“Living Water” – Seeing Christ in our Midst Sermon Series
John 4:4-15; Matthew 25:34-36
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
July 11, 2021
To go from Judea up to Galilee in the north certainly meant the most direct route was through Samaria, but most Jewish folks avoided that and took a longer route. To go directly through Samaria was dangerous – particularly because of the tension between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus ’day. Scholars have compared the tension to that which is known between Israelis and Palestinians today.
So it is strange that our passage begins by saying Jesus, as he is headed from Judea to Galilee,‘ had ’to go through Samaria – ‘had’ to take the route that a Jewish person would always avoid if at possible. Shouldn’t it read Jesus “chose” to go through Samaria? But “had to”…?
Jesus shows up by Jacob’s well in a Samaritan village around noon – the hottest part of the day.
And a Samaritan woman comes along to the well.
And so now you have two people, each whose group considers the other ‘unclean.’ More, you have a man and a woman not married…and no one else around. This encounter is a breach of religious, social, and political norms of that time.
Notably, the women who would normally gather water at this well each day would come out early in the morning before the heat of the day arrived. If you are coming at the hottest part of the day it is because for some reason or another you have been disallowed or shunned from the company of other women. You have done something or somethings wrong.
A Jew and Samaritan. A man and a woman. A rabbi and a woman with a past.
Jesus asks her for a drink.
And the woman gets how much is wrong with this picture: “How is that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus tells her if she only knew who he was and the gift of living water he had to offer, she would have actually been asking him for water.
The woman responds with a very literal concern about how difficult it would be for him to give her water. “This well is really deep and you have no bucket.” And she’s right on both counts.
In fact, I was at this very well six years ago, on a trip to the Holy Land with a group of pastors. These days this well is found underneath a Greek Orthodox Church.
And it still has a usable water source running down at the bottom. And when we went to this well, we took a cup of water and poured it out all at once. It took four seconds for the water to finally land at the bottom. (1-2-3-splash). That’s deep.
Then one of the pastors in our group, took the bucket that they have there at the well and she lowered it down via rope on a pulley system, and she was able to get the bucket to the bottom and have it gather water.
And then she started to haul the bucket up. And it was heavy.
And she kept turning this wheel to draw the bucket higher and higher. And before long she was gritting her teeth visibly and her arms were slowing down. And at one point she just stops entirely, hangs her head and rests. Tiring work! It took her about 5 minutes ultimately.
And I think this is something of a picture of the Christian life that many have.
Jesus offers living water – which is to say he offers the very power and presence and healing and love of God in our lives, Jesus offers this living water but… the well to get to that water is deep and even if you have a bucket, you gotta work to get some water, you gotta work to get a blessing, you gotta pray, you gotta show up, you gotta be good, do good things… to get that water.
Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God…”
Jesus is not offering a gift with strings attached – it’s not “pull first, let me see some genuine effort and then gift. Let me see you clean up your life, Samaritan woman, and then water.”
Or… “let me read a Scripture with you and say a prayer with you, then here is some water.”
To be sure, as Rev. Harry Brown underscored in last week’s sermon, “Free” does not mean “Oh good. Thank God for the water. Now I’ll go and do whatever I like because I have the free gift.”
Recall, Jesus promises “living” water. This is a term used in Jesus’ day to mean running, moving water. The free gift is water that is on the move.
Have you ever stood along the banks of a river and noticed how in some places the water moves quite slowly? And then in other places, sometimes nearby places, there are areas where the water is white water because it is racing so rapidly?
If you watch for a while, you may see the river wearing down branches, and occasionally breaking off dead branches and twigs from fallen trees in the river.
You may notice how smooth some of the rocks have become because the water has poured across them for so many years.
To receive the free gift of Living Water is to receive moving water.
Sometimes the Spirit of God moves slowly through and upon us – a gentle comfort, a steady pouring over hardened areas of our lives, or perhaps it’s such a slow pace of movement that it is trying every ounce of our patience as we wonder why we and things are not moving faster.
Sometimes the Spirit of God rips through our lives and starts breaking off dead branches. Sometimes you can barely keep up and it is terrifying how disorienting God’s love is.
To those who have been baptized in the living water of Jesus – where are you in the river? Do the waters move slowly or furiously? Or both at the same time in different ways?
The Christian life is not a bucket we strain to pull upward in hopes of the blessing but a gift wherein we are thrown in the waters of baptism and those waters move.
Those waters comfort and press and shape and tear and remake us…and also, quite centrally, those waters move us.
