Always changing, always flowing – Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, on John 4

The gospel of John is deceptively simple. Even the language of John’s gospel is simple, but it belies something much deeper going on. John uses a series of signs through his gospel to demonstrate that Jesus is both a true human being, but also fully God. Likewise, throughout John’s gospel, there are many discourses, or conversations, where Jesus makes hugely significant statements about himself. These statements of course have an impact on us, on our lives. Because what Jesus does and what Jesus says is done for us. We must always remember that—for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven. Everything Jesus does is according to the will of God who sent Jesus to reconcile us, to bring us back to the good design for life that God first envisioned.

And so it’s speaking about all this that John sets about in his gospel, and he sets about to make it simple to understand. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of what he says into thinking that it’s effortless or undemanding. A life of faith is one lived intentionally and aware of the challenges, aware of the cost, aware of the sacrifice to calling ourselves disciples of Jesus. This is what John sets out to convey to us, in simple terms, but nonetheless in terms that highlight the intensity and dedication faith by its very nature demands.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

What I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing. Some rivers move fast, over rocks creating rapid white water and others just meander along. But even the slowest moving river is by its very nature moving. And that moving water carries all sorts of things with it—silt, pebbles, sand, leaves, branches, boats…

Rivers are going somewhere, doing something…lively and on the move.

Stagnant water on the other hand is…stagnant. The water stands still. It’s not moving. It’s dull. Stagnant water can grow foul, even contaminated because it’s stood still and nothing moves it along. When I was kid, Grandma warned me about drinking stagnant water out of the rain barrels out back of the house. Bugs like mosquitos lay eggs in the stagnant water and drinking it could make you sick. Stagnant water can even take on a dirty color from standing too long, the very opposite of crystal clear water crashing over rocks in the mountain streams that my dad, sister, and I would drink from when we’d go out in the woods on Sunday afternoons growing up. Rivers, full of lively water on the move, stand in stark contrast to stagnant water that’s dead still and potentially could even make you sick if you drank it.

The same can be said about our own lives.

Lives lived in Jesus are busy, active, doing something, going somewhere.

Lives thirsting for God are stagnant, at risk of becoming foul and contaminated by everything and anything that draws us away from God.

Jesus invites us to drink of his living water—water that is alive, doing something…gushing up within us.

Today Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. It’s a pretty lengthy interaction, with Jesus and the woman, the woman and the townspeople, Jesus and his disciples…A lot is going on. But let’s just focus on a small portion of this story today—Jesus and the woman. In particular, the very first exchange between the woman and Jesus.

He asks her for a drink. She’s taken aback, for various reasonable-by-the-times reasons. But Jesus presses her and tells her if she knew who was asking for a drink, she wouldn’t have questioned him further, but instead would’ve asked him for a drink—a drink of living water to boot. She’s still not quite sure what Jesus is talking about. She asks him if he’s greater than their ancestor Jacob and all his sons who built this well. To that, Jesus tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,”—that is, the water of the well built by Jacob—“but those who drink of the water that I will give them,” Jesus says, “will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Now Jesus has the woman’s attention. But she’s still considering what Jesus is saying from an everyday perspective, when Jesus is speaking of something far greater. So the conversation moves on. Finally, when Jesus reveals he knows her, and her situation, including everything about her past, her eyes are opened and she understands who he is. He is the messiah, the one to come from God and reveal all things. She goes off and tells everyone who will listen about her encounter. Her life is changed. She’s encountered living water. She drank. And she’s been satisfied. And she’s gushing to tell everyone all about it.

We Christians live lives that are different than the rest of the world. Or at least we confess that we do. Our lives are different because of Jesus and what he means to us. Jesus changes the way that we look at everything in our lives. Jesus fills our lives with love, and St. John tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” We often think the opposite of having faith in Jesus, or having faith in God is doubting or finding it difficult to believe, but what’s really the opposite of faith is fear. Faith in Jesus, faith in God is the solid belief that all things work together for good for those who love God—even when we don’t understand right now what the future holds. Faith goes forward in the conviction that no matter what happens to us, God is with us, that God gets us. Will it always be easy? No. Will we make mistakes? Yes. Will God be with us easy, hard, right, or wrong? Absolutely. This is most certainly true.

