Monday, April 04, 2011

SERMON: Living Water

Date: March 27, 2011
Sermon Text: John 4:5-42

Photo by Willam Mittelsteadt
[Introduction] I've heard my whole life that I should get 8-10 glasses of water per day, that drinking water was good for me, that it would make me healthy and strong. I learned this week some of the reasons why water is important for life. It does things I never thought about. It lubricates our lungs. Without water, we couldn't convert oxygen into carbon dioxide. It also helps our digestion. It keeps things, ummm, moving from the mouth on down. But, most interesting to me at the moment because of my family's history, water helps the kidneys get rid of the toxic material that builds up in our bodies. The kidneys collect it, and without water, those toxic things sometimes dry up and harden into kidney stones. Water helps our body remove the poison we carry in our bodies. Water is important to life.

[Page 1] In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus needs water. He sits at a famous well in the Jewish no-man’s land of Samaria. The noon sun beats down on him. He is tired out by his journey, sitting alone while the disciples rush into the neighboring city of Sychar to get food for themselves and for their weak Rabbi. He is so thirsty that when a woman appears carrying her jug to draw water alone in the noonday sun, the first thing he says is, "Give me a drink."

The woman recognizes the oddity of the situation. Here is a Jewish man sitting by the well. Jews don’t normally go through Samaria. On top of that, she’s a woman. Why would a man address her like that? She boldly asks Jesus, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"

Jesus nods with respect. Not many women would talk back in this way. But, instead of repeating his command, he engages her in conversation, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." Now this gets her attention. The woman came to the well to get water, after all. In the dry places around Sychar, she and her people had to draw water from deep in the ground to survive. It was hard work. There was no 'living water' which is what they called streams, brooks, and rivers. There was no living water from which they could easily draw. There was only the day-in and day-out return to the well.

The Samaritan woman is intrigued, so she sets her water-jug down and asks him where to get this living water. But Jesus sees deeper than the woman’s thirst and answers the question that he finds buried there: "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Jesus put his finger on something: the woman was not only physically thirsty; she was spiritually thirsty as well. She knew the hard life. She knew what it was like to be used and abandoned. She knew what it was like to be ostracized by her community. (Only outcasts gather water alone.) The thirst she felt in her mouth and throat every day only masked the deeper thirst. Like someone weak from a long journey baking under the noonday sun, her whole being yearned for something else, something greater, something that would satisfy.

[Page 2] We, too, suffer from that deep and hidden thirst. It hides just below the surface and expresses itself as a desire for other things. We feel bored and feel the need for entertainment. We feel like our lives lack meaning and feel the need for worthwhile causes. We feel guilty for all the things we can’t fix and feel the need for self-recrimination and self-flagellation. These are all normal feelings to have, all normal antidotes to try. We think that with the correct habits, the proper administration of alcohol, glossy entertainment, and distracting games, we might have found the solution as we return again to the wells of our choice. We think we might have found a way to satisfy our thirst.

But, I think that just like the Samaritan woman, we have to acknowledge that the true nature of our thirst is hidden until Jesus comes to meet us at our well, at the place we repeatedly go to satisfy ourselves. Jesus asks us for a drink there, and we engage him in conversation. He points out that there is something higher and better than the small, shallow well to which we keep returning. And in that conversation, our eyes are opened to that deeper thirst.

I think we’ve all had experiences that resonate with this. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I work at the church, and it is not uncommon for me to pilfer a couple of cookies in the afternoon. That leaves me feeling great. I’m not hungry; I could go for hours, I think. That is, until I walk into Nell’s office for our small group and smell the cooking food: pasta or Indian food or chicken. Assaulted by the smell of real food, my stomach rumbles, my skin flushes, and my knees go weak. My body had been hungry all along. The cookies were a thin veil placed over my body’s need for real nutrition. When confronted with the real thing, the cookies seem like a mirage. They were attractive but ultimately did not satisfy.

And when Jesus comes to meet us, he uncovers that deep thirst under our perceived needs, that deep hunger in us, just like he did for the Samaritan woman. He uncovers a thirst we did not know, a deep, hidden thirst for God.

[Page 3] "Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’" (John 4:13-14).

