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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


27th February 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Lent III

The water supply here at St. Matthew's has always been something of a mystery. The water company always has difficulty in finding it. This has been true of both hall and vicarage. A water-diviner would have been more use.

That said we take our water supply for granted unless something goes wrong. In many parts of the world it is very different. Drought is an ever-present threat leading to crop failure and starvation. Obtaining water can often involve a long walk to a polluted, disease-ridden source.
With global warming and rising sea levels, drought and flooding is likely to become more widespread. It is said that future wars will be fought over water supplies, as water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity for many.

Already in the Holy Land the water level has dropped in both the Dead Sea and in the Sea of Galilee. This leads us to the references to water in today's OT and Gospel readings. Water in biblical times was never taken for granted; it was a life and death issue.

In the wilderness of Sin, Moses again faced a grumbling congregation. They had no water and soon started to quarrel. Once again slavery in Egypt seemed a happy memory. 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?' Fearing for his life Moses sought divine advice. He was told to strike the rock with his staff. The result was portrayed in all those fascinating Sunday school pictures of the water gushing forth from the rock. You always dreamed that you could do the same!

In the Gospel, Jesus in hostile Samaritan country comes to Jacob's well to quench his thirst. He thus becomes part of an everyday scene, people watering their animals and getting water for their own domestic needs, including the Samaritan women in the story. The ensuing encounter takes us beneath the mundane to the underlying human thirst that only Jesus can satisfy.

There are several layers here. There is the enmity between Jew and Samaritan and the gender divide between men and women more pronounced in traditional societies. There is religious difference and spiritual need. The dialogue centres on Jesus' offer to give the woman 'living water', water that satisfies for all time 'a spring of water gushing up to eternal life'. It is not water than can be drawn with a bucket from a deep well; rather it is a metaphor for what it means to be in a deep relationship with Jesus.

Somehow the meeting with Jesus led to the woman receiving the water of which he speaks. She was no stranger to relationships with men. She had had five husbands and was now living with a sixth man. It all sounds very modern. Ours is an age when many set great store in such relationships to the exclusion of all else. They usually fail to be satisfied and the relationships quickly break down to be replaced by yet more. As she spoke to Jesus the woman was brought to the point of realisation that something was lacking in her life, something that would make all the difference.

In a word it was God, whom the Jews worship in Jerusalem and the Samaritans on the mountain but who soon would be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Religious talk led the woman to express her vague belief in a future coming of the messiah. It is the kind of clumsy distancing from a deeper exploration of the Christian faith that we often witness. Now Jesus brings home his message. 'I am he, the one who is speaking to you.'

The remainder of the passage is somewhat ambiguous about the spiritual state of the woman. Did she fully accept what Jesus had to off? Did she change accepting salvation in repentance? Certainly her excited telling of the story had an impact on many others who came to believe themselves.

Today we live in a society that does not have to struggle for water or food. Both are there instantly as long as we can pay, although our infrastructure is vulnerable as the fuel protests revealed a few years ago. Behind the materialism of our age there is a spiritual restless and searching that manifests itself in many ways. On the whole most people don't look to the churches for satisfaction.

I can't help noting that in parts of the world where the essentials of life are scarce the churches are often flourishing. People who get water from dirty dried up wells know their basic needs and their deeper need of God. Many find it in Jesus Christ who is the living water.

Amen

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