Water of Life
Both our Hebrew scripture and our gospel lesson this morning have water at the heart of their story: the miracle of water coming from a rock at the command of Moses (with a little help from God) in Exodus, and the living water Jesus talks about with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well in the gospel according to John.
The water from a rock could be literal, and with a little imagination, could also be symbolic, but the living water of John’s gospel is clearly metaphorical, at least, it is to me.
We all know how important water is to life on earth: very few living things can exist without water for very long. Humans are made of 55-60% water, and can only survive about 3 days without it. Too little water leads to dehydration, and possibly death, and too much water dilutes the amount of sodium in our bodies, and can also lead to death.
Water comprises about 71% of the earth’s surface, and 96.5% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans. That means that the remaining 3.5% of earth’s water is fresh water, the kind that we all need to stay alive.
Until the last few decades, scientists believed that only earth had water. We know now that water in the form of ice has been found on the moon, on Mars, and is now thought to be present across the universe in various places.
Being without water in a desert, though, is a serious situation, and the people of Israel who were following Moses in the desert were either without water, or didn’t have enough for everyone. Moses grew angry with the people’s quarrelling with him, and considered their quarrelling with him to be testing God, and God’s ability to bring them safely through the desert.
Exasperated, Moses cried out to the Lord that the situation was getting desperate, he feared that the people were going to stone him in anger. God’s response was to instruct Moses to gather some of the elders, and using the staff with which he had struck the Nile and parted the waters, strike the rock at Horeb.
When he did so, water flowed from the rock, and the people were saved.
That sacred site was named Massah and Meribah, which are the Hebrew root words for quarrel and test.
In the Hebrew tradition, when a person or place is ‘named’, it shows a particular significance, especially here. So this place, at a rock at the foot of Mt. Horeb, is now forever know as Massah and Meribah, and serves as a reminder of when the people of Israel quarreled with Moses, and put God to the test, and reminds the faithful of the lesson learned on that day.
Another sacred site for the people of Israel is Jacob’s well. There, Jacob, and his sons, drew water that nourished their families, and their flocks. In our gospel passage, Jesus was resting there when he began to speak with a woman from Samaria. This is unusual for 2 reason: one, single men didn’t talk to women in public places, and two, Samarian people did not get along with Jewish people, their cultures were in conflict.
For Jesus to engage in an in-depth conversation with a woman from Samaria would have been scandalous at the very least, and this explains why the disciples, upon returning to the well, were astonished at what was happening. This broke several well-known social rules, and maybe a few religious ones as well.
But the importance of this story isn’t Jesus and his culture-busting behavior. It’s not even the water in the well that had drawn them there. The important component of this particular story, for this particular time is the living water Jesus speaks about, ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’.
Living water that quenches spiritual thirst, that provides spiritual life. We can’t get it from a rock, we can’t get it from a well, or a faucet, or from the cooler at a convenience store. The living water Jesus is talking about is for our spirits, and it comes from the Holy Spirit.
For some, the living water is found in music. Sacred music. For others, it’s in prayer. For still others, it’s in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. For some, it’s in obedience, and others it’s in faithfully asking the hard questions.
Similarly, when Jesus speaks of the food that his disciples know nothing about, he isn’t referring to a secret stash of food, he’s speaking about spiritual food, that which feeds our souls.
Have you ever thought about what feeds your soul? Have you ever thought about what quenches your spiritual thirst?
Are those the kind of things that you actively seek in your life, or are you surprised when you suddenly experience spiritual food and living water, and the relief that they can bring?
Are you aware of your spiritual hunger and thirst?
Here’s an interesting thing: the 4 verses before this morning’s scripture say this: Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John”-although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized- he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria.
After learning that the Pharisees were aware that he was gathering disciples, that his following was growing, Jesus went to the least likely place to convert disciples: Samaria. And not only did he convert the one woman at the well, but the passage tells us that many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, and many more believed in him because of his own word.
It appears that the Pharisees didn’t scare Jesus one bit.
Jesus used the metaphors of spiritual food and living waters to the spiritually hungry and thirsty to describe his ministry. And even though his new followers didn’t know it, they were starving, and dehydrated spiritually. And, after interacting with him, like many before them, they became followers of his way.
The people of Israel, traveling in the desert, knew that they were in a desert. But do you think the woman from Samaria knew she was in a spiritual desert? Not until she started speaking with Jesus. And not only did that conversation convert her to being a follower, she convinced many other neighbors to be followers, too.
So many of our neighbors are in spiritual deserts. The cultural food and drink that we all can get from the media, from celebrity, from acquiring material possessions is spiritually empty, and ultimately not satisfying.
