Sunday’s sermon: Living Water: Geyser of Grace

Text used – John 4:1-42

  • Old Faithful. Probably the most famous geyser in the world, right?
    • Located in Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
    • Blasts 200˚F water and 350˚F steam anywhere from 100-180 ft. into the air every 60-110 mins. (ends up erupting 20 times a day)
      • Hot enough that early pioneers actually used the water to wash their clothes before Yellowstone was made a national park
    • Evidence surrounding Old Faithful and around the rest of Upper Geyser Basic speak to the long and established history of Native Americans with the land[1] → Old Faithful “discovered” by Washburn Expedition (i.e. – white people finally found it) in 1870[2]
    • But of course, Old Faithful isn’t the only geyser in the world. → in general[3]
      • Geysers are hot springs that erupt under geological pressure
      • Geysers made from tube-like holes that run deep into the Earth’s crust → tube fills with water → magma near the bottom of the tube heats the water → water begins to boil and is eventually forced upward as super-heated water or steam
      • After the eruption, water slowly seeps back into the tube and process starts all over again
    • Geysers also found in other parts of the U.S., Russia, Chile, New Zealand, and Iceland[4]
    • Truly, y’all, geysers are an awe-inspiring force of nature! How many people here have seen a geyser in person?
      • Geysers are powerful
      • Geysers are somewhat unpredictable
      • Geysers come from a deep, deep place
  • Today’s Scripture story = another story of amazing, awe-inspiring water → water that’s a lot like those geysers: powerful, somewhat unpredictable, and unfathomably deep → I have to say that, although I know it’s a long portion of Scripture to read on a Sunday morning, I’m so glad that the Narrative Lectionary highlights this entire story because it’s such a powerful witness. I think this story – another one that’s particular only to John’s gospel – gives us a really interesting insight into Jesus.
      • Both interesting and important that our text starts off by telling us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria”[5]
        • Jesus is traveling back to Galilee – back to his home territory – after spending some time in Jerusalem and Judea → makes me wonder why Jesus “had” to go this way
          • Gr. = literally “it was necessary to go through Samaria”
          • And yet, this is an area that would have been diligently and deliberately avoided by faithful Jews. Samarians were those with mixed blood – part Jew and part Gentile. More specifically, part Assyrian. After the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the Assyrian rulers planted some of their own people among those left in Israel, and some of the remaining Israelites intermarried with some of those Assyrians.[6] The Samaritans were the result of those marriages, and for that transgression – for daring to marry outside God’s chosen people – the Samaritans were completely and wholly despised by the Jews. So why did Jesus have to go through Samaria?
            • Maybe it was geographically shorter … but surely Jews at the time were used to skirting this scorned territory
            • Or maybe it was necessary for a reason that had absolutely nothing to do with physical distance and travel time.
  • And from this route divergence, we get what might be my favorite exchange in all of Scripture! Jesus and this Samaritan woman have this incredible back-and-forth discussion in which she plays, not the part of the subservient woman but the rhetorical counterpart to Jesus.
    • Jesus asks for a drink → Samaritan woman’s response = spirited, not subservient: “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”[7] (I like her already!)
    • Jesus begins to tell Samaritan woman about living water → But this woman is having none of this crazy Jewish man’s ramblings! – text: The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you?”[8] → So not only does she attempt to call his bluff, but she also takes the time to remind this Jew – whose people have looked down on her people for centuries – that, in fact, they have a shared history … a shared ancestry. Truly, this is diplomatic discourse at its best!
    • Jesus extolls the eternal and plentiful nature of this living water → Samaritan woman comes back with a fabulously practical reply: “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”[9] → Drawing water from this well for cooking, for washing, for household chores, and for everything else is no small task that needs to be done every single day. This is a practical and pragmatic woman who knows she has other things she could be doing with her time! C’mon, Jesus … help a busy girl out!
    • Jesus turns the debate tables a bit when he pulls out the “husband” card[10]
      • Instructs the woman to go and get her husband
      • Woman’s response: “I don’t have a husband.”
      • Jesus: “You’re right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
      • This part of the exchange piques the Samaritan woman’s interest, at least a little bit … but even in this interest, she holds her own, using her response to first flatter this Jewish stranger a bit (“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”) before taking a bit of a jab at one of the things that separated the Jews from the Samaritans: “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”[11] → Can’t you just hear the ”What do you think about that?” that goes unspoken at the end of this exchange? This woman has guts, and I gotta say I cannot help but admire her for that. But we also have to admire Jesus in this exchange. He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t get dismissive. He doesn’t get self-righteous. He doesn’t get up and leave. He stays in it. He stays.
    • Jesus finally drops his ace in the hole: The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” Jesus said to her, “I Am – the one who speaks with you.”[12] → Now, we’re not really used to Jesus declaring his identity because he doesn’t really do that in any of the other gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s everyone else who declares Jesus as the Messiah – the cast-out demons, the sinners, the Gentiles, those who have been healed. But not Jesus. But here in John’s gospel, Jesus is clear … clearer than we may even realize.
