Water of Life

Watching for the Morning of March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent

California reservoirs are full now. We have been scrimping in our use of water, taking brief showers, flushing only occasionally, saving the water in which we cooked the pasta to pour on the plants outside the kitchen window, saving the water that runs while waiting for the hot water to arrive. Lawns were allowed to die – or were replaced. If a half-drunk cup of tea got left behind, I poured it out on the rose bushes. I worried about the trees withering on the church property. And yet we still had water. No one went thirsty. No children perished. No livestock had to be slaughtered.

Sunday the texts are about water. Israel is in the desert, fleeing pharaoh behind them and fearing the deprivation ahead of them. The little words in our text, “there was no water for the people to drink,” are truly fearful. Water is life.

In one of the great metaphors of the scriptures, Moses marches ahead to Mt. Sinai (called Mt. Horeb in this text) and there, at God’s command, strikes the rock. From it gushes forth a river of water pouring through the wilderness until it reaches the people. The Word of God is life. The voice that speaks at Sinai is a river of life.

On Sunday, too, Jesus will meet the Samaritan woman at the well, this shamed and exiled woman, unwelcome in the community of women who gather in the cool of the morning at the well in town, this woman reduced to drawing water outside of town in the heat of the day. Jesus will offer her “living water”. It is the Biblical expression for flowing water, that cool, clear, wonderful, refreshing water pouring down a rocky stream from the mountain heights. Life-giving water. But Jesus carries no bucket; the water he offers is heaven’s love, God’s word of grace.

The psalmist will warn us not to harden our hearts as Israel did in the wilderness. And Paul will write about the love of God that has been poured into our hearts. And we will be invited to drink deeply again from this water of life, this font of mercy, this heavenly draught that flows like a river from the mountain of God.

Your Will Be Done

Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the third petition: “Your kingdom come.” Here is the heart of all prayer: for God to come and bring his reign of grace and life, to govern our hearts and our world by his Spirit.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 19, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

 

The Texts for March 19, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water. In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciled us while we were yet enemies, who brings that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.

Photocredit: dkbonde.  Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Fountains

Sunday Evening

John 4

File:Yonge-Dundas-Urbeach-christina-at-waterplay.jpg

Yonge-Dundas Square Urban beach, evening waterplay,
Copyright (c) 2004, Steve Mann.

14“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.”

We have a fascination with fountains.  I have no real interest in going to Las Vegas but, if I had the chance, I’d like to see that fountain I’ve seen in movies.  The waterfalls at Yosemite capture the attention, especially when they are full in the spring.  Fountains call to children and adults alike to “come and play” – though usually it is only children who answer that invitation.  Even a simple lawn sprinkler is a source of joy and delight.  And those of us with urban experience know the neighborhood transforming power of having the fire department come open the fire hydrant.

We linger at fountains.  They are joy and laughter.  They instill peace and reflection.  They spawn wishes and kisses. There is something entrancing in the splashing water, its cool clarity, the dancing play of water and light.  A fountain provides a wonderful image for the life of the spirit that has found its peace in God.

14“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.”

This does not mean, of course, that believers will never have days of trouble – or that the model of the Christian life is constant bubbliness.  It does not mean there are not days of discouragement – or afflictions of body, mind and spirit.  It means that there is a reservoir of hope, an underlying confidence, a joy founded on the encounter with perfect mercy that keeps us from becoming lost in ourselves and guides us on our path, wherever that path may lead.

We are headed towards the banquet that does not end.  We are inheritors of a life that cannot perish.  We are clothed in Christ risen from the dead.  We abide in the Word that infused all creation with light and life.  We have been met by a perfect mercy.

And whether we are big splashy fountains, or still, cool spring-fed pools, the living water born of the Spirit of God will overflow to others.  And should it fail to do so, we must attend again to the work of unblocking the fountain by drinking deeply from the living water that is Christ.

Audacity

Saturday

John 4

File:Angelika Kauffmann - Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen -1796.jpeg

Angelica Kauffman, Christ and the Woman at the Well, 1796

19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

There are things in the text that are jarring to ancient ears that seem perfectly innocent to us: that Jesus should speak to a woman in public; that a Judean would ask a Samaritan for a drink; that Jesus should discuss this woman’s her sexual life when she is not a relative.

We catch a hint of the scandal of all this when the disciples come back: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” (v. 27)  But since we don’t find it shocking, the audacity of Jesus often eludes us.  It’s like listening to Holst’s “The Planets” without a brass section; you can still get the melody, but you are missing all the drama.

