Preached by Rev. Dr. Bruce Epperly onMarch 23, 2014
The other night I heard astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson echo the words of Carl Sagan, some four decades ago, “we are star stuff.” Tyson and Sagan are right; our origins are as old as the big bang and the formation of the Milky Way and our solar system. But, we are also water stuff: over 70% of the Earth’s surface is water; and 50-65% of our bodies is water, with the water content of infants being as high as 80%. If we don’t replenish our personal water supply, we become dehydrated, experience impaired intellectual functioning, and eventually die. We need water to keep our bodies alive; and we need living waters to keep us from becoming spiritually dehydrated.
In today’s reading, the Israelites find themselves in a midst of the desert with no water in sight. They’re ready to turn back, and return to the safe security of Egypt, where they were enslaved but at least could count on a regular water supply. The risk of freedom and adventure are too great and they want to return home to comfort the moment they are faced with challenges. Still, the ever-patient God responds to their anxieties, commanding Moses to strike a rock, and let the waters flow.
In the gospel reading Jesus is thirsty and tired, and he asks a Samaritan woman for help. Initially, I suspect, she’s awestruck by the request: after all, most Samaritans and Jews are not on speaking terms. Most Jews of Jesus’ time saw Samaritans as inferiors, who perverted the pure religion of God through intermarriage and failure to strictly follow the Laws of Moses. Moreover, they saw Samaritans as traitors, who abandoned Jerusalem, created a kingdom of their own in the 8th Century before Christ, with Samaria as its capital. Samaritans came to hate Jewish people, who as the Samaritans accurately believed, saw themselves as superior and condescending to their Samaritan brothers and sisters. In requesting water, Jesus crossed a well-fortified ethnic boundary.
Further, Jesus spoke a solitary woman. In the Middle East, male-female relationships are radically different than our own – you can still catch a glimpse of this in many Muslim and orthodox Jewish households – men and women simply don’t talk to each other unless they are married or closely related. Once again, Jesus crosses a well-established relational boundary. Further, this woman had been married numerous times and was living with a man apart from marriage. Jesus crossed ethical boundaries and social mores to greet her.
No doubt this unnamed woman is intrigued by Jesus: he defies social convention; but, when he accurately describes her marital situation, she is dumbfounded. She may even vaguely understand Jesus’ obscure comment, “those who the drink of the water I give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give them will become a spring gushing up to eternal life.”
We are surrounded by water here on the Cape but most of it isn’t potable. We need the living waters of ponds and lakes and streams, and with our aqueous environment mandates that we do everything we can here on the Cape to insure the protection of these waters, even if we must change our behaviors or construct adequate sewage disposal systems. Beyond that, there is a global water crisis: clean and fresh water may become the new oil, and the source of conflicts around the globe, and as Christians committed to seeing Christ in the least of these, we must do all we can to insure that every child – like our beloved church school children and our grandchildren – is insured healthy drinking water. As Jesus says, “whoever gives one of my little ones a cup of water will receive God’s eternal reward.”
But, there is another type of living water we seek. It is the water that refreshes the spirit. Like the ocean, it’s all around us, and necessary to our lives, but often we are spiritually parched. This water is all around us and nourishes us even when we aren’t imbibing it, but we need to tap into the everlasting supply of God’s spiritual waters to be truly refreshed.
I have a friend who is a dowser. He is asked from time to time to locate water for wells at farms and households. When he’s at work, he walks meditatively and slowly, feeling the slightest movement of the divining rod, a Y-shaped stick to discern where water might be found. When the divining rod dips, he believes that water is present, even if there is no visible sign of its presence.
Today’s scriptures invite us to become dowsers of the spirit. Beneath the surface, in every moment of life, God’s gentle providence is moving. It doesn’t compel; it invites. But, sometimes we need to seek it out.
How might we discover God’s living waters just below the surface of life? First, we can slow our pace, and pause to notice what’s all around us and what’s going on in our lives. Author Frederick Buechner invites us to “listen to our lives,” and we can do this through quiet prayer, meditation, and reading scripture. We can do it with our eyes closed or open.
Some dowsers, I am told, prepare for their work by asking a “yes” or “no” question: they believe the movement of the divining rod provides the answer they need. Dowsers of the spirit can do the same thing: we can regularly ask, “What would you like me to do in this situation? Where can I find help or insight?” or even “What would Jesus do?” God promises that all who ask will receive, all who seek will find, and all who knock will gain access to the wisdom and direction they need.
Finally, we can dowse for spirit signs in others: we can open our eyes to the needs of other people, those around us and those faraway. Jesus told us that we can see him in the least and the lost, and so we can open our senses to where God wants us to reach out to others. Jesus, like the prophets before him, knew that when you save a soul, you save the world.
Yes, there are living waters everywhere. Insight and wisdom are available everywhere. Let us become dowsers of the spirit, discovering God every step of our jo