Water by its very nature moves, so we are in it find that we, too, move.
And now we are drawing quite near to why Jesus – Living Water himself – why Jesus ‘had’ to go through Samaria, through and among the enemies.
The verb there – “had” – is a Greek word that is often used to talk about a divine imperative. Jesus “had” to go because this is God’s design. This is a must. Crossing social and ethnic boundaries and religions is essential to what the Gospel is and does.
The Apostle Paul got this when he would write things like, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” With Jesus, the normal walls, the normal divisions – they are gone. The Gospel pulls people together as ‘one.’
Or again, Paul writes in Ephesians: “Jesus has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups (Jew and Gentile) to God in one body through the cross.”
And of course, the entire book of Acts is the narrative form of this truth that the Gospel of Jesus Christ obliterates social and ethnic boundaries and calls together people of every kind of background – and calls them family in Christ.
Jesus “had” to go to Samaria because central – not peripheral – but central to the Gospel is that it breaks down walls of every kind. That is the direction living water moves because that is the direction of the Gospel.
And so if you have been thrown into the free gift of Living Water and those are the Waters shaping and molding and comforting and tearing… we should also take note that those same waters are inevitably always carrying us to some kind of Samaria…
…which may well be a terrifying prospect when we begin to consider who might comprise the possible Samaria’s in our time.
On the final day of my trip to the Holy Land, a few of us attended a service of worship at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Jerusalem – a church run by the Church of Scotland, founded there in 1930.
Near the end of the service, the two ministers get up to preside over communion. They say a couple of prayers and the words of institution. Then they serve each other. First,
they each take a piece of bread and eat. Then, they take the same cup and one at a time they drink.
Then, one minister places both the cup and the bread back on the table, precedes to take a tissue out of his pocket, and blow his nose directly above the bread and the wine (as the handkerchief balloons out)
It’s obvious he thinks nothing of this. He takes a bit of time to wipe both nostrils, make sure everything is clear. Puts the tissue back in his pocket, picks up the elements and heads our way to serve communion.
I look down my row of fellow pastors – every one of them staring at the ground, both wincing and sort of laughing. And I’m doing the same and so I know I could read their minds, “Oh, my! and now we are going to eat and drink that.”
And we did – we dipped the sneezed over bread into the sneezed over wine, and partook in the manner they had instructed.
But I thought to myself when I looked down my row, “Isn’t this so often how it is? “Give us Jesus. The bread, the wine, the living water…but no germs please.”
This has long been a challenge for the church – we want Living Water, but not so much the germ-filled people that Water inevitably moves toward: Samaritan women of another religion, sleazy tax collectors, blind and ailing people, selfish rich people, prisoners, people on the other side.
Or we want to give drink to the thirsty (to go back to Matthew 25)…but prefer to serve those who don’t have a bottle in the other hand. Or a needle. Or a past. Or a citizenship or party that is…not ours.
And we are hardly alone. Jesus’ own disciples want His Living Water, but they are deeply disturbed that the water flowed in the direction that it has.
A few verses beyond our passage this morning we read that Jesus’s disciples “were astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman.”
Living Water, you are contaminated! A woman! A Samaritan! A sinner!
And yet the truth is… if the church is not moving into a Samaria of some kind…the church has to ask what kind of water it’s drinking.
If unlikely friendships or conversations or partnerships or acts of love (like giving water and clean water advocacy) are not happening across ethnic or social or racial lines or generational lines or economic lines or religious lines…the church has to ask what kind of water it’s drinking.
Living Water has to go through Samaria.
“Sir, give me this water,” the woman calls out to Jesus. Surely she cannot nearly know what she has just prayed for.
And yet the truth is whether we sit here today hiding from shame like the woman or easily judgmental like the disciples – the type of germ doesn’t matter.
Either way, it seems all of us hit moments in life where we really do get sick and tired…
- Tired of trying to pull up our ‘righteous’ water every day.
- Tired of hiding our germs.
- Tired of keeping our fingers pried to a dead branch in racing current.
- Tired of resisting all the ‘germ-filled’ people we see the Water pulling toward…
And we let go. “Give me this water.”
And, oh how the Water is faithful to cleanse and satiate…and move.
Jesus had to go directly into the area designated by Jews as a “germ-full zone.” It is the inevitable direction of this Living Water.
Where are you on that river? Where is this church? How fast or slow is the Spirit moving? And what border are you about to cross? Amen.