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Living Water

A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va. March 23, 2014.

John 3:4:5-42 

Water.  Alongside oxygen and food, water is one of the three things essential to sustain life.  The other day, I saw a Youtube video called “What if you stopped drinking water?”[1]  Here’s what I learned.  Did you know that your body is 65% water?  It carries nutrients and hormones throughout the body, it regulates the body’s temperature, cushions our joints, and keeps our eyes nice and moist.  Your brain is constantly measuring water and other markers, sending us signals like thirst after a hot and sweaty day outside.  The brain is very aware of water because when we get dehydrated, the brain itself is affected.  We may feel light-headed, and we’ll think and respond more slowly than usual.  In fact, studies looking at elderly patients found that many of those who are confused or not thinking and remembering clearly are not suffering irreparable memory loss – they are simply chronically dehydrated.  Don’t you want a tall glass of water about now?!  All this is just what happens when we don’t get enough water.  If we quit drinking water altogether, within 4 to 5 days, our bodies would begin to shut down.  We just cannot survive long without water. 

Today in our Gospel lesson from John, we find Jesus traveling to Samaria and arriving at a well in the middle of the day.  He finds a woman there, and asks, “Will you give me a drink?”  From that simple question, Jesus and the woman engaged in an extended conversation that touched on the propriety of a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, and the difference between the water offered by Jacob’s well and the water Jesus offers.  “Everyone who drinks this water,” Jesus said, “will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Like Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the previous chapter about being born again, in this conversation, Jesus was not talking solely about literal water slaking a physical thirst.  Jesus was probing into a deeper thirst that could only be quenched by a spiritual, living water. 

Jesus answered her “Go, call your husband and come back.”  

“But I have no husband,” the woman replied. 

Jesus replied, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Scripture doesn’t say how she ended up with five husbands.  Perhaps she was a woman of loose morals as many have suggested.  Perhaps some of her husbands died tragically.  Perhaps she was forced to marry jerks who divorced her for trivial reasons.  Perhaps she is currently considered damaged property and no man will marry her, and she is now forced to be live in the same household with a man who is not her husband.  Whatever it was, there were enough irregularities in her life that she was forced to come to the well at noon, instead of in the morning when all the respectable women of Sychar came to get their water to start the day.  So every day at noon, she came by herself to the well — to draw water from Jacob’s well, yes — but I imagine she had thirsts that this water could not quench. 

Don’t we all have thirsts that physical water cannot quench?  Some of us are thirsty for love and companionship, thirsty for the approval and praise of others, thirsty for money and success.  Some of us are thirsty for self-sufficiency, thirsty for perfection, thirsty for being right, being strong, being beautiful, being smart.  In our quest to slake these thirsts, sometimes we take shortcuts by lying, stealing and cheating.  When we find that we cannot quench these thirsts by ourselves, we start thirsting for love in all the wrong places.  We start thirsting for substitutes like food, alcohol, porn, and material possessions.  We start criticizing and judging others in an effort to bolster our own shaky standing.  We start doing things that we hope no one will ever see or discover.  I know that in my own life, I’d be mortified if there were someone who saw and knew everything that I ever did. 

Ahh . . . but there is Someone who knows everything that I ever did.  That One spoke a prophetic word to the Samaritan woman, but he was not just any prophet.  That One was the anticipated Messiah, who told the woman: “I, the one speaking to you — I am he.”  Let’s give the woman credit for recognizing and owning the truth of Jesus’ word and not getting defensive.  I think she was able to accept that word because she heard it as a word of love.  Something happened to her because she ran back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” 

Preaching professor Anna Carter Florence wants us to note the unfinished nature of that sentence, especially given what we know about the woman’s history.  “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did … and loved me anyway!”  She does not say the last four words, but they are implicit in her action, and in the joy with which she runs.  “Everything she ever did” is a long list of sins; it is always before her, in the judgmental expressions of her neighbors.  For Jesus to have intimate knowledge of that list, for him to know her past, and still love and forgive her—well, that is as unbelievably new and fresh as anything she has ever heard!  The man who told her everything she ever did … and loved her anyway … is what saves her life.[2]

In her encounter with Jesus, this woman comes face to face with a God who so loved the world, that he sent his one and only Son.  The world included the educated, the respected, the law abiding and the powerful – men like Nicodemus.  The world also included the uneducated, the ostracized, the morally suspect and the weak – like this Samaritan woman.  We too are part of the world that God loves.  Lent is a time when the Son of God speaks a word of truth into our world and our lives about “everything we ever did” — not to condemn us but to save us.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Contact with this living water and this word of truth requires us to honestly admit who we are.  That is the first step of repentance.  Pastor Rob Bell tells a story of the time when a church member invited him to attend an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting.  What struck him was that the people there were honest about themselves to others.  Bell says, “As I sat there, it was as if I could see, really see, for the first time, just how much time and energy and effort we expend making sure that everybody knows how strong, smart, quick, competent, capable, together, and good we are.  It’s hard to see just how much that posturing consumes us until you’re in a room where it’s absent— a room where people aren’t doing any of that because they are giving their energies to admitting [honestly who they are]. . . . As you come face-to-face with yourself as you truly are, the unexpected truth about admitting takes us back to the counterintuitive power of gospel: When you come to the end of yourself, you are at that exact moment in the kind of place where you can fully experience the God who is for you.”[3]

When we come to the place where we believe that God is for us, something miraculous happens.  It is as if the floodgates open.  Years of hiding, of building up barriers, all the energy needed to push back the shame, the corrosive feelings of inadequacy — they are washed away.   The living water of Christ pours down like rain, washing our eyes to see who we are, but also to see Jesus’ majesty and love. 

During this Lenten season, may the word of God speak truth into your life, and may the living water of Christ open you to see, hear, and feel Christ’s love and forgiveness that saves the world.  Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCheAcpFkL8.

[2] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[3] Bell, Rob (2013-03-12). What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Kindle Locations 1830-1846).