Sermon: Never Thirsty by Amanda Draughn
Scripture: John 4: 1-26
Date: May 21, 2017
Think of the happiest thing you can. Not something that just makes you happy, but extremely happy. I’m talking about the kind of thing that makes your family want to film reaction videos and post it all over the internet. Maybe you’ve just found out you’re expecting a child, or a grandchild in your family. Maybe you’ve just been promoted after a long time working at a job. Maybe you’re finally able to buy that first house. Maybe you’re a teenager who just got a new cell phone, or perhaps a brand new car. For me, when I think of something that makes me, and many others happy, I think of these words: “We’re going to Disney.” Maybe you’ve seen someone, maybe a small child, reacting to these words from their parents, or maybe someone who has just won the super bowl. It is, after all, the happiest place on earth. There are rides to go on, mouse ears to buy, photos to take by the castle, overpriced mickey shaped food, the parades and fireworks. And of course we all know that no trip to Disney would be complete without telling Mickey Mouse “hello”.
But, the problem is that you eventually have to leave and go back to reality. Even the most extreme happiness fades over time. The new job becomes ordinary. That first house begins to have problems. You drop and crack your phone. The car gets a dent or scratch in it. All of these things that have the ability to make us so happy so fast also fade just as quickly. Sure you have the memories and thoughts of those happy times, and you still can have happiness in these times, but it’s never quite the same as that initial moment. So we look for new ways to bring us back to those same feelings.
Does this not happen in our spiritual lives too? We come across a moment in our lives when we can clearly hear and feel God working in our lives and it is great. We are on a mountaintop with God, and it feels amazing. And we cling to that moment only for reality to come crashing back in and ruin it. We go from the mountain, to the valley. So we strive to reach that point again; to feel God’s presence and love as strongly as we had before.
We have to keep going back to the well, time and time again because we are thirsty for those experiences and the feelings they bring.
In the scriptures the word thirsty is used to refer to people or land that is overrun with sin and evil.
When Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the book of Exodus, the people demanded water for their thirst. God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water will come out for the people to drink. Moses then names the site Massah, saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” Their thirst was physical, but I also think it ran deeper than that. They did not understand that God would provide for them. They thought they were going to die of physical thirst, and that their captivity and slavery in Egypt would have been better than this. They were living in a fallen world that did not know how to depend on God for everything anymore. They were thirsty for the presence of God.
The woman at the well lived in that fallen world too. In John’s Gospel, reference to ‘the world’ means almost explicitly the fallen world, a world in rebellion against God.
Last week, Pastor Mark spoke about the faces of love in John’s gospel and reflected this very concept. He said “God’s love transcends all worldly intrigues, betrayals, disappointments and failures.” This kind of love is one that we may not gravitate to so much in our own relationships, but it’s the kind of love we need. Think about it: “For God so loved the fallen, rebellious world, that He gave His only son.”
This kind of love was the kind Jesus gave to the woman at the well. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan, and these two groups didn’t get along very well. Both Jews and Samaritans hold the first five books of the bible to be Holy Scripture, but they are distinguished by their traditions and customs. And these traditions and customs were thought to be so incompatible that they took extreme measures to avoid each other. Kind of like the relation between a UK fan and a Louisville fan on game day. It was so extreme that usually Jews would take a longer route from Judea to Galilee around the country of Samaria just to avoid it. The fact that Jesus was traveling through Samaria at all, was strange. But Jesus goes straight through it.
What’s even stranger was that Jesus talked to this woman. The NIV even tells us that Jews do not associate with Samaritans, let alone Samaritan women. There are also indications in the text that this woman was not a very popular person. She was going at an odd hour to get water, likely in the middle of the heat of the day in desert land. This was likely the case because she was avoiding the other women drawing water from the well. They would have come earlier, in the cool of morning.
But Jesus walked straight through the place where no Jew should ever go, and talked to the one person nobody else wanted to.
This woman even tries to insult Jesus. And as you might imagine, that didn’t go very well for her. She asks him if he is greater than Jacob, expecting him to say ‘no’. But Jesus flips the conversation upside down and he starts talking about living water and leaves her confused. Living water is usually defined as running water, like a stream or river. Living water is not stagnant like the water in the well. So naturally the woman thinks the living water Jesus is talking about is some sort of stream, or other source of water. She asks Jesus to give her this kind of water to save her the trouble of her daily chore to get the water from the well. But even this kind of living water is not the kind of water Jesus is talking about, or the kind of water we need.
