1st Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 4:5-42
The waters flow down from the mountains as the snow melts, through creeks and rivers to the sea. The water evaporates from the lakes and rivers and from the puddles and the sea, back into the air to become clouds, only to rain or snow again and again upon us, making the cycle over and over to refresh the earth and bring water to people and animals and plants, to distribute this water over the whole earth.
The water brings life. It nourishes all of us. We take a drink of water. It flows through our veins—our blood is about 50% water. Our veins are so much like the network of rivers and streams that deliver our water. Our arteries and veins and capillaries, deliver this life-giving water to all our cells to give us life, and they carry the waste back out again, back to the earth to nourish new life. It flows through the roots and leaves of plants, to flowers and fruits.
God’s Spirit goes out from the breath of God, to the universe, to the earth, to give life to all. This breath gives motion to the universe, balance to the earth, life to the plants, animation to the animals, and awareness to humankind. It f lows along paths like the waterways and veins to bring blessing and life to all.
Sometimes there are disruptions. Sometimes there are droughts or floods, a blocked artery, or frightened people who stand in the way of the Water and the Spirit. The woman at the well knows intimately the blockages that people put up that keep others from having abundant life and living water.
She and Jesus have a long conversation, this morning. Jesus surprises her by even speaking to her in the first place. He’s already ignoring the road block that keeps men and women who aren’t related from speaking to each other in public, when he asks her for a drink of water. Now she points out the next road block, that she is a Samaritan and he a Jew. These two kinds of people don’t talk to each other. He is ignoring the next blockage.
The woman is just getting excited about this living water, when Jesus reminds her of one of the blockages—he asks her to go get her husband. The Covenant of the Jews is forged with the men. They “cut a covenant.” They circumcise. That is the way you know you’ve got the right religion, that you are a part of the network of rivers or veins that bring you the blessing of God. The woman doesn’t have a man to link her in with the network of blessing. She has no husband. She doesn’t hide what would certainly have been shameful and Jesus knew it already and doesn’t shame her or blame her.
She must have realized in that moment that he knew all along, and yet he talked to her as an equal. Jesus saw her and knew her story, and still talked to her about religion and the roadblocks in her life. Nobody else was doing that for her. That is probably why she was at the well at noon. The other women would have all gone early in the morning and gossiped and chit chatted all the way, but it looks like they had excluded her from their women’s circle. Now she goes to the well at a different time and she is all alone in the world. But here is a person who knows and yet will speak to her, and not only speak to her but have a deep conversation about human need and how you get that need fulfilled and how you convey it.
God created this world with a vision for beauty and balance and the flow of water, Spirit, and life and free will. We took things in another direction and blocked that flow out of fear and greed. Now Jesus is back to restore that vision. Whatever the values of this world, Jesus is going to live the values and vision of God. He simply ignores our rules that put up barriers between people and live the vision that God has in mind. Through Jesus’ conversation with this scorned woman, Jesus creates a world where men and women talk freely, where people really see each other and relate to each other, and where healing takes place.
Jesus isn’t the only one who has the vision. The woman professes a hope in the Messiah. She is looking for a better world, too. After all the stumbling blocks that people put in front of her, still she hopes that they will not keep her from the hope and promise of the Messiah that everything will be clearer than ever.
This is the most clear Jesus ever is about his being the Messiah. “I am he.” He uses the same words that God uses as the Burning Bush when Moses asks what God’s name is. “I am who I am,” answers God. “I am he,” answers Jesus. They are the same.
Have we caught the vision? I have been standing in a place of pain and frustration over the past few months, that I have often expressed to you Sunday mornings. It is easy to envision a world in which the last bee dies or the last fish and we are left fighting and hiding and living in a post-apocalyptic world. However, God has a beautiful vision for this world where there will be no more weeping and the lion will lie down with the lamb and we were encouraged to tap into our vision for this world. I have to say it is a beautiful and hopeful thing. God brings about God’s vision through us and creates the world that we see in our deepest longing.
