Monday, March 5, 2012

God Speaking: Like a Fountain

Preached on Sunday, March 4, 2012

Scripture readings: Ezekiel 47:1-12; John 4:4-42

When I was a child, growing up in California, I always got excited about a special kind of water. We called it snow.

There was never any snow where we lived. We had to go some where else to see it. We had to go to the mountains if we were going to play in the snow.

It took us forever to get there. The snow must have been at least an hour’s drive away. We would drive, and drive, and drive, and drive, and then we would see a little patch of snow. “O daddy! Stop the car! Stop the car!”

So he would give in, and stop the car, and we would go out, and make snowballs, and throw them at each other. Then we would get back into the car and drive until we saw another patch of snow. “O daddy! Stop the car! Stop the car!”

Snow is so exciting when you are a child.

When I was in college it snowed in the Sacramento Valley. We must have gotten two or three inches, and our college town went crazy. The streets were full of twenty-year-olds skipping their classes, throwing snowballs at each other, and pulling sleds behind their cars. It never snowed where we lived and, for us, it was exciting. It was a kind of living water. It was the kind of water that made us feel really alive; the kind that Jesus talked about.

Not exactly the same; but it was still exciting, because it was so rare. The “living water” Jesus spoke about was actually moving water, running water, flowing water; not the water that sat at the bottom of a well like the water the woman had come to fetch. This living water was exciting.

Living water ran in rivers and streams and brooks, but the only river of any respectable size in the Holy Land is the Jordan. It has its main sources in the mountains of Lebanon to the north of Galilee. South and downstream from Galilee, there are only a few year-round streams and brooks that feed into it.

The only other source of living water, for the people of Jesus’ time and place, came from the fact that the rocky ground of the Holy Land funneled rain water into springs. Spring water seeped and bubbled from hillsides here and there. Spring water was the closest that most people came to living water.

The village where the woman at the well lived actually had one of these springs. She didn’t use that spring of living water because she had reasons for staying away from the people who went there. They didn’t like her. They looked down on her. They made life unpleasant for her.

So she went to the well outside her town at noon when no one else was likely to be there. Drawing and carrying your water for the day was morning work.

Most people had cisterns or basins under their homes, which collected the rain water that fell on their roofs. It was nice not having to go out and carry your water home; but, when your cistern went dry, you had to do it. In that desert country cisterns often went dry.

Water was necessary. Water was work. All water was precious, but living water was clearest, and coolest, and freshest. It was the best water.

The woman at the well would surely crave a drink of living water, but there was none to be found there. There is no spring at the bottom of that well. It is just ground water.

The woman thought that Jesus might be joking or teasing her. She didn’t think he meant to be rude, so she teased Jesus back.

But Jesus was being rude, in the sense of crossing an uncross-able line of courtesy and honor. Men did not talk to women in public. Men were not supposed to talk even to their wives in public places. Talking to a woman was an intimacy, and talking to a woman in public was an indecency.

Yes, Jesus was rude, or else he had a way of taking the lid off of things. Jesus spoke and behaved in extraordinary ways, and he seemed to bring the extraordinary out in others.

He did this either by setting people completely at ease, or taking them by surprise, or outright shocking them. In fact, Jesus did all of this to the woman, and to the villagers, and to his own disciples, that day. In any case there was something about Jesus that made people either forget about themselves or harden themselves. The results of this were often surprising and revealing.

So the woman, whose life had been so messed up, and so scandalous, was suddenly ready to talk about courtesy, and theology, and prophecy, and the matters of her own heart and life with Jesus. Jesus opened her heart that day.

She went back to her village where everyone knew everything about her messed up life, where she was rudely shunned every day, and where she lived by rudely shunning others. There she surprised herself, and she opened her heart, her hopes, and her faith, to them. She said to them, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” In that village, her neighbors knew everything she ever did, and they were surprised (they were shocked) that she would even mention the unmentionable to them.

She was happy and excited when she spoke to them. She was free from the hardness of heart caused by years of repeated patterns of scandal and shame. She was changed. Her life flowed. She became living water, herself. She became a living witness, a living example, for Jesus. Jesus opened her heart that day.

