Sermon November 15: The Parched and The Empty

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 15, 2015

Soul Food Series: Filling the Hunger! Quenching the Thirst!

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: John 4:6-14, John 6:48-51

Prayer of Illumination:

Nourishing Parent of all who hunger, thank you for opening our hearts and minds to the gift of your word, the Bread of Heaven. Help us hunger and thirst for your peace and righteousness over the things of this world. Amen.

Sermon: The Parched and The Empty

These days we have an abundance of choices when it comes to quenching our thirst. We don’t have to rely on a bucket to draw it up from the well for us! We can go to the refrigerator and grab it ourselves. Water, soda, ice tea. Gatorade, Snapple, Red Bull. We can get bottled water from almost anywhere in the world. (Even from my hometown of Poland Spring.) Soda comes in regular, diet, caffeine-free and extra caffeine. And there’s a whole section in the grocery store dedicated to different kinds of tea and coffee. The people of Jesus’ day wouldn’t have believed the choices we have. And this is all without mentioning the less United Methodist-appropriate beverages! Yes, Jesus turned water into wine, but you won’t find any wine in a United Methodist Church.

Even so, Jesus didn’t have any of that variety when he came upon the Samaritan woman at the well. In fact, he didn’t even have a bucket. Often people in Jesus’ day would carry a goat-skin bucket with them so they could draw water from the wells they came across as they traveled. The disciples, who had gone into town to look for food, must have taken the bucket with them. So Jesus had to rely on the kindness of a stranger to give him something to drink – a woman, no less, and a Samaritan woman at that.

It would have been an odd scene, a man talking with a woman alone at a well. In those days men didn’t talk to unaccompanied women. And women didn’t usually travel alone; they went in groups. So that she was alone, and out during the heat of the day, likely tells us something about this woman. Perhaps she was an outcast, not accepted into the women’s league, considered a bad influence on her community. Despite the water she drew from the well, her life was dry and parched. If we continue reading in the Gospel we learn that she had five husbands, and the man she currently lived with was not her husband. She had been through a lot in her life, and the people of the community shunned her because of it.

Not Jesus, though. Jesus wasn’t into shunning. In fact, Jesus gave the Samaritan woman a gift, something she didn’t expect. Something she probably didn’t even know she wanted. Living water. While she helped to quench Jesus’ thirst, he quenched hers. Confused, she asked, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” Living water is another way to refer to spring water or running water, as opposed to flat water. Yet Jesus clarified that the water he spoke of could not be drawn from a well. “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She came to the well to draw water and received eternal life.

It’s interesting that ‘living water’ is used as a metaphor for eternal life because, quite frankly, we can’t live without water. Water refreshes us, strengthens us and renews our bodies. There’s a scene in the movie Wild where the main character, hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, finds herself out of water in the dessert. She arrived at the water station and found it empty. What she did find was a muddy, murky puddle that saved her life. Having pumped the water through her filter and dissolved iodine tablets to kill bacteria, she chugged it like it was the clearest, sweetest tasting water on the planet. When we are parched, either physically or spiritually, even a muddy puddle can become living water.

Another metaphor we hear Jesus use is The Bread of Life. Bread also points to a very real, physical need. We cannot live without food. As we pray in Our Common Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Jesus himself tells us, “I am the bread of life. … Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” As Lutheran pastor Elizabeth Hunter explains it, “When Jesus says that to eat of the living bread is to never die, we understand that eating also means receiving and believing all that he is for us.” Through himself, Jesus gives us all we need for eternal life. Jesus, as our living bread, fills our emptiness and gives us purpose. Hunter continues, “As Christ gave himself as bread for the world, the body of Christ-the-church is called to do and be the same.”

Water is a simple thing. So is bread. Water and bread are both ordinary things of this world. And Jesus takes these two simple, ordinary things and uses them to help us understand things of the spirit. Living Water. Bread of Life. What more could we need?

Yet sometimes we mistake that parched, empty feeling for something else, right? Instead of turning to the Living Water or the Bread of Life we turn to shopping or junk food or alcohol or sex or drugs or over-work or gambling. These things will distract us, and may help us get by for a while, but they won’t truly sustain us, will they? I know there have been times in my life when I felt empty, when I felt parched and brittle, and searched for something to refresh me. New earrings. A new outfit. A new self-help book. I have days when I feel hollow and dry, so I reach for the bag of Hershey kisses and the TV remote instead of the true bread and water that will give me life. I pass by the living water, mistaking it for a muddy puddle. I turn away from the Bread of Life, not realizing it is there for my nourishment and not just for my enjoyment.

This is the third week of our focus on Soul Food. It’s interesting that there are enough passages in the Scripture about food that we can make a whole series about it! And, in fact, we haven’t even scratched the surface. Throughout the Bible and Christian history, bread and water are staples believed to unite people when shared. Perhaps this is why Jesus was able to communicate spiritual truths through the simplest of things. We’ve all been thirsty and we’ve all experienced at least a moderate degree of hunger.

It seems to me the good news is this: Jesus proclaims a God who longs to quench our thirst and fill our emptiness. We are not left alone to navigate the dry, empty places in our lives. Jesus proclaims a God who desires to meet our deepest needs ~ needs that can’t be met by Hershey kisses or daytime TV or our best attempts to be perfect   Jesus proclaims a God who offers living water to an outcast on the outskirts of town and breaks bread with his disciples instructing, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus proclaims a God who meets us in strangers and mud puddles and fresh baked rolls shared among friends, if we are willing to see.

So for what are you thirsty? Where is the hunger in your life? When do you feel empty and parched? Are you ready to reach out for that Living Water, that Bread of Life?

Let us pray: O God, you choose to meet us in unexpected places and offer us simple, ordinary gifts. You refresh our spirits with the living waters of love and acceptance. You fill our emptiness with the Bread of Life so that we will never go hungry. Remind us that, in your eyes we are all sisters and brothers in one family ~ your family. We all need what you offer. We all thirst for you. Help us to recognize you and thank you for never leaving us alone. Amen.