A Homily for Epiphany 3
January 26, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 4:1-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I remember when I first moved to Arizona, how my skin and my eyes felt incredibly dry, all the time, it felt as though I could feel every single cell in my skin drying out. I remember needing to adjust and be more diligent about drinking water. We probably all still need to be more diligent about this, but coming from the humidity of North Carolina, it was a sudden change for my body to adjust to, and now when I’m in a humid place I always feel damp.
Living in an arid climate we quickly learn the importance of water to our daily lives, our city council regularly discusses water availability and the effects various policies have on how much water is available to us at citizens. One of the most striking things I noticed when I first moved here is how quickly showers warm up compared to every other place I’ve ever lived, this of course is a wise water saving measure.
It was striking traveling around Israel how similar the climate is to Arizona. I remember one day driving in on the bus through the area where Jesus undoubtedly traveled, and thinking how I might as well be at home, I’d have the same views driving through the desert. Keeping in mind how dry our land is, we can start to have sympathy to the story we read today. We can understand what it would be like having walked all day and being wearied from our journey. How hot the sun is and how dry the air is. Water, for the weary traveler is therefore a necessity.
Water plays and interesting role in scripture. As I was reading about it one source noted at least three different ways it is viewed in scripture – first water is the source of chaos, second it is a source of cleansing, and finally, there is of course living water, that is water that brings life.
I have found this idea that water is the source of chaos as the most interesting. The Israelite have never been known as seafaring people, and so it is not at all surprising that as a culture they came to the conclusion that water, in particularly the sea is a chaotic force, but this was a general view of the ancient near east as well. The gods of water were often viewed as chaotic and even evil.
We see this portrayed most vividly in the book of Daniel when the evil nations rise out of water. Daniel is saying – these that will come serve not the living God, serve not the God of order, not the God that we gather together this morning to worship, but they serve chaos, they serve evil gods, they will serve themselves, these nations that rise out of water will serve chaos.
But likewise, this is why it is significant in the creation narrative when God separates the water from the land – separates the chaotic from the tamable. The seas have often captured the heart of man because out of that chaos comes a great sense of adventure, a great promise of riches, a great hope of something new – but also of great danger.
Where I grew up, many went to sea to make their riches, but not everyone came back, more than one childhood acquaintance went to sea, and never returned. We live in hubris to think that we can tame the sea, but we can just as easily be swept away by it. The sea still conjures for us an idea of chaos – and as such – we are reminded how in scripture the sea of represents that which is untamable.
Just as water can give life, so it can rob men of their lives. For these reasons, when we see Christ walk on water and calm the storms – it is significant – for we are seeing that Christ has the same authority as the father – the authority to tame chaos, to tame power, Christ is more powerful than the forces of chaos.
But water also plays a cleansing role in scripture. Last week we talked about St. John the Baptist’s roll as a baptizer, he lead people to water to cleanse them. He baptized people to turn people away from sin. In Jewish villages throughout Galilee you can find baptismal fonts called Mikvas.
Don’t think baptismal fonts like what we have in the back of the church – don’t think of the little bowl in which we pour water over the head of a child or a new convert as an outward sign of the cleansing Christ does in the faithful – no, these were large enough for a grown man to walk through, to fully submerge himself in, to become totally washed clean. And not only that but the water was always moving through it, it was not a stagnant pool of water – but running water to wash away the symbolic dirtiness of the man’s sin.
Ritual cleansing was a big deal. Though it does seem that for John the Baptist, his baptism was more than just a ritual cleansing but a marking of a new life – a marking of a turning away from one’s sin in repentance, where the mikva’s ritual cleaning had more to do with simply washing away of sins before gathering for worship.
But this morning, we see the third type water – the most important type of water for the life of the Christian. We learn of living water.
It is no mistake that Jesus withdraws from Judea and makes his way back to Galilee when rumors that his ministry is mimicking that of John’s. For baptism, and repentance are important for the Christian life, but St. John the Evangelist wants to show something different – he wants the reader to see that in Christ is the light and life of humanity, that all that believe in Him should not parish, but have eternal life. St. John the Evangelist wants us to know that unless we have living water springing up in us, then we are spiritually dried up, we are spiritually dead for a human being cannot live without water, nor can we be made alive without the living water of Christ.
And so it is no mistake that Jesus meets this woman at the well. Think for a moment if we lived here 2000 years ago – if you have a hard time imagining it, take a day trip to Montezuma’s Well, this is a literal well that has an ancient small town built around it. The water here springs up from the ground and so the native Americans built their village around it, in order that they could easily have water year round.
Having a source for water would become a primary necessity for existence. Without electricity to pump water the well became a community gathering place of sorts and in the ancient near east – it became a place for women to gather, to catch up, and sometimes even for women to meet a husband.
But Jesus meets this woman who is a thorough outcast – in a culture where ritual purity was important, the intermingling of men and women was deeply frowned upon, furthermore, she was a Samaritan, and deep seated distrust between Jews and Samaritans existed. It seems that the prejudice existed on both sides, though the Jews seemed to hold more open distain for the Samaritans while the Samaritans were more vicious in their expression of their hatred towards the Jews. Finally, if we read on it would seem that the woman was not a woman of virtue and principles, but had known many men, and that she was now cohabiting with a man who wasn’t even her husband, and she had been married to several men before him.
And so we see a Jewish man approaches her and asks for a drink of water. She knows not who this man is, and it would seem that she is deeply confused by her initial interaction with hm at the well.
