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The Gift of Living Water
March 27, 2011
03-27-2011 Sermon“Water, water everywhere” is an apt description of our worship this morning. From the Psalmist’s image of a deer longing for flowing streams, to an opening hymn about “the crystal fountain from whence the healing stream doth flow,” to a reading in Exodus about Moses striking the rock unleashing water in the desert, to Paul’s letter to the Romans suggesting that God’s love is like water poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Then, in our Gospel reading, we heard the beginning of a lengthy conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water at Jacob’s well. That’s when we heard Jesus speak those alluring but mysterious words: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty…it will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Notice first that the Samaritan woman has no idea what Jesus is talking about. This woman is no stranger to water. Her life revolves around the daily trek to collect water at the well. It’s what she needs for drinking, washing, cooking and bathing. To her, water is the stuff you collect in buckets lowered into a well and drawn out with ropes. But Jesus is speaking of water in a different way, one that leaves the woman at the well confused. Who is this Jew talking with her about water that satisfies our thirst, about living water gushing up to eternal life? These are strange words, difficult, enigmatic words. The Samaritan woman is intrigued by Jesus even as she is clearly struggling to comprehend who he is and what he offers.
Now if the Samaritan woman didn’t understand Jesus, many people today are simply not interested. Our opening Psalm spoke of thirsting for God as a deer longs for flowing streams. But according to many surveys, such spiritual thirst is on the wane in our society. Do you students in the Innervisions Choir and the other UT students in worship this morning realize how unusual you are? You are among the roughly two percent of UT students who are in worship on a given Sunday morning. Put another way, ninety-eight percent of your fellow students are sleeping in or maybe sleeping it off. Whatever they are doing, most of them are not rushing out to worship the living God.
Or picture the scene at a Starbucks coffee shop this morning–people calmly reading the Sunday paper, working the crossword, checking their Facebook account on their laptop, or listening to music on their iPod. If these folks are thirsty for more than their vanilla lattes with an extra shot of espresso, it’s not obvious.
Just south of us this morning some 20,000 people of all ages are running around the Capital. They may be thirsty, but it’s more likely that they are panting for Gatorade than for God.
We are all aware that North American society is increasingly secular. And the spirit of secularity is everywhere; it’s part of the air we breathe. Jesus may offer living water but, at least in our society, fewer and fewer people are asking for a drink.
Yet the situation is more complex than that. Secularism, while welcomed by many as liberating, leaves others dissatisfied. It’s like a shallow stream that has dried up. In his book, The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain, neurologist Kevin Nelson contends that spirituality is as much a part of our biological makeup as our survival instinct is. That’s why in this mostly secular landscape we still find a multiplicity of wells, all offering something for the spiritually thirsty—Easter meditation practices, yoga, spiritual pilgrimages and more.
This past summer, the film Eat, Pray, Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller by the same title, set off a mini-cultural movement, complete with “Eat, Pray, Love” mugs, towels and more. Women from everywhere took off on spiritual quests of their own. While the book and movie were often criticized as shallow, the subject matter does reflect an ongoing thirst for some kind of spiritual sustenance in our lives.
So come with me, back to Jacob’s well, where Jesus is offering the Samaritan woman living water. During Lent we ask, why Jesus? What is this living water that he represents and offers to the world? Listen. If we were asked to pick one story that shows us the most about who Jesus is and what he brings to the world, this story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman would be it. This story beautifully depicts God’s surprising, barrier-smashing love that Jesus brings to the world. In the first place, the fact that Jesus accepts and relates to a Samaritan is itself shocking. Jews and Samaritans went to great lengths to avoid contact with one another. They were neighbors with a long history of bitter enmity. Think Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Somalia, or any number of other places where neighbors have been locked in conflict for generations on end. Yet Jesus intentionally goes into enemy territory, because he has come to offer God’s peace, to break down barriers of hostility.
And not only between Jews and Samaritans, but also between males and females. In his days, a Jewish male did not speak to women in a public place. That’s why when the disciples returned to the scene. John writes, “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.” In Jesus, stereotypes and prejudices are overcome as God’s love embraces all with equal eagerness. With Jesus, there is hope that the world can be different. Enemies can be reconciled, sinners forgiven, peace established, enmity overcome. This is the Gospel, the good news, the living water that God offers to the world in Jesus Christ.
Like the woman at the well, we may ask where one can get water like this. The answer, of course, is that you don’t get it at all. It gets you. It comes to us as a gift. We don’t earn it. We don’t have to go to a faraway place to find it, or become a spiritual expert to know it. We only need to accept the One who freely offers it and drink deeply.
It’s ironic that the One who offers living water did himself cry out from the cross, “I thirst.” Jesus takes on the thirst of the entire human condition—all the enmity, the bitterness, the hurts and suffering of the world—and bears it on the cross. John tells us that when one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side, out flowed water and blood. That water still flows. It is an unending river of God’s grace.
Friends, we live in a strange time. We know that many people today feel no great thirst for Christ’s living water. Still others are seeking spiritual refreshment from other wells. Be that as it may, our calling is to be a community where the thirsty can come and find living water. Look, over there is a font full of water, and here is a Table set with bread and wine. Come, eat and drink. Taste and see that the Lord is good.