What we need is the very presence of God to come and flood our lives with His grace and His presence. The Living Water that Jesus talks about symbolizes the work of God in and through our lives.
Jesus then turns the conversation back to her, telling her about her own life and her multiple husbands. In other words, Jesus begins to give her the gift of this Living Water by beginning to reveal to her who he is. It’s been said this way: If you don’t understand where Jesus came from, and where he is going, you don’t know who Jesus is. This is shown to us by the woman’s reaction, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet”, what has been called the understatement of the century.
But Jesus replies to her questions with love and grace and truth. It is worth noting, that Jesus tells this woman directly that he is the messiah, something that is uncharacteristic of Jesus throughout the Gospels. This woman now understood where Jesus came from, and may have a clue to where he is going. She had received the living water that she needed.
Water is a common way that the scriptures describe the Holy Spirit. This depiction of the Holy Spirit gives us images of cleansing and refreshment.
We baptize with water, symbolizing the work of the Spirit in an individual’s life. John even tells us later in his Gospel that these rivers of water symbolize the Holy Spirit.
John 7:37-39 “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
Wait a minute. There seems to be a problem here. The Holy Spirit hasn’t been given to the world yet in our story. How can Jesus claim to give this woman at the well Living Water, or the Holy Spirit, when we have not reached Pentecost yet? Jesus said “Come to me and drink” while He was still with them on Earth. Jesus was able to give the woman at the well the Living Water that leads to life because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and he was with her. Jesus says in John 15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me”. For us, the people who live after the lifetime of Jesus, The Holy Spirit works within our lives to help point us to Jesus, and to the Father. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, and point us to that same way, truth and life that the woman at the well had right in front of her. Redemption is from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Origen, one of the early church fathers, says it this way:
“Through the Son human history was brought into concrete meeting with the incarnate God, who felt our human infirmities, afflictions, and death. Through the Spirit, this encounter comes to even closer quarters by indwelling in our hearts and attesting the work of the Son in our hearts.”
In other words, Jesus, God incarnate came and died on a cross and rose to life again for us. The Holy Spirit comes and makes Jesus’s death and resurrection come alive in our own hearts and lives, bringing us closer to God than we could ever get ourselves. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we will never be thirsty for the presence of God in our lives ever again. We become so filled with the Living Water of God that it has to spill out of our lives and into others. Living water is not stagnant water, it has to go somewhere. As people filled with these streams of living water we have to give it to others as well.
I was filled with this living water in my own time as a part of this youth group. After I graduated from high school, and left Slumy, I felt like a part of me was missing. I hadn’t really been able to find a new church home when I left for college, and when I was eligible to return to the group as a counselor I jumped at the chance. When I was officially accepted as a counselor is another moment I think of when I think of extreme happiness. I literally bounced with excitement, probably leading my roommate to think I was insane. I knew what I had in my time in this youth group was special and now I had a chance to give others that same experience. Over the 7 years that I have been a counselor here, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to watch these amazing youth leading this service today grow up and grow into the people God created them to be. The adults in this group know that we cannot limit the life changing experiences we had earlier in our lives to just our lives, and we regularly seek new ways to give the youth before us those same kinds of experiences. But I’ll let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret. It’s not just the adults who know this. Asbury Seminary teaches me the theology, the doctrines, and the history and I see it come to life in the lives of these youth every single week. You’ve witnessed a small part of this yourselves this morning by hearing the amazing testimonies given, seeing youth lead worship, pray prayers, and read scripture. “Never Thirsty” is not just a cool theme and verse to put on a t-shirt, they are words to live by. St. Luke as a whole knows this too. We strive for Jesus Christ in every life. You can see this just by walking outside and seeing all of the Blue Barrel Bags brought in today for God’s Pantry, and that is just a small way St. Luke is working to better this community. St. Luke members, both young and old know that we have to strive to bring the Living Water to the world, so that the world will never be thirsty for the presence of God again.
The woman at the well also knew this. She left her water jar behind, the very reason she had come to the well in the first place. She then ran into the town, to the very people she was probably previously trying to avoid and points them to Jesus.
Proverbs 25:21 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
Maybe you know someone in your life that needs this living water today. What better water to give, than the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, God among us.