Faith United Methodist Church
March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture:  John 4:5-30

Prayer of Illumination:  

For the word of hope that pours over us like living water, for the word of grace that leads us to encounter the living Christ, we offer you our thanks, O God.  Amen.

Sermon:  Little Sips, Big Gulps

These days we have an abundance of choices when it comes to quenching our thirst.  Unlike Jesus, we don’t have to rely on a stranger to draw water from a well for us!  We can go to the refrigerator and grab it ourselves.  Water, soda, iced tea.  And even within those choices there is an abundant variety.  We can get bottled water from almost anywhere in the world ~ even my hometown of Poland Spring, Maine.  Sodas come in regular, diet, caffeine free and extra caffeine.  At 7-Eleven you can even get something called the Big Gulp or the Super Big Gulp.  Forty ounces of your favorite beverage.  Personally, I prefer something a little smaller.  I don’t gulp so much as sip.  Juice boxes are more my size.

Jesus, though, didn’t have any of that variety when he came upon the Samaritan woman at the well.  No Big Gulp.  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, gone into town to look for food, must have taken the bucket with them.  Jesus, thirsty from the heat of the day, had to rely on the kindness of a stranger to give him something to drink.

And the stranger Jesus came across was thirsty, too.  She was thirsty enough to go to the well in the middle of the day ~ when it was hottest.  Some speculate that she was an outcast, forbidden to go to the well at the more comfortable times of day when others would be there.  Whatever her reason for being there at that particular time, Jesus took the opportunity to ask this Samaritan woman for something to quench his thirst.

There are two places in the Bible where Jesus was thirsty ~ this passage and one other.  Does anyone remember the other passage?  Yes, when Jesus was on the cross.  Jesus’ very last words from the cross were, “I thirst.” In today’s passage, through the kindness of the Samaritan woman, Jesus was able to quench his very real thirst.

But when Jesus talked about thirst he wasn’t just talking about having dry mouth and scratchy throat.  Thirst was a word Jesus used to refer not only to physical needs but to spiritual needs, as well.  Indicating the well before them (Jacob’s well) Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Who wouldn’t want to have that kind of water?  Living water, in this context was a metaphor for God’s provision of all that is needed for abundant life.

Living water.  Understandably confused, she asked, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”  Living water was another term for 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 or any other body of water.  “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Through the Scripture we learn a little bit about this Samaritan women.  As I mentioned before, she was likely an outcast.  She lived a difficult life for a woman of her day, having been married several times and, then, living with a man who was not her husband.  Women were not allowed to own property, so she was likely dependent on the whims of others for her security.  Her life was hard.  I can imagine she was thirsty for hope, thirsty for mercy.  She came to the well to quench her physical thirst, yet she left having received eternal life.  Have you ever gone somewhere for one thing only to leave with or receive another?  Gone in the store for a juice box and ended up with a Big Gulp?

The good news of this passage is that God can heal our parched lips and our dehydrated souls.  After she left Jesus this woman ~ this outcast ~ went into her village and told others about Jesus and his promise of living waters.  Even in her own thirsty life she could see that others needed Jesus’ living waters, too.  Even through her own pain she could see that others needed to be healed.  As David Garber suggests in his Lectionary reflections, “Perhaps in the Lenten season as we reflect on the human condition, we must ask how we can demonstrate God’s compassionate presence and provision to those who cry out from under the burden of real, and sometimes extreme hardships.”

So can we ~ will we ~ offer a glass of cool water to someone in need?  Will we be thirst quenchers?  Can we be, in some small way, fountains of Christ’s living water, running over with Christ’s love?  Will we reach across the aisle, across our street, across the world to provide living water ~ physically and spiritually ~ to those in need?  As Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote in prayer for this Sunday, “My thirst for You takes me to places of compassion:  When others thirst my mouth is dry.”

I give thanks that I live in a place where water is abundant.  I fill my water bottle before I go to Zumba class.  I heat up cups of decaf tea throughout the day.   But I also recognize that there are other kinds of thirst.  There is thirst that can’t be quenched by Big Gulps, thirst that can only be quenched by the living water that Jesus offers.

Lent is what we might call a thirsty season.  We are invited to the desert.  We are asked to spend time in contemplation.  We are encouraged to ask ourselves some hard questions about our life of faith.  And there are thirsty voices all around us.  Sometimes that thirsty voice comes from within.  Like the woman at the well, there are times when we feel alone in the world and parched by the demands of life.  Other times those thirsty voices come from those around us as we hear the real needs of the world.  In the midst of all those thirsty voices, we can celebrate the faithful generosity of God.  The good news is that we have a God who cares about our thirst.  Let us pray:

O God, you choose to meet us in unexpected places and offer us strange gifts.  You refresh our spirits with the living waters of love and acceptance.  Remind us that, in your eyes we are all sisters and brothers in one family ~ your family.  We all thirst for you.  Amen.