February 4, 2018 Sermon
First Scripture Reading: John 4:1-26
4 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.”
Second Scripture Reading: John 4:27-42
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[f] 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.”
Do you have any memories which feature water prominently?
- I remember growing up on a swim team. We’d arrive around 7am for swim practice. The water was often frigid at the beginning of the season. One time there were frogs lined up around the entire pool!
- I remember going on float trips on Current River. One time I was thrilled when my older brother invited a boy on whom I had a crush. Well, on this particular trip, I had to be in a raft because I had stitches and I could not get wet. The boy I liked decided to hang out with me for a while, but in one horrific moment he got pulled under the water because of some branches while I continued to float. It seemed like forever before he came up again. We were both terrified. He apologized, but said that he wanted to go float with the others.
- I remember traveling to Grand Junction and staying with Grace and Ray, on one of our first trips here when Brad was being interviewed. Grace made sure we understood how important it was that we drank plenty of water because of the climate here. There have been times since when I have forgotten my water on hikes and such and I thought I was going to pass out without it.
- And I remember thunder storms. I love thunderstorms! They make me happy. But, with storms (in Missouri) come tornadoes at times. As exciting as thunderstorms are…..tornadoes are scary.
I don’t know if you have the same kinds of experiences with water as I’ve had – some of them absolutely amazing and some of them absolutely terrifying. But I hope you can agree water is a big deal when it comes to living. If you have enough water, everything is great…you can live. If you have too MUCH water in the wrong circumstances – a terrible storm, an under current, you’re stuck in a large body of water but can’t swim – water threatens death instead of life. And if you have too LITTLE water, you can’t possibly survive. Water is a big deal when it comes to living.
God knows it. Jesus knew it. The gospel writer John who masterfully told the story we read a while ago, he knew it, too. And so John gave us a story that is absolutely FILLED with references to water:
- The story begins with water – the Pharisees talking about baptismal waters;
- The story continues to follow Jesus through Samaria, a region that included quite a bit of barren desert, and so a region in which wells would have been critical to life;
- And so the story leads to a well – more water;
- There’s a woman at the well – drawing water;
- Jesus asks for water;
- The conversation turns to the topic of water – first about proper etiquette where drinks of water are concerned between Jews and Samaritans, men and women, and then to something called living water;
Why do I emphasize water so much as I introduce this story? Partly because the gospel writer John emphasized water so much. He could have told the story without referencing water 22 times in the first 15 verses of the story. But John chose to emphasize water. And it’s partly because of what this story has come to be called, how this story is referenced. When I hear people talking about the story, they tend to call it “the story of the woman at the well.” But I wonder, if the gospel writer John intentionally wrote the story to be about water, shouldn’t we CALL it “the story about water”?
Maybe we don’t call it “the story about water” because we’ve lost touch with how important, how critical, water is to life. I know, we live in a desert here in Grand Junction, and so we’re more attuned to water than some others in our nation. But, still, we live in a time when you can turn a knob and have water available in a way that would have seemed like magic to the ancient people of John’s gospel. We can go into just about any store and purchase a bottle of water for a price almost anyone can afford. And so…we forget what those ancient desert-dwelling people knew. Water was life. No water, no life. For those folks, water was’t about quenching your thirst after a workout; water wasn’t a convenience; water was about survival. Water was about necessity. And getting water was a hardship – you might have to travel hours to get some and spend hours carrying it back home…but water was so critical that you found a way to get it.
John didn’t really HAVE to go to such lengths to make his point about the necessity of water, but, by referencing water over and again, John did remind his readers what they already knew, John made sure they understood what this story was about – something so essential to life that you couldn’t do without it. And John – following Jesus’ lead – used water to make the point…because water was THE most essential thing for life in that place and time.
And THEN, John turned the tables on his audience. Or rather, John revealed that JESUS had turned the tables already. Once John got this notion of how essential water was to the top of readers’ minds, he revealed that there was something even MORE essential, and that more essential thing was Jesus, described here as “living water.”
Y’all, I hope you now see what was going on. Jesus took the single most important thing required for survival, for life, and then said he was more important than THAT. I don’t know what the modern equivalent is for you, what you think is the most important thing for having life:
- Maybe your spouse;
- Maybe your children;
- Maybe a pet;
- Maybe your job;
- Maybe food in general or some specific food;
- Maybe a favorite hobby or television show or video game;
I don’t know what it is that you THINK you can’t live without, but I DO know the first point of this passage of scripture is that WHATEVER it is you think is the SINGLE MOST CRITICAL necessity of life, Jesus is even MORE important than that!
