Sunday’s Sermon: Water, Water Everywhere

  • I have what’s probably going to be a startling news flash for you this morning: there are still snow piles all over the place!
    • Thinking back to December
      • Excited about snowfall – romantic idea of white Christmas!
      • Thought snowfall was beautiful – sit curled up on the couch in a blanket with a warm cup of coffee/cocoa/tea and stare nostalgically out the window *sigh*
      • Certainly know a few snowmobilers who were pretty happy to see all that white stuff coming down from the sky, too
    • Okay … but now it’s March. In fact, it’s almost April! Is anyone else getting a little tired of this not-so-pretty-anymore white stuff? Is anyone else ready to watch it melt into oblivion, never to be seen again … not until next winter, anyway?
      • Warmer weather we’ve had recently has done a pretty good number on many of the snow piles → went from mounts of sparkling white to dingy piles of “snirt” (snow+dirt)
        • Don’t get me wrong … I’m thrilled that the snow is finally starting to disappear! It’s just that the more it melts, the more it reveals all the yuck underneath.
          • Build-up of sand from snowplows all winter
          • All the debris that’s been hiding all winter (trash, etc.)
          • Melting is also starting to create quite the mess …
            • Potholes
            • Giant puddles
            • MUD
      • Bottom line: all this melting snow is creating all kinds of uncomfortable challenges But I have to remind myself that, especially after the extremely dry summer/fall that we had, the ground is going to be in serious need of the refreshment and renewal that all this melting snow is going to bring.
  • It seems that the water in both of our Scripture stories this morning also reveals some uncomfortable challenges.
    • Israelites at Massah and Meribah → actually lack of water that becomes revealing
      • Reveals petulance and short-temperedness of Israelites – text: Give us water to drink.[1]
        • Obviously not polite request – both Moses and narrator call it “quarreling” and Moses’ response: Why do you test the Lord?[2]
      • Reveals tenuous nature of their faith – text: Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?[3] → a lot packed into this question
        • Suspicion/accusation
        • Anger
        • Fear
        • Doubt
      • Worst part = uncomfortable challenge is immortalized for all time – text: [Moses] called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
        • Heb. “Massah” = despair, test, proving
        • Heb. “Meribah” = strife, contention
        • Do we encounter times like this in our lives – times when we feel more like the uncertain and wary Israelites than the confident and devoted Moses? Sure. We have doubts. We have questions. Sometimes we come to God tentatively. Sometimes we come to God reluctantly. Sometimes we come to God upset. And that’s okay! Because God is big enough to take it. But at least when that happens to us, there aren’t places that are named after our struggles. Our challenging moments aren’t immortalized like that!
    • But the people of Israel aren’t the only ones for whom the water becomes uncomfortably revealing. For the woman at the well, what starts off as a seemingly-trivial discussion about water ends up revealing more than she probably ever expected when she left home that morning.
      • Jesus starts with what sounds like a simple request – text: Give me a drink.[4] → request is actually far from simple – fraught with all sorts of inappropriateness and backstory
        • Apparent in way she reacts to Jesus – text: The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, as a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”[5]
        • Apparent in narrator’s added comment – text: Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.[6]
        • Scholar pinpoints issue: The Samaritan woman responds to Jesus’ request with amazement because it violates two societal conventions. First, a Jewish man did not initiate a conversation with a woman. … Second, Jews did not invite contact with Samaritans.[7]
          • Text also covers cause of historic animosity between Jews and Samaritans mentioned by scholar: The woman said to him, “… Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”[8] → basically a difference in theological geography
            • Samaritans – center of worship is Mt. Gerizim
            • Jews – center of worship is temple in Jerusalem
      • But this isn’t the only uncomfortable revelation that the woman at the well experiences. – woman’s initial reaction to Jesus himself
        • Jesus first tells her about living water – woman’s response: 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?[9] → Can’t you just hear a little attitude in her voice? A hint of sassiness? Maybe a little scoffing? Here’s this Jewish guy sitting at her well, and not only is he being inappropriately forward, he also seems to think he’s greater than one of the greatest ancestors of their faith. I mean, who does this guy think he is?!
