Living Water

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday in Lent at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Exodus 17:1-7Psalm 95Romans 5:1-11, and John 4:5-42.

We’ve been having trouble with our sprinkler system. The pipes from which the sprinklers are affixed are filled with air. All throughout our physical plant, on this floor, the floor above, and in the undercroft, there are pipes that are usually filled with air. The air is under some considerable pressure. The sprinklers work when various sensing triggers (smoke, heat, or even just a drop in air pressure) are detected. When the air pressure goes down, the pipes rapidly fill with massive amounts of water, ready at the next trigger to spray and continue to spray for some time to put out the fire. The only thing holding back all that water is the air. So maintaining the air pressure in the pipes is essential. The part that was failing, and that we’ve replaced, is the compressor – the gizmo that maintains the air pressure.

All is fine and we’re good to go. But you can imagine what happens when such a compressor fails. Water where you don’t expect it, the phone call in the night: This is Seacoast Security. The sprinkler system has engaged at St. Peter’s.” To which the only thing you can say is, “Dear Lord, I’ll be right over.” The fire department coming with lights ablaze. It has also led, given our lections for this week, to multiple jokes about “living water” to water that flows and never runs dry – a source from which we would drink and never be thirsty again. And Lindsay Brook hasn’t even begun to rise yet!

Today’s scriptures are about thirst, and the promise in Jesus of finding a living, never-ending source of spiritual quenching.

In the first reading we hear how the people of Israel feel like they’re about to die of thirst. It’s a literal thirst, to be sure. But it also seems to be a partly spiritual thirst. After wandering in the desert, they begin to wonder:

  • Has the Lord forgotten us?
  • Is Moses up to the task of leading us?
  • They’re stuck in a cycle of bickering and fussing with each other, of feeling like they’re being tested.
  • Will they ever be relieved of
    • this thirst,
    • this doubt,
    • this frustration?

God hears their prayer and Moses makes a miracle. As the psalmist sings, “He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers. He smote the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.” (Psalm 78)

But water doesn’t always come so easily. In the Gospel, water is almost bargained over. We have this wonderful (if long) story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It takes place around water, with water, about water. It’s a great conversation between the woman and Jesus. There’s a give and take, a back and forth about it.

The Samaritan woman is skeptical. She’s cautious. She wonders if Jesus is just another charmer whose promises are empty. But she still listens, because she’s thirsty for some good news, some glimmer of new life.

Responding to her questions, Jesus explains about the water that he can give. He can give water that quenches thirst,

  • water that washes,
  • that completes us,
  • and buoys us up into the loving arms of God.

***             ***             ***             ***             ***             ***

This story is important because it shows us Jesus going outside the social norms of his day and moving beyond the racial and gender norms of his culture to befriend this Samaritan woman. It reminds us that Christian faith, at its best, invites and encourages us to move outward.

The story is also important because it shows us Jesus as the Lord of Creation—of all creation– and that includes water.

  • The water is physical and literal,
  • but it is also spiritual.
  • It symbolizes faith itself—our ability to trust in Jesus, that his life is about our life, our hope, our ability to reach outside ourselves, too.
  • The water is also hope—hope for God’s protection and guidance,
    • hope for God’s good purposes in our lives and in our world,
    • and hope for our eternal life in God.
  • And finally, the water represents charity—
    • water that is shared,
    • trust that is shared,
    • a reaching toward one another that is shared.The Samaritan woman is offered living water by Jesus and it’s interesting to me to notice what she does and what she does NOT do.
  • She does not commit herself to a life of meditation upon the water.
  • She does not build a shrine there at the well, a shrine to spend all her days at.
  • She does not start a new form of worship around the water.

Instead, she becomes a witness and one who tells what she’s seen (an evangelist). She goes around telling people about Jesus. In other words, she doesn’t hoard the water or save it up for another dry spell. She goes out offering Living Water to others.

The season of Lent invites us to notice our thirst. For what do we hunger and thirst?

  • Do you thirst for health or healing?
  • For relationship, for someone to love or someone to love you back?
  • Do you long for meaningful work, or for a new start with someone, or for some burst of new energy or creativity in your life?

We don’t know exactly what was going on in the life of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, but she came to the well with her thirst and she had the courage to ask Jesus, the stranger, for water. Can you do the same?

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