Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, March 23, 2014
“I’ve Got a River of Life”
[Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42]
Walking by faith… is NEVER easy. Let’s be honest about it. For Jesus to serenely set his face towards Jerusalem where he would be accused, beaten and hung on a cross to die was no Caribbean cruise. Faith actually led him into a combat zone, where he would be utterly “powerless” – the One whom we worship and adore and address as “Almighty God” let go of the reins of his own life… in order to accomplish the Father’s eternal purpose… of redeeming creation.
Faith knows that “suffering” is ALWAYS temporary… and NEVER gets the last word in our lives. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, according to Hebrews 11:1. Jesus was SURE and CERTAIN that his Father God… and his nurturing Spirit… would not abandon him, even though he would “feel abandoned and forsaken” on the cross. SUFFERING for Jesus and for all Christians is inevitable… and at times even necessary… but it is never the “last act” of God’s drama.
In our Old Testament lesson… the Israelites had had it with their leader Moses. Here they were wandering around in the wilderness and find themselves camped out in a place where there was not a drop of water to drink. We may criticize them in retrospect for “losing faith” – but if we put ourselves in their shoes…NONE of us can go too far or too long without water. They were so agitated and stressed that they were ready to stone Moses. It’s always nice to have someone to blame when our lives are between a rock and a hard place, isn’t it? Let’s blame the government, or the governor, or the mayor or the pastor when the water runs out!
Moses cried out to God: “What shall I do with these people??? They are about to stone me!” Like Moses, when there is absolutely no one left to turn to, we go to God… the One who is always waiting and ready to respond to our cries of need. It’s beautiful that God doesn’t resent how long it takes us to ask for help.
God says: “Walk in front of the people and gather a few elders to go with you. Take the rod that you used to strike the Nile River when I led you out of Egypt. I will stand with you on the rock at Horeb and when you strike the rock with the rod, water will come out of it for the people.”
Moses did EXACTLY what God asked him to do and a “river of life” sprung from the rock in the middle of the wilderness. Moses named the place Massah and Meribah, which mean “proof” and “contention” – making note of the people’s faultfinding. The people not only lost sight of the fact that God was with them, they lost “faith” in what God had already done in their lives through their miraculous deliverance from Egypt.
It’s one thing to say you have faith in God when your gas tank is full, or after you’ve just enjoyed a good meal, or you have slept serenely in a well-heated home. It’s another thing altogether to exercise faith when your car breaks down on the side of a dark road, late on a cold night and you have no snacks to tide you over and no money in your pocket. Faith is not an intellectual exercise; it’s “believing in God” when the circumstances of your life are careening out of control and you no longer have the power to help yourself. In times of vulnerability; that’s when your faith has to put boots on the ground; that’s when you must be the “receiver of grace” – the One standing in need of prayer and dependent on the mercy of a stranger who doesn’t know you and has no reason to care for you.
God provided water for the Israelites in a dry and desolate wilderness, out of a ROCK no less, a testimony to the fact that absolutely nothing is impossible for God. However, God did not “release that lever of grace” until Moses asked for help.
Let’s move on to the beautiful encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. This is the longest account of Jesus’ personal interaction with a woman in the whole New Testament. It’s important to remember that the Jews and Samaritans were rivals… Jews felt they had a “corner” on God. Samaritans were outcasts, even though this woman was drawing water from Jacob’s well, that he had dug, and had given to his son Joseph.
The disciples left Jesus at the well and went to town to find food for lunch. The Samaritan woman was also alone. Most Bible commentators tell us women usually drew water from the well in the mornings or evenings, not in the heat of the day. It appears this woman was an “outcast” among women.
When Jesus asks her to draw water for him, she is taken aback that he would speak to her. 10 Jesus replies: “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” This woman, accustomed to being judged inferior, condemned and avoided, is offered generosity and fresh living water.
Jesus breaks the stereotype of a Jewish man. She wonders: “Are you someone more special than Jacob, our ancestor?” That would be like us asking: “Are you even more special than Duncan McNair… the founding elder of this church, to whom the McNair monument on Great Marsh Church Road is dedicated?”
