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… 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.” (John 4:10, 13-14)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Water has long since been an important symbol in the church. It represents cleansing, refreshing; it is a vital element of life. The bulk of our bodies consist of water. The bulk of the earth consists of water. It is integral to our survival.
Water takes center stage throughout a multitude of Bible stories. Starting with Genesis 1:2, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” There is only one verse, not even a full sentence, in the Bible before water is mentioned. The last chapter in the Book of Revelations (& of the Bible) is a lengthy description of the ‘River of Life.’ Scripture is enveloped by the image of water and water flows throughout the entire body of writings.
The altar icon at St Olaf depicts the ‘woman at the well.’ While it is not one of the focal stories at Vacation Bible School this summer, it is still a very well know and even beloved ‘water’ event described in the New Testament. Jesus uses the image of water to describe the gift of grace (and everything that goes with it) found in Him and Him alone. He is offering her a gift that is beyond her understanding. This very gift of ‘Life-giving water’ is what we, as the Church, are called to offer to the world in the name of Christ.
Recently I was pondering the language often used for evangelism & realized how inadequate our language really is. We talk about inviting, plugging-in, integrating, outreach, bringing in… There is a common denominator in so much of our ‘church evangelism’ language. Almost all of the traditional words imply a scenario in which we know better than someone else and must either fix or change outsiders. Our language establishes a system of insiders and outsiders. The very words we use tend to encourage the mindset that others must adapt to the way we do things.
The human tendency to delineate between insiders and outsiders is by no means new. It is deeply ingrained in all cultures whether they want to see it or not. Human sin leads us to focus more on differences than similarities. Human fear leads our minds to separate people into categories of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Our language, even when trying to overcome this tendency, reflects that urge.
Interesting enough, the woman at the well was – by all the cultural norms of the time – an outsider, even bordering on being an outcast. She was a Samaritan; “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9b) She was a woman; it was not appropriate for an unmarried man to address a female non-relative (especially not alone). She had been married multiple times; she herself does not consider the man with whom she lives her husband. Normally, women traveled to carry water in groups; this woman is alone. Many of these details indicate that this was not a highly regarded individual. In short, the woman at the well was someone whom most respectable people would have avoided. Yet Jesus interacts with her.
Jesus offers her the same gift he was offering the Jews. In contrast to Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher who visits Jesus by night, (John 3:1-21) this unnamed outcast believes. The woman at the well believes and shares the gift with her own village (many of whom presumably had judged her harshly in the past). The gift is greater than her status. Her faith does not make her an insider as opposed to an outsider; it redefines the whole system. There are no more ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories. There is a whole different category of ‘God’s children.’
Jesus told the woman at the well He had a gift for her. He had life-giving water. He gives life-giving water. You have been given this water. You have been given this life. You have been given faith. You were claimed as ‘God’s child’ in your baptism. Your daily life is lived in this water.
How do we wade in the water and splash that water onto the people around us? We know the value of this water Jesus offers. How do we live our daily lives in that water and give it to the people around us? How do we move beyond our human categories and into God’s Kingdom?
We were given a command, a calling. Jesus told the disciples (and us), “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus is in the water with us and each day we pray that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to splash that water around. At times we may feel as though we treading water more than wading. We may even feel like we are drowning, but Jesus is in the water with us. We drink the life-giving water He gives. By the power of the Holy Spirit, rivers of living water will splash the world as they flow forth from our hearts.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
(Jesus) cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38)