A little bit later in the gospel, in the seventh chapter, Jesus returns to this picture of living water. He says: “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 John explains this by saying, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:37-38)

John, in his gospel, has told us that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29) John calls Jesus the Word of God (John 1:2) and the Son of God the Father (John 1:14, 18). John tells us that this Lamb, this Word, this Son, is also God. (John 1:1)

The Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God, belongs to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to give. In the gospels, when Jesus spoke to a person who needed him, or did something for that person, that person would be changed in some way. That person would become a person of faith, or a person of joy and courage, or a person who was set free and made fit and able to give to others.

In the Book of Revelation (22:1-5) we see the new creation cared for and thriving because of the direct experience of the presence of God. We see the throne of God and the Lamb (the Father and the Son). When we see this throne in Revelation, we are not looking at a great big chair. We are looking at the living presence of God the King.

And we see “the river of the water of life” flowing from their presence into the new creation, making it a garden of fruitfulness, and plenty, and beauty, and healing. When we see this river of life, we are not looking at a lot of flowing water. We are looking at a picture of the Holy Spirit.

When we see the trees of the new creation and their fruit, we are not looking at trunks, and branches, and leaves, and apples, and peaches. We are looking at God’s new creation and we are looking at ourselves. We see ourselves and those we love within that new creation. We see what we will become.

We see this in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 47:1-12) There is a river that comes from a new temple which is God’s presence with his people. The river has no tributaries, no brooks or streams running into it and filling it up. The river starts from under the dwelling of God with his people, and it gets bigger and bigger, all by itself.

A dry, and barren, and thirsty land comes to life, a dead sea grows sweet with the living water. The desert is replaced by a garden like the Garden of Eden, full of life. This is not just a promise about changes that will take place in a land half-way around the world. This is a promise of what God intends to give us; what he intends to make us.

The river is a picture of what Jesus promises, as the giver of living water (the Holy Spirit). It is a picture of what he can give to a thirsty life. His thoughts within our thoughts; his work within us through his word, and through prayer; the work he does within us through our fellowship with his people; and the work he does within us through our faithful service in this world, grow bigger and bigger with a power all its own. The Holy Spirit takes our smallness and weakness and creates a garden in it.

Before we start our vegetable gardens this year, hopefully when the frosts are done, we have to get the ground ready. We have to get the weeds out and soften up the ground. The farmers do the same with their fallow ground.

Jesus knew how to open the woman’s heart. We see it in his conversation with her. He knew what to say in order to arouse her interest and her curiosity. He knew how to open her heart to honesty and reality. He knew how to make her aware of her need. God knows how to speak to us through the events of our lives, and through our relationships, and through our hearts and minds, so that we become open to him. He knows how to soften the fallow ground of our lives.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we would do well to think like Jesus about other people. We would see those who do not know God as though they were only waiting to become gardens. We would see them as the fallow ground that would become a fruitful field.

If we would think like Jesus, we would not be careless gardeners. If we garden or farm we know what that means. We don’t garden or farm by leaving work undone.

We leave so many things undone and unsaid in our lives with others. Because of my dad’s fatal accident a few years ago, and because of my mother’s illness this past year, I am beginning to understand this more and more.

We treat our gardens and fields more carefully than we treat the people of this world, and our neighbors, and sometimes, even, our own families. We would never intentionally spread weed killer on our garden after it was planted, yet we use known poisons on the people God entrusts to our care. We use spite, and manipulation, and blame, and discouragement, and backbiting, and gossip on the garden of souls around us.

I said that Jesus was rude to the woman at the well, but the fact is that he was gallantly and graciously rude. It was the rules of courtesy of the society around them that was rude. It was courtesy that maintained a wall of rejection and bitterness around this woman. Jesus rudely overcame that rejection.

Jesus made her into a person who could be of help to others (a blessing to others), because he asked her for a drink. He accepted her as a person who could learn the ways of God. He accepted her as a person who could see the mess they were in, and repent, and live a new life. He treated her as a person who could move from questions and distractions to faith and hope. If we wanted to think like Jesus, in the garden of souls and lives around us, then we would treat others the same.

