Text: John 4
Date: Lent III + 3/27/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Once again we have seen the power, the destructive power of water in the Tsunami that followed the great earthquake in Japan. Acres of land were erased of the rickety structures of life, wiped out like so much straw, and thousands of lives were drowned out, just gone. Then the giant wave traveled thousands of miles causing destruction even on the other side, “our side” of the ocean. Just the consideration of that demonstration of power should make us look again in awe at the account of the very beginning of creation when the “stuff,” the formless void, the “nothing” out of which everything was created was called in Genesis “the deep” or “the waters.” In this sense all life comes from water and without water is death.
So this isn’t just a metaphor to continue to talk about water this Sunday at Jacob’s well. We have followed Jesus after His baptism into the desert wilderness of temptation. We have heard the call to repent of our sin and joined the fight against the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Then, when approached at night by a leader of the Pharisees, Jesus spoke about the necessity of being born again by water and the Spirit. As the nighttime conversation with Nicodemus reminded us of the spiritual darkness of our fallen nature, so now the conversation about living water with a woman of Samaria reminds us of our continual need of daily repentance and faith to quench our spiritual thirst. In Jesus’ conversation with this woman we are drawn to confess our own need.
Once again, as with Nicodemus, and as with each of us, Jesus is the One who starts the conversation. He directs his initial request for a drink of water to an invitation to the woman to receive from Him “living water.” Again, as with Nicodemus, the woman can only think in terms of this world, of regular, plain, physical water. And so again we need to reiterate the unresponsiveness or spiritual ignorance of our fallen nature until it is enlightened by God. As St. Paul describes this spiritual diagnosis, “the natural person (without God’s Spirit) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). “Living water?” the woman wonders. It sounds silly. “Where do you get that ‘living water’?”
Jesus answers. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Clearly Jesus is talking about a different kind of water, a water greater than at creation, a water of a new creation to eternal life! The water is “living” because of the activity of God the Holy Spirit creating faith and working His gifts in you.
But as soon as we say, “Yes. Sir. Give me this water,” the hammer of the Law comes down again. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Though we try we can’t weasel our way out of it, out of honestly confessing what is dead in us, our sin and confusion and need. The woman is an adulteress having “gone through” five husbands and still trying out number six! Now I know these days that doesn’t sound like such a shocking thing any more with people “trying out” partners as if they’re looking for the most comfortable pair of shoes; and when one pair is too tight or too loose or irritating in any way, you just throw them away or trade them in for a different pair. These days even the concept or definition of what marriage is suffers sinful debate, redefinition or even disqualification as a valid institution. But here again comes the call to repentance of sin. You see, even for the baptized you’re not there yet. Yes you will sin again after baptism. But this does not undo or negate your baptism. And you don’t have to redo or be baptized again. Baptism is God’s Word, covenant and action, and God doesn’t go back on His Word. We, on the other hand, return to God’s baptismal promise every day of our lives in daily repentance and faith. You have learned from the little catechism that baptism:
indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Daily means daily, over and over again, because, as long as we live in this fallen world, a Christian is a sinner who has been declared a saint, but is both at the same time, daily, every day until That Day of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. So get used to it…confessing your sins, that is, and daily receiving God’s forgiveness.
Now, I’m not going to go into the detail of the remainder of the woman’s discussion with Jesus, whether she is just trying to change the subject again or whether she really wants to engage in the debate between Samaritans and Jews and places of worship. Either way, she expresses Messianic hope when she says, “I know that Messiah is coming…. When he comes, he will tell us all things,” to which Jesus finally reveals plainly to her, “I who speak to you am he.” So you have come to Jesus and now hear Him say to you, “I am the Messiah, the Christ, your Savior,” and in His speaking, at His Word, faith is born, or rather the gift of faith bears you into the fellowship of the family of God.
This faith, then, is an active, living thing. The woman gave testimony, told her acquaintances, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did,” and many were drawn through her testimony. So be ready for this also, that faith not only believes but confesses Jesus Christ before the world. In various times and places such a confession may be gladly received. At other times or places it will be ignored or rejected. And at still other times or places it may be actively persecuted and you may be, as the Lord has said, “dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:17-20). But then, you knew that, right? You do remember when you began this journey how the Lord said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).
You have come this far on our Lenten journey and have heard the truth: the truth about your fallen, sinful, spiritually dark nature apart from God; the truth about the need for daily repentance of sin and faith in Christ; the truth that God works through the preaching of His Word and the administration of the sacraments of Christ; the truth that conversion means enlightenment and new, eternal life. You’ve come a long way. But you’re not ready yet, not ready for Easter. There are two more witnesses. One used to be blind but will tell you what he now sees. The other, believe it or not, used to be dead but was raised to life. You will be ready for Easter when you learn what it means to die, to be crucified with Christ and to be raised to new life. Let that be enough for now.