What Is This Living Water 3-23-14

This sermon came from John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I explore what Jesus is talking about when he discusses giving “living water.”

You can listen to the sermon here.
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-this-living-water-3-23

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. AS usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Ask anyone a simple question…What is the most important thing found on earth? You’ll probably get a variety of answers…but if you ask enough people…I’m guessing that there is one thing that you’ll start to hear repeatedly…water. (pause)
And rightly so. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. It covers roughly 72% of the surface…depending on what Google article you read. It’s vital to so many things…life as we know it would cease to exist without water…and you know what, so would several of our common expressions.
Has a lot of time gone by since some major event occurred? Well, good…then there’s a lot of water under the bridge isn’t there?  (pause) Something bad happen between you and another person in the past? Have they forgiven you yet? Well good…water off a duck’s back. Things looking a little bleak in the future…I guess your water glass is half empty…oh wait, not so bleak…then your water glass is half full isn’t it? (pause)
Water’s a funny thing though isn’t it? It can be good or bad…sometimes at the very same time.  Farmers…I bet you’re starting to look for the rain aren’t you…get some much needed moisture in the ground before planting time comes up?  But what if we get too much rain…then watch out…the fields will flood and we’ll be cursing it won’t we?
I can relate with that.  I’ve got some amazing memories that involve water…I remember a day long canoe trip down the Sioux River in the northern part of the state a few years back…that was a blast…but on the flip side, if you were here on Ash Wednesday you heard me tell a story of a time when water almost cost me my life…and just yesterday…not even 24 hours ago, I willingly jumped into water that was maybe 3 degrees above freezing…and let me tell you…there was nothing life giving in that experience.
But now that brings us around full circle…because water itself is life-giving isn’t it? We all need it…all of life on earth relies on it…but as life giving as water is…I have never heard of a way in which water itself…is living…until today’s gospel lesson.
Let me set the scene for you. The Middle East in the season when a person can survive walking all over the countryside…very likely midsummer….hot, arid…not exactly the nicest place in the world…and its noon…hottest part of the day…and we find Jesus, tuckered out from walking all day, hanging out by a well…probably really wishing he had a bucket of some sort…when along comes a woman with her water jar. (pause) Oh, by the way, did I mention this is Samaria?
We’ve got a few things happening here that are strange from the get-go. First off, Jesus, a Jew is in Samaria…a place where Jews did not like to go…let’s just say their dislike of Samaria and the people that lived there puts the rivalry between…say…Iowa and Iowa State look like child’s play…Secondly…we’ve got a man engaging with a woman…which was a big cultural no-no at the time…kind of makes you wonder how they ever managed to get to know each other before getting married, though that’s neither here nor there…So, we see boundaries getting crossed over here…something that Jesus was well known for in his day…but here’s the really odd thing…
Why was the woman coming to the well at noon in the first place? Obviously, she’s there to get water…why else would she go to the well, but the custom was for the women of the nearby town to head out to the well together…safety in numbers and all that…and to do it in the cool weather of the morning…maybe in the evening but even that is uncommon…so what is it that has this woman coming to the well in the heat of the day?
Many scholars will tell you a lot of different things about her, but the most common one has to do with her past…a matter we hear about in the story.  She’s had 5 husbands…and she’s living with a guy that isn’t her husband…SHOCKING! I know…clearly she must be some sort of harlot…sinful in every sense of the word and so she comes to the well at noon, alone in her shame…when no one else will be there to shun her or whisper behind her back.
Though that being said, I’m not all that sure about that…nowhere in this passage is there any talk of sin or repentance or changing her ways…nowhere…and so I think it’s important to throw out that assumption that there’s something wrong with this woman’s behavior…and instead focus on the idea that her situation is simply less than ideal…perhaps those 5 husbands died…or maybe they left her…we don’t know…and maybe, just maybe, the guy she’s living with now is her brother…or perhaps the brother of her last husband who would have taken her in, but she wouldn’t be considered his wife…we can speculate all day long…but in the end let’s just accept that she’s here, and despite the odd circumstances…she’s here for the obvious reason…to get water…that life giving water that flows through the well.
And imagine her shock when she comes walking up to the well…and finds this Jewish guy sitting there…and he has the audacity to ask for a drink…and when you exchange a little bit of banter…he throws this little tidbit at you…If you knew the gift of God standing before you asking for a drink…you would ask him and he would give you…living water.” (pause)
Living water. If this random Samaritan woman is anything like me, she hears that statement from Jesus and before answering him as she does…the thought has to go through her head…What the heck is living water?  I wrestled with this question all week long…and try as I might to just ignore that question in my mind, my old preaching professors voices kept popping up saying “if you have a question about something, that’s probably what you’re supposed to preach on.” They’d be so proud of me right now.
