Parched lips and water jars

Prepared for St. John’s United Sunday Service on March 15th, 2020, based on John 4:5-42 for Lent 3, Year A.

Have you ever been so thirsty that your parched lips have cracked and split? Your tongue felt heavy, like cotton in your mouth? And, your throat so sore that swallowing hurt?

Today we’re talking about thirst.

***

A woman, carrying her water jar, went to the well in the heat of the day.

Now, there are two reasons to go to the well…

The obvious reason? To draw water. The unspoken reason? To find community.

One fills the need to drink, to be able to cook, to bathe and take care of basic bodily needs. And, the other fills the need for belonging,  friendship, and connection.

The well is the gathering place, just like our mall or the Lakeview Community Center or this church. We go there to shop, to play, and or worship, but it is so much more. We go there to belong.

So, what was the woman going for, in the middle of the noonday heat? Water, certainly, but not probably not community.

Let’s just say that noon wasn’t a ‘peak’ time for the well.

***

In her conversation with Jesus, as a demonstration of who Jesus is, it’s revealed that this woman previously had five husbands; all lost to her, likely through death or divorce.

It’s a sad story, but it’s not a story of judgement. I want to be clear about that. Jesus is showing her who he is, not judging who she is.

Still, how interesting that the first person in this Gospel Jesus chooses to reveal himself as the Messiah to is a lonely woman. Someone who is judged by her neighbours to such a degree that she’d rather walk the miles to the well in the harsh heat of the noonday sun than to go when the other women and children are there.

How interesting that Jesus chooses to reveal himself as the Messiah to someone who is ‘other’, or ‘enemy’; a Samaritan. Something the womanunderstands and names in the first words she speaks to him.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”[i]

This woman is the complete opposite of the man we spoke about last week: Nicodemus.

Where Nicodemus came at night, the woman comes at noon.

Where Nicodemus is named and holds power and authority, the woman is nameless and powerless.

Where Nicodemus is Jewish and a religious teacher, the woman is a Samaritan and likely uneducated.

How interesting that Jesus chooses to reveal himself to this woman, who is so moved by her interaction with him that she calls others to  come and see.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

***

Whenever I read this text I always hear the woman’s tone as suspicion giving way to amusement.

I can hear her eyebrows creeping up when Jesus tells her about the “living water”.

She says “Sir” or “Lord”: You don’t have a bucket. This is a pretty deep well. Where are you going to get that living water? Hmm?[ii]

But Jesus keeps going as if what he says makes perfect sense: 

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but 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.[iii]

And what is the woman interested in at this moment? She’s so practical! She hears on Jesus’ words the solution to the question of why she is coming to the well in the middle of the noonday heat.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”[iv]

Sir, give me this water so that I can drink and cook and bathe, and never have to walk with my head down again, pretending I don’t hear them whispering.

Give me water and give me belonging.

If you were to put a name to your thirst, because we’re all thirsty for something, what would you call that empty water jar? Is it justice? Safety? Confidence?

***

Jesus tells the thirsty woman: I will offer you something different for your jar.

Something different.

We’ve discussed how New Life doesn’t look like the old anymore. It surprises us, and it can even offend those who want you to keep doing things the Old Way.

But the woman at the well tells us something really valuable about this Living Water…

The woman who was so scared by, and uncomfortable around, her neighbours that she’d wait until the hottest time of day, when no one else was around, to go out and do her chores, is the one to go back to the city with the Good News.

The woman who ducked her head, pretending not to hear, and went on with her day all the while her heart was aching because of lose and loneliness, she is the first witness in this Gospel.

She leaves her jar at the well, and goes back to her city, to her neighbours, with her head up to tell them “come and see”.[v]

The woman at the well tells us that this different source of life and goodness makes us bold. It makes us want to go and tell others.

It helps us set down out empty jars of hurt, and fear, and anxiety, to put those daily burdens down, and say there is something else for me.

Isn’t that incredible?

***

Now, the ‘something else’ that is offered. Well, I can’t tell you what that is. But there are stories in this room, some of which I’ve heard over these past two weeks, about where emptiness was filled with Living Water.

But those are your stories to tell.

Instead I can tell you about some of my empty jars and the ‘something else’ I received.

I can tell you about a jar of grief that was filled with remembrance and an expanded sense of family. I can tell you about a jar of depression that was filled with kindness and gratitude.

And then I have other jars, that I daily have to remember to set down beside the well, because I am so used to their weight in my arms.

Do you have jars like that, in your life?

***

There can be an amazing sense of relief in realizing that we are continually invited to “come and see”, to come to the well and receive the invitation to drink the waters of the Living-God. Because, as thirsty as we are, we get distracted by our own lives, distracted by what’s happening around us, and we sometimes forget to drink.

How incredible that we worship a God who never tires of calling us to the well.

How incredible that we follow a teacher who will continue to invite us to draw water, no matter how much we might feel that our past or present makes us unworthy of that grace.

That unending grace, that steadfast loving-kindness, is transforming. And it turns our very selves into an invitation to others. When we own that, we are the greatest testament to the goodness of our God.

Because one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is to be bold, to tell one another to “come and see” this new life at work in us. To own with praise and thanksgiving that God is at work in us.

So this week, I’m hoping as you continue your Lenten practices, as you continue in your journey of becoming more like God-your-parent, that you begin to see that transformation taking place. That you feel a little bit of God at work in you.

Every glass of water you drink—and I’m hoping this means you’ll remember eight times a day at LEAST!—let it be a reminder of both the invitation and transformation offered you by the fountain of Living Water.


[i] John 4:9 NRSV, [ii] John 4:11, [iii] John 4:13-14 NRSV, [iv] John 4:15 NRSV, [v] John 4:28-29

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