Monday, February 18, 2008

Sermon on John 4:5-30, 39-42, Second Sunday in Lent, "Jesus is the Living Water"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text for this Second Sunday in Lent is John 4:5-42, about Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. Last week Sunday we watched Jesus’ temptation in the desert. This week we leave the parched and thirsty desert of sin, and come to Jesus Christ, the Living Water. He who became thirsty for our sake, now pours out His life for us. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s no small irony that Jesus, who was thirsty for a drink of water, told the Samaritan woman, that if she knew who was talking to her, she would ask Him to give her living water. Yet God sent His divine Son into the world as a human, to experience thirst and hunger, grief, pain, and sadness, and ultimately death on a cross. He became thirsty, so that He could give us the Living Water that wells up to eternal life. The Living Water Himself thirsts, so that He might quench our thirst. And this title of “Living Water” is no arbitrary name, for the Old Testament prophets said the Jews had committed two sins: first: they had forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters, and second: they had dug wells for themselves, broken wells that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). The broken wells that Israel had dug for themselves aren’t literal wells, but the false gods that they filled their lives with, to try to substitute for the fountain of living waters, the true God whom they had forsaken. So when Jesus says He posesses the Living Water, He is revealing Himself as God among men.

Jesus thirsts, to teach us that we are in a desert of sin and spiritual death. Like the woman at the well, we may only recognize our physical needs of food and water, but be blind to our deeper spiritual needs. Who really gives such constant thought to their spiritual needs, as we do to our hunger or thirst, or lack of sleep? How easy it is to become preoccupied with daily concerns, and forget to seek the living water that quenches our soul, or to read and believe in the Word of God, which is the bread of life? It’s strange that we could be so numb to the thirst of our soul. That we are out of touch with our spiritual condition. But it’s less strange when we realize the separation from God caused by our sin. Jesus came to teach us that sin in our lives effectively blinds us to our spiritual need, as sin is the very thing that enslaves us and leads us to death.

So Jesus starts this conversation, by asking for a drink of water. Today, there might not be anything too extraordinary about this conversation between a man and a woman of two different cultures. But if we step back and examine the scene, in that culture, in that context…this conversation was utterly taboo. It would have been a disgrace for Jesus, a Jew, to be talking alone with a woman from Samaria, of all places. Why such a stigma? The Samaritans were, after all, partly related to the Jews. But they were seen as half-breeds. They were the descendants of Israelites who had returned from captivity in Assyria, to marry the pagan Gentiles who had settled in the land.

Along with their marriages, they adopted the idolatrous practices of the Gentiles, adding these to their worship of the Lord. Mixing their worship of the true God with that of idols, they despised and avoided the Temple Worship in Jerusalem. So there was the rub. They would not worship God in the place where He had chosen and revealed Himself, but chose to worship God in their own ways and places. Yet many of the Jews were guilty of the same thing; remember they forsook the fountain of living waters, and dug out broken wells that could hold no water? But nevertheless, any upstanding Jew wouldn’t be caught dead associating with an unclean Samaritan…and this woman knew it.

She found the situation rather awkward, that Jesus, this Jewish man, seemed so oblivious of His proper place and appeared to be unaware of any social boundaries. “Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” But the bigger surprise, isn’t in this violation of social etiquette, but in the discovery of who this Jesus really is, and what He knows about her. He tells her that if she knew who He was, she would be the one asking Him for living water! Jesus approaches her real spiritual need, though she doesn’t recognize it. At first she thinks she’s discovered a miracle! No more of this endless, tiresome work, of carrying a jar to the well, hauling up bucketfuls of water to fill her heavy jar, to return home again. Hah! All she wanted was indoor plumbing! I’m afraid most of us can’t quite appreciate how much she would have been delighted to have that luxury we take for granted. But her “wants” were still a long way off from her true spiritual need.

What felt needs are we content to fill in this life, yet fail to see our greatest spiritual needs? We crave all the latest conveniences and toys, endless entertainment, and such a variety of food possibilities that could only belong to royalty in ancient times. Yet with all of these things, are we satisfied? Do these offer any help to settle our fears and loneliness? Do they give meaning and understanding to our lives? Do they calm our fear of death? Can they hide our guilt? If all we ever crave is our felt needs, but fail to realize our spiritual needs, we will find ourselves building broken wells that cannot hold water. And so Jesus must come to us. He must come to us thirsty and hungry, craving a drop of water as He breathes His last breath on the cross, His life being poured out for you. We need Jesus to open our eyes to our true spiritual need, to see how thirsty our souls are, and where He provides true life.

