Life-Giving Water

Heritage Presbyterian Church

March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent
Scripture readings – Exodus 17: 1-7 & John 4: 5-42

So…it seems that this couple approached the pastor after services on Sunday morning.  They wanted their newborn, second child to be baptized in that church in the big baptismal font, just as their first-born child had done, just as other members of their family had done.  Seems pretty straight-forward so far…when I heard this story, I thought so too.

Then it was revealed by the pastor telling the story that this particular couple was a surprise to see in church that morning.  They had left the church early in that pastor’s tenure at that church, and they had not been back except for the baptism of their first-born child.  The pastor was uncomfortable with this.  The pastor felt that the church building, and the tradition of family baptisms done there previously, was the only intention driving their request.  They would not support that church in the times to come.  The church would not get the opportunity support that child or the family in the times to come.  And the sacrament would be only a sham of what it is supposed to be. 

Before you put on your judgment hats, let me share a little more of this story.

The reason the couple left that church was because that new pastor was a woman.  They told her to her face that they didn’t accept her leadership, they didn’t like her preaching or her theology, and they didn’t plan on returning – except that baptizing their family in that particular church was a family tradition that they appreciated. 

In other words, folks, that living water of baptism would do no one any good at all.  It would not be life-giving water at all.

We all know and acknowledge that water is essential to life.  People, animals, insects, birds, plants, and the very planet itself all depend on water to stay alive.  In our on-going quest for evidence of life on other planets and moons, we have sent out an armada of scientific instruments and satellites and probes and even little robot cars to explore other worlds and to search for evidence of water – because we know that water is essential for life as we know it.  No water?  No life.

And yet…

When the Israelites traveling with Moses found themselves in the desert of Sin near Rephidim, they needed water in order to be able to continue living and traveling and following Moses to the Promised Land.  They needed water in order to keep living, and their children and their animals needed it too.  Instead of believing or trusting in Moses and in God, they put God to the test by complaining loudly and forcefully and threateningly to Moses about the lack of water.  They didn’t SEE any water, therefore they didn’t think they HAD any water.  So they panicked!

Yet, even when water flowed from the rock that Moses struck with his Nile stick, and even though the Israelites rejoiced and (hopefully) praised God for his deliverance, they quickly turned away AGAIN just a few chapters later in that tragic “golden calf” incident described in the Book of Exodus, chapter 32. 

So, I guess we can confidently assume that the so-called “living water” didn’t help those troublesome Israelites very much – other than quenching their thirst in the desert of Sin near Rephidim.

Speaking of being in the middle of nowhere in a seemingly god-forsaken place…

In John’s Gospel, Jesus was traveling from Judea back to his home country of Galilee by taking a shortcut through Samaria.  The Pharisees back in Judea had already started trouble with Jesus because of his work and his teachings, and Jesus was not yet ready to directly confront them; that would come later, of course.  So, for now, he was heading back to his familiar territory, his home turf of Galilee.  Of course, it was much shorter to travel directly north from Judea to Samaria, but that meant any Jewish travelers would have to pass right through the middle of the hated Samarian territory.  This was not the best place for any decent Jew to find himself in the olden days of Jesus.  It’s no small matter that the story of the Good Samaritan was so astonishing and uncomfortable for the Jews of Jesus’ day to hear.  There was NOTHING good about Samaritans in the minds of any Jew.

And yet, Jesus found himself in the Samaritan town of Sychar sitting next to Jacob’s well.  He was tired and thirsty from his travels – sort of like the ancient Hebrews were in the earlier story.  Jesus could see and probably even smell that cool, refreshing water, but he had no way to get it out of the well.  So he asked a woman who happened to be there to give him some water.  In an area of the world that was known for hospitality to strangers, this seems reasonable. 

And yet…there were all kinds of things wrong with this scene:

  • Samaritans don’t talk to Jews…Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.
  • Solitary men don’t talk to solitary women…solitary women don’t talk to solitary men.
  • Cultural animosity existed between Samaritans and Jews because both believed that the other didn’t worship God “properly.”
  • Jews believed the Temple in Jerusalem was the only official one.  The Temple in Samaria was built because the Jews wouldn’t let the Samaritans worship in Jerusalem.  Competing Temples to the same Lord, in other words.

