Sermon: Living Water
Scripture: John 7: 37-38
Date: July 17, 2016
Karen and I just spent a week at the beach. It was a good week but it was hot. In fact, there were excessive heat warnings issued every day for heat indexes of over 100 degrees. And with those heat warnings came a lot of sub warnings. And one of the things that the weather people kept warning against was how easy it was to become dehydrated in such heat which could lead to heat stroke or other heat related problems. So drink lots of water was the constant advice. And I thought how ironic it would be – sitting just feet from the ocean – and yet becoming sick due to a lack of water. Because as vast as the ocean is, it can do nothing to quench our thirst for the water that sustains life. Which led me to spend the week contemplating all of the times that Jesus talked about water that sustains us – that gives us life. Living Water.
Sometimes things shock us, not because of their nature, but because they seem so out of place. Well, the people who gathered on the last day of the festival, would have been shocked at Jesus behavior. Not because they weren’t used to seeing him in the Temple. Jesus spent plenty of time there. And not because He wanted to have a teaching moment. Many of them were the ones that would flock to the fields to hear Jesus teach. And not even because of what He said, even though it was a bit odd. They were used to Him saying things that sounded a bit odd. No. What made it so shocking was the way He said it. Rabbis didn’t shout to get their messages across. The typical teaching position for a Rabbi was sitting. There were many Rabbis who taught in the court yard of the Temple and each one would have their favorite spot to sit and teach. Often times they sat on the stairs that led up to the Temple platform, and their followers, their disciples would gather around them. All over the Temple on any given day, you would see groups of disciples gathered around their Rabbis. I’m sure when Jesus taught in the Temple, He did it that way. He probably had a favorite place to teach from. It would have been near the front gate, so that everyone could hear. As you moved deeper into the Temple, it became more restrictive as to who could be there. There was a court for Gentiles. And women. And male Jews. And priests. And finally the Holy of Holies that only the High Priest could enter and then only on the day of atonement. No, Jesus would have sat near the front gate where everyone could hear. Men and Women. Gentile and Jew. Clean and Unclean. And the Rabbis would speak in quiet conversational tones, loud enough for those who gathered to hear, but not so loud as to disturb other groups that were gathered around their rabbis. And, of course, because this was a festival time, most of the Rabbis from all over the land would have been gathered in the Temple Courtyards to teach. Can’t you just imagine the Holy buzz of dozens of quiet conversations, all taking place at the same time? And then I suspect, that the conversations paused as they watched the priest bring the water from the only “living” water source in all of Jerusalem, climb the steps to the altar so all could see, and pour it around the altar to remember that God had made the water flow from the Rock in the wilderness, when the people became thirsty and thought about heading back to Egypt. It was the sacred moment on the last day of the festival. But then the most unexpected thing happened. This Rabbi had stood up and shouted so all the disciples gathered around dozens of Rabbis, not just His could hear. And He said (and this is my paraphrase), If you’re thirsty, you can come to me and drink because if you believe in me, there won’t just be one pitcher full of living water brought into the Temple, but there will be rivers of living water that will flow out from you just as the river of water flowed from the stone in the wilderness.” Now when you’re city is situated on the edge of a desert, water is a serious subject. It was always in short supply. And most of the water in Jerusalem came from cisterns that had captured the rain water when it came and stored it. However, in the 600 B.C.’s, the King, in anticipation of the coming invasion, and anticipating a siege on Jerusalem, did two things. First, he expanded the walls of the city so that Jerusalem could welcome in refugees from the north who would flee the foreign army, and secondly, he had built an underground aqueduct, that would channel water from the only Spring in the area. (Show Map of Jerusalem) It was the Spring that fed the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mt. of Olives (and still does today). And that channel became the only source of living water (fresh water) in Jerusalem. And that was still the case in Jesus day. And so on this last day of the feast, when the ritual called for living water to be poured on the altar, a priest would have to go to this underground channel and fill a clay pitcher with water and then carry it back to the Temple. It is in response to that ritual when Jesus stands up in front of all and talks about the Living Water that He would provide to all those who would come to Him and believe. Well, talk about a Holy buzz. All over the Temple platform people asked questions like, “Who is this man.” “Is He a prophet?” “Is He a blasphemer? How dare Him interrupt this Sacred moment.” “Listen to Him, He is the Christ.” But what about the thirsty ones, parched by the hot sun and sin-filled lives, what did they have to say about this “living water”? I want to talk to you about our thirsty souls this morning.