There is another shocking element in the text we no longer hear: Jesus discusses theology with this woman.  Theology was the domain of men.  It was men who gathered to dispute questions of the law and prophets.  It was men who held a synagogue service. Theology was part of the public square not the domestic one.  For Jesus to discuss the proper location of worship with a woman was remarkable.  Astonishing.

This is a narrative like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, or Paul declaring there is now “neither male nor female.”  This is Junia (a woman’s name) called an apostle by Paul. This is Paul discussing the scriptures with the women in Philippi or Lydia being the head of the church in her home.  This woman of Samaria is not only a hearer of Christ, she is treated as a student – and becomes a teacher.  She gathers the men of her village and brings them to Jesus.  She is their first witness.

We misunderstand Paul’s injunction that women should be silent in the churches because we miss the dramatic and wonderful thing that women are present in the worshipping assembly.  (That a woman should be cautioned not to shame her husband in public shouldn’t make us hear Paul through the lens of the medieval church.  It is good advice still – for men and women.)

Women’s leadership in the community of the church is no shock to us now, but it is another element in this audacious reality of Christ Jesus in whom the day promised through the prophet Joel dawns and God’s spirit is poured out on all people, men and women, young and old, freeborn and slaves – a radical idea from an audacious God.

Necessary, part 2

Friday

John 4

File:Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jruchi Gospels II MSS, Georgia, 12th cent.).jpg

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,
Jruchi Gospels II, 12th Century, Georgia
Center of Manuscripts (Tbilisi, Georgia)

3He left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4But he had to go through Samaria

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria, to go the unexpected way.  It was necessary for this woman discarded by five husbands and not worthy of a marriage contract by the one she is with.  It was necessary for this woman unwelcome among the society of woman at the well in town.  It was necessary for this woman bearing a burden of shame that has her carting water in the heat of the day rather than risking a chance encounter with others.

But a chance encounter is what she finds.  A daring encounter.  For this strange man speaks to her, transgressing all social boundaries, asking for a cup of cold water.  This is the one who will once again say, “I thirst” on that day when he is lifted up for all to see the face of perfect love.

Judeans regarded Samaritan women as ritually unclean from birth, unable ever to be made pure.  To share a cup is as unthinkable as sharing a water fountain in the Jim Crow south.  And a man would not speak to a woman in public unless she was a member of his family – unless his motives were dishonorable.  Even to be alone, one on one, with a woman would disgrace her, except this woman is already disgraced.  Jesus does the shocking and bold thing.  He asks for a drink.

It is of this very act that Jesus says in Matthew, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”(NIV)  By this act the nations will be judged, the sheep separated from the goats, in that great concluding parable of Matthew 25 when the Son of Man declares, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” – or, conversely, “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”

The gift of water, the sharing of a well, is an act that manifests the nature of God’s realm, the world brought under the reign of the Spirit of God, a world where resources are shared rather than guarded and horded.  By this simple request this woman is drawn into the reign of God, the realm of life and light, where shame and sin are lifted and all things made new.

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria.  Necessary for this woman.  And necessary also for us – for her story changes the trajectory of Jesus’ ragtag band not only this once in the beginning when the door was opened to outsiders, but again and again as her story is told and retold and continues to testify to the daring, radical, transformative mercy of God.

Necessary, part 1

Thursday

John 4

File:Woman at the well, Japan. (10797603194).jpg

Woman at the well, Japan. From the National Museum of Denmark from Denmark

5Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

What’s missing from our assigned reading this Sunday are the preceding verses which say 3He left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria.”  Hiding in the English of verse 4 is the little Greek word ‘dei’, ‘it was necessary’.

It was not necessary to travel through Samaria.  In fact, from Jerusalem to Galilee most Judeans would not take the road through Samaritan territory; they would go down to the Jordan River, up the far side of the Jordan, then back into Galilee, avoiding Samaria altogether.  That way they did not have to deal with their despised and (mutually) hostile neighbors.  In Luke 9, when a Samaritan village refuses hospitality to Jesus and his band, the disciples are ready to call down fire from heaven as though the village had committed a sin equal to Sodom and Gomorrah.  There was no love lost between Judeans and Samaritans.

But, for Jesus, it was necessary.

Scholars refer this little Greek word as ‘the divine imperative.’  It was the plan and purpose of God for Jesus to go through Samaria.