She compared Jesus to her most respected ancestor. Jesus goes further, saying: “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
Now she is really flabbergasted. What is he talking about? He has no bucket and yet speaks of living water. Her heart is receptive…it sounds wonderful. She says: “Sir, please give me this water, so that I don’t have to come back to this well ever again.” She’s no cynic. Athough it makes no sense, she is open to Jesus and whatever he has to offer her.
In that moment, Jesus gets personal. He asks her to go get her husband. She answers simply: “I have no husband.” And Jesus says: “That’s true. You have had 5 husbands and the man you are presently living with is not your husband.”
Being in relationship with Jesus does get personal and that’s when a lot of people back away from him. We don’t want Jesus in our business. We want his grace, his forgiveness, even eternal life, but we don’t want Jesus in our day-to-day business.
The Samaritan woman realizes Jesus is a prophet and tries to turn the conversation AWAY from herself to some of the classic theological debates between Jews and Samaritans. Okay, if he’s a prophet, let me ask him to settle some of these long disputes: Jews say you have to worship in Jerusalem and Samaritans saw we have to worship on this mountain. Who is right about that, Jesus?
Jesus turns the searchlight back on the woman herself, saying: (in The Message):
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship… Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
The woman doesn’t understand. It may be too personal for her to handle, so she says: “Well, when the Messiah comes, I will understand what you are talking about.”
This is the CLIMAX. Jesus reveals to the woman who he really is. Drum roll, please…. 26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.” I am the Messiah.
Sure enough… right at that crucial moment, the disciples come back with lunch. Don’t you hate that? When a conversation reaches its climax, the point of a whole long story that someone has been telling you or you have been telling them, and someone interrupts at that very moment.
The disciples look at Jesus with horror in their eyes: “Why are you talking to this woman, Jesus? Have you gone crazy? Do you have sunstroke?” The woman immediately takes off running without being able to respond to Jesus’ revelation of who he is. In fear, she forgets the water pot altogether and takes off for the village.
She tells everyone she met a man who knew all about her and perhaps he’s the Messiah. She goes from being an outcast who avoids bumping into her fellow villagers… to an evangelist who seeks them out to share this incredible news.
Meanwhile the disciples are talking with Jesus about food and Jesus is talking about people. They are on completely different wavelengths. They offer him food and he doesn’t eat, because he is still thinking about his beautiful encounter with the woman at the well. The disciples are chowing down… and probably feel a bit annoyed that Jesus is not grateful for the food they brought him. Jesus is thinking of the “food” which is doing God’s will and reaching out to the needy. This woman had been so receptive to Jesus… so open… so curious…
Jesus was “harvesting” her faith… and felt satisfied by doing God’s will and had lost sight of his physical hunger. He was ruminating on the fact that someone else had “sown” the faith and tilled the fields in Samaria, and it was his joy to “harvest” what others before him had sown.
The villagers responded positively to the woman’s testimony and went out to meet Jesus for themselves. They too were “ripe” for harvesting. Jesus agreed to stay for 2 days and many people came to faith in Jesus during those days, not based on the woman’s testimony alone, but on their own conversations with Jesus.
Sometimes we church folk get caught up in the “food” mechanics – at Fellowship Luncheons: worrying if we have enough, exhausted from serving… and failing to see the “conversations of faith” around the tables, the networks of love, the supporting of the needy among us. Every single time we gather: whether for a Fellowship Lunch, a Homecoming Feast, or Ingathering Fundraiser, our gatherings are NOT REALLY ABOUT THE FOOD for our bodies, but rather the feeding of our souls and the harvesting of FAITH in the people around us.
The Spirit of Evangelism springs forth as living water, when we ourselves have a river of life flowing inside of us. We may feel like “rocks in the wilderness” – but when God touches us, as Moses touched that rock with his rod, rivers of life flow from us. When we are touched by God’s grace, like the Samaritan woman, we receive a river of life… flowing out of us. Let us pray.
“I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me, makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, opens prison doors, sets those captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up, o well, within my soul, spring up, o well, and make me whole. Spring up, o well, and give to me, that life abundantly, abundantly.” We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.