Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The water that is everything. . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (A), preached on Sunday, March 12, 2023.

Water was once something that defined everything.  Clarksville was founded because of its place at the junction of two rivers.  Wells were the center of villages. A water source defined the routes through deserts and prairies.  Lewis and Clark moved along a path of waterways to the West.  We hardly think of it now.  The Romans taught us that water could be brought into cities and now a drought is the only time we think about this precious resource.

So it was in Samaria where life circled the water source.  Jacob bought land from Shechem and dug a well there so he and his household could live there.  Long after Jacob was gone, the well continued to supply the people living there.  Sychar is gone but Tel Balata remains, near Mount Gerizim, the tombs of Rachel and Joseph, and the Oak of Mamre.  Tradition has named the Samaritan woman in our Gospel and the Orthodox built a church over the well in 380 AD and named it for her, St. Photinia, in Russian Svetlana, which means enlightened one.  It remains on the West Bank.

Jesus does nothing by accident.  Thirst might have driven you or me to a well but Jesus was thirsty for souls for the kingdom of God.  He waited at Jacob’s Well for the disciples who had gone into town for provisions.  It was about the sixth hour.  In the noon day heat He waited.  A Samaritan woman came, the woman Jesus had been waiting for.  Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with each other.  This Samaritan woman came for water in the heat of the day when it was unlikely others would be there.  But Jesus was.

The Lord did the unthinkable – He asked the woman for a drink.  It was not simply impolite but would have rendered Jesus ritually unclean to have touched a cup that she touched.  It was not about the cup, however.  He told her she should have asked Him who He was, recognized Him as the gift of God even a Samaritan would have known about, but she did not.  Then comes the hook.  Jesus said that He could give her living water but she reminds Him that He has no bucket to dip deeply into the earth to pull up any water.  Was He going to dig a new well like Jacob?

Finally Jesus confronts her.  The water of every well can only quench the thirst for a brief time until it returns again but I give water that quenches thirst forevermore.   It is the same type of comparison Jesus made with the Jews over the manna Moses gave them in the wilderness.  They ate and were hungry again and they died but Jesus gave the bread that filled them with eternal life so that they might never die.

The woman takes the hook.  “Sir give me this water that I may never thirst nor have to carry water again.”  But before this can happen, Jesus calls the woman of faith to repentance.  She has had many men and none were husbands.  Now she knows for sure that this is not only about water.  But the subject of her sin is uncomfortable so she changes the subject.  Gerazim or Jerusalem?  Samaritan or Jew?  Who is right?

“The hour is coming and is now here,” says Jesus, “when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”  Now she knows.  He is talking about Messiah.  But is He Messiah?  Jesus removes all doubt.  “I am He.”  The water jar is no longer of interest to her and she runs into the town telling them the Christ has come and they ran out to Jesus to be enlightened by His Word to salvation and eternal life.

What has this to do with us?  First of all let us do away the idea that every religion has bit and pieces of the truth.  Jesus does not acknowledge parts but insists upon the fullness and the fullness is in Christ where Jew and Samaritan and Gentile meet the truth and are enlightened by the Spirit to worship the Father in spirit and in truth and to be saved for everlasting life.  Jesus does not give Himself in bits and pieces but in the fullness.  That fullness enables the true worship of faith, faith formed by the Spirit and called into being by the truth.  The water is not symbolic unless Jesus is merely a symbol.  It is the means of grace.

In this passage baptism is prefigured – not the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins which John had done and which continued all along as Jesus fulfilled His public ministry but the new baptism in which the Spirit and fire come in the water that lives and gives life.  You do not come to this baptismal water but the water has come to you.  It comes in the Christ who fulfill all things for us and for our salvation and who ushers in the only path to the Father by which sinners have access to God.  It comes by way of the Spirit who opens our hearts to receive Him who is the Gift of God, the long promised Messiah.  It comes in water unlike every other water because the Word and power of God work in this water for new and everlasting life.

The Jew and the Samaritan and the Gentile become one in this water – water that breaks down all barriers and bestows unity with the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This unity cleans up what separates us from this holy God by forgiving our sins and taking away their guilt and punishment.  This unity does not choose one side or the other but transcends all divisions with the Truth that is not bits and pieces which we add together to find the whole but the fullness of all that God is and has done for us and our salvation.

Water still defines everything.  Not wells or rivers or springs but baptismal water. Here in water the Gift of God is given even to those who know not who that gift is. It comes by way of the Spirit who breaks down the barriers of our hearts and cleans the cobwebs of our minds so that we may see Jesus, confess Him as the Christ, and be born in Him in baptism for eternal life.  

Those who practice believers baptism insist that the water does nothing but point to Jesus and we do it all – repent, decide, choose, and believe.  What utter hogwash!  The God who made us now requires help from us to save us?  Who are we kidding?  You do not earn a gift.  Christ is the gift of God giving the gifts He has won for us – forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The Spirit is the work of God who opens our stubborn hearts to what God has done and gives us the voice to say “Amen” to that work.  It is the Trinity working in the one work of our salvation, repairing the breech between God and man, uniting every earthly division in the confession of one Christ for the one people of God, through the agency of the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us.

True worship is not about sincerity on our part or about us being really into it or us feeling like we are getting a lot out of it.  True worship is the only worship – the worship made possible by Christ in the means of grace, worked by the Spirit and not by human will or desire, to bring us to the Father that we might be His own now and live with Him forevermore.  Quite a bit for a noonday conversation at Jacob’s well and even for a Sunday encounter in the Divine Service.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

Beautiful sermon, Pastor.
I especially enjoyed the references to the "Spiritual Waters" being found in the Worship Liturgy every Sunday. The Liturgy plants Faith through the "Means of Grace" as you point out.
a) The entire Word of God preached and sung in a very orderly manner through the tools of the Church Year and the 3-Year Lectionary.
b) Sins Confessed by the people in the pew and forgiven by the Pastor just as surely as from God Himself.
c) Baptism Remembered,
d. Holy Communion remembering Christ paying the price of OUR sins.
Truly "a Foretaste of the Feast to Come" and the living waters brought to us every Sunday.
I sent this blog to my wayward, adult children with the prayer that they return to Church and receive the "Living Water" of the Liturgy.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.