Lord,we come thirsty.we come to drink,to receive. We know of Your work on the cross and in Your resurrection. We know our sins are pardoned and my death is defeated and we thirst to receive Your energy . To be empowered by Your
Holy Spirit, so that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Quench our thirsts this morning. Give us in these moments that Living Water, so that we might never thirst again. Amen
I can remember the first time I heard in school that our bodies are made up of more than 80% fluid. It’s no wonder that we thirst. We have to be constantly replenishing those fluids or we will dry out. We’ll become dehydrated. And when that happens our bodies begin to break down. And so we try many things to quench our thirst. The other day I was at the grocery store and noted all of the aisles of items that have been developed in an effort to satisfy our thirsts. But the problem is that so many things that we consume to satisfy our thirst, don’t really do the job. They may refresh us for a time, but before too long we will thirst again.
Doctors tell us that we should stick to water. Most of these miracle diets that purport to melt away the pounds include the consumption of great quantities of water – I heard a doctor on the radio recommend we drink eight 12 ounce glasses a day.
No wonder you lose weight – you don’t have time to eat. Either you’re drinking water or you’re in the bathroom because you’ve drunk so much water.
And then there’s the question of what kind of water to drink.
I can remember as a kid there was a big debate about adding fluoride to the water because it strengthens bones and prevents tooth decay. But not too long ago, I read that there are places in India where there is too much natural fluoride in the drinking water and those who have been drinking that water have bones that are so brittle that they break at the slightest touch. Their skeletal structure is literally collapsing because of the water they drink. And we all know that if we go to Mexico, we shouldn’t drink the water. And that if we find ourselves in a swamp where the water is stagnant from sitting in the hot sun and absorbing the impurities of the earth, no matter how thirsty we might be, sipping the swamp water will make us sick. Did you know that people that are stranded in the ocean, for extended periods, most often die of dehydration. Surrounded by water, but they can’t drink it.
In the grocery store there is one whole aisle devoted just to different kinds of water. Should we drink spring water or purified water? And should we trust domestic springs or are french springs somehow better? And what about all of the flavors that are added to water now? Now there’s something called Smart Water. We go to great lengths to quench our thirsts.
Well, the Temple that day was full of thirsty people. Many had come from long distances, through desert country, the Judean wilderness to reach the Temple. There was little water in the wilderness but ironically from most of the places in the wilderness, if you looked to the east, you could see a huge body of water, the Dead Sea, hundreds of feet deep, but the water there was toxic to all forms of life. It was not living water. And in Jerusalem, there was just this one source of running water. The water in that spring flowed from deep underground and was cool and pure. But the rest of the water in Jerusalem came from the cisterns, which often sat for many weeks, warmed by the sun, and bitter to the taste. It was perhaps the water that the writer of Revelation had in mind when he talked about a church being lukewarm and that God would spit it out of His mouth. But it was all that most of them had to try and quench their thirst. As they watched the priest pour the living water on the Altar, they thirsted for just one drink of it. And so when Jesus stood and started shouting about living water that would flow, they could taste its coolness and they longed to be refreshed.
But, of course, it was not the physical thirst that Jesus was most concerned with. Scripture says that humanity “thirsts” for righteousness. And the Psalmist describes our spiritual state when he writes: Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. As a deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for You, Oh God.
Our spirit thirsts for much and we try many worldly things to try and quench that thirst, but it can never be truly satisfied, apart from the living water which Christ offers. Many of us, for instance, sip frequently on a pint of regret. Regret over mistakes we’ve made, and words we’ve spoken. Moments when the anger welled up inside of us and overflowed into our actions towards people we love and know.
We’d like to be able to turn back time and be a better person, a better spouse, and better parent, a better son or daughter, a better friend, but we can’t do that can we? And our spirits thirst with a thirst that can’t be quenched.
Or sometimes we drink a bottle full of pain. We live with the pain of broken marriages, wasted chances, failing bodies. And we try to quench the thirst with medication, or drugs or alcohol, or we retreat into a bottle of depression.
And then sometimes we take a big gulp of guilt. And it sticks in our throats and we can’t spit it out or swallow it. All we can do is choke on it. You know that terrible feeling of getting something lodged in your throat, or when something goes down the wrong way and we cough and choke and sputter. Our guilt chokes us, knocks the wind out of us. Leaves us gasping for breath and seeking a cool drink to wash away the sour taste.
There’s so much that adds to our guilt. It’s not just our actions, but our inaction. It comes in many flavors. The things we watch on T.V., the books we read, the movies we see, even some of the people we know.
Or sometimes it’s a cup of stress that we use to try and quench our thirsts. The stress of family, of jobs, of children, of life. We can’t avoid it.
Not too long ago, I took one of those stress tests that you see from time to time in various publications and I flunked. And the article listed the leading causes of stress in people’s lives. And I was surprised to see what the top ten causes of stress were. For example. One of the top ten stress producers was Christmas and other similar celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. In those times we worry about family gatherings, and money and whether we have gone to the right celebrations. Many of the flavors of stress are there. We frequently take a big drink out of the cup of stress.
