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Worship and Sermons
March 19, 2017

 

“Living Water for the Thirsty” by the Rev. Don Wahlig

Year A / 3rd Sunday in Lent - Exodus 17:1-7  •  Psalm 95  •  Romans 5:1-11  •  John 4:5-42

THEME:  Witness to Christ by humbly sharing with others our own brokenness and need for Christ, and the new life he gives us.

 

          Have you ever been thirsty?  Really, truly thirsty – desperate for a drink of water?  If you have, I’m sure you remember it vividly.

          I certainly do.  When I was fifteen I went with the Boy Scouts to Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It’s an experience that many in Scouting regard as the pinnacle of their camping adventures. 

          That was certainly true for me.  For three weeks in July of that year we hiked in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range East of Taos.  It was beautiful – the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the state of New Mexico.

          But it wasn’t all easy going.  We were hiking through areas of wilderness in the backcountry.  One of the key lessons we learned was to watch our water supply carefully and to always make sure we had extra water with us.

          One day, our group decided to take a side hike up to a scenic overlook.  It didn’t seem very far off the main trail, so a few of us stayed behind to watch our packs and the rest of us started up what looked like an easy side trail. 

          Before long, it got steeper and steeper.  An hour and a half later when we finally got to the top, we were exhausted.  The view was spectacular, but the price we paid for enjoying it was using up all of our water. 

          That hike back down seemed to take forever.  Finally, we got to the bottom and tore into our spare canteens.  There are two things I’ll never forget about that day.  The first is how good that water tasted.  The other thing I’ll never forget is how it felt to be that thirsty.

          I have to believe, as parched as I was that day, in our gospel story Jesus was a darn sight thirstier than that. 

          He and his disciples are halfway through a three days’ walk from Judea northward to their home turf in Galilee.  They’ve walked all of the previous day, and they’ve been walking all morning.  It’s been a long, hot, dusty trek over rocky paths.

          Now it’s high noon.  The sun is intense and they’re thirsty.  Jesus knows that up ahead is the deep well named after his ancestor Jacob. 

          So, after sending his disciples to a nearby Samaritan village to buy food, he reaches the well and collapses against it.  He’s hoping that someone will come along with a rope and bucket to draw water so he can finally get a drink.

          Jesus has broken a number of taboos, first and foremost simply by being where he is:  in Samaria.

          Jews despised Samaritans.  Samaritans were considered heretics, worse than gentiles.  They were unclean, to be avoided the way you’d steer clear of someone with a highly contagious disease. 

          But that doesn’t seem to concern Jesus.  Rather than taking the usual route around Samaria, he’s taken his disciples directly through their territory around the slopes of Mt. Gerazim, the high mountain where they worship.

          Then he breaks another taboo.  A lone Samaritan woman approaches the well.  He speaks to her.  “Give me a drink of water.”  

          The woman is stunned – and so are the readers of John’s gospel.  Not only is Jesus willing to share a drinking vessel with this unclean Samaritan woman, but simply by speaking to her when she’s unaccompanied, he’s defied conventional propriety that strictly prohibited these potentially compromising interactions. 

          We also wonder why she’s coming to this well so far outside her village, alone and at the height of the day.  We soon learn she’s a pariah among her own people.  Her life is not a happy one.

          And, yet, here Jesus is, engaging her in conversation – a conversation that will change her life forever.  “If you knew who I am,” he says, “you’d be asking me for a drink – and I would give you living water.”

          Living water is another name for spring water.  It not only tasted better than well water, it was considered healthier. 

          But Jesus has something even better than that in mind.  "Everyone who drinks . . .  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."      

          Although she doesn’t yet understand the profound nature of the living water Jesus is offering, she knows she needs it, and she wants it.  She’s tired of being thirsty in a physical sense.  Very soon she’ll come to realize just how tired she is of being thirsty in a spiritual sense.

          So she responds, “Sir, give me this water”.   From that moment, her relationship with Jesus deepens and begins to transform her life.

          Jesus is also offering you and me something in this text, something that is central to our faith.  He’s showing us how we should go about the work of evangelism to which he calls all of us. 

          What is so surprising is that it starts with utter humility and vulnerability.

          Jesus begins this encounter not as a Rabbi teaching disciples from a mountain-side perch, but as a thoroughly human being, physically exhausted and collapsed at the side of a well, over-heated and desperately seeking a drink of cool water. 

          He’s in need, and he asks for help.  Despite the translation in our Bible, Jesus doesn’t command this woman to give him a drink – he asks her.  It’s a request, a question.  “Will you please give me a drink?”   

          That makes all the difference in the world.  Both he and this Samaritan woman have a common need:  He’s thirsty – and so is she.

          From this connection, a conversation begins.  As a result, not only does her life change, but so do the lives of her family and her entire village, all of whom come to believe in the transforming good news Jesus brings.

          This is what evangelism is meant to look like.  But I think we’d all agree it’s a lot different than what most of us have been led to believe it is.

          We’re often told that evangelism is about ‘winning souls’.  That we need to persuade, urge and even compel non-believers to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

          But many Christians are beginning to question that. As one young Presbyterian pastor recently asked, “what if evangelism really is more about sharing than convincing?  More about being vulnerable with our own brokenness than being so quick to point it out in others?”

          I think he’s absolutely right.  Brokenness is something we all have in common.  It’s the very nature of the human condition.  The hard truth is we’re all sinners – each and every one of us. 

          I don’t think anyone has ever expressed this better than the apostle Paul.  In his letter to the Romans, he writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

          If that’s true of a Christian as faithful as Paul, then surely it must be true of you and me, and everyone else.

          Now, some regard that kind of brutally honest, humble admission as weakness.

          But the message of our text is just the opposite.  It shows us the power of humility.  Humility forms a bridge of common humanity that breaks down barriers and connects us with others.

          We may look different on the outside, on the inside, we’re all fighting the same battle to overcome brokenness.  That’s what this holy season of Lent is about – preparing for the grace and joy of Easter by coming to grips with the fact that we’re not who God intends us to be.  We all need Jesus to help us change.

          When we share with someone else our brokenness, and our need for Jesus, we open the way for them to confront their own, and to consider the gift of living water that he offers.

          That’s what it means to be a witness for Christ.  The living water he gives us bubbles up and overflows like a spring that brings new life to the parched souls and lives of those around us.

          That’s how evangelism is meant to be.  More sharing than persuading; more humility than judgment.

          How does that sound to you? 

          Let’s try this.  Think for a moment of a person in your life who’s struggling.  Maybe it’s someone in your family, or a friend, or just someone you encounter in your daily routine.  I’ll doing the same.

          In addition to offering hands-on help, how might we share with them our own brokenness – the void in our life that Jesus fills and the joy and peace he brings? 

          Nothing complicated - just a helpful, friendly supportive word that says, “I struggle, too – Jesus helps”.

          That’s all it takes to share the living water we ‘ve received with those who are thirsty.  The Spirit will do the rest.

          That’s how the church will grow.  All of us want to see that happen.  We want the disciples of Jesus Christ to increase in number and in faithfulness.

          The question is, “Are we willing to do what it takes?”

May it be so.  

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:28 AM
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