Sermon preached by Rev. Karen Farthing in the Amistad Chapel, August 16, 2006
Reading John 4:7-15
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
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.)
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."
The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
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."
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."
I grew up right here in the Cleveland area, near the single largest body of fresh water in the world – the Great Lakes. Every summer our family would spend weekends in a little yellow pop-up camper that sat right on the beach. We’d fall asleep each night with the sound of the waves lulling us to our slumber. Sometimes we’d go boating on the lake, just to cruise around, maybe drop a line to catch a fish, or jump in the water to swim.
For me, as a child, Water was everywhere!
Even in the midst of drought, the worst that ever seemed to happen was that you could only water your lawn on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays, unless you lived across the street, and could water them on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
We’d put on our swimsuits and run through the sprinklers, soak each other with the hose, or ride our bikes through the spray that watered the sidewalk. As a kid, water was just there. You’d turn on the tap and it would always be there, clean and sweet and abundant.
Water was, well, – it was the water in which we swam.
I didn’t know how amazing this was. I honestly could not imagine a life without water. I had a vague knowledge of deserts, and other dry places, but that didn’t mean anything to me.
I could not imagine that there were others - Human beings just like me - who lived without easy access to water, who couldn’t just turn the faucet, or run through the sprinklers.
That all changed for me as a teen when I turned on the TV one day.
The airwaves were filled with images of drought and famine in Ethiopia – children with sticks for limbs, bellies swollen, laying eerily quiet in their mother’s arms – When I first saw them on the television, I remember thinking that they didn’t even seem real, until one would blink looking at the camera, and you suddenly knew, this was a child – a living human being.
But just barely.
They were dying by the millions – because they had no water.
Suddenly I understood - Water is life. Without water, there is no living.
In fact, water is so essential, that when scientists wonder about life out in the galaxy, they don’t look for spaceships with little green men in them. They don’t look for buildings or even trees and grass – they look for signs of water.
Water is life.
Our ancestors knew this – it is built right into the beginning of our creation story – just after the night and the day, and before any living things appear, God separates the waters of the earth and the sky.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ first miracle, is one of water – Turning the water in the jugs of Cana into wine fit for a wedding. And in our passage today, we have an encounter at a well. Even Jesus gets thirsty!
“Where do we get that living water?” This is the question that the Samaritan woman asks Jesus as they speak together at the well. Jesus asks the woman to draw him up some water, so that his physical thirst may be quenched. When she balks, they embark on a rather strange exchange.
First, Jesus seems to pull rank: “If you only knew who you were talking to, you’d be asking me for water!” But the woman is practical. Of course she knows who she is talking to – Jesus is a Jew, and she, a Samaritan. The two don’t mix.
You could say they are like oil and water. Jesus should not even be speaking her – a woman, an outsider, a non-Jew. But the woman is plucky – “you don’t even have a bucket!” she tells Jesus “are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?”
Jesus’ response is more prophetic than practical “if you drink this water, you will be thirsty again. But if you drink the living water that I can give you, through the gift of God, then you will never be thirsty again!”
As I understand it, Jesus is no longer talking now about physical thirst, the physical body’s need for good old H20. Instead, Jesus is talking about spiritual thirst, that deep longing for love of God, the presence of God, the connection with God that gives us Life (with a capital L).
The Samaritan woman does not seem to see it this way – she is excited – “let me have this living water, so that I may not have to visit this well again!” How wonderful it would be if we could slake our physical thirst with the living water of God!
And yet, we do – God has provided us with the water we need to live. God’s overwhelming abundance has provided more than we need to slake the daily thirst of each and every one of us here - and our 6+ billion brothers and sisters around the globe.
God has given us living water. God has given water enough for all. And for the most part, most of us have most of the water we need to sustain us, most of the time. And this is surely something that we celebrate!
But as we all know, as the statistics on the back of our bulletin remind us, there are a great many who do not have access to clean water, all the time. There are a great many who must spend hours of every day, just to bring water to their families. Just to have the water they need to live.
Sometimes it is nature, the changing of the seasons, the fury of weather, that keeps some from the water necessary for life. In recent years, we have certainly seen the destructive power that water has. But often, it is we humans Who get in the way of our brothers and sisters. We humans, being human, are often afraid that there isn’t enough. There isn’t enough to go around. And so we take what we can, and keep it tight. We dole it out sparingly, or not at all.
Water is indeed, precious. But we treat it as a precious commodity. Something to be bought and sold.
And yet, the water is there. God has given us what we all need to live, and in abundance.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, many people asked – Why don’t the people leave?! Why do they live in the flood zone? But we saw that the people had no other place to go. They didn’t have the means or the resources to be anyplace else.
That wasn’t because God doesn’t provide - the food, the water, the shelter – that we all need to live. God provides the living water. God gives the land, but we build the fences and charge the rents. We are often afraid if we don’t grab what we can, and keep what we have, there won’t be enough. We are afraid to share God’s living water.
We, as Christians, know that we are called to do more. We are called to share the knowledge of God’s overwhelming abundance - and to share that overwhelming abundance with all. You can read in the bulletin, two stories about our own projects to support those who do not get their share of God’s abundance.
In India, we have given grants to help local people clean out their broken wells, install new water lines, and tap into new water sources. In China, Global Ministries supports a well-creating project. The people who have been touched by this project have named their wells “Loving People Well” for the love of God that they have experienced.
We give thanks to God for these projects, and for all the times that we are able to share God’s living water and share God’s overwhelming abundance with others.
Before I close I want to share one more story, which comes to us from Peace Corps Volunteers in Kenya, [John and Kim Shumlansky] where they worked on a project similar to many of the projects that we support.
“It was an exciting time when our new water system was finally finished and water began flowing to the village. This excitement continued for about a week when we woke one day to find no water in the pipes. As the children went out to the stream with their jerry cans to collect water, a few of the village men accompanied us into the forest to see what had caused the water to stop running. As we followed the buried pipeline through the thick forest growth, we came up on an area where trees were uprooted and the ground was completely overturned. When we arrived at the scene, a large footprint could be seen over the broken spot where water was pouring down the hill.
The pipes had been properly buried so that nobody would mess with them, but they had not been safe from a herd of elephants that had come sliding down the hill! The following day we called together about 30 members of our village to re-bury the pipeline. This time we made sure that at least three feet of dirt covered every part of the pipeline. Burying the pipeline for a second time was hard work, but certain precautions are necessary when you live among elephants!”
The Samaritan woman asked Jesus, “Where do I get that living water?” And Jesus answers her – the living water is a gift from God. God has provided an overwhelming abundance! The difficulties and the problems of the world may seem as big as a herd of elephants, but when we work together, when we share with one another, then we can all share in God’s overwhelming abundance for all.