Some commentators hypothesize that the woman sees this interaction as flirtatious – as another opportunity to meet a new man, maybe a better man than the one she is with now. Others are appalled by even this suggestion. Surely, they say Jesus wouldn’t be flirted with, surely she would have viewed this interaction as innocent.
I think the second suggestion is naive, for we have an internal craving to be known, to be love, and to find security.
We live in a time when the act of truly loving is dying rapidly. We find to stand up for the other, to care about those who are outcasts, to invest in people may cause an incredible amount of confusion. We see marriages breaking down because we are too afraid to love well. We see friendships as disposable. We have culturally lost the art of loving well, we have lost the art of loving people, of being communities that truly care for the souls of others.
Certainly, compassion can become a rallying cry for liberals and conservatives alike – but when it comes to caring for those who are on the outside – those who are not like us, we find it much easier paint caricatures. When it comes to sitting with those who are hurting, and lonely, to caring for those who have created for themselves a pit of misery – we are not very good.
We have become Job’s friends, we are happy to sit for a little bit – to say “yes, yes, I get it you’re hurting.” But when it comes to long journeys of healing, to long roads of learning to love others well we find ourselves stumbling into legalism, we would prefer to cut ourselves off, we want to have little communities of perfection where we aren’t reminded of the frailty of humanity, but Christ models for us a radical love for others.
We realize that in order to love – requires a certain amount of vulnerability – and we have trained ourselves never to be vulnerable for vulnerability is a scary act, it requires being known and knowing other’s imperfections. It requires seeing ugliness, and not pretending it isn’t ugly, but loving the other despite their brokenness.
C.S. Lewis penned the following in his book The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
To love is to be vulnerable and here Christ opens himself up to criticism, later in chapter four his disciples are scandalized by how he has interacted with a Samaritan woman, and if we were to read on we would see that even at first the woman doesn’t understand what is going on.
So, it seems possible that the woman may be flirting with him. For she does not understand love, if we were to read on, we would see how baffled she is – she only sees men as a place of security, a place of assurance that the world will not crush her any more than it already has – but Christ has something better for her, Christ has something more fulfill, Christ offers her love – but not only love – love and life.
When Christ offers her living water she is excited – for she thinks – ah-ha! If I have this water I won’t have to make this journey to well over and over again and even here we get a hint that perhaps she’d rather cut herself off from the natural place of community, would rather isolate herself and hide from the world around her. She imagines how much easier will my life be without thirst. How much easier it would be to not have to go to the place where she must be vulnerable, must be ridiculed by others. Not to mention that but the pure practicality of the time saving benefits of never thirsting again.
But – this is not the living water that she is offered by Christ and that we are offered.
No, the water of life that Christ offers her is the source and sustenance of the Christian walk. The water that he offers her is eternal security, it is security in ever moment, in everything, it is life.
Think for a moment about all that is troubling you: (Pause)
Are you worried about paying your bills? (Pause)
Are you worried about your friends? (Pause)
Are you worried about your spouse and their health? (Pause)
Are you worried about the state of the world? (Pause)
And then ask yourself: where are you finding your security in these worries? (Pause)
Are you looking for them in others or are you bringing these troubles to Christ? (Pause)
My confession is this – too often, I find it easy to let the winds of the world push me around, to let fear grip my heart – but God calls me, God calls us to lean on Him in times of trouble and in good times. And here is the promise that Christ is offering the woman, and is offering us – If we drink of Christ, if we trust in His promise, if we pursue Him and Him alone, we will have security in the here and now, and in eternity.
If we take time to trust completely in Christ, if we take time to trust that His words for us are good and true, if we take time to believe that Christ is our source of life, the water that keeps us alive and will cleanse and deliver us into an eternity in the heavenly kingdom – what can we possibly fear, what can we possibly be concerned about? What can possibly shake us?
Can news of war separate us from the love of God? Can medical concerns separate us from the love of God? Can financial concerns? Can anger of the other possibly separate us from the love of God?
Nothing can dry up the well spring of God’s love for his people! SO why do we fear?
This is not a promise of ease, this is not a promise of getting every earthly thing we want – but this is a promise that God will be with us no matter what comes our way, a promise that God is sanctifying us, a promise that God is working all things for our good and His glory.
Today – Christ offers a sinful woman a wellspring of life – Christ offers an outcast, a woman who has made some unfortunate choices the water of life – and likewise he does the same for us. No matter where you came from, no matter your brokenness, no matter the pain that wells in side your heart – Christ has offered you living water that you may thirst no more.
We come to Christ broken, lost, hurting, we come to Christ with pains and sorrows, with troubles and concerns, and Christ gives us life – life in the here and now and in eternity. Christ offers to us security – Christ offers to us the peace which we so long for.
So, my friends let us drink richly of the promises of Christ – for it is there that we find the love that we so long for, it is there that we are given the strength to love our spouse, our friends, our children, it is there that we are given the strength to love those who are like us, and those who are different from us. It is in Christ that we are given security in the face of chaos, it is there, that we find calm amidst the storm, it is there that we find the assurance, that even if we can’t see the end, that God will work out even the most messy and wildest of situations to His glory. It is there, in Christ, in His living water, that we find life, and the peace that passes all understanding.
So let us drink deeply in the well of living water that we may have life eternal and the joy of the security that Christ alone can give us.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.