Rocherty UMC March 19th, 2023
Seven Words: “Drink Deep” Sermon Manuscript
Isaiah 55:1-2; John 4:1-13; John 7:33-39; John 19:28-29

                    I read of a legend of an old man who had lost his way in the desert country and found himself miles away from civilization with nothing to drink. By now his thirst was painful, agonizing even. In the distance he saw what looked like a ramshackle hut so he trod his way there. He knocked at the door and found no answer. He looked in the windows and saw no one. He walked around the property and eventually he found a rusty old well pump. Try as he may he could not get any water to come out of the pump. It was after several such efforts that the man saw a clay jug not far off complete with a cork and a note attached to it. The note read simply “you must prime the pump first.”  The man was baffled—and sorely tempted. It was obvious that this jug contained water—water needed to prime the pump—but also water needed desperately to satisfy his thirst. What would he do?
          Thirst, as we’ve all experienced, is one of our prime motivators in life. The sensation of bodily thirst is part of the good way that God has made us. It tells us that our body is starting to lack the necessary balance in our cells and that more water is needed to maintain the balance that is vital for optimum functioning. We know that taking a long drink of cool water is often enough to satisfy our thirst. We also know that there are some things we can do to make our thirst greater—like using too much salt. We also know that sometimes medical conditions, like diabetes, can present themselves with symptoms of excessive thirst. So, in a way, thirst is one of our body’s early warning systems for trouble—a good way that God has created us indeed.
          But there are some kinds of thirst that just can’t seem to be satisfied. And, as we heard in today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus is at just such a point in his life. Jesus has been arrested. He’s been the victim of several sham trials in front of the Jewish leadership and then Pontius Pilate. He’s been sentenced to be crucified. But first he was beaten to within an inch of his life. And then without further ado he was nailed to the cross.
          Medical scientists who have studied the process of crucifixion tell us that it was extremely likely that on the cross Jesus was undergoing the process modern medical science calls “shock.” When the body is in shock, the normal processes of life simply don’t work correctly. Everything goes haywire as the body desperately tries to preserve itself from near certain death. And an acute thirst can be one sign of shock. So it’s not surprising that Jesus expresses this acute thirst as one of his last words from the cross.
          As any of us know, thirst can be intense. Thirst, if left to itself can lead us to do some strange things. And now Jesus faces a crossroads. He is offered a drink of sour wine on a sponge of hyssop. Intriguingly, only in John’s gospel do we find this particular part of the crucifixion story. In the other gospels, Jesus is offered a sponge filled with myrhh—what many scholars think is someone’s compassionate way of trying to ease Jesus’ agony because myrhh has some pain-killing properties. But here in John, Jesus is simply offered a drink of the common people—not quite wine but not quite vinegar either—wine that was just slightly off from normal. And Jesus takes the wine.
          We do not know if this small sip of the drink of the common folk satisfied Jesus’ longings, he does not say, the gospels remain silent. But what we do know is that this simple act by one of the bystanders was meant to fulfill prophecy. The Gospel writers show us how Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection fill out the meaning of many of the passages of the Old Testament. And here, Jesus’ being offered sour wine fulfills a passage from Psalm 69 in which the psalmist writes that his enemies only give him sour wine to drink.
          It is very ironic to me that Jesus himself suffers thirst in his last moments. Why do I think that it’s ironic? Well, I think that it’s ironic because all throughout his ministry Jesus made it his aim to satisfy the needs of other people. To the hungry he gave food. To the thirsty he gave water. To the sick he provided healing. To the blind he gave sight. And even to the dead he gave new life. And yet, whan he is in his hour of need there was no one to give him what he needed…
          But let’s look over those two other passages from John today that we heard this morning. These are famous passages, and rightly so, and they show Jesus as the satisfier of every longing of the human heart—not just physical thirst, but spiritual thirst as well.
          Our first passage simply goes by “The story of the woman at the well.” So famous is this story that we think we know what’s going on. But do we? Do we really understand?
          First thing I want us to notice is how unusual this confrontation is. Jesus a Jew and a lone Samaritan woman come together and have a conversation. This was taboo for both of them. The Samaritan thought that Jews were not worth the time of day, that they had abandoned proper worship of God. And the Jews thought that the Samaritans were half-breeds, hardly worthy of the time of day.
          But here in this story we find that with Jesus, something different had happened. When the woman shows shock that a Jewish man should ask her for a drink Jesus doesn’t get indignant—instead he finds a way to engage in conversation—to prolong the encounter and to raise the woman’s curiosity with the metaphor of living water.
          Living water was a common expression for water that moved along in streams and rivers. We’ve all seen ponds where the water was green, murky, and stagnant. Jesus and his first hearers would have known bodies of water like this too. By contrast, moving water, literally “living water” in Hebrew and Greek, was water that was safe to drink because it kept moving in its course in streams and rivers. The agitation of the water over the riverbeds and streambeds kept it safe to drink.
          Jesus offers this woman living water to drink—a drink that would permanently satisfy her thirst. And she is uncertain of what to make of this man. He seems to be speaking in riddles. And so they get into a conversation that intriguingly flows onward to the topic of worship—something that divides Jews and Samaritans—even to this day. Jews worshipped in Jerusalem and the Samaritans on Mt. Gerazim. Jesus cuts through this and simply tells her that one day all would worship in Spirit and in truth.
