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Never Thirsty Again
March 10, 1996

John 4:5-42

Recall a time when you were thirsty, very thirsty, and how glad you were to get a drink of water. I recall the time we were in Egypt touring ruins far from a town. It was a very hot day-- over 100 degrees-- and we were out of water. I recall the heat, the hot, dry parched throat. I was beginning to feel weak and dizzy when we turned a corner, and there was a stand selling bottled water. What amazed me was that we were touring during Rhamadan, the Islamic festival when Muslims fast during the day. When Christians fast, we don't eat food but we are allowed liquids. Not so with Muslims. They go from sunup to sundown with no food or water in that heat!

When astronauts are out in space, and they look back on the earth, what color is the earth? Blue. So far, planet Earth is the only blue planet, 2/3 covered with water. Two men went across the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth. One evening they sat on the top deck, with 360 degrees of water all around them. The moon was reflecting brightly off the water. One said, "Look at all that water!" The other looked around and said, "Yeah, and that's only the top!" It is the vast oceans of our world that have made it possible for life forms to develop on our planet. Water is the fluid of life. The word water comes from the Arabic word for luster and splendor.

One of my favorite places in Merced is the fountain in Applegate Park, set in the midst of the rose garden. Not only is the sight of water refreshing, the sound of water is relaxing and renewing. Water is nature's jewelry. Water is the sparkling, transparent elixir of life. Survival-course teachers warn their students that while they can exist for weeks, even a month, without food, unless they find water in four or five days, they are doomed. We are dependent on water. Life without water is impossible for human beings.

Is it any wonder that Jesus used water as an illustration of our need of God? As our physical bodies thirst for water, so our spirits thirst for God. Jesus was a master of turning common ordinary events into not only illustrations, but sacraments. Jesus took bread and said, "This is my body." Jesus took wine, which was the ordinary beverage of the day, and said, "This is my blood." And, water, without which there is no life, is used in baptism to symbolize there is no life without God.

In the Scripture lesson read this morning, Jesus was enjoying a drink of water, and suddenly the conversation took on a deeper meaning. There was a lot happening in this encounter at Jacob's Well in Samaria, a lot more than just a chance meeting between a man and a woman. Men didn't talk to women publicly in those days, and Jews didn't talk to Samaritans. Not only did Jesus break the rules of racism and sexism, he talked to a woman of questionable reputation. We know she was ostracized by the women of her community because she came to the well at noon! The other women would have come to the well at the beginning of the day. This woman had to come by herself, but what a treat in store for her! The longest recorded conversation of Jesus' in the Bible is the one he had with the Woman at the Well. In John's Gospel, the first person to learn that Jesus was the Messiah, was not a Jew, not a man, but a Samaritan, a Samaritan woman, a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation, a woman who was ostracized by the other women of the community. Jesus broke all the rules, which Jesus loved to do.

It was to the Woman at the Well that Jesus offered living water. With words of mystery and wonder, Jesus said, Everyone who drinks of this water (pointing to the well and the bucket, perhaps) will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Never thirsty again!

When we realize how dependent we are on water for life, we can understand why droughts frighten us! May we be as concerned about spiritual drought. As water satisfies the thirst of our physical bodies, so the Holy Spirit satisfies the thirst of our spirits. Spiritual drought is not as obvious as our need for water. As we recalled at the beginning of the sermon, we know when we are thirsty. There are obvious signs-- the throat is dry, then parched. Energy lags; fatigue strikes. The head begins to ache.

The signs of spiritual drought are not as apparent but they are recognizable-- lack of joy, bitterness, resentment, anger, feeling sorry for ourselves, loneliness, isolation, self-centeredness, turning in on one's self, greed, excessive competition, and feeling disconnected. It is interesting that the Spanish word for devil is diablo from which comes the English word diabolic. Diablo means to divide. The devil's tactic is to divide-- divide people from people, divide us up inside ourselves, disconnect us from our roots and we shrivel up, dry up like a prune-- wrinkled and comatose! Spiritual drought!

The good news is there is water to drink, living water, water that will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The incident with the Woman at the Well began with Jesus asking her for a drink of water. Jesus needed help. He had no bucket with which to draw the water out of the well. Jesus was thirsty. Jesus was in need. Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you thought God was self-sufficient, independent, not needing anything from us!

The Jewish mystic, Abraham Heschel, wrote, "If God were a theory, the study of theology would be the way to understand him." I'm afraid that the major thrust of the twentieth century church is to understand God as if God were a theory. We have practiced a cerebral religion, a religion of the head and mouth. I enjoyed my seminary training, and appreciate very much the training I received. But, I was not taught how to pray. I was not taught how to worship. I was taught about worship, but not how to worship. I was taught ideas, ideas about God, ideas about the Bible. But, God is not a theory.

Heschel goes on, "But God is alive and in need of love and worship." Imagine! Jesus needed water. God needs your love. God needs your worship. In the book of sermons, God's Trombones, James Weldon Johnson pictures God sitting down on a rock after the earth, vegetation, and animals were created, and saying, "I'm lonely. I'll make me a man." God wants a relationship with us. The heart of Christianity is not an intellectual understanding of God. The heart of Christianity is a relationship with God. Our spirits thirst for a relationship with God. We were created to be in relationship with God. When we are disconnected from God, our spirits thirst, a spiritual drought. To thirsty people, Jesus comes with a drink of water, a drink of the Holy Spirit, and says, "Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty."

When I was a youth, I liked to go to the Red Rock summer camp meeting, which was a gathering of old-time Methodists who preached the second blessing. According to John Wesley, our relationship with God is a two-step dance: salvation and sanctification. Salvation is the experience of being saved by Christ when we confess our sins and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Sanctification is the experience of being sanctified when we commit our lives wholly and completely to God, and ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, to make us holy disciples, to drink deeply of the living water so that we will be never thirsty again.

Take a drink of living water. Take time. Drink slowly. Sip, savor, enjoy. Notice what happens when you drink water. You can't talk! To drink requires you to be still. To enjoy a drink of cool, clear water, you stop, stand still, quiet yourself, drink slowly and silently! Probably what is hardest for people today is to be silent. We surround ourselves with noise, and even when we pray, we talk God to death! Be silent. Take deep breaths. Drink it in. Stand at the fountain in the rose garden and drink it in.

Picture Jesus touching you, even hugging you. Picture Jesus looking you in the eye, and telling you, "I love you. I want to fill you with the Holy Spirit." Drink it in. Let the Holy Spirit flow through your mind, flow your body to the tip of your toes. Hold nothing back. Without reservation, let the living water flow through you to every dried up place, every prune, every problem, heartache, worry, sin, and shame. Let the living water cleanse and purify you.

Will you close your eyes and let me guide you in a meditation? Relax. Take a deep breath. Picture something in you that is thirsty. Are you bitter, angry at someone, ashamed of something, worrying about something or someone, afraid of something? Are you lonely and disconnected? Picture a shriveled up place inside you. Then Jesus comes to you with a glass of cool, clear, living water. With deep love, Jesus hands you the glass. You take the glass, say "thank you", lift it to your lips, and slowly drink. Image the living water filling your mouth, soothing your parched throat, and flowing into you. Picture the water flowing to your troubled spot-- calming, washing, cleansing, healing. Relax. Let Jesus love you, and love Jesus in return. Then, picture the water welling up within you, gushing up and filling your entire being with peace, joy, and, as Jesus said, eternal life, thirst-quenching living water.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris