Readings: Exodus 17: 1 – 7 and John 4: 5 – 11
“Where can you get this living water?” Well that’s a question a woman from Sychar in Samaria asks Jesus in a strange and very unusual encounter at a place known as ‘Jacob’s Well.’ And it takes place as Jesus is on his way back from Judea, in the south of the country, to Galilee in the north. And Jesus has purposely decided to take a rest at this particular place which is located in the very heart of Samaritan territory. Now a Jew would not normally take this route back through Samaria, but it’s the hottest part of the day and Jesus is tired and he’s thirsty. But he has a reason for being here and it’s not long before this woman comes to draw water from the well. Now this would not normally happen in the circumstances of the time – but Jesus takes the opportunity to engage her in conversation and he asks her for a drink.
And they start talking- talking about water. And very skilfully Jesus uses this image or metaphor of water to explain how the water he can give is not like the water in the well – but living water which is like an eternal spring that can well up within us. And it conjures up a picture of newness of spiritual life constantly bubbling up and spilling over. But at this stage the woman has not quite grasped what he’s getting at – but it sounds good and so she asks if Jesus if he will give her some of this water.
And we can see what Jesus is doing. He’s trying to draw the woman gently on from the material to the spiritual. And it seems, to me, that for us too, Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit is constantly prompting us to move on from the material to the life of the Spirit. But how far we are prepared to go depends on just how thirsty we are.
And so as we’ve seen, Jesus is obviously not talking about natural water (the material if you like) but the newness of spiritual life and vitality which we can experience and enjoy when we come into close relationship with him.
And this isn’t just about drinking – it’s about overflowing. And we see this as Jesus develops this metaphor a few pages later on in John chapter 7 when he speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let me read to you what it says.
It says this: ‘on the last and greatest day of the Feast Jesus stood and said in a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” And the text then goes on to say: ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.’
And so are we amongst those who are thirsty for this living water? And I think it prompts us to ask ourselves where we stand in relation to Jesus. Do we know Him? Do we really know Him? Do we know anything about that living water welling up within that he promises to give to those who believe in him?
And the more I read and study the Scriptures it’s my personal conviction that I believe that Jesus is calling each one of us into a deeper relationship with him – deeper than we we’ve ever known before – deeper in the place of encounter – deeper in the place of intimacy.
And you know we can be involved in a lot of religious activity and other stuff and in the midst of it all still miss him and remain at a distance from him. But his desire is – that we draw near and to know him and to be known by him.
Well Jesus engages the woman who has come to the well in conversation and you can imagine what might have going through her mind. “Who is this speaking to me? He’s a Jew and I’m a Samaritan and Jews and Samaritans don’t have anything to do with one another.” And there’s a long history as to why this should be the case that goes right back into the Old Testament. Well we haven’t time to explore that this morning. But suffice it to say a self-respecting Jew wouldn’t even breathe the same air as a Samaritan. As far as they were concerned they were unclean and heretics as they were not proper Jews.
But what’s more, it wasn’t just that she, a Samaritan was conversing with a Jew, but for a man to talk to women in public like that just wasn’t the done thing at that time. At least that’s what the rabbis told you.
But not only that – but we learn later that this is a woman with a string of broken relationships. She’s been married five times already and the man she’s now living with is not her husband – and for the time it’s all rather scandalous. Maybe that’s why she comes to the well in the heat of the day when no one else does. She’s fed up with the whispering behind her back and people looking down on her because of her lifestyle.
And for Jesus, a holy rabbi, to be seen talking to a woman like this would have been shocking to his Jewish contemporaries. But Jesus is not going to allow what others might think – detract from what he came to do. He goes out of his way to seek out those who are needy – to reach out to those who feel they are worthless and let them know they have value in his sight.
And it seems to me that what we have here is a woman who is desperately seeking to be loved. But the tragedy is that the men in her life have let her down in one way or another – she’s already been through five of them!
It maybe some of those relationships have been abusive – we don’t know. In addition to that, the fact, that she comes to the well on her own, at the time she does, also seems to suggest she’s been ostracised by her neighbours because of what they perceive to be her promiscuous lifestyle. And maybe all this has left her with little or no self-worth.
And so we see Jesus going out of his way to reach a person in need. And in looking at the personal application how do we connect with people in a thirsty world I wonder. One thing we see in the story is that Jesus – the one who could call on legions of angels and through whom the universe was made – making himself needy and vulnerable. Jesus is tired from his journey and needs to rest by the well. Not only is he tired but it’s hot, being in the heat of the day, and he’s thirsty. And he asks the woman to give him a drink. And it’s through that he reaches out to her.
And reaching out to others is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. And this is a theme picked up by the Archbishop of York in his call for us to be out and about in our communities talking to people about Jesus. And commenting on a recent Church of England report he says this: “Our job is to be out there, on the streets, wherever it is, sharing this amazing message of Jesus: that he actually forgives us our sins, gives us new life in the present and hope for the future.”
And then a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. He says this about it:
“We share the good news, not because it’s a duty….but because we are consumed with knowing how wonderful Jesus is – we want to talk to others about him.”
And if we are excited about Jesus this can be all done very naturally without being forced. I came across an article in Christianity magazine recently by Mike Pivalachi, a well-known Christian leader who’s involved in a ministry amongst young people called ‘Soul Survivor.’ And in the article he shares a story involving one of his friends called, Sam.
And he says this: ‘Now there was nothing special about Sam. He’s just an ordinary guy who loves Jesus and has faithfully done his best to serve Him in the area of inner city Birmingham over the last 20 years. And over that time he’s experienced both joys and sorrows, good days and bad days as he’s sought to introduce unchurched young people to Jesus.
And in June 2015, Sam was walking through a park when he noticed a man sitting alone on a bench. And as he was passing, he sensed the Lord saying to him: “His name is Daniel and he feels as though he is in prison from which he can’t escape. I want you to tell him that I love him and want to rescue him from his prison.”
Well in fear and trembling, as one can imagine, Sam went over to the man, introduced himself and asked if his name was Daniel. Well the man responded rather aggressively with a “No.” And at this Sam understandably felt rather deflated but nevertheless decided he may as well go and tell the man the second part of what he thought the Lord had told him. And at this the man started to cry and told Sam that his name was indeed Daniel. And it soon became clear that he’d lied because he’d been freaked out by Sam knowing his name and it also became clear the reason he’d been sitting on the bench in the park is because he was preparing to commit suicide.
And so Sam sat with the man for the next two hours during which he introduced him to Jesus and prayed with him and the following Sunday took him to church. And now Daniel now knows there is a God who loves him and loves being part of his new church family.
Now Sam could easily have shrugged off that prompting from the Spirit as he was walking through the park that day. “It’s just my imagination,” he could have told himself and just walked on but he didn’t.
Well it’s when the living water begins to overflow that we have that desire to reach out to others. We see that with the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus. She goes off and tells people in her village about her meeting with Jesus. And it seems she’s so excited she leaves her water pot behind. It’s as though she’s splashing the water about all over the place. And that’s what living water does when it begins to bubble up and overflow.
Well let me finish with something very practical which we can all do.
We’ve seen Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman and then we’ve seen the woman reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus. Well what about making a start in our own neighbourhoods, the places where we live. If someone new moves in near us – why not go and knock on the door, introduce yourself and welcome them to the parish by offering them one of our St Laurence’s Welcome Packs and just see where it goes from there. It’s a very neighbourly and friendly thing to do and a way of getting to know new people. It’s not difficult at all and it’s something, as a church, we’ve been doing on the new High Mill Estate for some time now. These packs are very attractive and can be picked up from Freda in the Church Office and there’s some at the back of church as well. However, if you do pick one of these up please make personal contact with the person you intend giving it to – don’t just push it through the letter box – it makes all the difference – it’s that personal encounter that makes a lasting impression.
And so can we all be encouraged to do that! And wouldn’t it be great to see lots of that living water being splashed about all around our parish.
Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby on Sunday 19th March 2017 at a service of Holy Communion.