Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Moses struck the rock with his rod and water flowed forth from the rock. Wonderful! The people were thirsty, now they have what I am supposing was crystal-clear water from the rock at Horeb. God had instructed Moses to do this after Moses came to God in desperation because the Israelites were desperate in their strong needs and their great unhappiness. God was standing there in front of Moses and some elders of Israel.
Moving through centuries, we find the woman who was standing alone at the well, after the other women had been there and gone. This well had been dug long ago by Jacob, the son of Isaac, even before Moses was born; or so the belief goes. Jesus comes along without a bucket. Jesus was the ultimate travel-light person. He needs a drink but has no utensil. He obviously depended on someone being there at the right time with the right equipment. But at least there was water there. And, yes, there is a person there with a bucket to draw water from this deep well.
As the story goes, Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land at the end of this 40-year trek through the wilderness. The reason? Because he gave in to the grumbling Israelites instead of waiting for God’s time and God’s way to provide water.
Did the same sort of thing happen to the woman at the well because she was willing to lower a bucket to give this stranger water. As it happens, Jesus did not need a drink of the well water or it is just not recorded that he drank, because the important thing is that he and this woman had a meaningful conversation. The reason this woman came to the well when she did is because she was an outcast. Not a leper exactly. For whatever reason, she had had a number of husbands and, at the time of this well encounter, she was living with someone who had not granted marriage to her.
The woman did not need to tell this to Jesus. Jesus knew! Was Jesus a busybody? Is Jesus a busybody now? Maybe a busybody is up to no good while Jesus, knowing everything about us, is able to help us well. We believe that Jesus is one of the three persons which comprise God. Therefore, it is understandable that Jesus knows everything. To this scorned woman, the discovery that Jesus had this gift or ability, was overwhelming. She immediately recognized him as the promised Messiah. A person who is really, really thirsty thoroughly appreciates and enjoys the gift of fresh, cold water. This woman at the well was really, really thirsty for love and recognition as a person.
In contrast to this woman’s appreciation for the meeting with Jesus, did we read any appreciation from the Israelites for the water that flowed from the rock when Moses followed God’s instruction to touch the rock with a certain staff? Was there no thanks in their hearts? Was there no thanks from their lips?
To me, water is a very precious commodity. I think it is correct that no water is added to the cycle as time goes on. The cycle is rain falling, sinking into the ground, swelling streams, lakes, and rivers, evaporating, gathering in clouds, and then falling again. This sounds like a good plan except that the cycle is not steady or even or fair. Some places have too much water. Some places have too little water.
Snow is good for the land but not for commerce except for car repair people, car dealers, people who shovel and plow for money, and hospitals. Forgive me, snow is good for recreation if we don’t mind the cold and we can actually drive to the ski slope. Even then, snow is good for sledding and making snowmen.
Sometimes water has too much power, too much energy. The waves are damaging. Energetic water forces itself where it is not wanted. Think water coming through walls and flowing into house through pipes instead of regarding the pipes as outgoing pathways. Then again, water is good for recreation when it is moving and has moderate energy.
Our bodies need water, not just to quench thirst but to flow into the places in our bodies which need water to stay healthy such as the discs in our backs; such as our digestive system and our blood systems. We need water to stay clean, to cook, for processing food, for certain manufacturing. What have I forgotten? Do you know there are underground streams? That is how wells work. We can think of the well that Jacob built: a hand-dug, hand-operated well.
Move to thinking of the wells many of us have who live in the country. We no longer need the bucket. We have electric pumps to pull the water to the spigots in our homes. In the city, the water is pumped from large lakes or deep, strong wells into long pipelines into homes. People who receive water in this manner have water meters. They receive a monthly water bill. These people envy those of us who live in the country, not having to pay for water. But, the hidden cost is the cost to dig the well, to buy the pump, to buy pipes, to pay the person who places and connects pipe in just the right way.
Do we really need to wash cars as often as we do? Do we really need to wash our driveways and water the grass? The answer is No! No! Let us pretend that water is gold with sparkly diamonds. It is not cheap. It is irreplaceable!
Bring the water to the baptismal font; bring the Word from the Bible. We believe that water is used to drown our sins; to be symbolic of death, even. Through that water we find the resurrection, not only of our Lord, but of ourselves. A new life emerges!
God can control water as when Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea; as when Elijah and Elisha walked through the Jordan; the water parted for all of the above. I believe that God can control floods if he chooses. It is difficult to accept that God does not claim God’s omnipotence and spare God’s people. Aha! Big dilemma! Why do bad things happen to good people! Are we always good? We may think we are living great lives, fairly well following the Ten Commandments.
Think of Job way back in time, probably between 1000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. Job apparently was living such an upright life and a successful life that Satan noticed. I am thinking that Satan was jealous. Moving again to Moses, here is a seemingly faithful person, who received unjust treatment, or so it appears. But let us remember that Moses received a one-moment stand with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Perhaps the point is that our reward comes after a period of “given-up existence.”
With the woman at the well with Jesus, the talk moved to “living water.” This living water is on a higher level than the water we drink. It is spiritual. To be truly the persons God intended us to be, we need to nurture our spiritual nature. We need to focus on that seed of faith we are given by God as we are developing in the womb. We need to be aware that this seed exists. We need to nourish the seed with living water from God.
Does not all water come from God? I would agree that water is a basic creation substance but the water for our souls is only seen in the results it produces and the peace that accompanies the process. Did I just say “peace?” Does peace happen when our faith is being tested? Many tested people would say “yes.” That through the turmoil, there is a deep peace underlying the chaos.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, addresses suffering this way: “ … we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Finally, the reward arrives. For Moses it was being with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, truly a mountaintop experience! For the woman at the well, it was the revelation that she was a woman of worth and she had met the person who gives such worth. She could go to the village without shame, out in the open and declare that the Messiah had actually come to her and to her village people. What an exoneration that must have been!
We may find it easy, actually automatic, to think of the woman at the well as bad and ourselves as good. Not so. We are human. Each one of us has fallen into temptation at one point or another. If we think we have not, perhaps we need to take a second glance at our past actions through the lens of “how much have I hurt other people in my arrogance?” To think that we are also worthy of this living water can bring a tremendous change in our spiritual life. This brings change in our self-esteem – not a “better than you attitude” – but a genuine sense of being created wonderfully by God and having the privilege to interact meaningfully with humans, not just people who have found “the way” but people who have not found the way yet.
Beth was the “woman at the well” in my town. She had not planned her life to be as it became. It just happened, like a slowly meandering stream that sometimes had healthy, happy water and sometimes had stagnant, smelly water between some curves in the banks. Along the way, Beth got pushed into a smaller side stream and could not make her way back to the main stream. She was trapped. One day someone came toward her, against the flow, to rescue her. It was too good to be true. This person was offering “living water” to Beth. It was not a marketing scheme. It would not cost money. However, it would cost her old life. All she needed to do was accept this new life. Without using her own will, Beth found herself back in the main stream, the clean, gently-flowing water. Beth was free of old stigmas. She was on level ground. She found herself proclaiming this good news to every person around her. “Living Water” indeed. Amen