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Lent 3A Sermon
John 4: 4-52

March 19, 2017


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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

In our country we are a bit spoiled when it comes to access to clean water. The statistics are pretty amazing when you think about it – 85% of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the world; 783 million people do not have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people do not have adequate sanitation. Each year, 6-8 million people die of effects from natural disasters or water-related diseases. I don’t think about that too much when I take a cup from the cabinet and put it under the water dispenser on the front of our refrigerator and get a nice, cool drink of water.

Much of the world gets their water the same way that this Samaritan woman got hers – by walking a distance carrying a large jar (usually on the head) and bringing it back to her home or village. The woman would have had to lower some kind of smaller container down into the deep well enough times to bring up enough water to fill her jar. It’s a lot more involved than merely turning on the spigot.
I read about a man who recently visited his daughter’s in-laws in Nepal where it is still impossible to take water for granted. Even in the relatively modern city of Pokhara, water doesn’t flow freely into homes. It is only available two hours every other day, and residents must use electric pumps to draw water into rooftop storage cisterns. Then when it is to be used for drinking or food preparation it must be boiled. And in the times of the year when the electricity is not reliable, water can be scarce for weeks on end.

In the U.S. we don’t expect life to be like this. That is why when things happen like in Flint Michigan, or in Toledo a few years ago when Lake Erie turned green, or in West Virginia when a chemical spill made the water supply in Charleston unusable, it creates chaos. We need water for life, even more than we need food for life. We expect it to be there when we need it. When it isn’t available, we don’t know what to do.

In light of all of these truths I wonder, with water so readily available in our culture why do we still thirst? That question can be taken a couple of ways. To be sure, Americans need to drink more water (we’ve been told at least 8 eight ounce glasses per day, but no one quite knows where that figure came from!), and our propensity to drink things like soft drinks instead of water makes us a lot unhealthier! Even one of my interests, craft beers, is made from four ingredients, water being the most prevalent by far! But if you were to drink too many of these beverages, you would find yourself dehydrated and suffering from a headache the next morning because the presence of alcohol, a by-product of yeast eating the sugars of the grains – robs a body of moisture. Medical science tells us that when a person experiences the physical feeling of thirst, it is usually past the initial onset of dehydration, and it will take that person a while to be able to recover from that condition. Indeed, even with the presence of drinkable water, we experience physical thirst because of our desire to quench our thirst with other things.

But in our culture, we also thirst for something on a more spiritual level. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the water he has will gush up to eternal life, and that she will never thirst again, he is not talking about what we now know as good ol’ H2O. He is speaking on a spiritual level. He is talking about being satisfied in life beyond having enough to eat and drink, clothes to wear and a home in which to live. He is talking about being at peace in life, experiencing joy in the midst of the challenges and sorrows that are inherent in this life – generally being content and grateful for our many blessings.
The last thing that we hear in this story is the Samaritan villagers making a confession that they know that Jesus is truly the Savior of the world. This is the only instance where that word, “Savior” is used in John’s Gospel. As we think about the context here, we see it as a word about relationships. Jesus crossed all sorts of barriers to interact with this person – gender and religious and national boundaries being the most obvious. He wasn’t supposed to be talking to her, and yet as Savior of the world, he can do nothing other than come to her in the midst of her doubts and sinfulness – as a woman who has been married many times (for reasons unknown to us) who is with a man now who is not her husband; as a woman who’s people do not worship in the place and manner that God desires his people to worship; as a woman who holds on to anger and hatred against the Judeans like Jesus and his disciples just as much as anyone. Jesus lives out what Paul describes in his letter to the Romans that while we were still weak, sinful and enemies of God, Christ comes to us, just as he came to this Samaritan woman.

Our spiritual thirst is assuaged when we surrender to that fact. It begins when we join the Samaritans in confessing Jesus as the Savior of the World, which means that trusting that all of our relationships are built upon our relationship with the one for whom we offer no benefit. We would be the ones that your parents would warn you about, not to hang around with them! But Jesus breaks that boundary and comes into our lives to offer us the water that quenches our thirst – that which saves us and heals all of our relationships. With gratitude, we are then called to this well of spiritual water regularly to share in the good, refreshing water of forgiveness, love and mercy.

When we recognize how we gravitate toward alternative sources of satisfaction and relief – like money or recognition, comfort or possessions – it is the first step toward surrendering to the real Savior of the World! All of these things may bring temporary happiness – like a cup of cold water – but we will need more and more of it in the future if we are to continue to experience any kind of happiness. True joy comes when we give thanks to the one who knows our stories through and through and who comes to us in love and grace anyway. And he comes to us in order to provide the water that our spirits need – the contentment of mind, body and spirit that will be made complete when Jesus sacrifices his very life on the cross, so that we may know the depth of the love that God has for us. That is the story which conveys the wonderful love that is our spiritual water. That is the gift of refreshment and sustenance that we need this Lent. That is the love that the savior of the world freely shows to us while we are still undeserving.

Much like our access to clean water, may grow in appreciation for the presence of Jesus to provide water to quench our spiritual thirst, so that we may not take for granted the love and forgiveness that God shows us through his son, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.