It’s for this reason that we don’t sit still as Christians and just idle away. We use our relationship with God in Jesus, we live into it, we live it out. A relationship with God that doesn’t venture forward is as useless as stagnant water, and just as potentially foul, contaminated, and even deadly. “For just as the body without breath is dead,” writes St. James, “so faith without action is also dead.”

A life of faith is active, moving, chugging along, always changing, always flowing. You can’t step into the same moment of faith twice. A life of faith is one that does something—not merely for ourselves but for the sake of God’s greater glory in Jesus. A believer in Jesus who doesn’t do anything with their faith risks becoming contaminated by anxiety and worries, fears and suspicions. One who drinks of Jesus’ living water, a disciple, takes chances, works for the good, trusting the best intentions of those with the same purpose. One who drinks of Jesus’ living water is patient and kind. A disciple of Jesus isn’t envious, arrogant, or rude, but instead helps and supports all people in their needs. A disciple filled with Jesus’ living water comes to people’s defense, speaks well of them, and interprets everything they do in the best possible light. A disciple of Jesus leads a pure and decent life in word and deed and loves others.

Such a life is only possible without fear, but with trust in God’s promise, a promise that down through the ages has proven itself steadfast—“All things work together for God for those who love God.” When we were in bondage in Egypt, God delivered us. When we wandered around the wilderness, complaining for thirst, God provided water from the rock. When we forgot God’s faithfulness and went our own way, relying on the wisdom of the world and our own understanding, God brought us back through the prophets. When we were dead and sin, removed from the life that God first envisioned for us with him and all the world, God himself came into our lives in Jesus, and lived with us, and died for us so that we’d come to believe that we aren’t going alone, that God truly doesn’t abandon us. When the church forgot its way and started selling God’s forgiveness and entry to heaven, God once more reignited faithful people through the Holy Spirit and returned us to the centrality of the promise in Jesus—nothing will separate us from the love of God in Jesus. When even recently disease, sickness, and death took over our lives and separated us from each other, and from this very house of worship, God brought us through and held us together as we had to rethink what it means to be God’s presence in this place, in this time. When this very building was overtaken by flames, water, and smoke and reduced to ashes and debris, God was faithful to us, and to the name we bear, Emanuel, God with us, and brought us through to where we are today.

But we didn’t stop living lives that trusted in God’s promise, the promise that all things work together for God for those who love God, even when we didn’t know what the end would look like. We didn’t sit on our hands, waiting for some miracle. We did something. We went forward, even when we weren’t sure. The Holy Spirit breathed life into us and pushed us forward, as wind blowing over the face of water.

We don’t necessarily know what the future holds for us, but we know who holds the future for us. Time and again, God has proven faithful. Our test is whether we trust him at his word going forward, as life inevitably changes around us. Sometimes the change comes slowly, gradually like a meandering river. Other times it moves fast, demands we make quick decisions. But through it all, do we truly believe God is with us?

If the past is any indicator of the future, then absolutely. God is with us. This is most certainly true.

And so since if we say that we love God, we cannot fear what the future holds, for perfect love casts out all fear. We cannot both love God and fear the future. Having a spring of water gushing up to eternal life within us means a life that is always changing, always flowing, carrying with it God’s love that changes the world, that cleanses us and everyone who encounters it from all sin and unrighteousness, washes us from whatever would separate us from the full, endless life as God wants for us. This is no ordinary water, but the water of eternal life. We trust this water to carry us beyond the greatest unknown riverbend from this life into the next, and so let us even now trust this same water to gush up within us, fill us with love—for God, for one another, for creation, and for ourselves—that we continue moving forward living lives that give glory to God in all we do.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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