Because of God’s vision and our deepest longing, we can throw off any roadblocks keeping us from Jesus. He is ignoring them, first. Nothing can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We can use our new life to remove dams and road blocks and clogs so that God’s love flows to those who never knew it before because they were behind so many layers of debris.
When one part of this broken world changes, it is bound to have beautiful ripple effects in the water. The woman leaves her water jar. She leaves the vessel she was using to come get water to quench her thirst temporarily, and becomes the vessel of God’s grace bringing the good news to the people of her village. Can you imagine how that conversation went? “He knew me. He saw me. He spoke to me. He gave me the most wonderful gift. He made me a vessel of Spirit. Can he be the Messiah?”
Something changed so that the people saw her, listened to her, knew her, trusted her. Maybe it was that her story changed. She was no longer just the black widow whose husbands kept mysteriously dying one after the other, or the one with several failed marriages. She was someone who had something valuable to share with the community, connection with God. She was someone who had been honored by someone important. The Messiah might have spoken to her. If he spoke to her and saw her, maybe he would see me and speak to me, despite my shortcomings, brokenness, and so forth.
What is clogging up our vessel? What is standing between this broken world and God’s dream for this world. What stands between our current reality of destruction and our deepest longings that come from God? What assumptions, judgments, fears, things we are ashamed of, are getting in the way of the living waters flowing to us, filling us up and satisfying us, and then flowing out to others?
Baptism is the sacrament in which we get to experience, first hand, the waters of God overflowing to us and through us, cleansing us, claiming us, and making us vessels of blessing to others.
Water can itself be a block sometimes. More and more water is polluted. It can be dangerous. It can be toxic. Will we treat it like the sacrament it is, protecting it so that it can bring life abundant both physically and spiritually? God’s vision does include clean water flowing to all. Does yours?
Water is also unpredictable, like the Holy Spirit. Water is becoming more concentrated in some areas of the earth and vanishing from other parts because of changes in the earth and atmosphere. Wars are fought over water and the right to it can become a situation of contention. We have this problem with the Klamath River between farmers and fish. We’ve been having conversations about the Columbia River with Canada, because how they use it affects us downriver. Federal regulators proposed revisions to a treaty between Canada and the United States over use and management of the Columbia River. We want to make sure that water will be a blessing to all who use it. Water doesn’t respect boundaries of countries. It makes us have to work together and think about the ways we are connected.
It is a little bit like this tree above our upper parking lot. I really never gave it a second thought until 2 years ago when the neighbors wanted to cut it down. Then I started to appreciate the shade it provided, the water it held within itself that didn’t flow onto our parking lot, the birds and squirrels that made it their homes. And before that I only thought of our neighbors up above us very occasionally. But on Tuesday our neighbors came down to speak to the council because they are prepared to meet our conditions for removing the tree, grinding the stump, putting in a nice mature tree that won’t grow so tall and removing the troublesome cottonwoods that will likely soon be “erupting” the parking lot pavement with their terrible root systems. I am not thrilled that the tree will be coming down, but I have to admit this tree brought us together. Our neighbors have a bunch of little grandkids. They are active in their church. They are interested in our pantry. We now know them and they know us. We are connected. We have common interests. We are people. Now, the communication lines are more open to dialogue and relationship. I hope that blessing will continue to flow between us and grow.
Water is refreshing—we need to drink it to live. It is cleansing—it takes off the layers of dirt, so we can be cleansed. It connects us with all forms of life—we all need it to live. It connects all places—water doesn’t respect boundaries. It is powerful—it gives life and takes it away. It is gentle—it cradled us all in our mother’s womb. It is abundant—especially in Oregon.
Jesus let the waters overtake him, when he died for us on the cross. Some say the piercing of his side shows that the waters were flowing through him in abundance for us to give us life and to flow on to give life to all. Let the purifying and life-giving waters flow to all God’s precious creation and may we catch the vision of abundance and hope and let God work through us to create this world in the vision that we all hold deep within our heart, a true gift from God.