Life-Giving Water...Not So Mysterious”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 19, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 95; John 4:5-19


    In our lesson this morning we have another look at how Jesus was slowly moving away from the ritualistic boundaries established by Judaism.  Jesus never intentionally pulled the religious rug out from under the feet of his listeners.   He merely began to preach and teach a different message that he often personally demonstrated. 

    One afternoon Jesus found himself alone while sitting by Jacob's well.  His disciples had gone into town to purchase some supplies.  A woman came to the well to draw water.  Immediately a race issue surfaced.  Jesus asked her if she would give him a drink.  She said, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.  I cannot give you a drink of water.  You know the rules between our people."   

    Jesus responded with an intriguing remark. He said, "Anyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but if people drink of the water that I will give them, they will never be thirsty again." She was a streetwise and strong-willed woman who knew immediately that Jesus was speaking metaphorically.

    She pretended that she did not understand the obvious double meaning of Jesus' words.  She said, "Give me that water so that I won't be thirsty anymore nor will I have to come here to draw water."  Jesus said, "Get your husband, come back and I will teach you."  She said, "I don't have a husband."  Jesus said, "You are correct. You have had five husbands and your current live-in companion is number six."

    The entire drama goes on for many more verses that were not included in what Linda read.  The woman left and returned with more Samaritans.  When the disciples returned from their shopping they found a scene that was shocking.  Jesus was teaching a group of Samaritans, people that had remained racially invisible to the Jews for many years. 

    Three departures from Judaism emerged from this encounter.  1)  Jesus included non-Jews with his universal message.  2) Jesus was teaching that God's creative spirit was engaging people wherever they were in life.  3)  Jesus was demonstrating his compassion for a woman who was missing-the-mark with her life-choices.  To Jews, she would have been labeled a sinner.  Samaritans, however, played by different rules.

    What was Jesus offering the Samaritan woman?  John's Gospel gave readers a hint. The woman had been married five times, an extraordinary occurrence even among Samaritans.  Her marriages failed and she was working on her sixth relationship.  Among the Jews, men could get divorced, but not so for women.  However, she was in command of her relationships.  Again, Samaritans had different rules from those of the Jews.

    What happens when we make observations about the worthiness of people? We tend to be looking for flaws and incompatibilities.

    Suppose we give these husbands various flaws.  The first husband was so self-absorbed that he did not care if she lived or died.  The second husband constantly had an eye for other women.  The third husband was far too controlling and she felt smothered. The fourth husband had three passions: sex, eating and sleeping. He could not hold a job. The fifth husband was an absolute dud -- no personality, no motivation and no common sense.  Man number six was still being evaluated.

    The water that Jesus wanted her to experience was not a liquid. He could have asked:

What did you bring to each of your relationships?  Who wants to marry a judge, jury and executioner?  You are looking for someone to make you happy, secure and loved. No one can give you those feelings. They are yours to develop.  Did you ever give to them the qualities that you wanted them to express to you?

    Some years ago Lois and I traveled to Charleston, West Virginia where I performed a marriage ceremony for one of my friends and his fiancée. The bride's father was an important politician and he had spared no expense for the marriage of his only daughter.  

    In terms of food, the reception was beyond anything that we had ever experienced. There was everything from a large punch bowl filled with shelled jumbo shrimp on chopped ice, to numerous carving stations. This celebration was a wonderful conclusion to what had been a magical courtship.

    After a storybook romance and marriage, within two years Camelot crumbled and the pair divorced. What may have happened is that both of them had given to the other an assignment that was impossible to fulfill.  When couples write their own wedding vows, their words are often very revealing. The bride wrote:

Michael, I want you to be my husband with all my heart. You make me laugh.  You always seem to know what I am thinking. You fill my life with love and thoughtfulness. You complete me.  I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.  Thank you for loving me.

    While these words may sound innocent and loving, when such words are decoded all of them spell neediness on the part of the bride.  Neediness is a bottomless pit of fears that no one can fill.  When Michael could no longer deal with her constant need for reassurance that he loved her, he had to leave the marriage to preserve his sanity.  

    Everyday Michael experienced comments like, "Who was that on the phone?  Why would someone be sending to you a 'thinking of you card'?  Why are you coming home so late after work? You should have called me so I would not worry."  Marriage counseling did not work.   

    The same response can occur with anything that we idealize and trust will bring us to an island of happiness, comfort and security.

    How many times do we hear people talking about the joy, pleasure and happiness that will be theirs after they retire? They say to themselves:

When that time comes, we will travel anywhere we want to go.  We will finally be free from the expectations of others.  We will be free from obligations. No one will be asking us for more accountability. No more meetings. No more flights around the world to attend conferences.  We have worked hard during our lives and planned well financially for our retirement.  Retirement will give us the opportunity to live at our own pace.

    When people put a period at the end of their productive years, often that period casts a wide shadow over everything else.  What makes people happy is their productivity and not the freedom they are idealizing.   Divorce is so high among retirees that it has been nicknamed the gray divorce rate.

    A vibrant, spontaneous life that lives by unbridled enthusiasm does not come as a result of anything happening in their external world.  It does not come because of accumulated wealth or being a recipient of numerous awards for meritorious service. 

    People often have shrines in their homes of past accomplishments. The walls of their favorite room are filled with pictures of them with the Queen, or breaking ground for our new airport, doctoral degrees and certificates of their being The Employee of The Century.  Shrines are for those who prefer to look back on their successes and accomplishments.