          And later in the story, after our reading for today is finished, Jesus confronts the personal hurts of this woman. You see, this woman has been treated very unfairly by history—mostly written by men by the way. Jesus finds out that this woman has had five husbands and that the man she is with now is not her husband. And many (mostly male) Bible interpreters have seen in this woman some kind of indecency—she’s a harlot because she jumps from husband to husband like some people hop from job to job.
          But there’s a problem with that interpretation. It was not very easy—though possible of course—for a woman to initiate divorce in this time. Divorce was mostly a male prerogative. So, for this woman to have had five husbands meant one of two things had happened. Either all of her husbands had died or that she had been caught in a horrid system of patriarchy and she was passed around from male to male to male to male to male through their heardheartedness or worse, their lust. So, you see, our woman is not the perpetrator of crimes or sins but rather the victim of the sins or misfortunes of others.
          And Jesus knows that. Jesus sees in this woman the beauty of the human soul that lies within. He talks to her. He hears her life story. He hears, even without the words being said the thirst for life, for stability, for healing that exudes from this woman’s character. And he offers her water—living water—spiritual sustenance for the journey of life. And she drinks. She drinks with both hands as she places her faith in Jesus as the Messiah her people had been waiting for.
          And she becomes one of Jesus’ first non-Jewish apostles. She goes back to the village of Sychar gathers all the people together, shares the story of Jesus. And many people in that village came to faith in Christ through the word of a woman they had scorned as an outcast. A woman they had ostracized as one of the damaged goods of society had now become the herald of their Savior and Lord.
          But it wasn’t just to the non-Jewish folks that Jesus offered this living water. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry was primarily to Israel. And in John 7 we find Jesus celebrating the great feast of Dedication. Now today, when Jewish folks celebrate this feast they simply call it “Hannukah.” It was a celebration of the miracle of the lights when the oil lasted far longer than it should have and a day the Temple was rededicated after having been desecrated by pagan sacrifice.
          And at this festival, Jesus drew deep on his body of Bible knowledge and told the people that yet another fulfillment of prophecy was at hand. You see in the later chapters of Ezekiel, the prophet promised that one day living water would gush forth from the Temple in Jerusalem to quench the thirst of the Israelites in captivity. We’ve already seen that Jesus has clarified that this living water metaphor was not about real water but about spiritual blessings. And so, in his very self, Jesus is now offering those at the Temple for the feast of Dedication a chance to slake their spiritual thirst—to come buy food and drink without price, through and in him.
          And yet we know that when he came to his own, most of those he spoke to—even some he healed and fed and satisfied other physical needs ultimately rejected him. They had their hunger satisfied their thirst slaked—for a moment. Because they only took part of the gift that Jesus offered. They took the physical water but not the spiritual water. They took the bread but not the living bread. And so, some of those that received from Jesus the miracles of earthly life were some of the same ones that urged his death when he failed to live up to their own messianic expectations.
          And so, we’re now back to the cross. Back to the moments just before Jesus passed from this life to be with the Father. Once again, we should not view this moment as the Father taking the life of the Son. Instead, we should be reminded of the words of Jesus himself earlier in John: No one takes my life. I give it freely.” And how about this: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Father and the Son offered Jesus as a gift in sacrifice not as a victim of punishment.
          And what was the effect of this gift? Too many to describe really. But among those was the ability—through the power of the Holy Spirit—to satisfy the longings of the soul. Friends, there is good cause for us as people of God to satisfy the physical needs of people—to offer water, food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it. But we fail in our duty if we merely tend after their physical needs and don’t do the hard work of helping them out of the situations that cause them to be in need in the first place.
          And this hard work often has some very heavy spiritual lifting involved. Folks in deep poverty have often been through some deep trauma to go with it. Either through the actions of others or their own, it doesn’t matter really, they have experienced the worst life has had to offer—just like the woman at the well—and they need the type of healing and living water that only Jesus can provide. And like that same woman, it’s up to us to provide them with that living water—to share the love of Jesus with them—the love of God that will not let them go if they just accept it.
          But in order to offer that gift to others, we first need to satisfy our own hunger and thirst. We cannot invite others into a healthy and life giving relationship with the Lord if we aren’t living into that same kind of relationship ourselves. That would be like a nurse trying to treat patients while losing blood herself. She might heal a few but quickly her own loss of blood would render her out of service.
          So, as we go through our Lenten journey this year, I ask you to consider your own spiritual longings. Your own thirst. Have you taken the drink from the living waters—the spiritual resources that only God through Christ and the Spirit can offer to you? And if you have, do you keep yourself well-stocked with resources?
          If you haven’t, there is good news. Like our man at the pump, you only need to prime that pump to get the water flowing again. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading Scripture, attending Bible study, participating in service to others—these will prime the pump of that deep spiritual relationship you need to never go thirst again. May we, as God’s people live as people who are satisfied. May we live as people of the filled cup—knowing that through Christ, our every longing is satisfied. Amen.