Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It is intriguing how water plays such an important role in the life of our cities. We spend millions on purifying it and then delivering it to our taps and them millions more on removing it as waste from our homes or as surface run-off from our hard surfaces and streets.
We might survive several weeks without food but in a hot climate, we may become desiccated in a matter of days. Yet our readings provide pictures that have a strange tension between them.
In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel had abandoned the relative comforts of Egypt for the desert, at the behest of Moses and now they were desperately thirsty as they cry out to and accuse Moses.
In their need, God instructs Moses on how to bring water out of a rock and so the peoples’ thirst is slaked.
Here the people who have taken Moses at his word have then brought him their needs, and these have been met in a way that they could never have expected.
In this sense, we also fail to give God the credit for meeting our needs, and for doing so not just with a bucket of still water, but a spring of living water. What we had expected is renewed and replenished far beyond our expectations, and as we have noted before, God’s ability to give is limited only by our ability to receive.
So: do we come before God with a cup for the needs of a moment, a bucket to supply an hour or a reservoir to last a lifetime?
But then there was Jesus at the Samaritan city well. At midday He was hot, dusty, perspiring and wanting a drink and a wash. He was probably not thinking too much about theology, even if that was what He got as well.
This time He was the suppliant and the woman, unusually drawing water in the heat of the day and not when it had cooled down, was a Samaritan, used to a history of hostility with the Jews. But Jesus asked her anyway.
And so a rather tense conversation developed. The woman was some kind of outcast and the conversation revealed why. But Jesus was unusual in speaking to her at all and then in considering her replies seriously and without sarcasm or being superior.
She might slake His thirst but He could renew her life – and that was already a wreck. Whereas Moses had provided a spring of water from a rock, Jesus Himself was to be the spring and she could come to Him as often as she liked: day or night, alone or in company.
Even she was convinced for she returned to the city and its barbed remarks, and persuaded the people to come and see Jesus for themselves. That would have been no easy task, for one so often shunned, and if not shunned then abused anyway. She had already begun to change and to speak forth for Jesus. In her way, she was an evangelist before the resurrection: and Jesus was well on the road to that particular episode.
Paul presents the issue differently in its style but its content is the same. It is that God has blessed and saved us while we were still set in our sins and rebellions against Him. God’s love is for all whom He has created and for all who will hear His voice and turn to Him.
There are many stories of the heroism of soldiers in action and of rescuers in peacetime who sacrifice themselves for their comrades or for the unknown public. Just how we would feel about knowingly giving ourselves for criminals, sexual offenders, drug-dealers or the socially undeserving may be more doubtful. Yet while we were still estranged from God and immersed in our own self-interests, taken up with our own corruptions and acts of greed and selfishness, God committed Himself in Jesus wholly and fully to our rescue and renewal.
He was risking all on our willingness to hear and to receive Him, for beyond this there was no plan B. And He gave Himself in the form of a man who lived and died, who had lived in a family and had worked for His living. He had attended the same kind of synagogue and had endured the same kind of self-important posturing of the Pharisees and religious lawyers.
Before we had even had the opportunity to repent, God had already given the best that He had.
And more than that, if we were saved by the death of Jesus, in His body broken on the cross and the blood poured out like a religious sacrifice, then how much more would be we renewed by His life of resurrection.
If His death had saved us then His life was there to continually renew and refresh and restore us, day by day and in all circumstances of life.
In this sense, God’s vision for us is for the whole of life and for the whole of eternity. He does not stop when we have come to faith, and tick us off a list like some attendance schedule. Rather He continues to pour Himself into our lives as we bring them before Him.
I commented earlier on the kind of vessels that we bring to the spring of everlasting water. A cup for the needs of a moment: “Lord, please meet this need.”
A barrel for the needs of a week: “Lord please be with me in the coming week – with those I love and those who I find difficult,”
Or is it a reservoir: “Lord, I can do nothing real for myself that meets the fullness of Your holiness. Please continue to fill me so that You can do Your works within and through me. And may You also receive all the power and glory here and in the world to come.”