Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday thoughts

John 4: 5-30, 42
The woman at the well: Living water

The value of water

A few years ago, sometime in the late 90’s, I took my then youth group to Soul Survivor – a Christian Bible and worship week that took place down in Somerset. It was the kind of week you camped at and they would set up in various fields taps for drinking and washing water and toilets – for obvious reasons!

If you imagine the site with the huge meeting tents in the middle, then the campsite areas radiated out. And this particular year me and the group were camped on one of the furthest fields. It also happened that this particular year there was something of a heatwave (I know that some of you who originate from Africa might be slightly cynical about the likelihood of an English heatwave, but it does happen once in a blue moon!).

And it also happened that this particular year the organisers were having a bit of trouble with the water supply system, so it came about that those of us camped furthest away found ourselves very warm, very thirsty and with a trickle or no water for a good deal of the week. Now I don’t even remotely pretend that this could compare in any way with situations around the world where people are struggling to find a clean water supply and have to walk miles and miles to find any water at all – but it did make me stop and think and appreciate the luxury we enjoy here of turning on a tap and having an abundant supply of fresh, clean, water – and if we go away having done nothing else this morning, let’s praise and thank God for this and pray for those who are without such riches. But actually, I know that there is even more for which we can thank God this morning…

The need for water in any place, not least in a hot place, is essential for life and in this morning’s Gospel reading we find Jesus sitting by a well, resting wearily from his journey and thirsty for water to drink. The well by which Jesus sat was the well that, we read in Genesis, Jacob – son of Isaac, son of Abraham – had found in Samaria and which had been named after him. Now here we are, hundreds of years later, with Jesus sitting by this same well.

The unusual nature of the conversation

A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. That must have proved quite a shock for the woman for a number of reasons.
1) She was a Samaritan. A Jew would not usually have spoken to a Samaritan – Samaritans were considered outsiders and second class citizens, at least in religious terms, by Jews.
2) She was a woman. A Jewish man would not have spoken to a lone, unchaperoned woman.
3) She was of disreputable character – having had five husbands and now the man she lived with was not her husband!

On all three counts Jesus breaks the usual conventions and expectations and treats her with respect – and that’s something to take notice of. How often Jesus was accused of meeting with and eating with sinners and outsiders, the unclean and unacceptable. Is that an accusation that can be thrown at his church too?

The request is turned around

So, he’s asked her for a drink of water, and she’s well aware of the unlikelihood of Jesus speaking to her – Samaritan, woman, adulterer! But Jesus then turns the question around, “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.”

She still thinks Jesus is talking about ordinary, physical water and asks him where she can get ‘this living water’. But Jesus is talking about something more awesome, something that is a spring of water gushing up to eternal life, something which quenches the thirst for God and brings life. Just as physical water is essential to keep us alive, so this living water is essential for eternal life and abundant life with God. And this living water is the Holy Spirit, the gift of God that will be poured out.

The surprising response from Jesus – sin addressed

Jesus often seems to give unlikely responses to the things people say to him and ask him about… and this situation is no exception. The woman has asked where she can find this living water so Jesus says, ‘go and call your husband and come back.’ Eh!

“I don’t have a husband” comes the response. “No” says Jesus, “you’re right – you’ve had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband!”

He knows her, he knows all about her, before she finds this living water the sinful parts of her lifestyle are out in the open BEFORE JESUS.

He hasn’t shouted her sin from the rooftops, it’s still just the two of them speaking and it’s only the woman who a bit later goes off, saying “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!”

We know that bringing sin into the light is healthy for our spiritual lives, so we can receive from God all that he has for us - so we repent of our sin (that is actually turn away from it), we confess it and receive God’s forgiveness.
It’s as we read in 1 John: “when we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and CLEANSE US FROM ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.”

True worshippers

So, Jesus has demonstrated himself to be someone special – a man of God – and so the woman changes the subject to places of worship. The Samaritans worshipped God on the mountain, the Jews worshipped God in the Temple in Jerusalem but Jesus tells her that the time is coming when the true worshippers will not worship in one specific place, but they’ll worship in Spirit and in truth.

That’s us! That time has come, we are those worshippers who through the gift of the Holy Spirit can worship God in truth, can worship God anywhere and everywhere. The gift of God has already been poured out for us; God with us; God in us; the Spirit of God here in this place. And don’t we remember and acknowledge that as we go through this time of worship together: at the peace we’re reminded that Jesus said, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ At the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer don’t we proclaim, “the Lord is here, his Spirit is with us!” Because that’s truth, and we worship in Spirit and in truth. God is with us – isn’t it right then that we turn away from our sin and confess it because we’re in the presence of the holy God.

The gift of God – the living water

This is the living water that Jesus was speaking of, this is the water that gushes up to eternal life, this is the gift of God that Jesus promised his people, this is the amazing discovery we have made in Jesus, this is what we have to offer and to share with the world out there, this is the life-giving presence of God who comforts us in our sufferings, who heals us or strengthens us in our sicknesses, who gives us the hope to endure (just as Paul was saying in that letter to the Romans), who opens the door to eternal life with God. People need the living water that Jesus promised.

Have you drunk of the living water?

Today I hope that every one of us in here has drunk of this living water – but if you haven’t, then will you today? Will you say to God today, the words of that last verse in the gospel reading… “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’ You can change the ‘we’ to ‘I’ and come and drink of the water that gushes up to eternal life.

The invitation: Come and See

And finally, what did the Samaritan woman do after she’d found this living water?

She went out to the people and said ‘Come and see…’

She had a testimony straight away… “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” That’s what Jesus did for her.

What will happen if we do the same, “come and see…”
Come and see the one who helped me in my grief
Come and see the one who placed me in a family when I was lonely
Come and see the one who heard my prayer and gave me strength
Come and see the one who healed me
Come and see the one who gives us joy even in suffering
Come and see the one who loves the poor and the outsider

There’s so much for the people out there to come and see, because Jesus is God, the source of life, his Spirit the living water. And it only takes a little courage, and even that the Spirit can help us with! to do what Peter bid us do… “always have an answer prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Or – “come and see.”

Let’s take a few moments of quiet before God as we give ourselves space to respond to him, perhaps as you silently say that last verse to him; perhaps as you ask him to remind you of what he has done for you, and just so we can ask him to pour out once again this gift of living water.



At February 24, 2008 12:58 am, Blogger Amy said...

I love your litany of come and see! It is exactly the kind of thing I needed. I will end with, "Come and see the Lord is among."

May God bless you!

At February 24, 2008 1:59 am, Blogger Songbird said...

I love your "come and sees."


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