Sunday, March 27, 2011

Make It Rain - A Sermon for Lent 3

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42

I haven’t been in the practice of having titles for my sermons, other than “Lent 3” but yesterday I had a rush of inspiration and decided to name my sermon “Make It Rain.” Now, I wasn’t meaning precipitation at every temperature – so I apologize for the snow last night.

Have you heard of the substance called dihydrogen monoxide? Sounds dangerous, doesn't it? It’s actually the chemical name for H2O…water. It is essential for all known life on Earth. Water is the most abundant compound on the surface of the Earth, almost 3/4 of the earth’s surface is water. Most of this water is located in the oceans. Human beings are made up of mostly water, depending upon our age and size we are anywhere from 55%-78% water!

Civilizations have historically flourished near rivers and other waterways. Mesopotamia was between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Egypt was dependent upon the Nile, the capitals of four European countries are on the Danube, and Washington D.C. is on the bank of the Potomac.

Water is essential for civilization because of its many uses – drinking, cooking, sanitation, agriculture, travel and trade, power generation, fire extinguishing, and recreation. Most religions consider water to be a purifier and incorporate water into ritual washing. We Christians use it for Baptism.

So why all the water facts? Both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings speak of water and people asking for water. And coincidentally, last Tuesday, March 22, was World Water Day.

Many people in the world understand why the Israelites quarreled with Moses over the issue of water. Nearly 1 billion people today do not have easy access to clean water within a 15 minute walk from their home. More than 3.5 million people die each year from water-related diseases, 84% of these deaths are children. The lack of proper sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection.

I lived in Belize, Central America for 4 years as a child. My family lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere – we had no electricity, no local water tower. Our water came from a well that my Dad dug. It was good, clean water. But one year, during the dry season, our well dried up. There was just a muddy puddle at the bottom. Our neighbor’s wells dried up too. We all ended up going to a well a mile away at an abandoned half-finished house. That was the only well that still had water, it was a very deep well. We were fortunate that we had a SUV to transport buckets of water back home, (I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to have to carry all those buckets by hand), but we still had to filter and boil the water to make it usable. It was hard not having water readily available whenever you wanted. When the rainy season came, it was glorious. Our well filled up to past ground level. You could reach right in with the bucket to get water. My brother and I would just pour buckets of water on each other. Never has water ever felt that good.

Water is something that we take for granted until it is suddenly not there. In Egypt, the Israelites had access to water from the Nile. Journeying through the unknown wilderness, the lack of water was a real concern.

Journeying through Samaria, Jesus and his disciples had access to cities and wells. Jesus stops by a well to rest and encounters a Samaritan woman.

This encounter is interesting, especially as contrasted to last week’s gospel about Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a Jewish male and a religious authority – he had power, he was an insider. The Samaritan woman was, a Samaritan woman – an outsider with no power in that society. Samaritans and Jews did not get along – Jews looked down on the Samaritans as being half-breeds who didn’t worship God in the proper way. The Samaritan woman had been widowed or abandoned by divorce five times. Now she is dependent upon another person to survive. Jesus sees this woman and he understands her – he knows what she has been through and what it is that she is in need of. She needs living water.

The Greek is a play on words – living water refers to water that is flowing and fresh rather than still and stagnant – while it also means “living” and is linked to the gift of eternal life. The Samaritan woman, like Nicodemus from last week, is confused and takes Jesus’ words literally at first.

This is not the only time that Jesus makes a reference to living water. Later on in the gospel of John, Jesus said: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38) This is attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe in Jesus, follow him, and receive the Spirit – are recipients of living water and also its conduit to others. We see this in the example of the Samaritan woman. When she believes in Christ, out of her heart flows living water – she becomes a witness for him to those in her city. And many Samaritans come to meet Jesus because of her testimony.

As Christians, we are called to be witnesses and conduits of living water to the world.

Jesus told us to love our neighbor, and this involves helping to take care of their whole self –mind, body and soul. Christians are involved in projects around the world to bring clean drinking water and proper sanitation to remote places that currently lack that access. Organizations, such as Episcopal Relief and Development are in fact working on that very issue (as well as many others).

Christians are called to share with the world the living water that comes from Jesus Christ. This living water we share when we share the good news about Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection.

It’s important that Christians share both ordinary and living water with the world. Yes, the living water of Jesus Christ brings eternal life – but it’s hard to get people to listen to you talk about living water when they don’t even have ordinary water. The Samaritan woman might have received living water, but she still had to go back to that well each day for regular water. 

Water is the most basic physical need, 
          and there is enough on the planet for everyone, if we can only get it to the right places. 
God’s love is the most basic need of all – 
         and there is definitely enough of that to go around! 
The world is filled with people with parched lips and dehydrated souls – 
         it’s time for us to make it rain!