So first He awakens us to the reality of sin. Just as He did with the Samaritan woman, He shows how much He knows of us, and our sinful past. Not to flaunt His knowledge, not to condemn us, but to reveal who He truly is, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. The real surprise of Jesus’ conversation came when she realized that this man who was talking to her, knew everything about her life. He knew she had had five husbands, and was now living together with a man who was not married to her. Notice how she changed the subject when He revealed her sin? Sometimes the truth is just too hard for us to bear. Sometimes a change of subject is easier than to face the truth. Nevertheless, His very presence there, speaking to her, showed that God was extending His grace to her, even a sinner, if she would but receive it. She was intrigued, rather than leaving insulted. She did not know her own thirst, thinking that her biggest trouble was physical thirst and hauling water home from the well. Until Jesus opened her eyes, she did not see her spiritual thirst, that she had a dry and parched soul, crying out for spiritual water. Christ, the living water. Yet she knew that the Messiah was to come. But she couldn’t have known Him, except that He chose to reveal Himself to her (Mt. 11:27).

But before we look down on this woman, we should realize first of all, that we do not know all of her circumstances. Unlike today, a woman in that culture did not have the right of divorce—it was the husband who divorced, and he could often divorce her for any number of selfish reasons. A pastor of mine said we would blush at the reasons they would give for divorce…he became displeased with her appearance, her cooking, her failure to bear children, or simply that he didn’t desire her anymore. The change of topic might have been more to bury painful memories than to deny the truth. Yet neither was she simply a victim, she knew her guilt in her present circumstances.

It’s a little unsettling to think that Jesus could walk right into our lives and lay bare the guilt of our soul. It’s a little unsettling that here a man, could see into our dark past. But what is equally surprising is that He would still choose to speak with me! That knowing the guilt of my life, He nevertheless speaks to my deepest needs. Needs so deep that I don’t even recognize them until His Word speaks of my sin. But He still speaks to me, to you, without any apparent concern for the rift that divides us, from our sinfulness to His holiness. That even though I would more than blush at my sinful past, He would still call me to drink of the living waters—of His own life. That God extends to me the purifying, flowing, cleansing water of life, when my soul is parched and dry from sin.

That knowing how my worship is falsely separated from or even opposed to His revealed Word, He still calls me vigorously back to His life. Here and no where else is there life for your soul, the baptismal drowning of your sin, and the refreshment of a clean heart and a renewed spirit within you. What thought can there be of returning to the desert of sin, and the death of disobedient ways? Does a man dying of thirst, crawl back into the dry desert after finding a lush oasis? Well maybe if he still has to travel out of the desert. But we have access to this Living Water wherever God is worshipped in Spirit and in Truth! We don’t ever have to leave this well of eternal life! Christ travels with us through the desert of life, supplying His living water as we move toward the eternal paradise of heaven.

Jesus gently pointed out to the Samaritan woman that her forefathers formerly worshipped in ignorance, but that now there has come the time when worship will no longer be centered in Jerusalem. Not that worship will now be decentralized, but rather recentralized in the person of Jesus Christ, who is also the True and Living Temple. Worship of God would take place in every place on earth where the name of Jesus is worshipped in Spirit and in Truth. And the two can never be separated, as if there were worship in Spirit that is not truthful, or worship that was in Truth, but not spiritual. Worship of God is still centered on the presence of God, but His presence is no longer located in Jerusalem, but in the person of Jesus Christ. For in Christ, the Savior of the world is revealed. Today, Christ is present and reveals Himself in His Word and Sacraments, where we rightly gather to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

One last thing to say about this text, is that when the Samaritan woman realized the joy of being found by Jesus, the Living Water, she called her whole village to come and hear Him teach for two days. And when they saw and heard for themselves, they said “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is really the Savior of the world.” Now the word has come to us as well, and Jesus the Living Water has poured the fountain of His life for us, through His death and resurrection. Each of us can truly say that we have heard and believed for ourselves, that Jesus is the Savior of the world. So however stained by a sinful past we may be, take up the example of the Samaritan woman, and inquire and thirst after the Living Water, as it is the source of our eternal life. Believe in the one who gives us living water that cleanses our hearts, forgives our sins, and wells up in us to everlasting life with Him. Call others to hear, of Jesus, the Living Water, who has found us in our sin and redeemed us with His life. Amen

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

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