    Vibrant spirits continue to look for the next adventure where they can be helpful and supportive in some capacity.  The spirit within is the source of the water that Jesus was offering the woman at the well.

    The greatest example in history of someone who had everything except what fame and fortune could not supply was King Solomon.  Living gave him no peace, no sense of gratitude, and very little to celebrate.

    King Solomon had over one thousand wives and concubines. (I Kings 11:3)  He had wealth that was beyond comprehension. The Scriptures reveal he measured his wealth by tons of gold and silver. (I Kings 10:14)  He had more power than any king in the ancient world. Yet, his mind was filled with dark thoughts. He wrote:

What is so unfair about life is that people who did nothing with their lives have the same destiny that I will face. What have I gained with all my wisdom?  We must all die, the wise and foolish alike.  Nothing in my life has any meaning to me. Having lived my life has been a useless effort and a waste of time. I have spent my entire time chasing the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:15f)

    There are a lot of people in the world today who have never encountered a teacher like Jesus who knew his way round the inner world of people, a world that many people have never accessed.  If no one shows up in their lives to teach them about their inner well, they will remain unaware of the endless supply of life-giving water that will flow from it. 

    However, depressed people will never come alive because someone tells them that joy, happiness and enthusiasm for living are their responsibilities.  Even though no one can provide those qualities of life, such people suffering from depression need a teacher that supports their journey to their well.   

    Solomon must have had no one who understood what was happening to him.  He felt profoundly alone and isolated on his perch where admiration from others, women, money and power came toward him non-stop.  Yet, nothing from his material world could erase his sense of hopelessness and dread.

    When he composed Ecclesiastes, Solomon was so close to understanding but he could not connect the dots that would have formed a meaningful portrait of his life.  He had developed a wise and highly polished ethical life but for all of his wisdom, he had little else to support his mental health.        

    Solomon knew the God of his ancestors, but his understanding of God was that of a War-god who was known to be very moody and judgmental while demanding obedience to a lot of rules from his chosen people. This was the God that the Hebrews felt they had to please. Listen again to the end of the Psalm that Linda read for us.  God is speaking:

For forty years I was angry with the generation that wandered in the wilderness.  They were always complaining. I said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.'  I declare an oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my peace.'  (Palm 95:8f)

    We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to be terrorized by such a deity. People felt driven by fear as the source of their spiritual life. Not only did Jesus bring a completely different understanding of God, but Jesus also taught where God could be found -- within us, a place where Solomon never looked. This was the place Jesus was pointing to when he met the woman at the well.

    Perhaps it was such a fear-driven understanding of God that drove Solomon to seek comfort, compassion and love from the goddess Astarta. (I Kings 11:5).  Astarta did not have testosterone flowing through her veins as did the Hebrew God. She offered Solomon what he had sought all his life -- understanding, acceptance and a sense of peace.  In gratitude, he built several temples.  (I Kings 11:7)

    Ten centuries later, Jesus would reveal such a spirit coming from the loving nature of God.  Perhaps it was this more authentic spirit that came to Solomon in a female form.  Perhaps because of the form in which God came to Solomon, he finally connected the dots by his recognition that a loving God had been with him every step of his life.

    All things are possible for God.  God's life-giving water can be discovered within anyone at any time by encountering the divine presence that can assume any form that a person might understand. God meets people where they are. We are the ones who have been conditioned to think of God in masculine terms.  

    During our Lenten walk, let us celebrate with gratitude the source of the life-giving water that Jesus offered to the woman and her friends at Jacob's well. Because of the time in which we live and our evolution of thought, today we are blessed to have an understanding of God and the created order that far exceeds those of our ancestors.  We are the ones who have to draw our own water from our well within.  Let us drink with joy.



Thank you God, that during our Lenten walk we are directed to examine our thoughts. During moments of regret, help us to remember the times when we gave our love away.  When we dwell on our shortcomings, remind us of the difference that we have made in other people's lives. When we feel sorry for ourselves, guide us to find a place where we can make a difference in someone’s life. How wonderful are your ways. Yet, too often we take detours around our faith by thinking that many painful experiences are all mountains. We forget our role of being a light in darkness. Help us to leave the outcome of our efforts up to you just as Jesus did. Amen.



Thank you, God, for these moments during Lent when we continue our reflection on the direction and quality of our lives.  We are so aware of the many aspects within us that still remain unrefined.  We can always say words that are filled with patience and understanding while our frustrations with others linger in our inner world.  We want to grow and yet it is so difficult to move beyond the responses that we have spent years creating.  We believe that we can delay our initial responses to life’s inconveniences and irritations but we seldom follow through.  Help us to recognize the emotional drivers in our lives that cause us to reflect a less than loving spirit.  It is only then that we will realize that others have control over our peace.

As we travel from one experience to the next, help us to remember our Lenten discoveries that will allow us to enhance the quality of all our relationships.  Lead us to discover the joy of being happy because we have learned how better to manage our fears.  Doubts and failures are often necessary steps toward a stronger faith. Inspire us to remember that the mountains we create are always opportunities for us to polish our skills at climbing. 

The world is a complicated maze but we are blessed with the compass that Jesus’ guidance has provided.  Inspire the spirit living within us to remain sensitive and compassionate in spite of the emotional costs to ourselves. This is what Jesus pointed to throughout his ministry. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .