Canberra Baptist Church
9.00 & 10.30am services, 15 March 2020
Life-giving Water from the Rock
Rev. John Morrison
Readings Exodus 17:1-7. John 4:5-42. (NRSV)
Did you clean your teeth this morning? Did you have a shower? They are rhetorical questions. You don’t have to put your hands up. Though talking about hands, did you wash them this morning, according to the latest health guidelines? Did you wash up before you left home or at least turned on the dishwater? Did you turn the washing machine on as well? I’m not wanting to get too personal or nosey. I’m just wanting us to think for a few moments about the many ways we use water and how important it is. Because we can take it too much for granted.
We use it for cooking and flushing the toilet; washing our faces and washing the floor; keeping the garden alive and killing germs. As well as all those other things we do with it, we drink it.
So it’s pretty versatile stuff, and important. In fact, it’s essential to life.
Today’s 2 readings are stories that have something in common – water. Let’s have a look at them in turn.
The OT story takes place just a couple of months after God delivers the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. On their way to Canaan, God has led them through various wilderness and desert areas. This event occurs at one of those, called Rephidim.
V1: From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim… Then we have this bold statement – but there was no water to drink.
There’s the problem. It’s not a new problem. They had already faced it before on their journey. After miraculously escaping from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, they went 3 days without finding water. When they finally did come to a place where there was water (at Marah), it was so bitter they couldn’t drink it.
The people grumbled and complained with a bitterness that matched the water. God simply told Moses to throw a particular piece of wood into the water and it became deliciously sweet.
Bit now they are at Rephidim, complaining again about no water to drink. The problem wasn’t so much the lack of water – God had already shown he could supply that. The problem was the people’s complaining and lack of trust in God. Some were actually saying that they would have been better off to have stayed in Egypt. What a denial of all that God had done for them! And what a denial of the future God was wanting to lead them into!
We can be critical of them for their fickleness. But I wonder what we would have done in the same circumstances.
I wonder what I would have done in the same circumstances. Trudging through the desert, parched and dry, longing for water, then having to set up camp where there wasn’t any. I reckon I might have been complaining a little too.
Let me share personally for a moment. I offered up a lot of prayers during the recent drought. Quite often the gist of them was “How long, O Lord?” and they might have bordered on complaining from time to time.
But you know what? Just yesterday I had to pull myself up. When it was raining, I caught myself thinking:
Not again! The grass is out of control with all this rain. And now it’s raining again. When am I supposed to be able to mow it?
That wasn’t a prayer, but if it wasn’t complaining, it certainly was grumbling.
What about the other issue – wanting to go back to Egypt, the past?
How often we wistfully pine for the past – the so-called “good ole days”. But it’s usually with rose-coloured glasses that distort our view of what the past was really like. Those glasses can also prevent us seeing the better future God has for us if we will only follow his leading. Nostalgia can too easily become a rebuttal of the amazing plans God has for us.
God in grace and mercy did provide water for them in the desert. He told Moses to strike a rock with his rod, and water came gushing out for all to drink.
V7 says Moses then called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Massah means test and Meribah means quarrel.
Today’s Psalm, 95, mentions these place names and the story behind them. And it gives some good advice.
Hear the Word of the LORD.
V7b-9: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” Note especially, “though they had seen my work”.
John 4 is also a well-known story – Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
John Piper in one of his sermons describes her as “a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria”. Elsewhere he calls her a whore. And that’s often how she is portrayed. The trouble is, that’s not what the passage says.
David Lose, a Lutheran Pastor and university lecturer in the U.S., offers an alternative interpretation in an article in the Huffington Post called “Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well”.
He says she could well have been widowed more than once, or abandoned or divorced, which was much the same thing for a woman then. The husband who is not a husband is the sort of description that would apply in the case of Leverite marriage where a brother of a man who dies takes his wife.
It also makes sense of a number of other aspects of the conversation and the story e.g. Jesus doesn’t criticise her or call her to repentance.
Regardless of whether you agree with that interpretation, I think it’s pretty clear that this woman had had a very difficult life, was hurting deeply, perhaps even broken. Jesus surprises her, firstly by asking her for a drink. Her – a woman and a Samaritan!
He continues surprising her:
- With his answer that worship is more a matter of the heart than geography;
- With his knowledge about her past life;
- With his declaration that he is the Messiah;
- With his offer of water that will quench her thirst forever and be a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
The essential nature of living water in both the Old and New Testaments is that it is water that flows rather than being stagnant. Of course, Jesus is using it in a metaphorical sense. Its symbolic meaning is clarified a couple of chapters later (ch.7) when Jesus says something very similar to the crowds in Jerusalem on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles. John explains he was referring to the Spirit which believers receive – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.
I have often heard sermons on the evangelism theme in the story of the woman at the well, such as
- Jesus’ evangelism technique with the woman;
- The teaching to the disciples about the fields ripe for harvesting;
- The woman’s witness to those in her town.
I’ve even preached a few myself including on dialogue evangelism and the various steps Jesus took in evangelising the woman.
About a year ago I had a bit of an aha experience about that though. Previously I had largely identified myself with Jesus, somewhat presumptuously. I was someone who knew the answer to life and was doing my best to pass that on using the techniques that Jesus used.
My aha experience was to see myself as the Samaritan woman. You might think that’s a bit presumptuous too for a white, middle-class male. But just like her, I was sinful, broken, thirsty, needing the living water of the Spirit of Jesus welling up and overflowing.
Instead of being the Messiah, I’m the woman simply sharing with others about my surprising encounter with the Messiah, who knows all about me and yet still loves and cares for me with understanding and compassion.
Jesus said we need never be thirsty again if we drink the water he gives us. Have you accepted that precious gift of living water that gives eternal life?
I like to think of the woman at the well as the other Good Samaritan. The thing I like about her is that she wanted to move on. Compare that with the Israelites in the desert who wanted to go back. Their lack of trust was dragging them back. But the woman’s trust, as new and as basic as it was, led her forward to something better.
That’s my hope and prayer for all of you.
I want to finish with a story. It’s called “The Keeper of the Springs”, written about 80 years by Peter Marshall. He was Pastor of the New York Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. and was twice appointed Chaplain of the US Senate. The story formed part of his sermon with a similar title. The sermon is out-dated, but I like this illustration. Different people will get different things out of it. Think how it applies to you.
Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs. He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town.
Mill wheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface, and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.
But the City Council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of the Keeper of the Springs. Said the Keeper of the Purse: Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work life. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary. Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a cement reservoir.
So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface.
There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.
The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs. They sought him out of his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labor. Gladly he agreed, and began again to make his rounds.
It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Mill wheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.