No More Water in the Well

Part 3 of the series “Lent and Easter with U2
A sermon in The Other Six Days series
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
March 27, 2011
Exodus 17:1–7; John 4:5–26

Exodus 17:17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

John 4:5–26 • So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Trip Through Your Wires by U2

In the distance
She saw me comin’ ’round
I was calling out
I was calling out
Still shakin’
Still in pain
You put me back together again
I was cold and you clothed me honey
I was down and you lifted me honey

Angel…
Angel or devil
I was thirsty
And you wet my lips

You, I’m waiting for you
You, you set my desire
I trip through your wires

I was broken, bent out of shape
I was naked in the clothes you made
Lips were dry, throat like rust
You gave me shelter from the heat and the dust
No more water in the well
No more water, water

Angel…
Angel or devil
I was thirsty
And you wet my lips

You, I’m waiting for you
You, you set my desire
I trip through your wires

Yeah…I need…I need…
I need…I need it…
I need…I need…all I need…yeah!

Thunder, thunder on the mountain
There’s a rain cloud in the desert sky
In the distance she saw me coming ’round
I was calling out

 

I. BEGINNING

On an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise crew encounters an alien lifeform that describes humanity as “ugly bags of mostly water”.  While I won’t comment on the aesthetic judgment contained in such a statement, there is one thing that cannot be denied: we are mostly water.  Some 70% of adults.  80% of an infant is water.  Of course it’s not just us.  The surface of the planet itself is 70-75% water.  As a result, water is essential to life.  Not just our lives, of course, but all life.  Whenever NASA sends a probe to the moon or to Mars or to some remote moon of Jupiter to look for life, the first thing they look for is water.

Water has some fairly unique qualities.  It is one of the few substances that is less dense as a solid than it is as a liquid.  If water behaved the way other substances do, ice would sink to the bottom of lakes, rivers, and oceans.  As it is, the frozen part remains on top, providing shelter and insulation for the waters–and the life forms they contain–that lie beneath.  If water behaved differently, life would have a much harder time and might not even be possible.

Given all that, it’s surprising that we don’t have more reverence for water.  We take it for granted. We use it to power turbines and to wash our cars and to irrigate lawns and golf courses in the desert.  We create huge theme parks with wave generator pools and waterslides and splash pools to swim in.  Apparently, William McKinley High School uses a lot of water when the Glee kids want to do a rendition of “Singing in the Rain”.

It does not appear that we have a real appreciation for the importance of water.  But while we can go for a month without food.  We can only survive a few days without water.  Water is powerful.  Water is sacred.  Water is life.

II.  THE TEXT

The Israelites understood that.  We encounter something of that understanding of the need for water in the lesson from Exodus we read tonight:

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

The Israelites get a lot of grief for quarreling and testing God when they complain for water in the desert.  But their worry is certainly understandable.  They had left the fertile Nile river delta, where water and life were abundant, to be led out into the wilderness of Sinai–a desert–where water is scarce.  They might be pardoned for worrying about where their water was coming from.

But, like many ancient people, and peoples more connected to the land than we are, they felt the absolute necessity of water keenly.  The land of Israel itself is heavily dependent on rain for its water.  The Mediterranean and the Jordan are not really great sources for drinking water.  And so water is much more on the mind of the ancient Israelites and the early Church–and the Biblical record makes that clear.

The world is created in a great watery chaos in the first creation story in Genesis.  In the second creation story, springs come forth from the earth to water the Garden of Eden.  When God exacts judgment upon the sinful world, it is the waters of creation that come rushing in upon the world.  God leads the Children of Israel to freedom through the sea. They cross over into the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan.  Jesus himself is nurtured in the waters of the womb.  He is baptized in water, he walks upon the water and stills the storm.  When he is pierced upon the cross, according to John’s Gospel, blood “and water” come forth.  Water is an ever present force and power throughout the Biblical narrative.

III. LIVING WATER

And so it should come as no surprise that water should be a symbol for life giving power.  Jesus uses it as much in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.  He asks her for a drink of water–something that astonishes her because he is a Jew and Jews and Samaritans do not get along, let alone share drinks of water. When she asks him about this, he replies that if she had known who he was, she would have asked for some water from him. When she asks further about this, he replies:

“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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Here Jesus builds upon the understanding of the necessity of water for life and offers a water necessary for eternal life.  A spring of water that is life itself, gushing up to eternal life.  It’s a powerful metaphor precisely because of the absolute importance of water for life.  The woman who comes to the well–who unlike us, does not have the benefit of a tap out of which pours seemingly limitless amounts of water–knows the scarcity and the preciousness of water.  She knows what it is to thirst and Jesus offers to quench not only her physical thirst, but her spiritual thirst.

Thirst is a common image throughout scripture that represents spiritual longing.  Psalm 42 reads: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…” The prophets use the metaphor of thirst to represent the longing of the people, indeed the entirety of creation, for redemption.  “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams upon the dry ground” writes Isaiah of God’s promises.

