Exodus 17:1–7; Romans 5:1–11; John 4:5–42
On the third stop along our Lenten pilgrimage we find water. First, we join Moses in the wilderness, and then we go to Sychar, in Samaria. Today, we find living water.
First, I want to make a comment on the passage from Romans. Paul writes, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” As I was thinking about this sermon, I realized that we at Hope are a bunch of characters!
Moses is with the Israelites in the wilderness, and once again, they are complaining. This time, there is no water. Since we all need water to live, it's a serious concern. Moses complains to God, and God tells Moses to strike the rock. Water gushes from the rock, and there is plenty of water for the people to drink and cook and wash. With the gift of this water, the people now have water for living. They can see now that God is present in the giving of the water, even though they had just struggled to believe in God’s presence with them, ever.
… As we move on to the Gospel, a bit of history will help us understand why Jews and Samaritans hated each other in Jesus’ time. When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom -- Israel -- they took the leaders out of the region and replaced them with people from other places. The people who remained then formed their own religion based only on the Torah. Their holy mountain was Mount Gerazim, and not Jerusalem on Mount Zion. As a result of these religious and at the same time political reasons, the Samaritans and the Jews did not trust or respect each other.
The eastern border of Samaria was the Jordan River. Because of the enmity between the groups, most Jews crossed the river to get from the Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, to avoid traveling through Samaria. Jesus chose this time to not cross the river, and he and the disciples traveled through Samaria.
It's midday when they get to the well, a time when there is usually no one there. Most women would go to the well in the cooler weather of the morning or evening. Strangely, there is a woman there. She is unnamed, but let's call her Hannah. It’s odd that she would be at the well in midday. It must be to avoid other women and their ridicule. What is wrong with her, we might wonder.
Jewish men do not speak with women, either Jewish or Samaritan. Jews avoid Samaritans so thoroughly, they do not even share drinking cups at the well in towns where both Jews and Samaritans live together. But today, Jesus speaks with Hannah, asking her for a drink.
Hannah is astounded that he would speak with her, a woman and a Samaritan, and even be willing to share her drinking cup. They have a conversation about water. As is common for the folks who speak with Jesus in John's gospel, she takes his words literally instead of metaphorically. She would love to have her own well in her own backyard! Just think, she would never have to be shunned again!
But Jesus means spiritual, living water. Everyone who drinks the living water will never be thirsty again. She struggles to understand. Jesus changes the subject. Go and get your husband, he tells her. I have no husband, she admits. Jesus knows all about her: that's right, you don't. You have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband.
We don't know why she has had this history with men. The frequent assumption is that she was a prostitute. But I have a different idea. I think perhaps she was poor or somewhat disabled, and old men married her out of pity. As one old man died, another married her. Finally, no one would marry her, but the current man had her living with him as a slave. At least she had a roof over her head! But she comes to the well in midday, presumably to avoid all the other women and their sharp tongues. If we let ourselves be sympathetic, we could think: How sad, how wounded she must be!
With the revelation that Jesus knows her whole history, Hannah runs off, leaving her water jug. She no longer needs well water: she is much more interested in living water. So, she runs into the town that has consistently treated her poorly and tells them to come and meet Jesus. He might just be the Messiah we have all been waiting for!
Now, it’s our turn. What is living water? – a belief in God’s constant presence with us; a relationship with God, knowing God loves and forgives our sins; a trust in God to provide us with everything we need; a life of discipleship in which we put God first in all we do. Living water is God’s love pouring out upon us like water in a river.
In the same way that we all need water – literal, wet, thirst-quenching water – we also all need the living water of a relationship with Jesus. Most of us know this, and we are so accustomed to having living water that we forget how important it is in our lives. We forget how important it is to tell others about it, especially those who do not have it.
There’s a brief video I share with the confirmation class each time we talk about baptism. It’s a video of a pastor baptizing the youth in his congregation. They use a baptistery, for immersion baptism. So, imagine a small pool, maybe 12’x12’, with water about waist-deep, and steps leading down into it and back up out of it.
The pastor baptizes one boy, and sends him on his way. He looks to his left, to help the next youth into the water. Suddenly, the congregation gasps as the boy does a cannonball dive into the pool. The pastor gasps, and says, “I’ve been a pastor for a number of years. This has never happened before, and it will never happen again.” A minute or so later, the pastor confesses that he had actually dared the boy to do the cannonball into the pool, but never believed he would actually do it.
Certainly, our baptism is important; it should be a joyful time in our lives. Our baptism is an occasion for making promises that we will live forever in relationship with God. We Lutherans are pretty sedate. We baptize most often with just a sprinkle of water. If we take the time to remember our baptism, it is with a little candle.
What would happen if we took a cannonball dive into living water as we remembered our baptism, weekly, daily, hourly? What if we climbed out of the water with our promises to Jesus renewed? What if we made a commitment to help other people know Jesus and want to be baptized, too? What if we were so excited to have living water we couldn’t wait to share it, and quench the thirst of those who are thirsty for something more than a lot of money, a lot of power, a lot of things, a lot of whatever they think will satisfy them, but never does?
This week, how will you remember you are filled with living water? How will you share some of that living water with those who are really thirsty for it?
Please pray with me. God of Living Water, pour out your water upon us who are thirsty for it. Fill us to over-flowing, so we can’t help but share it. Amen