That’s a pretty big claim. Because I know I can’t survive very many days without water…or food…or even the love of my family. So how can Jesus be ever more essential to life than THOSE THINGS?
Apparently I’m not alone in my wondering…because if everyone GOT, if everyone AGREED that Jesus was more essential to life than water…or food…or the love of family, I’m pretty sure this and every Christian sanctuary throughout the world would be jam-packed every Sunday morning. But, as you know they’re not. Which means somewhere along the way we followers of Jesus haven’t done a very good job of making this point, of sharing this truth. Somehow we’ve made Jesus about something that is important to your future, to your eternity, rather than something that IS ESSENTIAL NOW…for life. Somehow, we’ve kept it at the backs of our minds that most people are so dissatisfied with something about the way the kingdom of the world operates that they would JUMP at the chance for better life here and now if someone showed them how to get it.
Well, it turns out, Jesus even explained the cause of this disconnect…this weird reality that people aren’t lining up to get something that is both so essential to life and so readily available. Unfortunately, Jesus’ explanation has been largely misunderstood…at least in my estimation. Because Jesus explained that the KIND of life for which he was more essential than H2O wasn’t exactly the kind of literal “you’re breathing and your heart is beating” kind of life but rather something that gets translated as “eternal life”. And since we’ve all had some experience in the Church, we THINK Jesus is talking about life in heaven after we die when he says “eternal life”. The only problem is, I’m not sure that’s the case…or at least the whole story. If you look up the Greek word that gets translated as “eternal” here, and you seek just the short definition, you’ll discover that it does, indeed, mean “eternal” or “agelong” or “unending”. But if you stop there and don’t read further, you’ll miss something critical. According to my lexicon, this word:
does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age it relates to. Thus believers live in “eternal life” right now, experiencing this quality of God’s life now as a present possession.”
In other words, having Jesus in your life and following Jesus will give you a radically DIFFERENT kind of life that will have the same quality NOW as the life that awaits us in heaven in the future.
THAT’S what Jesus communicated to that woman at the well. And look what happened? That encounter with Jesus changed her life, her here-and-now life. And she went and told other people, and THEIR encounters with Jesus changed THEIR here-and-now lives. They weren’t rejoicing because of some future event, some future salvation, that they wanted to trust in but maybe weren’t certain of. No! They rejoiced because they encountered something, someone, JESUS, who changed their lives in the here and now. They encountered the one who is to NEW LIFE, AWESOME LIFE…right now.
Which gets me wondering: what if we Christians started sharing THAT message instead of a message about accepting Jesus so that you can get some kind of delayed reward, some kind of delayed reward that people want to hope for but that isn’t tangible enough to motivate them?
Oh, and by the way, in this passage, the gospel writer John even revealed something about this amazing eternal life that happens right here and now. In a world in which teachers didn’t talk to women, and so women faced life as inferiors, Jesus talked with, listened to, cared for, and VALUED that woman. In a world in which Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans, Jesus talked with not one but a whole town full of Samaritans – revealing to each and every one of them that they had value in the eyes of God. In a world in which social sins meant ostracism, Jesus declared with his words and actions that no social sin should prevent a person from full acceptance into the community. And in a world in which religious elites tried to mediate access to God, Jesus declared God’s availability to ALL. Don’t you think there are people in this world – TODAY – who want to be valued like that, who would give anything to be valued like that?
I know there are. There are girls and women who are essentially still being told that they are second class citizens in this world. There are boys and men who are being told to be quiet because it is the women’s turn to lead. Both political parties seem to be finding delight in trying to silence the other instead of sitting down to dinner to talk civilly and work things out. There are gay youth who are being kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. There are young children (boys and girls alike) who are being sold into sex trafficking all over the world and yes, even in GJ. There are older adults who are being treated like they no longer matter. And I can guarantee you that all of these people need what Jesus offers….to be treated special, to be loved, and to understand that if they accept this love and then act on that love toward others, their lives will be better NOW.
The reason to follow Jesus is because he is the life-giving water to life as God intended for it to be lived. The reason to seek God’s will with every action of your life is not to avoid punishment but to ENJOY life here on earth as it is in God’s eternal home. The reason to follow Jesus is because he offers life as the author of life intended for it to be lived…which HAS to be better than anything a mere created being can offer you.
But it means you’ll have to give up all of those false waters, all the things we THINK are necessary for the best life possible. Only when you drink from the living water will you truly live. Amen.