guess there aren’t too many 103-year-old nuns using iPads these days—there aren’t too many 103-year-old people, period—but I’m pretty comfortable with modern technology. I’ve always said, if you’re not moving forward, you’re going to get left behind real quick. Adaptability is my superpower…

“When I was studying to be a sister, I learned to set aside time each day to sit quietly and think. Now, if I notice I’m distracted, which is natural, I try to get myself back to God. When you have so much on your mind, it’s easy to be distracted. We’re human beings, after all. Finally, I set aside the iPad and look out the window of my apartment at The Clare, an assisted living facility for senior citizens in downtown Chicago.

“The city is so peaceful at this early hour. There’s a hotel across the street, and I see lights in the rooms start to come on. I think about the people waking up in those rooms, and I pray that they will find joy on this day the Lord has made. I can see a corner of Lake Michigan peeking out from behind the hotel. I call that my piece of the lake. Sometimes, when the water is nice and calm, I can see sailboats out there. I think about those people on the boats and pray that they will be safe and enjoy their time on the water.

 “As I continue to pray and meditate, I consider my work for the day. …. on what’s going to be good about the day ahead, as well as what I’m not looking forward to. That’s okay, though, because I know whatever problems come up, they will get resolved. I trust that God has His plan in place. … I think we could all be a little happier and more productive if we set aside quiet time, especially at the start of our days… I believe that (God) listens to me as I talk to Him about my friends, my activities, and what I hope to do in my ministry at Loyola. Other times I like to sit by the lake and enjoy the beauties that God has created and shared with all of us. I thank Him for such gifts.

“Along with that time for reflection, I also understand we all need a pat on the back once in a while, including from ourselves. Before I go to sleep each night, I think of all the good things I did that day. That way I know I will wake up happy in the morning. Although, let’s face it, at my age I’m always happy when I wake up. And when I do, I sit up and start my morning ritual all over again, awash in gratitude that once again God has empowered me to wake up with purpose.” [2]

Our Gospel lesson takes us to Jacob’s well in Samaria—where Jesus has purposefully gone, sending his disciples off on an errand. When he asks for a cup of water from a woman who lives in a community that doesn’t “share anything in common” with his own Jewish community, he begins an important theological conversation. This unnamed woman has become famous over the centuries for her work in bringing Samaritans and others who have heard her story to come to know and follow Christ.

Don’t miss that it is scandalous that Jesus is speaking alone with a woman at the well in the middle of the day! Wells are not just places where people draw water. They are social gatherings, where men and women meet and fall in love or have marriages arranged. In Gen. 24:10-27, Abraham’s servant finds a wife for Isaac at Jacob’s well. In Exodus, Moses meets his future wife, Zipporah, at Jacob’s well.

Jesus talks with the woman about her marital status! What is he thinking?? If the number of times she has been married doesn’t cause eyebrows to raise, surely her living with a man who is not her husband will?! He shows himself to be divine when he says he can satisfy “the kind of spiritual thirst, expressed by the psalmist: ‘As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.’ ” (Ps 42:1-2) [3] The living water “suggests a holy provision of basic human needs and an endless connection to God in Christ. The Samaritan woman may not understand how a request for well water has turned into something deeper, but her appetite for spiritual nourishment is awakened.” [4]

I needed to re-read this passage and the story of Sister Jean yesterday. I was weary and needed to be reminded of my source of joy and refreshment! Not anything in this world! I felt grateful, as I believe the Samaritan woman at the well did, at the end of her conversation with Jesus. The empty water jar is left, forgotten. She who was hiding in shame runs to the city and says with excitement, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Her Samaritan neighbors are stirred to meet Jesus because of the power of one woman’s testimony.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,” they say, “for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Jesus saves, dear friends. We merely point out the way! May you be empowered to share your powerful testimony of what God has done. You never know how many lives you have touched. Don’t grow weary of doing well, no pun intended!

Sister Jean, at 103, believes Loyola’s amazing run to the Final Four has given her a “holy opportunity.” “I can’t say I planned to live this long or decided a course of action that would allow it to happen. I just followed my instincts—and my calling to serve God….

 “I meet with the team before every game to offer a team prayer. I also pray with the fans shortly before tip-off. Then I watch the action from my wheelchair right next to the court. From where I sit, I can see everything that happens, including all the instances when the referees make a bad call—and I pray that those guys will get better eyesight.

“Sometimes, the players will stop and hug me on their way off the court. There’s nothing like hugging a sweaty basketball player after a big win. I may be an old nun, but I know my hoops. “On the day after each game, I send emails to the coaches and players offering my analysis of the game and a scouting report for our upcoming opponent….”

In the spring of 2018, Sister Jean reached a level of notoriety when her Ramblers made a Cinderella run to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. “Every time we took the court, we were the underdogs,” she writes, “but our guys showed such great fight and teamwork.” They won four straight games. With each win, the press developed a bigger fascination with the old nun in a wheelchair wearing a maroon and gold scarf and Nike sneakers with the words ‘Sister’ and ‘Jean’ stitched onto them.

“By the time we all arrived in San Antonio for the Final Four, I was such a big deal that the NCAA set up my own press conference. They told me afterward I drew more reporters than Tom Brady did at the Super Bowl. At one point, a reporter asked how it felt to be a national celebrity. ‘International celebrity,’ I corrected. … This nun was flying.”

The tournament ended with their loss to Michigan in the Final Four. “I was disappointed, of course, but I was so thrilled for what those players and coaches had accomplished… I believe this was all a part of God’s plan.

“All I ever wanted to do was serve God, and my way of doing that has been to work with young people to educate them, encourage them, give them spiritual guidance, and help them live out their dreams…”

What are her plans for the next 100 years? “I hope to do what I’ve always done: use my words to help others learn, grow, serve God, and serve one another.” She hopes when people read her book, they will be able to wake up the way she does.

“I want them to wake up happy. I want them to wake up with purpose.

“And I want the Ramblers to win.” [5]

Let us pray.  Holy God, thank you for your wonderful plan for all of us. Help us to seek you in the morning and quench our spiritual thirst with your Living Water. Guide us so that we walk with you and become more like your Son. Give us courage to speak to those who are marginalized and share your unconditional love and grace. Empower us to wake up each day with hope and a godly purpose—to learn, grow, serve and know you more, and love one another. Amen.

     [1] Luis Andres Henao, “At 103, Sister Jean publishes memoir of faith and basketball.” AP,

 February 16, 2023.

      [2] Schmidt, Sister Jean Dolores. Wake Up With Purpose! (pp. vii-x). Harper Select. Kindle Edition.

     [3]  Andrew Nagy-Benson, Connections (Year A Vol. 2), p. 72.

     [4] Ibid.

     [5] Schmidt, Sister Jean Dolores. Wake Up With Purpose! (pp. x-xiv). Harper Select. Kindle Edition.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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