From Scarcity to Gratitude

Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-15

I once had a friend who was a dowser.  He would walk across fields with his divining rod in quest of places to dig a well, and every so often he found something!  While the scientific accuracy of dowsing has been questioned, my friend would regularly discover water in unexpected places.  He believed that water was everywhere, you just had to know where to find it.

Today’s scriptures are about water.  Holy water is everywhere. We just need to open our senses and discover God’s resources for us even in the most arid times.  We can’t live without water, and when we’re thirsty, nothing beats cool, clear water.  Hydrating has even been found to combat colds, flu, and the current Coronavirus.

The Israelites were master whiners. God had delivered them from Egypt. They had seen wonders and yet you’re only as good as your last miracle. So, at the first challenge, they’re ready to call it quits.  All they see is desert.  They anticipate dying of thirst.  They even threaten Moses’ life.

God has been faithful every step of the way. God has freed them from captivity and is their companion. A promised land lies ahead for them but all they see is desert. They see themselves as alone, abandoned, and without resources.  They want to go home even though they would be slaves in Egypt. Slavery seems preferable to life in the wilderness. They’re willing to be humiliated and enslaved: at least, in slavery they had food and water.  Freedom is risky business and you never know what will happen next.

But God provides for them, for water was everywhere.  Moses strikes the stone and out it flows. They had everything they needed to flourish. But they lived by scarcity.

Could it be that here on Cape Cod we are not only surrounded by sea and pond, but also bountiful blessings ready to spring forth in our lives, if we get out our spiritual divining rods, and trust God’s abundance?

John’s gospel portrays an unexpected encounter. The day is hot and Jesus is thirsty, and he finds himself in the company of a solitary woman going about her daily chores.  

Water doesn’t mean much to us. When I get up, I touch a button on my refrigerator and there’s water for my first glass and to fill the coffee pot. I don’t think twice when I do my laundry, turn on the dishwasher, wash my hands, or take a shower. But, my experience and yours is exceptional in the history of humankind, and in parts of the world people still  carry huge jars, often on their heads, for miles to get the day’s water supply.  Water is the stuff of life, we can’t live without it, and climate change threatens millions of people  with water shortages, and water rationing may be part of grandchildren’s future.  Can you imagine being surrounded by water and having nothing to drink? 

In his encounter at the well, Jesus is breaking down barriers once more.  We take these things for granted: he’s talking with a woman, a foreigner, something that no religious leader or Jew would ever do without contaminating himself spiritually, but he is thirsty and she’s right there beside him.  And, she is willing to talk to him and serve a male outside her community and family, and that will ruin her reputation as well.

We don’t know her story. She has a history, and is no doubt looked down upon or pitied because she’s outlived several husbands and hasn’t gotten around to marry the man she’s living with now.   

But she is a seeker, she wants more out of life than just the basics.  She wants more out of religion than words and rules; she wants to experience God. She asks Jesus questions.  She wants to know about living water, about finding something that will satisfy her deepest needs.  So, she is willing to cross boundaries to seek the truth.  She knows the neighbors will be gossiping, but when new life is on the horizon, you’re willing to put your reputation at risk.  She wants living waters.  She wants to quench not only her dry throat. She wants to experience life in its fullness, something only God can provide.

We need Living Waters, too.  We need spiritual replenishment.  Water is all around us but we still thirst.  Give us living waters, Holy One!

We can’t fault either the Israelites or the woman at the well.  We wonder if we have enough, not so much water, but energy, talent, giftedness, financial resource, or possibilities for the future. We wonder if we’ll make it through the Coronavirus pandemic. Each of us is unique with unique issues.  Each of our thirsts requires a slightly different spiritual beverage and for us the quest is serious.

I often use my sermon writing as an opportunity to question myself.  What am I thirsting for?  Where do I need refreshment?  I have plenty of water and enough resources, financially and in terms of gifts.  I live in a lovely home with people I love, spend time as a pastor with people I respect and have grown to love, and then there are the grands, their parents, and my other professional adventures as a writer and teacher. But I worry about the water running dry. Don’t you sometimes?

What if I can’t write anymore? What if the right words elude me?  What if I can’t walk along the beach due to health issues? What if I find myself debilitated?  What if I catch the Coronavirus?  What will I do with my days if I lose the desire to study, write, and teach?  Who will  I be when I retire?  These are questions that make me thirsty. They are real questions for me, and you have your own too.

We wonder about this as a church.  Will we have the resources in talent and treasure, in numbers, to carry on a decade from now?  Will we  be able to continue the good work that is emerging now – homeless ministries, programs for children and adults, green spirituality, and a place welcoming to all God’s children?  We wonder what difference the  current suspension of services will make?

Abundance and scarcity are a matter of reality, but also perception. You can have all the resources you need and feel like you’re all alone and have nothing to work with.  

I believe that Living Waters are here at South Congregational Church.  Our future ministry can take many shapes and we need to trust God’s guidance. God has given us so many gifts and possibilities that when we – like Moses – strike the rock, the water will flow to nourish us,  quench the thirsts of children, fill the cups of vulnerable people and satisfy those ostracized because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and poverty.  The water is here, enough for everyone.  Enough to continue our legacy of 225 years and explore possibilities our founding parents couldn’t have imagined.

God, give us your living waters.  God fill our cups, so that they will never run dry. God give us jars and jugs to share – quenching the spiritual thirsts of our neighborhood, refreshing the forgotten, and going forth across the globe, so that others can rejoice in wells built and lives well lived.  Thanks be to the Living Waters.