      • Jesus’ response – “I Am – the one who speaks with you” = same language that God used when giving Moses God’s own name at the burning bush: “I Am Who I Am”[13] → This is that most precious, most revered, most sacred name of God – the name that isn’t even spoken or written in Jewish culture, both then and today. And Jesus is applying this name … to himself. It’s a name the woman would have absolutely recognized. And in that moment, she believes.
        • Runs to tell the rest of the villagers about this life-altering Rabbi
        • Bring them all to the well to see this Jesus
        • Text: Many Samaritans in that city believe in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.”[14]
        • Jesus stays in the city – in this Samaritan, despised, Gentile city for two more days – text: Many more believed because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world.”[15]
  • We said that geysers were powerful, and in this incredible exchange between first Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman and later between Jesus and the entire Samaritan town, we see just how powerful the living water of God can be.
    • Powerful enough to grab hold of this Samaritan woman and quench a thirst she may not even knew she had: a thirst for acceptance and community → I remember reading somewhere once (probably in one of my commentaries, though I don’t remember exactly where) that the fact that this woman was coming to the water by herself indicated that she was something of an outcast.
      • Most of the water-gathering was done in a group → time for the women of the village to come together and chat/catch up with one another/gossip → And yet, this Samaritan woman shows up to the well alone. She isn’t part of the group.
      • Most of the water-gathering was done in the early part of the day before it got too hot BUT Scripture tells us this woman showed up around noon, the hottest part of the day → indicates that she deliberately went to the well at a time when it was unlikely that others would be there
      • Also important to point out what the text doesn’t say here – scholar: The text does not say the woman is a prostitute; it says she had husbands, not customers. We have no idea if the husbands died, if she was divorced, if Levirate marriage was involved. The text does not say. … The main point involves Jesus and this woman having a deep, rich theological debate that allows them to form an intimate connection across real and perceived differences such that the woman receives the first theophany (manifestation of God) in the Gospel of John and then evangelizes her community.[16] → Through this discourse with Jesus, she becomes so overwhelmed by her belief that she runs back to her village – the village that has shunned and excluded her – to share the news with them. And in that sharing – first, her intimate sharing with Jesus, then her public sharing with her village – she finds that community that quenches her lonely spirit.
  • We also said that geysers were somewhat unpredictable, and this whole story is somewhat unpredictable.
    • Unpredictable in that Jesus, a faithful Jew, chooses to not only journey through Samaria but to stop in that despised territory, first for a drink of water, then for a few days so he could teach this village about God’s love and grace – about God’s living water
    • Unpredictable in that the focus of this sophisticated political and theological back-and-forth is not a fellow Rabbi or even a Pharisee … but a woman → hear the unpredictability of this in the disciples’ sole (short) appearance in this story: Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman.[17]
    • Unpredictable in the outcome that the majority of this Samaritan village – this Gentile village – come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah after just two short days
    • At the same time, this story is wholly predictable in that it shows us once again that indeed, God’s living water – God’s unearnable grace and unquenchable love – are available to all.
  • And we said that geysers came from a deep, deep place – the kind of place that brings the Incarnate God, the Messiah and Savior of the world, to a humble well for a life-changing interaction … the kind of place that births profound revelations of faith … the kind of place that inspires an ostracized woman to witness to her whole village … the kind of place that can renew our faith again and again and again.
    • Brings up the major difference between geysers and this living water that Jesus presents in our story today: Geysers are rare. They need exactly the right geological conditions to occur. They need hot rocks below, an ample source of groundwater, a subsurface water reservoir, and fissures (those tube-like formations) to deliver the water to the surface. The confluence of all these conditions is so rare that there are only about 1000 geysers around the world.[18] But God’s living water? God’s living water is not rare. God’s living water of grace can wash over us no matter the circumstances. There is no heart too distant, no spirit too broken, no person too alone, no life too lost for God’s living water to spring up in you with all the power and hope and transformation of a geyser of grace. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from. No matter what you bring with you. Let God’s living water flow! Amen.

[1] Richard Grant. “The Lost History of Yellowstone: Debunking the myth that the great national park was a wilderness untouched by human hands” from Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lost-history-yellowstone-180976518/.

[2] Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan. “About Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s Famous Geyser” from the Yellowstone National Park official website, https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/geysers-hot-springs/about-old-faithful/.

[3] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/geyser/.

[4] Hobart M. King. “What Is a Geyser?” from https://geology.com/articles/geyser.shtml.

[5] Jn 4:4.

[6] Alyssa Roat. “The Samaritans: Hope from the History of a Hated People” from https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/the-samaritans-hope-from-the-history-of-a-hated-people.html.

[7] Jn 4:9.

[8] Jn 4:11-12a.

[9] Jn 4:15.

[10] Jn 4:16-18.

[11] Jn 4:20.

[12] Jn 4:25-26.

[13] Ex 3:14.

[14] Jn 4:39.

[15] Jn 4:41-42.

[16] Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 4:1-42” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/the-woman-at-the-well/commentary-on-john-41-42-3.

[17] Jn 4:27.

[18] King, https://geology.com/articles/geyser.shtml.