That image of a dry parched spirit longing to be refreshed continues to be a powerful one. In U2’s song “Trip Through Your Wires”, we hear the following evocative lyric speaking of longing and of the satisfaction of that longing:

I was broken, bent out of shape
I was naked in the clothes you made
Lips were dry, throat like rust
You gave me shelter from the heat and the dust
No more water in the well
No more water, water

Angel…
Angel or devil
I was thirsty
And you wet my lips

Lips dry and throat like rust, there was no more water in the well–the singer is empty, spiritually, emotionally.  The metaphor is powerful.  We understand the state of the singer as one of longing and dire need.  And we hear the relief evident in the words:  “I was thirsty and you wet my lips.” A song of great longing and desire for water, that ends with a vision: Thunder, thunder on the mountain… There’s a rain cloud in the desert sky…”

What spiritual longing do lyrics like that speak to?  We perhaps have all felt that emptiness at times.  Lips dry and throat like rust.  And the feeling that there was no more water in the well.  Empty.  In need of replenishment.  The song is powerful because we know it is speaking to more than the fact that Bono would like a glass of water.

And so it is that we can more fully understand the message of Jesus at the well.  Just as we are sated by a drink of water when we are physically parched, so much more will we be sated by the springs of water that Jesus has to offer us.  The blessings of grace, the love of God, the liberation from fear, the assurance of God’s presence and power all serve to quench the lips of one thirsty and feeling that the well has gone dry.  Our lives, like the land, go through periods of plenty and famine, of rain and drought.  In those periods of drought, we know that in Christ we find our water.  Our thirst for God is quenched in Christ.  Our spirits are renewed, refreshed, and restored.  That is an amazing and powerful message that we have to bring.  That message of Christ’s presence and power is a message that so many who are spiritual empty, who feel that the well has run dry, need to hear.

But is it the only message we are called to share?

IV.  NO MORE WATER IN THE WELL

In the late nineteenth century, a Baptist pastor from Rochester, New York got his first pastorate in Hell’s Kitchen, a dangerous slum neighborhood in New York City.  As he worked in that impoverished parish, he began to see that there were serious deficiencies with the pious evangelism of the church.  He found the church’s focus on “saving souls” simplistic and increasingly irrelevant.  Even were someone to come to Christian faith and make amendment of life, the social and economic pressures of the difficult life in Hell’s Kitchen made it all but impossible to continue on in any significant way.  Rauschenbusch noted that “Hell’s Kitchen was not a safe place for saved souls.”  He realized that without actually addressing poverty, labor injustice, workplace conditions, and a whole host of other social ills, the Gospel became just pious words that did not actually affect anyone’s lives.

And so emerged the great prophet of the Social Gospel movement. Rauschenbusch was the main figure in a movement that would seek to address not only individual sin, but institutional sin: those structures of oppression and injustice that kept people in a state that did not allow them to respond to the Gospel as they should.  Without addressing people’s material needs, addressing their spiritual needs was practically meaningless.

Rauschenbusch has something to say to us: as we reflect on the provision of spiritual water we should remember that helping people to experience the spiritual waters that Jesus has to offer must be accompanied by ensuring the people have enough physical water in order to live.

And this is no small matter.  According to a United Nations report in 2009, within 20 years, more than half the world’s population will be experiencing a water shortage within 20 years. [1]  Millions could die, global conflicts could increase, and financial systems could come under greater and greater strain.  Consumption of water continues to increase and outpace population growth.  [2]  There is only a finite amount of water on earth–the same as there has always been–and of the vast amounts of water, less than 0.3% of that water is actually drinkable. [3]

We are reminded that the power behind Jesus’ message of spiritual water comes from the fact that everyone knows (or at least they did when Jesus said it) how important water is for life.  We cannot abandon the provision of actual water even as we seek to spread a message of the springs of living water that lead to eternal life.

Fortunately, it is not an either/or for us.  We are a both/and people.  We can proclaim Christ as the source of living waters, the springs that gush forth to eternal life.  And at the same time we can work to ensure that all people have access to water that is safe to drink.  Water that is so necessary for life.  To paraphrase Rauschenbusch, a real drought is not a safe place for those who have received the waters of life.  When there is no more water in the well of a town or a village, it is too easy for the spiritual wells to run dry as well.  If Christ is the source of living water, then we can at least be the hands that work to bring life giving waters to the dry land.

And we sometimes underestimate the spiritual power of giving someone something to drink.  In the classic film Ben Hur, as the main character Judah ben Hur is being dragged along as a slave, he is given a cup of water by a stranger whose face we do not see.  Later in the film, when Judah is a free man he is in Jerusalem and sees the same man who had given him the water being led to the cross and his crucifixion.  Judah tries in vain to get the man a drink of water but cannot get through.  But in that moment, it becomes clear just how much that single cup of water years before had conveyed grace and mercy and love.

V. END

Our lives have seasons of abundance and shortage, of feast and famine, of rain and drought.  There are some hungers, some droughts that can only be sated by God.  There are the deep longings of the soul, the yearnings of the spirit for meaning, the existential thirsts for knowledge of our Creator and our place in the universe.  We may try many things to satisfy that thirst: work, drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power, status; but only God can quench that thirst.

But we, can share something of the God we know.  We can share the love, grace, and mercy of God when we help others to drink.  We share the life-sustaining waters of God that gush unto eternal life when we help to provide the water that makes life possible.  And we testify to the God who, “when there was no more water in the well” and we were thirsty, gave us “shelter from the heat and the dust” and wet our lips.

 

Notes

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/water-scarcity-now-bigger-threat-than-financial-crisis-1645358.html

[2] Id.

[3] http://www.allaboutwater.org/water-facts.html

 

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