In our readings today, there were two instances of being thirsty and being led to living water. First, in Exodus, the children of Israel, thirsting in the desert, come to Moses and ask him to give them water. "Give us water to drink," they say (Ex 17:2). In response, Moses appeals to the LORD. The LORD sends Moses to a rock at Horeb and says, "I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink" (Exodus 17:6). When pierced with Moses’ holy staff, the rock gives living, running water in the desert and satisfies Israel’s thirst.

Second, with the Samaritan woman, Jesus repeats the pattern. "Give me a drink," he says to the woman. When she appeals to the Lord about how to get this water, he tells her that he, the Messiah, will give Living Water in the desert to whoever asks. This water, unlike the flowing water that came from Moses’ rock, unlike the water that could be drawn from Jacob’s well, this water will be the water of eternal life. Not only will it satisfy the thirst of the woman, it will cause a deeper well than Jacob’s to spring up within her. Jesus himself will satisfy her thirst.

Both these patterns of thirsting and living water are taken up later in John’s Gospel. We find it in John 19 where Jesus is dying on the cross. When he realizes that his journey is now complete, he says out loud, to fulfill the Scripture, "I am thirsty." It is noonday, just like it was at the Samaritan well, but there is no one to engage him in conversation, no opportunity to say the words "Living Water" or "Eternal Life." Instead, knowing that all has been accomplished, he bows his head, says "It is finished," and gives up his spirit.

The leaders didn’t want to leave the bodies up on the crosses, so they sent the Roman soldiers to break the legs of the crucified ones. When they found Jesus already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, the Scripture says, one of the soldiers took his holy spear and pierced Jesus, God’s Holy Rock, in the side, and at once blood and living water poured out. Having taken on our thirst, having taken on our death, the living water that will well up in us to eternal life is poured out from his side. Jesus’ own life is the Living Water, and he has come to satisfy our thirst.

[Page 4] There are many images of water in the Bible. Noah and his family survive it in the ark. The people of Israel cross out of slavery and into the Promised Land through it. And all the images of water in the Bible coalesce around the central act of Christian Baptism, a mystery that we celebrated a few weeks ago for little Jasiah. Baptism doesn’t save us. God saves us, as Chris preached last week, through water and the Spirit. Whether faith comes first or faith comes later, it remains the case that those who find Christ’s living water welling up within them are either those who have been baptized or those who are being driven inexorably by Christ’s Spirit towards baptism. Coming under the water is the outward sign of the inward and spiritual reality of God’s saving grace. Baptism either completes what faith starts or starts what faith completes. Either way, it is the direction we move if we want to know this living water, quenching our thirst, welling up within us to eternal life.

This means a few things for us. First, if we drink from the Living Water, if we find ourselves washed in it, we will find our deepest thirst quenched. If we come to the water of life, we will suddenly be free from the need to seek out other ways to satisfy our deepest longings. We will no longer have to find cheap entertainment or petty diversions or harmful habits to distract us. We will have welling up within us the source of eternal life and from that source we will draw for the rest of this life and for the life to come.

Second, this baptismal life means something else as well: we are commissioned and sent to be labourers in the harvest. Jesus says, "But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour'" (John 4:35-38). The Samaritan woman ran into the city and told everyone what Jesus had done for her. We are commissioned to do the same.

So, I challenge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of Jesus Christ, to examine yourselves in this Holy Lent. If there are any among you who find yourselves drawn to Christ, be baptized. Be cleansed by the water that flows from Jesus’ side and take your place as God’s adopted son or daughter. If you are already baptized and yet find all this talk of living water new and strange, consider a renewal of your baptismal vows and enter again into the life of grace. If you know the living water and find it welling up within you, get confirmed; let the Bishop put his hands on you to commission you to the life of love and service.

If you find this morning God is moving you towards baptism, renewal, or confirmation, please let us know in some way. You can come talk to me or Fr. Ajit; you can reach out to a friend; or you can indicate your interest on the ‘Welcome to St. Matthew’s’ cards in the pews in front of you. Fill them out and drop them in the offering plate when it comes by.

But, whatever the case, don’t hold back. Jesus Christ himself, the Living Water, poured himself out for us, for you. He loves you and wants to lead you into newness of life. He wants to feed you with his own bread and wine. Come to the river of Living Water that ever flows from him.

In name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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