A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017. The lectionary readings are Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, and John 4:5-42.
Listen to a version of the sermon HERE.
As you know, we are in the Church season of Lent. That word, “Lent,” is thought to originate from the Old English word for Spring, “lente,” (and a similar word in Dutch and German) which points to the lengthening of daylight, the lengthening of days, as we move into spring. Nature waits for warmer weather. Students and teachers have waited for Spring Break, and for many, that wait is over. We perhaps wait for certain things trees or flowers to bloom, or for some other indicator of the change in season.
For myself, along with many others in our neighborhood, I’m waiting for the water fountains to be turned back on in Carl Schurz Park. Like in other parks, the drinking fountains and other fountains are drained and prepared for winter, so the pipes won’t freeze. So there will be some special day ahead, when thirsty people, and especially thirsty dogs—can drink from the fountains in the park. What makes the fountains so great is that there’s a place at the top for people to drink, but also a little built-in basin with its own supply for dogs to drink from at the bottom. When the water flows again, I don’t have to take extra water to the dog run, I don’t have to be embarrassed by a dog that’s out of breath and thirsty and makes me look like a bad owner, and finally—when the water is running, I’ll know it’s Spring.
Today’s scriptures are about thirst.
In the first reading we hear how the people of Israel feel like they’re about to die of thirst. It’s a literal thirst, to be sure. But it also seems to be a partly spiritual thirst. After wandering in the desert, they begin to wonder: Has the Lord forgotten us? Is Moses up to the task of leading us? They’re stuck in a cycle of bickering and fussing with each other, of feeling like they’re being tested. Will they ever be relieved of this thirst, this doubt, this frustration? God hears their prayer and Moses makes a miracle. As the psalmist sings, “He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers. He smote the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.” (Psalm 78)
But water doesn’t always come so easily. In the Gospel, water is almost bargained over. We have this wonderful (if long) story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It takes place around water, with water, about water. It’s a great conversation between the woman and Jesus. There’s a give and take, a back and forth about it.
The Samaritan woman is skeptical. She’s cautious. She wonders if Jesus is just another charmer whose promises are empty. But she still listens, because she’s thirsty for some good news, some glimmer of new life. Responding to her questions, Jesus explains about the water that he can give. He can give water that quenches thirst, water that washes, that completes us, and buoys us up into the loving arms of God.
This story is important because it shows us Jesus going outside the social norms of his day and moving beyond the racial and gender norms of his culture to befriend this Samaritan woman. It reminds us that Christian faith, at its best, moves outward, invites and encourages.
The story is also important because it shows us Jesus as the Lord of Creation—of all creation– and that includes water. The water is physical and literal, but it is also spiritual. It symbolizes faith itself—our ability to believe that Jesus came, died and rose for us. The water is also hope—hope for God’s protection and guidance, hope for God’s good purposes in our lives and in our world, and hope for our eternal life in God. And finally, the water represents charity—water that is shared, faith that is shared, belief that is shared.
The Samaritan woman is offered living water by Jesus and it’s interesting to me to notice what she does and what she does NOT do. She does not commit herself to a life of meditation upon the water. She does not build a shrine there at the well, a shrine to spend all her days at. She does not start a new form of worship around the water. Instead, she becomes a disciple. She becomes a witness and she goes around telling people about Jesus. In other words, she doesn’t hoard the water or save it up for another dry spell. She goes out offering Living Water to others.
The season of Lent invites us to notice our thirst. For what do we hunger and thirst? Do you hunger for health or healing? For relationship, for someone to love or someone to love you back? Do you hunger for meaningful work, or for a new start with someone, or for some burst of new energy or creativity in your life? We don’t know exactly what was going on in the life of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, but she had the faith to come thirst, and she had the courage to ask Jesus for water.
Lent also invites us to notice others’ thirst. This Wednesday is the United Nations’ World Water Day, a day to highlight especially the need for clean and accessible water for all people. Trinity Church’s Trinity Institute will be meeting this week downtown and they’ll be talking about the problems with getting and keeping safe water, the progress in helping others, and the connections between water, justice, and God’s love. There are some simple things we can do.
Episcopal Relief and Development sponsors programs in specific places around the world, digging wells, helping build clean water facilities, and supporting people to create infrastructure. You can donate to ERD programs.
Another way of helping someone is through the online site Kiva, through which one can read about an individual in need, and you can make a micro loan to the person. You can loan as little as $25, that can go a long way toward helping someone get water for living THIS life.
And then, if you have time and energy, you can volunteer. Riverkeeper is a local organization that coordinates cleanup days for the Hudson and other parts of the NYC watershed, as well as offering educational opportunities and ways of advocating for clean and safe water.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks for water, and in his asking, he asks with all those who thirst. The Samaritan woman represents all those who go to great lengths to get drinking water, but also those who seek Living Water.
There’s a wonderful old hymn by Fanny Crosby that sees Jesus as the one who quenches eternal thirst. It sings,
Come with thy sins to the fountain, Come with thy burden of grief;
Bury them deep in its waters, There thou wilt find a relief.
Come as thou art to the fountain, Jesus is waiting for thee;
What though thy sins are like crimson, White as the snow they shall be.
Come and be healed at the fountain, List to the peace speaking voice;
Over a sinner returning Now let the angels rejoice.
Christ welcomes us to bring our hungers, our thirst, no our longing. And he will carry us.
With the persistence, the tenacity, the honesty, and the faith of the woman at the well, let us ask God to quench our thirst this day and always.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.