          • Her disbelief is evident in Gr. – question begins with small but important word: mey = indicates she expects a negative response → She expects Jesus to backpedal, to say, “No, no, no … of course I’m not greater than Jacob!”
          • Later revelation – text: The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming. … When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”[10] → Oops. Looks like this crazy Jewish guy hanging out at the well might just be greater than Jacob. But this Samaritan woman certainly isn’t the only person to have ever missed a glimpse of God in the midst of her everyday life, is she? How often have we only seen God in the looking-back?
            • Hindsight = 20/20, right?
      • And final, most uncomfortable revelation – text: Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right … for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”[11] → Yikes. You have to wonder if this response made her do a double take. “Wait, wait, wait … we were talking about water, about a simple drink of water! How did we make this uncomfortable, improbable, intimate leap into my personal life?”
        • No part of ourselves or our lives is hidden from God à can be an uncomfortable thought
  • But here’s the thing about all those uncomfortable revelations. They also reveal just how renewing and rejuvenating the living water can be.
    • Even in face of Israelites’ unbelief in Ex passage, God provides what they need – text: The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” And Moses did so.[12]
      • Water renews Israelites’ bodies
      • Water also renews their faith
    • Woman at the well’s uncomfortable experience leads to 2 important revelations
      • First is personal revelation, reveal Jesus’ identity – text: The woman said to him, “I know the Messiah is coming … When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”[13] → There is exceptional significance in Jesus’ words here. Jesus is admitting to being more than just the Messiah. Jesus is revealing that he is indeed God incarnate.
        • Gr. “I am” = ego eimi, crucial phrase – Heb. equivalent is “Yahweh” à This is “the One who exists … who was and is and is to come.” The roots of this word tie into life and being and existence. This is the divine name that God tells to Moses from the flames of the burning bush, the name so sacred that it is not pronounced or even fully written out in Hebrew today.
      • And the woman at the well is so inspired and astounded by this that she runs to share her experience with everyone in her town, bringing the revelation to them in turn. → see the fruits of that testimony – text: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. … And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believed, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”[14] → find ultimate renewal in this revelation
        • Renewal of spirit
        • Renewal of heart
        • Renewal of faith
        • All because of a simple little drink of water. And in the life of the church, our spirits, our hearts, and our faith are also renewed by a few simple little splashes of water.
          • [POUR 1/3 WATER] In the name of the Father
          • [POUR 1/3 WATER] In the name of the Son
          • [POUR 1/3 WATER] In the name of the Holy Spirit
          • The waters of baptism welcome us into the family of faith. These waters reveal us as children of God – precious creatures claimed by the One who created us in God’s own image. And when we remember and reaffirm our baptism, we are renewing our faith, but we’re also renewing our covenant with God to live as God’s people.
            • People of faith in the face of skepticism
            • People of strength in the face of weakness
            • People of love in the face of hate
            • Scholar wraps up joy and grace of revelation as well as our responsibility to share it like the woman at the well: Jesus is thirsty at the well, and we are the ones with the bucket. … Can a little thing like a cup of cool water, offered in love, be the beginning of a salvation journey? Yes; and we will never know until we meet the stranger, and tend to the human need first.[15] Amen.

[1] Ex 17:2.

[2] Ibid (emphasis added).

[3] Ex 17:3.

[4] Jn 4:7.

[5] Jn 4:9a.

[6] Jn 4:9b.

[7] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 565-566.

[8] Jn 4:20.

[9] Jn 4:11-12.

[10] Jn 4:25-26.

[11] Jn 4:16-18.

[12] Ex 17:5-6.

[13] Jn 4:25-26.

[14] Jn 4:39, 41-42.

[15] Anna Carter Florence. “Third Sunday in Lent – John 4:5-42: Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 95.

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