It was not by chance that Jesus encounters this broken woman at the well outside the city.  No less than it was by chance that Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch, or Paul finds the roads to Asia, Mysia and Bithynia all blocked, leading them to Troas and the vision of the man from Macedonia

Jesus had work to do, a ministry with this woman, a ministry with this woman that would change the whole Samaritan village and transform the followers of Jesus from a Judean club into the church, the gathering of all people to worship God in Spirit and Truth, the fulfillment of God’s purpose to redeem the whole world.

I wonder if Jesus was aware of his destiny at that well.  Surely John recognizes in Jesus a sensitivity to the Spirit of God that would make it likely.  But does Jesus “know” or was it just an inner sense that the path he should take was the unexpected one, together with a spirit open to God’s strange working, so that he recognized the moment when God provided it?

Attentiveness to the Spirit.  Openness to the unexpected.  Recognizing the moment.  They are important elements of walking in the way, of being agents of mercy in our wounded world.

A life-giving river

Wednesday

Exodus 17

Overflowing river beneath Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Photo credit: dkbonde

Overflowing river beneath Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite
Photo credit: dkbonde

5The 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. 6I 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.”

Do we need to know that the limestone rocks of Mt. Sinai drip with ground water, and striking it could open a porous layer containing water?  The narrative does not describe a small band at Sinai poking the rocks in order to survive.  The narrative announces that by the command of God and the hand of Moses a river flowed from Mt. Sinai (here called Mt. Horeb) down to Rephidim and watered the whole people.

The story has roots in the ancient experience of the people.  They know there is water to be found in the wilderness if you know where to look – just as they know there is that strange stuff manna, secreted by bugs and falling to the ground like frost.  But the story is no longer about a small band surviving in the desert – it is about a great people for whom Sinai becomes a fountain of a river of life.

It is not story grown into legend, it is memory grown into proclamation.  A refugee people found in the word of God a life-sustaining reality.  So the descendants of Jacob, now in exile in Babylon, lost in a new wilderness, can hear the message that the word of God will be their sustaining power.  It will preserve them from perishing.  It will give them life.

Numbers 1:46 gives the number of males 20 and older as precisely 603,550 identifying exactly how many came from each tribe (Exodus 12:37 rounds it off to 600,000).  We do not know what the number means or where it comes from.  We do know what it preaches: God is able to supply all our needs!

No matter how many people are carried away into exile, no matter how many people are scattered among the nations, no matter how many of God’s people find themselves under the lash of slavery, under the sorrow of hunger, in danger of perishing from thirst, God is able to deliver his people.  God is able to provide.

And the life-giving, sustaining, renewing, joyous gift that enlivens us flows from Sinai, flows from the place where God will speak and God’s law be given.  There the instructions for the tabernacle/temple will be laid out.  There the commands to love God and neighbor.  There the teaching on faithfulness.  There the warnings against turning to idols.  This is our river of the water of life.

And then John will tell us that this Word has become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.  And this Jesus will turn water into wine, cleanse the temple, open blind eyes, give bread to the 5,000 and offer the woman at the well living water – water that will overflow abundantly within her in an imperishable life.  True freedom will come, says Jesus, “if you abide in my word.”

The people cry out against God, accusing God of bringing them out into the wilderness to destroy them.  But Moses will take the leaders on to Sinai and release this water that is our joy and our life forever.

Living water

Watching for the morning of March 23

Year A

The Third Sunday in Lent

File:Retezat Mountain - Spring Waterfall 01.JPG

Spring Waterfall, by Thalpha

The human body can go a long time without food, but not long at all without water.  It means life for Israel in the desert; it is also means life for the Samaritan woman and her village.  But the life that finds the Samaritan woman and her village is not an enduring supply of running water; it is the eternal spring of life that flows from God and wells up within those who are united with God in Christ Jesus.

Sunday we will hear about Israel in the wilderness and the water from the Rock, water that flowed from Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) where God will speak to all Israel.  The voice of God is the living water that sustains us in the wilderness, in our journey into freedom, into the promised land.

The Psalm will sing praise and yet warn us of the danger of rebellion, for the water from the rock came to a people who had turned against God in their thirst.  How easy it is to go from praise to bitterness and resentment.  Before them, Moses feared for his life.

But Romans reminds us that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” and “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”  God is not deterred by our rebellion.  He comes to save.

And so we come to the woman at the well, and Jesus’ scandalous approach to a scandal-plagued woman, to bring her the water of an imperishable life, to make her a member of God’s household – and with her, her whole village.

The Prayer for March 23, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus your Son

The Texts for March 23, 2014

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water.  In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciles us while we ere yet enemies, will bring us to that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.