When the woman found that Jesus could read her like a book, she thought that she in the presence of a prophet. We have to realize that she didn’t understand very much, but she was learning.

She seemed to think that the Christ, the Messiah, was talking to her the way he did because he could read her mind. By the time Jesus left, the people of the village (and probably this woman as well) realized that Jesus knew what he knew because he was the Savior of the World.

It is a very good thing to know that we are intimately and completely known by God. There was a girl I loved who could read me like a book, and yet she liked me anyway. She could tell me when I was full of baloney in a way that would warm my heart and make me laugh.

If we will trust God, we will love being known perfectly and completely by him. We will know that it is the best and safest thing for us.

Jesus knew this woman because he was truly her lover. She had had other lovers who had used her, just as she had used them. She knew enough, by experience, to learn that Jesus was a lover of a totally different kind.

Jesus was her lover because he was her creator and her savior. She was alive because he desired her to be a living being. She would receive eternal life because he desired her to be a saved being. Jesus knew her because he was going to die for her. He knew her value, and he knew her sins and failures, because he was going to carry them on the cross.

We never understand our selves or others very well, because we understand our selves and others as sinners, as rebels. Our rebellion against God’s purpose for us has raised barriers of sin between us and God, between us and others, and between us and the life God created us for.

Those barriers block our view. They blind us and make us ignorant gardeners of our own lives and the lives of others. As sinners we do not know much about ourselves or others.

God knows us. He knows our value and he knows our sins because he is our creator and our savior. Because of this, he knows everything. He has got the whole world in his hands. He holds our forgiveness in his hands on the cross. He holds the end of our old life and the beginning of our new life in his hands, in his resurrection. This is why he knows how to talk with us and open our hearts.

Living water is moving, running, flowing water. The life Jesus gives us through his Holy Spirit is a moving, running, flowing life.

In this living water, our lives stop being shut up, as that woman’s life was before she met Jesus. She found her life moving in the direction of change, and freedom, and hope as she moved toward Jesus.

When I was a kid, we would usually go camping in the Sierra Nevada, which is a granite range of mountains. We like to camp fairly high up above the foothills (high enough to be above most of the mosquitoes), and we would do a lot of hiking along steep streams of living water. They would gush and pour over granite rocks and granite sand.

We kids would want to drink from these streams, and my dad would let us, in the belief that such streams cleansed themselves. They were self purifying. We never got sick from doing this, although my dad developed doubts about his theory of self cleansing water, later in life.

Living water was, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, the best water to wash in because it was the cleanest water you could find. And it was always considered clean, in and of its self. The life that comes from Jesus moves us away from all the old mess. It makes us clean, and sweet, and fresh, and refreshed.

The woman who opened her heart to Jesus became like living water that carried the life of Jesus to her neighbors. It made her an overcomer of the old obstacles between herself and her neighbors.

The living water overcame the obstacles in her neighbors’ hearts. If that living water had not moved them, they would have asked Jesus to go away. They would have told Jesus to leave their town, because Jesus was a Jew, and a rabbi, and (therefore) an enemy. They would never have learned that he was the savior of the world.

They found Jesus first through the changed life of their neighbor, the woman they had despised. Then they found Jesus for themselves. They knew he was the savior of the world, and their own savior.

Jesus is God speaking himself, expressing himself; and he speaks like a fountain of living water. He moves and changes hearts and lives. He moves and changes people and relationships. He moves and changes communities like that little town in Samaria.

Even a whole world is not too big for him to move and change. The living water that Jesus gives us is meant not just for us but for the whole world. Let that water live and move through you.

1 comment:

  1. Living, moving water...cats really like to make the water move when they drink it because something in the brain of a cat remembers that moving water is the freshest.

    There are certain phrases from the Bible that just startled me from my seat even as a child, and one of them is "Give me some of that living water."
    Beautiful sermon, I thank you for posting it.
    Glad to find you, I found you on the blog of Scriptor Senex.