The Rev. Teri Daily
A sermon on John 4:5-42…
Water is vital for life. In fact, we ourselves are made mostly of water, although that percentage drops as we grow older. A newborn baby is 75% water. At one year of age, we are, by weight, 65% water. Adult men are made up of 60% water, while adult women are 55% water. With water forming such a large part of our constitution, it makes sense that water is more crucial to our survival than food. One can survive up to two months without food, but usually only a week or so without water. That’s why thirst is such an important physical symptom. When our blood volume is depleted or when the fluids in our bodies become too concentrated, our brains receive the signal that we need to take in more fluid.
But here’s the thing: sometimes we misinterpret that signal – we misread the symptoms of our bodies or the thirst signal itself. And so we try to satisfy our thirst with something other than water. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger, and so instead of having something to drink, we eat – craving especially food with lots of carbs. We often treat the headache of dehydration with Tylenol and not the tall glass of fluid that our body needs. Or we treat the fatigue of dehydration with a nap, or the bad breath it brings with Altoids, or the irritability with cordoning ourselves off from others. The truth is that we can mask our thirst with all kinds of things, overlooking the very thing that we most dearly need.
This can be true of all the deepest needs in our lives, I think. We can overlook them or misread them or try to fill them with other things. Why do we do this instead of facing our real thirst head-on? Well, maybe we don’t want to confess our thirst, not to ourselves and not to others either, because to admit that we are thirsty deep-down would make us feel exposed and vulnerable. That’s what makes today’s gospel reading so shocking. Not just that Jesus was speaking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. But that two people could be so honest with one another about their thirst.
The first thing that Jesus says to the woman at the well is: “Give me a drink.” I don’t believe this was just an entrée into a conversation. He is really thirsty, and he lets it be known. He also recognizes the woman’s thirst – not just the thirst that brought her to the well, but the deeper spiritual thirst in her life. And so Jesus offers her living water, saying: “Everyone who drinks of this water 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.” The woman says to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She admits that she has a deep, unquenchable thirst, although at this point she is still talking of a physical thirst. But when Jesus explains that he is the Messiah, she immediately leaves her water jug and runs to the village. Her thirst for water can no longer mask her thirst for what will most truly save her, for what will bring her eternal life.
I suspect that we all carry around empty water jugs, that we all have places within us that are empty. We try to stuff these empty places with things that mask the thirst or stifle the longing. We might try filling them with the esteem and affection of others, with the security of a good job or wonderful place to live, with judgments and criticisms that make us feel like we are better than others, or with the high of adventure or various substances.
If we are honest, we know that these are, at best, temporary fixes – they don’t address our deepest need. Sometimes they just keep us from recognizing our real need; sometimes they make the hole within us even deeper. We become thirsty again and again. Truth be told, nothing that we do can really fill those empty places within us; for, in the words of the Samaritan woman, we have no bucket and the well is deep. Our thirst can only be quenched by that spring of water gushing up to eternal life; our empty places can only be filled by God.
Lent is the time of year when we stop trying to mask our thirst, when we stop filling up our lives with all these things that won’t really meet our deepest need but will just leave us all the more thirsty. Lent is the time when we come face to face with the empty water jugs we all carry around. It’s the time when we take out all of the stuff with which we have tried to fill our emptiness and, instead, leave space for God.
So here are some questions for this day in Lent: Where is our deepest thirst, the place in us that cries out to be filled with God? What are the things we have tried to mask or fill that emptiness with, and what do we need to take out so that it can be filled with God?
Prayer of the Empty Water Jar, by Macrina Wiederkehr
Jesus, I come to the warmth of your Presence
knowing that You are
the very emptiness of God.
I come before You
holding the water jar of my life.
Your eyes meet mine
and I know what I’d rather not know.
I came to be filled
but I am already full.
I am too full.
This is my sickness
I am full of things
that crowd out
Your healing Presence.
A holy knowing steals inside my heart
and I see the painful truth.
I don’t need more
I need less
I am too full.
I am full of things that block out
Your golden grace.
I am smothered by gods of my own creation
I am lost in the forest of my false self
I am full of my own opinions and narrow attitudes
full of fear, resentment, control
full of self pity, and arrogance.
Slowly this terrible truth pierces my heart,
I am so full, there is no room for You.
Contemplatively, and with compassion,
You ask me to reach into my water jar.
One by one, Jesus, you enable me
to lift out the things
that are a hindrance to my wholeness.
I take each one to my heart,
I hear You asking me
“Why is this so important to you?”
Like the murmur of a gentle stream
I hear You calling,
“Let go, let go, let go!”
I pray with each obstacle
tasting the bitterness and grief
it has caused.
I sit with my empty water jar
I hear you whisper
You have become a space for God
Now there is hope
Now you are ready to be a channel of Life.
You have given up your own agenda
There is nothing left but God.
–From Seasons of the Heart (New York: HarperCollins, 1991) 32-33.