Sermon: You Can Lead A Person To Living Water, But You Can’t Make Them Drink
Scripture: John 7: 37-38
Date: August 7, 2016
Worship Songs in Service:
We have come to the final Sunday thinking about living water and we end where we began – with Jesus’ pronunciation at the great festival that He is the living water and that living water is available to all who come thirsty. But there is a catch to all of this. Jesus could offer everyone the Living Water, and He did. But He couldn’t make them drink. You probably know the old adage that: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Well that is true for people too. In fact, the sad reality is that most do not drink of the Living Water of Christ, but rather settle for something far less satisfying and thirst quenching. In his book, “Come Thirsty” Max Lucado talks about an outreach that his church in San Antonio participates in at Christmas that is much like the Shoebox ministry that we participate in every year. He says that they provide Christmas gifts for the children in El Sunza, El Salvador. Now El Sunza is a tiny village where the wealthiest persons make the equivalent of about $50 a year. And every year the children of Lucado’s church adopt a child of El Sunza and send them a shoebox wrapped in colorful paper that is full of gifts. They put in toys, and books and also things like toothbrushes and underwear and socks. And the last thing they put in is a handwritten note to their adopted brother or sister that is tucked in an envelope with the child’s name on it and place in the box. And when the boxes arrive, it is a day of great joy in El Sunza. And though the children appreciate the gifts, for many the most cherished gift of all is the note. They stand in line until a translator can read it to them. Those notes become their most cherished possession because it lets them know that someone from far off is thinking about them and cares about them. It brings them great joy.
But sadly, Lucado says, there are some children every year who receive their bright colored boxes and they think the box itself is the gift. And so they take it home and place it in a prominent place for all to see. The box gives them some pleasure and comfort, but they never open it and discover the real treasure that lies inside. They never play with the toys, they never use the necessary items, and they never read the note from a far away child. They settle for so much less than the gift that was intended for them. And sadly, so many of us do the same with this gift of Living Water that Jesus offers. Lucado writes this:
Don’t we do the same with Christ? Aren’t we prone to keep Him at arm’s length? We place Him on the mantel of our heart; respect Him, revere His name, but never open His gifts. Never dig into the box. Never unpack His presence.
He is so willing to enter your world. The hospital room? He goes there. The late night deadlines? He’ll stay up with you. Are you watching the slow death of someone you love? He’ll sit by your side every single minute. Just invite Him.
But that’s when it gets tough. It’s that moment of invitation, of opening our thirsty lives to the water that Christ offers rather than the counterfeits of the world. And so, for so many of us, Christ becomes our mantle piece. Little more than a pretty decoration for our life. But as far as really making a difference – well, it’s what’s inside the box that is the true gift, that will truly change us.We come with many thirsts, and the living water is there flowing for us from the very heart of Christ, but we choose not to drink. At most we wet our lips.We are willing to receive so much less than that which God offers.A couple of weeks ago I talked about the woman who came to the well in the middle of the day because she was ashamed of and scorned for the life that she had led. She was thirsty for forgiveness. For redemption. For acceptance. And Jesus is there at the well and reveals to her that even though He knows full well the kind of life that she has been leading – several husbands and now living with a man out of wedlock – He is still willing to offer her Himself – offer her His living water. And she receives that gift and her life is completely changed. It’s a great story as she celebrates and shares what Christ has given her. But, you know, I wonder if she was the only one that Jesus made that kind of offer to. Jesus spent three years traveling the hot dusty paths of Israel. I imagine he stopped frequently to refresh himself at a town well. Surely He encountered others who were consumed by the thirsts of the world and offered them His living water. And so why is this woman the only one the Gospel writers tell about. Well I think it’s not because she was the only one who was offered this incredible gift, I think it was because she was the only one who accepted it – who received it. I suspect that there were many with whom Jesus had a similar conversation, but who settled for well water rather than the living water. You see, to be filled with living water, we’ve got to be willing to receive. Which means that we must first accept Christ as Lord. Certainly the Gospels tell of people who came to Jesus and were filled by Him. But I suspect that then as now, those were only a small percentage of those who came to check Jesus out who were seeking a better life. I think there is something glaring missing from John’s Gospel here and that is there is no indication that of the thousands that were present in the Temple that day, that very many of them received the Living Water. Otherwise John would have told us that a great revival broke out in the Temple that day. But to be healed, to be filled, we must come to Jesus. We must stop putting our faith in counterfeit saviors and empty rituals, bitter water, in which we seek meaning and fulfillment, but instead only leave us thirsting for more. Because though He wants to make each one of us whole, to fill each one of us with His living water, He will not do so unless we are willing to receive. His gifts become OUR gifts when we are willing to receive them. You see, I think the Gospel writers present basically three kinds of persons who surrounded Jesus and that they represent humanity from Creation until this moment.
First, there are those who completely reject Him. In the Gospels they are represented by the High Priest and officials in the Temple. They reject Him out of fear and ignorance. They fear the changes that He will make in their lives. You see, it is a curious trait of human beings that often times we would rather hold on to things that are painful and bad, rather than risk change. And we know that in our society today there are a growing number who reject Jesus and His church. And so many times, in our lives, when things are at their worst. When we need God the most. That’s when we choose to reject Him. For most of their history, the Jewish people had been outcasts, oppressed. But it was never so bad as it was under the iron fist of Rome. And yet the religious leaders refused to embrace the long awaited Messiah. They rejected Him. Now you may be thinking that’s not me. I have not rejected Him. But I know that there are times in my life when I have done just that. Intentionally left Him out of certain aspects of my life. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s our career. Maybe it’s our family. I suspect that most of us reject Him in dozens of different small ways in the course of a week, maybe even a day. When we fail to worship Him, or pray, or serve, or witness, we are in essence rejecting Jesus. Now that may seem like a harsh word, but how many times do we let other things take His place in our lives.
And then there are those who know they need something different for their lives, but who don’t have the courage to change. They are willing to settle for so much less of life then what God offers. I wonder if some of those children in El Sunza don’t open the box because they fear they will be disappointed by what’s inside. In his book “Walden”, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. They feel a void in their lives, and attempt to fill it with things like money, possessions, and accolades. They think these things will make them happy. When they don’t, they just seek more of them.”One writer has defined a life of quiet desperation in this way. Do you see yourself here.
- You’ve worked hard to reach a place of comfort and security, but you’re still not satisfied.
- You’ve convinced yourself you’re not talented, creative, disciplined or lucky enough to pursue your dreams. You’ve resigned yourself to mediocrity.
- You’ve accepted the power fear holds over you, and work within it’s constraints. You are particularly fearful of failure.
- You’re your own worst naysayer.
- You’ve adopted a fatalistic attitude – rather than working to help yourself, you wait for others to rescue you.
- You’ve decided that you missed your chance in this life
The Gospels give us a great example of a man living a life of quiet desperation. A lame man who for 37 years friends had brought him everyday and put him near the Pool of Siloam which was known as the healing pool. But not once did he ever enter into those healing waters. He had resigned himself to being lame. He no longer had the courage to experience life any other way. And then one day Jesus is passing by and in response to his pleas Jesus stops and asks the man what he wants Him to do for him. You see, before He heals him, he wants to be sure that’s what he really wants. You see Jesus had seen the resignation in his soul. 37 years of quiet desperation. Did he have the courage to change?
When I was in college, I worked for two summers at the State Department of Labor in Frankfort. Now State government is an interesting place to work. I would say that 90% of those who worked in that Department hated their jobs and wanted to get out. Most of my conversations with the permanent employees centered around the idea that they wanted to change jobs. I won’t be here much longer, was the common sentiment, even though most of them had been there for a long time. And when I came back the next year, most of them were still there, still talking about how much they wanted to change jobs. But I learned that most of them had not applied for other positions. They were miserable but they didn’t have the courage to really do anything about it.They are unhappy with where they are, hoping for something better, but they lack the courage to do anything about it. And make no mistake about it.
Coming to Christ takes a great deal of courage.It took a lot of courage for a Samaritan woman to approach a Jewish man at the well, or for the unclean woman to push her way through the crowd just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment, or for the blind man to call out His name while the Disciples were trying to keep Him quiet, or for Jairus, the Jewish Temple official, to plead for the help of this man in front of His Temple colleagues who had labeled Jesus a blasphemer. And yet they all came. They came because they had reached the point where the misery of their lives was greater than their fear of change. And so they summoned up their courage and they came. I think for most of those who are Disciples, there comes that moment when we grow so weary of the struggles of life without God, that we are willing to take the risk and receive God. Are you there this morning? Nearly overwhelmed by your struggles, but afraid of change. Well, let me tell you, I’ve known many who were afraid to take that first step, to open themselves to receive. Who, like the rich young man, walked away sorrowful.But I have never known one, who stepped out in faith, who was later sorry that they had. You have to take that first step, but from that point on you never have to walk alone. That’s why the church is here. That’s why you are surrounded by people who are willing to walk with you this morning. And that’s why Jesus continues to offer living water to everyone. It can be your gift today. Stop settling for something less. Is that where you are today?
Quietly resigned to your fate. Not believing that your life can be any different. There’s nothing better out there for you. There are a lot of people who approach life that way. They see so many things about their life that needs to be changed, but they are convinced that there is nothing they can do about it. So why even try. You are not alone. Consider Nicodemus. A Jewish official of some sort. He came to Jesus in the night, and Jesus told Him you must be born again, but apparently that was too much for Nicodemus. Why bother? And so he simply watched as the terrible events of the trial and crucifixion unfolded, resigned that He couldn’t do anything about it anyways. And so the next time He approaches Jesus is to help carry His lifeless body to the tomb. Instead of seizing the new life when Jesus offered it, Nicodemus was resigned to his fate. How about you? Have you become resigned to your life? Divisions in your family, conflict at work, turmoil in the world. We thirst for so much. But there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, so why even try? Right? And so rather than receive the gifts that Jesus offers, you turn away sorrowful, or you disappear back into the shadows. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your life can be better.
Your family can be healed.
You can make a difference in your world.
But first you must receive. You must be born again.
And then finally, there are those who do accept Him and receive the gifts that He offers. They are the ones whose lives are changed. Who are healed. Who are raised from the dead. Who are saved from the life they had been living.
This time of Communion celebrates the greatest gift that Jesus offered. The gift of Himself. And the invitation to come and receive is offered to all “who intend to lead a new life.” Because when you receive the gifts of Christ, you receive a new life in Him. When you receive the living water, your life is washed clean. Last week when I was talking to the children about the waves in the ocean and how they represented the living water that Jesus offers, I said that one of the things that I really liked about the waves is that those of us who come to the beach during the day leave our marks in the sand. Some build sand castles. Some dig holes. Some toss their trash on the beach. The signs of humanity are all over after a crowded day. But at night the living water comes and washes all of that away. And you wake to a beach that has been completely wiped clean, ready for the imprints of the new life that another day brings. That’s what Jesus wants for you when He offers new life through this sacrament. The chance to be wiped clean and start anew. And I invite you to come this morning to receive. Come and receive Christ into your life. Feast on Him. Be filled by Him.