March 27, 2011

Give Us Water to Drink

Passage: Exodus 17:2; John 4:15

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’  The woman said to him (Jesus), ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

According to a United Nations brochure on water facts it takes about 3,000 litres of water to produce our daily food ration, about 1,000 times what we need for drinking purposes; irrigation increases yields of most crops by 100 to 400 per cent.  It would be hard to overstate the necessity of water for sustaining life.

If you have seen the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade you have seen pictured what is called the Treasury in Petra, Jordan.   Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985; a race of people known as the Nabateans carved this stunning city from a cliff face. They were the dominant traders, merchants and caravan guides; they held a strategic place on a major trade route.  Petra is a dry desert-type place; the key to the Nabateans’ success was their ability to procure water in an area that gets only 6 inches of rain every year.  Harvesting water, the Nabateans collected it, piped it, stored it, conserved it, prayed over it, managed it - by devising elaborate systems of hydraulics and storage cisterns.

Wherever people live water supply is crucial. It was the problem the Israelites encountered in our older testament lesson—shortly after their exodus from Egypt they came to Rephidim near Horeb; a source of water was not in sight.   It was at a well—the town of Sychar’s water supply—where Jesus met the woman of Samaria.   In both of these stories people ask God for water to drink.

1. The story begins that the people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink”.  Someone said that it is easier to trust God to supply when you have money in the bank; it is harder when you have only pennies.  God is trusted more readily when the water supply is immediately in sight; the question at the bottom of the Israelites quarrel with Moses was, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Then, as now, scarcity is equated with being abandoned by God.

The story of this quarrel was before Israel came to Sinai and received the law.  They had recently witnessed God’s deliverance from Egypt (10 plagues).  God’s presence was seen in a cloud that went ahead of them during the day (shade) and a pillar of fire in the night (warmth). They had experienced the marvel of crossing the red sea on dry ground and witnessed the decimation of the Egyptian army without lifting a sword.  Each morning they experience the miracle of the manna from heaven.

You might think that by now they would know that God would not lead them to a place that lacked the water necessary to sustain their lives.  The reality is that Israel is a people recently liberated from slavery; the still bear the psychological scars of slavery.  The wonder of God’s patient care of his people is evident; God does not take affront at their distrust—these people bear the scars of overlords who made erratic demands.  God provides the abundance of water they need.

As I read this story the ebb and flow of my own trust of God is exposed.  I can see all the daily gifts of God more readily when the sun is shining; that is when business is plentiful, employment readily available, investments growing, obligations met and savings increasing—these are times when trust is easy.  But when just one of those becomes a struggle the whole thing seems dark—“is the Lord among us or not?”  My trust of God ebbs so quickly.  I ever marvel at my Lord’s patient care of this stumbling servant.

I wonder too if this mountain water aquifer that supplied Israel with water was really there all along and just needed to be sought out.  The salve mentality crippled Israel in other ways—everything was provided (albeit sparingly) by their slave overlords; with liberation comes a responsibility not experienced before.  I am convinced that in sin we disparage the goodness of God; liberated of sin we still bear those scars and it is easy to go back to that default position.  God does not lead his people to a place where the necessities for life are absent; in calling us to take up our cross and follow our Lord the promise of God is that he will give us all these things as well.

It is also my experience that we often handcuff the provision of God by looking for these provisions insisting on past patterns.  How many have though that the solution was to have their old job back; that a return to past prosperous levels of income is the measure of whether God is providing or not.  Perhaps the Lord is calling us to new patterns. “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock of Horeb”, God said to Moses.  Indeed God goes the way before us as well in all the things we meet in life.

2. There is another kind of water necessary for life, Jesus insists, that is of even greater importance than H2O.   We need both.  It was a short while after this at the feast of booths in Jerusalem; on the last and great day of the feast at the time of the ritual pouring of water by the priests Jesus cried out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”  Jesus speaks of himself as living water. Jesus is water in that he alone quenches life’s profoundest thirst.  He is “living” water in that he is alive himself and satisfies parched people by giving them himself as they come to know what it is to live in his company

It is the same image Jesus uses with the woman at the well.  ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Sources of water are places where people gather and share news with one another: given that this woman had five husbands and was not married to the one she was currently with you might understand why she came to the well at a time of day when no one else from town would be there.  But Jesus was there—it was almost as if he came just to see her—Jesus is always there in our loneliness ready to meet us.

She doesn’t know what to make of what Jesus called “living water” so she continues with her off-handed banter: “You’re the only person I’ve ever seen who goes to a well without a bucket.”  I wonder if we sometime deflect what Jesus has for us because it sounds odd.  Ignoring her banter, Jesus speaks to her again, once more at a depth she doesn’t apprehend: “If you drink the water I give, you will never thirst again.”  Missing the point she playfully retorts: ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Is this not the misunderstanding heard between believer and unbeliever today?  People are glad that you find some meaning for your life in church; beyond this they do not penetrate. They don’t perceive that the church is the instrument of the living Lord whereby he renders available to others without number his own gift of living water without limit.

3. The conversation now takes a sharp turn.  The time for chit-chat and playful banter is over.  “Go, call your husband, and come back”, invites Jesus. It’s truth time.  The woman gasped, “I have no husband.”  “‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”,” Jesus continued,” for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”  The woman now knows she can no longer hide behind evasive banter.

Jesus forces self-perception upon us.  He doesn’t say, “Go call your husband”, to all of us; he puts any number of questions. “Go call your alienated child”; “produce your income tax return”; “show me the lonely person needing comfort for whom you gave up leisure time.”

What happens next is a great wonder; the wonder of all who encounter Jesus.  You might expect the Samaritan woman to be crushed with despair and hopelessness; perhaps filled with righteous indignation. But she doesn’t collapse.  So far from being crushed, she’s elated.  Thrilled at her encounter with the Master, she runs off to tell her story to the townspeople.  Her encounter with Jesus has done for her what nothing else has ever done or was ever going to do.  To be sure, it has held a mirror up to her and forced her to look into it.  What has stared back at her can scarcely be called pretty.

On the other hand, because Jesus Christ is more than mirror; because he comes to move us beyond the penultimate truth to the ultimate truth about us; because he informs us of the bad news about us only to sharpen our hearing for the good news, the Samaritan woman is set on her feet with her heart rejoicing.  Now she sees herself no longer rejected but accepted; no longer condemned but pardoned; no longer slinking around in shame but honoured.  Yes, the mirror which our Lord is acquainted her with the truth of her life; and at the same time the living water which he is assured her that from this moment the desert of her life would be a garden.

4.  A few years ago, as part of a physical check-up, I opted to have an additional health check service offered by my doctor.  It is called a live blood cell analysis.  Using a microscope we looked at a drop of my blood and compared that with pictures of healthy specimens.  My doctor pointed out to me that my blood sample indicated that I was somewhat dehydrated; I wasn’t drinking enough water.  Within a short period of time increased water intake relieved me of some other symptoms caused by dehydration.

As followers of Jesus are we drinking enough water?  There is no lack of supply.  The living water that Jesus is comes without limit.  Those areas of our lives whose desert remains desert just because living water has never been seen there; we need this living water poured there.

At the beginning of this sermon I cited the water fact that irrigation increases yields of most crops by 100 to 400 per cent.  If this is true of H2O imagine the garden that will grow if we irrigate our lives with the living water.

Jesus said: “... those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.