Sermon on John 4:5-42
I think about water way more than I used to. I mean, we’re surrounded by it here, right? There are all these bodies of water, all these types, I’m learning about all sorts of them—bayous and bays, estuaries, deltas. Salt water, fresh water, brackish water.
I’ve learned here that a “rain shower” is really just a giant solid sheet of water that everyone seems to drive through like it was a little sprinkle (I learned that my first week here). I’m starting to better imagine water’s destructive power as I hear stories about floods and hurricanes and start thinking about buying a house of my own.
So with all this water all around us…it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that there are areas of the country that are facing severe drought. It was just a few months ago that the state of California, the entire state, was rapidly running out of water. And now they may be getting too much, just to pile on the irony.
But in any case water is a truly valuable resource. In many areas of the world, safe drinking water is a luxury. 780 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water. 3.4 million people die every year because of waterborne illnesses. That’s the population of the city of Los Angeles.
Water, even in this age of abundance, is precious. Water is life. And it’s been that way since the very beginning.
And so, here we are today with a story about that central thing. Jesus encounters a woman at a well.
She is getting the water that she needs to do her daily activities. It’s water to drink, water to cook with, water to clean the house. And in that region of the world, in the dry desert environment, these wells were a source of life. There is a reason that such watering holes would have legends around them.
The woman asks Jesus: “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” We’re talking about a well that was passed down through time, through myth, through history. Like a beloved family heirloom. Because, after all: in the desert, water is as priceless as gold.
It’s fair to say here that Jesus broke two rules in this story. First off, he was talking to a woman. Alone. In broad daylight. In the center of town. Unrelated men and women simply did not socialize together in this time. It was not just improper. It was scandalous. If you skip down to verse 27, you’ll see it: 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?”
The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” There’s the second rule. Just broken. Flat out disregarded. The writer of John’s Gospel spells it out for us: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”
We don’t do that here. We don’t speak to those people. We can’t be seen associating with that type of crowd.
A society that closes itself off, that does not mingle with those people who are different, that is afraid to been seen with one another at the watering hole…that is a society in the grip of a great spiritual drought. We become paralyzed, made stagnant by our own fear. We begin to believe the lies that we hear about other people. And like a town with a poisoned water source, we no longer have access to the things that give us life.
But here is the thing about water. We try to control it: We dam it up. We reroute it. We bottle it up in little plastic containers. But ultimately, water has a nature of its own. In the end, it has a force that cannot be fully controlled. It will flow the way it wants to. I think many of you understand that way better than I do.
Living water, in other words, cannot be so easily managed. As much as we’d like to make Jesus in our own image as much as we’d like to control God’s love, it will seep out and into our lives. But the living water that God offers through Christ does not destroy like a flood, it doesn’t stagnate or become toxic. It cleans, cleanses, restores, revives.
And thank God for that right? Because in this season of Lent, as we strive for self reflection and self discipline, it’s all too easy to dry ourselves up. To cut ourselves too short. To think that we are simply beyond redemption.
The woman at the well was like that. If you continue reading the story, you’ll see that she reluctantly admits to Jesus that she has had five husbands. Five.
Now, even today, we have a certain image of a someone who has been married five times. And, you know…it’s not always flattering.
But you see, Jesus doesn’t seem to care. He offers her the living water, regardless of what she has done or who she is. He does this so that she could believe, so that she could have trust and confidence. So that she may know who Jesus—and who God—truly is.
In a world parched by drought, God’s love saturates. A stream of living water. Refreshing us, quenching our thirst, cleansing us, bringing us together. In spite of the limitations that we may put on ourselves.
Jesus offers us this vision, this hope. The woman was so moved by what Jesus did, so changed, that she could not hold it in. She left her bucket and returned to the town to tell everyone what had happened. So that everyone she knew could drink from that living water, too. So that all of us could like a life of abundance.
Do we, here, have the courage to let that water loose out there? Are we going to be satisfied to confine it in that little dish? Or are we ready to pour it out, to unleash that river of grace and mercy and love?
Jesus says: 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. And that is good news for a thirsty world.