Thirst

A Sermon for 19 March 2017 – Third Sunday during Lent

A reading from the gospel of John 4:1-42.  Listen for God’s word to us.

     “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4 But he had to go through Samaria.  5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon.  7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink 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.”  15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true!”  19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).  “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”  27 Just then his disciples came.  They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”  28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.  She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  30 They left the city and were on their way to him.  31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’?  But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”  39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”  40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  41 And many more believed because of his word.  42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.””
This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!
      Monday in Kansas City, the NEXT Church national conference began.  You’d think with a name like NEXT Church, this would be a conference put on by flashy young clergymen from one of those non-denominational, mega, pop-up churches.  But, believe it or not, NEXT Church is a network of church members, youth leaders, educators, pastors, professors, seminarians, and ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This national network of Presbyterians believes “the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful, and more agile” (www.nextchurch.net/about-next/).  Their website includes relevant resources, an opportunity to be a part of a monthly web-based roundtable, and story after story of churches telling the ways they are re-imagining treasured ministries.  There’s even a submission from a SMALL church of this Presbytery that created a 20-minute Ash Wednesday pod-cast to reach 1,000 listeners – something they did in addition to a drive-through line in their parking lot for commuters to receive the imposition of ashes on their way to work.  Sounds pretty cool to me!  . . .  In addition to having a website filled with such creative options, NEXT Church also hosts an annual conference.  This year, some 220 first-time attenders joined another 300 or so folks for a week of honest, inspiring conversation around the theme Wells and Walls:  Well-Being in a Thirsty World.  They spent all week around the gospel of John’s story of Jesus, tired out from his journey, breaking down walls as he sought out a local well.
     It may be shocking to hear, as the gospel details early in this story, that even Jesus was thirsty along his journey.  Jesus seems to indicate that it’s four months before the harvest, so likely that puts them in the heat of summer, at noon, mid-way through the five-day trek of the 100 miles from Judea where Jerusalem is, back to his home district of Galilee, where Jesus undertook the majority of his ministry.  Intentionally he takes the short cut.  Maybe because he’s exhausted from the journey.  More likely because he’s not afraid of the long-standing walls between people.  Though the Samaritans may not be included in his people’s definition of one of us; the gospel of John tells the story as if he had a messianic need to go through Samaria.  He may be tired out from his journey so that he sits at a well – likely hoping to quench his body’s thirst.  But within, he also has another thirst.  He has a thirst – a craving inside to encounter those of this world who thirst.  This is the gospel, remember, that one chapter prior tells of Jesus encountering at night the Pharisee Nicodemus.  According to the gospel of John, the last time we hear of Jesus in conversation with another; he tells that treasured truth:  why God sent him into the world.  Out of love, we hear on the lips of Jesus in John 3:16, the Word was enfleshed; not to condemn but that no last one would perish.  The thirst that drives our Christ is to fulfill this mission of God’s.  To complete this work, Jesus explains to his disciples after they return and find him talking with a woman, of Samaria, who has been passed from husband to husband.  She happens to be the one who walked up in this foreign land through which Jesus decided to travel.  So she becomes his first Samaritan disciple who runs off to tell everyone else about the One she encountered at noon at the well.
     It’s hard to tell when we’re thirsty, isn’t it?  I listened to a friend this week who is worried she could end up hospitalized from de-hydration, as she was two years ago, because she can’t seem to remember to stop throughout the day to take in the water she needs.  Due to a recent flood in her area, it doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to, but it’s still right there – with her in her computer case as she travels from place to place going about her daily work.  According to Water.org, an international nonprofit organization that has been working for 25 years to address the global water crisis; 663 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.  That’s one in 10 people on this planet, or twice the population of the United States, without safe drinking water.  That’s a lot of thirsty, prone to disease and death people who literally need water to drink.  . . .  I could tell you stats about how many today describe themselves as spiritually thirsty but not turning to the church for connection with the Divine.  A growing number of spiritually curious people in the United States do not see evidence that church-goers’ lives look any different than their own unchurched life.  But we don’t need the stats to know how deep the thirst.  We know the stories.  Grown children who may still consider themselves Christian but do not participate in a local church; it seems irrelevant.  Siblings who don’t make it a practice to be in worship anywhere – if they ever did.  Neighbors who most likely spend Sunday mornings lounging and catching up as a family rather than racing over here – or to any of the other ga-zillion Nashville church options.  Even those who want to be here, but no longer can be due to illness or mobility or physical capacity.  Everywhere we look today, we see thirst.  We, who come here week after week, also thirst.  . . .  What’s going to quench those parched places in us and in others?
     The gospel of John presents One who stays with the woman.  Locked in what seems like a heady-battle, she questions and queries as one determined to protect her heart.  With every response, Jesus just takes her deeper; deeper to the scorched places within.  He meets her where she is and won’t allow any rules set up between them to get in his way.  He is thirsty for her not to perish, which in the gospel of John has to do with a state of living right now, today.  The eternal life that is God’s will is not just about eons to pass.  Eternal life has a flavor that better matches our understanding of abundance – a state of being now that our Creator wants for us all.  It’s the difference between a stinky, still pond of water and a fresh, gushing spring coming right up from the ground.  Or the difference in a defensive woman at a well and a filled-with-vigor witness who drops her jar to sprint back to the village to tell news too good to be kept inside.  It’s one filled with a joy-ful spirit who finally knows herself accepted in the eyes of the Divine, cherished as one welcomed into the fold.  Standing in the presence of the One whose love will wash over her every morning like waves refreshing a tattered soul.  Simply Jesus reveals himself unto her until, at last, everything within comes alive.
     He wants it for us too.  And for every other person of this world who thirsts.  Somehow the two go together – that when we are filled, the Spirit of God comes pouring right back out.  We know it because in this story, Jesus never does get a cup of cool water from that well.  His thirst is quenched in his encounter with the woman and those of her town to whom she introduced him.  We’d do well to remember:  it is in fulfilling the mission of God, Christ’s thirst is satisfied.  . . .  It’s like that with life-giving water.  Ebbing and flowing between us like waves.  No walls able to stop it.  It just keeps crashing up against any defenses, slowly wearing ‘em down, until we’re drenched in God’s life-giving love.
     For us all in this world who thirst, may the Living Water flow!
     In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
                                             © Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)

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