Human beings are so quick to try and quench our thirst with things that can be toxic to our soul. And surely that’s what Jesus saw that day in the Temple. People who were drowning in their pain, and stress and guilt and regrets. And yet so thirsty. And He knew that water poured on the altar was not going to quench their thirst. And so he stepped out of the ordinary, and shouted out – Listen to me – this is important – if you’re thirsty, come to my well and I’ll fill you so full of living water that it will flow from your heart like a river. And so what is the source of that living water. What is it that Jesus knew would quench the thirst of our souls? I think we can remember the answer to that by spelling out the word well.
First it is giving ourselves to the Work of God. The living water comes only from God. God working on our behalf. Our salvation is God’s work, not ours. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are saved by His grace. In a very real sense the living water that flows from Christ begins with His blood shed on the Cross. His blood was meant to quench the thirstiest soul. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: By the grace of God I am what I am. And John writes: The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. On December 7, 1988 at 11:41 A.M. a terrible earthquake shook the Soviet state of Armenia. Just minutes before that, a woman, Susanna Petroysan and her four year old daughter had gone to a friend’s house to try on a dress. When the quake hit, she had removed the dress but had not had time to put her old one back on and was in her slip and stockings in a fifth floor apartment of a nine story building that collapsed in the quake. She and her daughter were trapped in the rubble and there they would remain for eight days. Fumbling around in the darkness, Susanna was able to find a jar of blackberry jam which she gave to her child to eat and a dress which she wrapped the little girl in to try and shelter her from the cold. And then she would later say that “I was just waiting for death.” And in the darkness, all she could hear were the cries of her child. “Mommy, I’m thirsty.” She said, over and over again. And as the hours wore on, her child’s voice became weaker and weaker. She knew the little girl would die if she did not get something to drink. And in her desperation she remembered a story she had seen on television about an arctic explorer who was dying of thirst until a companion slashed open his hand and let him drink his blood. And so Susanna, felt in the dark and found a piece of broken glass and sliced open a finger and gave it to her daughter to suck on. But those few drops were not enough. So again and again, she cut herself and let her daughter drink. Her blood was all that kept the child alive. It is through God’s work, especially on the cross, that our thirsts are quenched.
And then secondly, it is his Energy that is the source of that living water. It is God’s spirit living within us, that gives us the energy to live. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans – “Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them – living and breathing God.” When we drink of the living water, in a sense God becomes our life support system. We live and breath because of Him living and breathing in us. He is the source and sustainer of life. The energy that gives our life meaning and purpose.
And thirdly, the source of that living water is God’s Lordship. Now the Lordship of Christ is a big concept that humanity has wrestled with through out Christian History. But I believe it simply means that we can trust Him to know us and love us and care for us. When Christ is Lord, He rules our lives, our everyday existence. That was the faith of the early church. In the Book of Acts, we find these words: He Himself gives life and breath to everything, and He satisfies every need there is. When He is Lord of our lives, He quenches all the thirsts that this world has to offer. He fills us with living water, and as that living water flows through us, all else is made pure. As he fills our polluted souls with living water, we are made pure. Did you know that the water in the Sea of Gallilee and the Dead Sea come from the same source? It is a Spring, in Caesarea Phillipi, the same place where Jesus asks the Disciples who are people saying that I am and then after they answer, Jesus says who do you say that I am. And Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (There’s that word “living” again.) And Jesus says to Peter, “It is upon the rock our your faith, that I will build my church.” The Spring that is the head waters of the Jordan River flows from that place. And as it makes it’s way down the great valley and fills the Sea of Gallilee from the north and then continues to flow from the southern part of the sea, on down through the valley, feeding the shallows where John the Baptist baptized and finally ending up well below sea level and stops at the Dead Sea. Villages grew up on the banks of the Sea of Gallilee and fish and crops were nourished by it’s water. But nothing lives in or around the Dead Sea. It’s waters are toxic to all living things. The difference is not in where the water begins, it’s in where it ends. The Jordan flows from the Sea of Galilee, bringing life and nourishing the plain below. But it stops at the Dead Sea. It has no outlet. It ceases to flow and everything around it ceases to live. When Christ is our Lord, the Living water not only flows into us but it flows from us to enliven and nourish all those around us.
And then fourthly, living water springs from God’s Love. He desires that no one be thirsty or dehydrated. Paul writes these words to the church at Ephesus. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. And the wondrous news is because He loves us all, that Living Water is for us all. When Jesus speaks of living water he is inviting us to the spring of life. What an invitation. An invitation to drink deeply of a newly redeemed life. And it’s our invitation. Come to the well. And the amazing thing is that the walls of that well are made of our sins and regrets and failures – our pains and our guilts – our moments of stress. We have built that wall with those things to try and keep the living water in, but we can’t do it. It is a river, a raging torrent, that will rush over us and wash us clean and fill our thirsty souls forever. Jesus invites us to come (in the words of the hymn, “all who are thirsty come home”, so that He can fill us with a living water that will never leave us thirsty again.