But seriously…living water? Just what does that mean? (pause) Perhaps the woman is asking this question as well, but when she questions Jesus…who is, by the way, the one we should be asking these questions of…she words it just a little bit differently…Sir…where do you get this living water? (pause) Not What is it? But WHERE…is it?
Now Jesus answers the question of where…but as per usual he does it in his own, slightly confusing way. He tells her…the water I give…so we know only that this so called living water…comes from Christ…but more importantly than that, we need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus says he will give it to those that ask him. (pause). Bear with me now…Living water comes from Christ and he gives it to those that ask for it….and when he gives it to them, it becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life. (pause)
Right there…I think that’s our first clue that Jesus isn’t really talking about water here…but something else entirely…but we need to keep on searching if we want to figure out what he’s really talking about…so let’s continue…stay with me now.
Jesus gave us a clue when he said that the water will well up to Eternal Life…but we have to ask the question of what he’s talking about there…and that’s a question that Jesus answers later on in the Gospel.  He says towards the end of John while praying to his father that “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (pause) Eternal life is knowing God and knowing that Jesus is God…eternal life is believing that Jesus is God…and that right there is the entire key of John’s gospel.
For John, sin is not believing that Jesus is God…that’s it…its singular…lack of belief…and through this lack of belief, denying the relationship that Christ has offered to us…a relationship that results in the forgiveness of our sin. (pause) Okay…still with me? I’m about to bring this all home I promise.
There’s another word that we use to describe believing what God has said…for believing the promises of God…and word is faith…and we hear in the book of Romans that like Abraham believing God’s promise that despite his old age he would be the father of many descendants…we can believe in the promise made by God that if we believe in Jesus Christ and that through his sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven of our sin and therefore, we will not perish but have eternal life. (pause)
Okay now…let me apologize for getting really heady there…admittedly, this has been pretty deep theological thinking…but through this process of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “living water” given to us by Jesus is…quite simply…faith…living water that wells up to eternal life is having faith in the promises of God…(pause)
So long story short…faith, is a gift from God…it is not something that we create ourselves…but it is given to us by Christ through the power of the holy spirit…and while you might not realize it…you profess that each and every week here in church…see if you recognize this…
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…(pause)…sounds familiar right? Well then, maybe so do these words from Luther himself…I believe that I CANNOT by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit as called me THROUGH the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. (pause)
We don’t do it people…and even more than that…the gift of faith does not make us perfect people. It does not answer all the questions, or quiet all the doubts…or alleviate all the fears…just as it didn’t for the Samaritan woman in today’s story.  When she finally comes to the point of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah…she immediately runs off to town to share what she has learned…to share her experience…but take a careful look at what she says to the other townspeople…
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done…He cannot be the Messiah can he? (pause)  2 important statements here…first off…Christ revealed “everything I have ever done.”  Faith illuminates our darkness…the light of Christ roots out darkness, exposing it for what it is…and our faith does the same thing…Faith recognizes our own sinful nature…our own shortcomings…faith doesn’t deny it…it acknowledges it and by doing so acknowledges our need for a savior…for a messiah…and secondly, she continues to ask the important question “He cannot be the messiah can he?”
In this woman’s wonderful example we see that faith can and does exist alongside questions and doubts…but more importantly it brings us into relationship with the one that can and does allow us to ask those questions…to experience those doubts…and who walks alongside us through the fearful experiences…and who truly is…the Savior of the World.
In this final important confession, uttered by the Samaritan people, we find evidence of the good news uttered by Jesus in last week’s lesson and hinted at again today…For God so loved…THE WORLD.  The Gospel is not for anyone specific…rather…its for everyone…regardless of age or culture or race or gender or any other division that we might want to create…its for everyone…including you…For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life…even when we might not think they deserve it…that’s the offensive nature of the Gospel…that its offered to the most vile person to ever walk the earth…because the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross…his brutal death that we’ll hear about in a few more week’s time…was big enough to cover over all sin…for all time…and he judges us as righteous…even when we don’t. Maybe this good news come to rest in you today and become a spring of living water, welling up to Eternal Life.  Amen.

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