So there was no good reason for Jesus to talk with this woman. 

But when he did, we the readers find out another good reason this conversation shouldn’t be happening: she has been married five times to five different men – and the man she was with on that day was not her husband.

No wonder she was getting water in the middle of the day – no one wanted to see her in the cool of the morning when everyone came to get their water for the day.  She was a woman of low esteem.  And Jesus shouldn’t have been anywhere near her. 

But he was.  That’s just how Jesus was.  It was probably part of what also seriously annoyed the Pharisees who were always seriously annoyed with Jesus.

And Jesus illustrated an interesting lesson when he initiated the conversation: it is much harder to hate up close and personal.

It’s so easy to dismiss others when they are not right in front of you.  It’s so easy to be disgusted by others when they are not right there at your side.  It’s so easy – so very easy – to hate members of a group when you don’t actually know any individual members of a group that you hate.

The story appears so simple: Jesus is thirsty.  Jesus asks the only person at the Samaritan well to get him a drink of water.

What’s the big deal?

Well, that depends on where we stop reading.  Because I selected the entire passage, we get more of the story.  We also get a clear example of how living water can truly help others live.

When Jesus first mentions living water, the Samaritan woman was confused; she thought there was a special type of water she could drink that will quench her thirst for her whole life – and she wouldn’t have to come to the well every day to get water.  Once Jesus began to explain exactly what He meant, she slowly began to understand: this man was not just a tired, thirsty, brash Jew.  He was the Messiah – the same Messiah that the Samaritans believed in; the same Messiah that the Samaritans looked for. 

Once she understood that Jesus was that same Messiah, she also understood that the regular water of Jacob’s well was not the living water that Jesus was speaking of.  She was so excited that she left her water bucket and ran into town to tell everyone.

I’ll bet that didn’t go well at first.  Imagine this “fallen woman”…this “wearer of the scarlet letter” running from person to person, from door to door, shouting for everyone to come and see this man…this prophet…this possible Messiah who has come to their town. 

But something in her voice or something in her face convinced them that she was telling the truth because Scripture tells us that “many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.”

They all understood that the living water Jesus was offering was salvation.  They also understood that they – the hated, despised Samaritans – were also saved by the same Messiah who had come to save the Jews.

That’s life-giving water that quenched the thirty souls of many in that Samaritan city.  It saved the fallen woman at the well.

Finally, let’s look around, my dear sisters and brothers.  We see lots of trouble lately: a nasty political campaign that is just getting ramped up, a stock market that can’t make up its mind if it’s going up or going down…it just swings back and forth in record-setting ways each day.  We have a pandemic called coronavirus that is frightening our country, ignored by some, terrifying others, and just disrupting life for every one of us.

Yet…what have we heard over and over and over again that is the best way to fight this?  Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time you wash.  And do it often. 

We have students being sent home from school, schools closing for the rest of the semester, March Madness basketball tournaments being played inside empty arenas, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church cancelling services until further notice, on-line college courses being forced upon students and teachers who may or may not be prepared and equipped to handle it, and we can’t find toilet paper, hand sanitizer or paper towels in the stores. 

And yet…what can we do about it?  Wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap.

Again, life-giving water will save you – but you gotta get with the program!  Sitting around and complaining like the ancient Israelites demonstrates a lack of faith – a test of the Lord. 

Where’s your faith, Christians?

Life-giving water will save us all, the eternal life that comes from following the same Messiah that the Samaritan woman recognized at the well so long ago.

Where’s your courage, Christians?

Life-giving water consists of more than a cool, satisfying drink when you are really thirsty.  It comes from the satisfaction that exists in the hearts of all believers everywhere.

The life-giving water that flows down on all of us daily if we are wise enough to look around and believe it.

The gift that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

And by the way, wash your hands, Christians, with soap and water.