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Friday, March 20, 2020

The Water of Life

Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42
Water. Clean water. Cleansing water. Life giving water.
Water is on our minds a lot these days. We are being told to wash with it, with copious amounts of it, because to wash in copious amounts of water with some soap mixed in has the effect of cleansing us from the virus that threatens us. Today, we are concerned first about water to cleanse with and second about water to quench thirst.
Water is the hook in both of our lessons today, too, but in both these cases, the water being discussed first is water to quench thirst.
In the wilderness, the Israelites grumble, and their grumpiness is driven by their fear. They are on a journey that would be difficult by anyone’s standards, and they fear that scarcity of water will lead them to death.
Their fear leads them to quarrel with Moses and test the Lord. They complain about their situation and they complain about the uncertainty of their journey and of their lives.
The people are thirsty for water and scared for their survival but God answers them in terms they never could have expected.
God uses Moses and his staff, the same staff that God transformed from rod to snake to rod again on Mount Horeb, when Moses was first called by God to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom. With that rod God now miraculously produces water from a rock to slake their thirst.
Many in our world today know fear as we deal with the threat of the COVID 19 virus. “Wash with water” we are told, over and over again and it’s great advice, but it does nothing to mitigate our fear.
As people hoard everything from hand sanitizer – the great water substitute - to toilet paper, to drinking water and milk, to face masks there is a great deal of fear-driven grumbling now, too.
Where will this pandemic lead?
How many more people will be infected?
How many will die?
Is this punishment for the evil in our world?
Schools are cancelled, nursing homes shuttered to visitors, churches cease holding services inside their buildings, people who can work from home and a vast number of people wonder if this is the crisis that will cause them to become homeless, to lose their jobs, to stretch them past the breaking point.
How can we protect ourselves?
How can we protect our lives from infection by other people?
What about school? What about our jobs?
What will happen to our retirement accounts and our investment accounts and our livelihoods? How long, Oh Lord, how long?
These are all very practical concerns.
Then there are others like,
“What do you mean we need to cancel March Madness?”
Some claim all this is overkill, others fear it is still not enough to protect us, and yet others believe it’s all a great big conspiracy.
Then comes the plaintive cry,
“Where is God in all of this?”
Jesus comes to the well in Sychar, Samaria, tired and thirsty. He is a Jewish rabbi, sitting at the intersection of life in a Samaritan city, there at Jacob’s well.
This country and this city are not places of comfort and welcome for him.
As a Jew he is an outsider from a despised race. There is no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. The racist animosity and hatred between them goes long and it goes deep.
There in the scorching heat of mid-day sun comes a woman who has loved and lost enough in her life to have earned a reputation. She knows about loss. Before we go throwing stones of judgment at her, though, note that nowhere in scripture does it say why she has had five husbands and lives with yet another man now. Divorce was a husband’s prerogative and women of the time were set aside for any number of reasons, the inability to conceive and carry a child chief among them. We simply don’t know.
But we can guess that she suffers from a different kind of thirst as she comes to the well. She chooses a time of day that would allow her to avoid interaction with anyone else.
While Jacob’s well was a central gathering place for the drawing of water and for social interaction within the town each morning and evening when it would have been cooler, that is not when she comes. Only shunned folk would go there in the midst of the heat.
As she approaches carrying her water jug, she sees this stranger resting nearby. Jesus speaks to her, expresses his need to her. “Give me a drink,” he says.
She can hardly believe her ears, and she protests, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus then does an astonishing thing: he reveals his true identity to her.
Unusual details in this gospel begin piling up:
·         this is the longest recorded dialogue in the New Testament.
·         She is the first person and certainly the first outside of his religious and ethnic group to whom Jesus reveals himself in John’s gospel, and
·         this Samaritan woman is the first believer in any of the gospels to go directly from realization of Jesus’ identity to belief and then in lightning-fast trajectory straight to evangelist.
            In fact, so quickly does she react to share her remarkable encounter that she leaves her precious and much-needed water jug behind.
Fear aside, she runs straight to the people who on any day of the week gossip about her and shun her and she shares what has happened. And they listen and are amazed! In fact, they, who had nothing good to say about her and were formerly repelled by her came to believe in Jesus and to come to him and hear him teach because of her testimony.
            The water at the center of this gospel is not just any water, and Jesus doesn’t just come and throw it at the woman to save her. Rather, in love and mercy, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. He reveals a vulnerability there. He engages her on her territory and shares his humanity there. Revealing his need makes it easier to address hers.
            He knows everything there is to know about her, but he doesn’t reject her, preach to her, or judge her.
Jesus’ behavior toward her is radical and risky as is evident in the reaction from his disciples. But that is the way of God.
Jesus loves her where she is and he offers her the gift of everlasting water and life through the spirit, a gift that is not dependent on where she comes from, nor her gender, nor her background or history.
            The gift Jesus offers is the same gift given to us through his life, death and resurrection. It is the gift that God is with us through every storm, through every trial, through every adversity, virus, and uncertainty now and always.
            Jesus is the life-saving water that feeds our hunger and thirst. In his grace he loves us regardless of where we are from or where we have been.
Because of his love and the life-saving, life-altering grace he gives us, we have no reason to fear. No matter where this virus goes, or what it does it cannot take from us the only essential thing in life, the everlasting water that quenches our soul-deep thirst.
            The knowledge of God’s presence with us through every trial inspires our courage, and invites our confidence that indeed, God will never leave us or forsake us. Over and over again throughout the Scriptures we here the divine message – “have no fear” and, “do not be afraid”.  
God defies our natural inclination toward fear as much as he defies convention in this gospel by engaging with a Samaritan woman and using her testimony to lead many to faith.
            Many of us have had our lives disrupted in recent days, and we see no end in sight. There is a great deal of uncertainty and fear.
On Friday of this week, as I was trying to determine whether or not to hold worship services in the church this week, and how to proceed with an abundance of caution while still keeping and encouraging faith I struggled. How to make the best decision? In a time when we need to come together in prayer and mutual support, the idea of canceling worship was repugnant. It sort of still is. But it seemed to be the best way to love and care for my siblings in Christ and our neighbors.
None of us likes the insecurity with which we are surrounded. Hence the hoarding of resources.
            But into the storm of our present day circumstances, God reaches out and touches us with moments of calm. With opportunities still to love and serve our neighbor.
Our vulnerability, our need and our thirst are all answered for us in the waters of our baptism. Once again it is water that saves, water that reassures, water that quenches our thirst. Through those waters and God’s Word, we remember that God has chosen us for faith, for courage, and for sharing our confidence that ultimately, all will be well because God has ordained it. Not promising that it would be easy or without pain, God has given us life that really is life.
So, my friends, fear not. These are not empty words – God is with you.
May the peace of Christ that is in, under, around and over you guide your hearts and minds as you face the challenge of these days. Amen.

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