Who do you think should be telling our neighbors about this spiritual food and living waters? I think maybe we should. I think that in this story, in the gospel lesson this morning, you and I are the woman from Samaria. And we are called upon to act on our beliefs and to share the good news with those who haven’t yet heard it, or have heard it, but aren’t yet ready to believe it.
Something about our gathering, something about our singing, something about our praying, and our fellowship feeds our souls. The spiritual food and living waters found in our worship, our mission, and our stewardship, are meant to be shared. The Holy Spirit feeds us when we’re together, and when we are apart, but especially when we are intentionally living out our faith lives.
The water Moses brought forth from the rock at Massah and Meribah with God’s help was in response to an emergency. The people of Israel followed Moses out into the desert, and without water, they would have died. They marked that spot as the place where they quarreled with Moses and tested God.
The water Jesus talked about with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well is in response to a different kind of emergency. A spiritual emergency. Would the Samaritan woman have died with without it? Probably not. Spiritual food and living water lift and sustain our spirits, and it is available to anyone who needs it.
I believe we need both types of water in order to be fully ourselves. And when we understand how and where we can get the living water Jesus offers, we are more spiritually whole, as well.
Sometime this week, consider reflecting on where you receive the spiritual food and living water that Jesus offers, and what you do with it once you’ve partaken.
And, if you are really bold, maybe you would consider telling one other person about it. Amen.
Our Hebrew Scripture this morning tells us of the time that the prophet Elijah was threatened by the queen, Jezebel, after he killed all the prophets of Baal. Acting on his love of God, and in this case, being the only prophet for the Creator God, against 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah broke the law, and greatly angered the king and the queen. His life was in danger.
Escaping into the wilderness, Elijah went about a day before he stopped under a broom tree to rest. There, exhausted, scared, and besieged with guilt, he acknowledged that he was ready to die. After asking God to take him, he fell asleep under the tree. But then, and angel woke him with a touch, telling him to get up and eat.
He ate the bread and the water that had been laid there, and went back to sleep. Again, an angel came and woke him, telling him to get up and eat, or else the journey would be too much for him. He ate the bread, and drank the water, and was strengthened for the journey ahead. Bread for the journey.
Every year, 3 of my friends from high school and I rent a cottage on Owasco Lake. There, we reconnect, recharge, and often remember the days of our youth. We have a lot of fun, and enjoy each other’s company now just as much as we did when we were teenagers. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now.
Each year is slightly different: we visit museums, wineries, AAA baseball games, rent a boat, try a new restaurant. Somehow, last year, as we were planning our trip, one of my friends mentioned that he had been riding his bike a lot, and wondered if some of us might want to try riding around Owasco Lake as one of our activities.
I had not been riding as much as I would have liked, but I was up for the challenge. Once around Owasco Lake is 34 miles. Most of my bike rides are in the 15 to 24 mile range, but I figured if I could do 24 miles, I should be able to do 34 miles, right?
It was late July, and we got up early to get a start on the day, before it became too hot to ride. We each brought two bottles of water, and joked that if it got too difficult, we’d call one of the other two friends to come and get us. As was my custom, I didn’t eat any breakfast that morning, preferring to eat upon my return. We estimated that it would take us just a little bit over 3 hours to make the trip.
Would anybody care to guess what happened to my 59 year old body, 2 hours and 30 minutes into the trip, at the bottom of the biggest hill of the day? I ran out of gas. Not even fumes. I watched my friend pull ahead on the hill in front of me like he had one of those fancy electric motors in his bike, and I had to climb that hill one revolution at a time in the lowest gear, vowing not to walk, or even stop. I didn’t stop, but I was absolutely exhausted when I got back to the cottage. Why? I didn’t take any bread for the journey.
Bread for the journey: if I had just brought a snack, a granola bar, some peanut butter on some bread, if I had had some bread for the journey, I wouldn’t have run out of gas. Lesson learned.
Elijah was on a journey, running for his life. It was an angel that brought him bread and water that told him to eat, twice, or else the journey would be too much. That day on Owasco Lake, left behind on a huge hill, I almost quit. Because I didn’t have any bread for the journey.
Each of us, every one of us, is on a journey. God has us journeying here, or there, different metaphorical places, for different reasons. But there is one important truth we each need to remember, and that is that if we don’t take some bread for the journey, the journey will be too much. And in this day and age, we can’t expect an angel to just leave us some bread and water by our heads as we sleep. No, we will need to take stories like this one from 1st Kings, and take responsibility for our own bread for our own journey.
The human body can only journey so far without fuel. The human spirit can only journey so far without fuel. So what does bread for the journey look like? Well, just as each of our journeys is unique to us, so, too, is the bread we need for those journeys.
Of course, there is the literal understanding of needing to eat in order to function. But we all know that there are also some really important things we do in our lives that help fuel our journey.
Prayer. Meditation. (Which, by the way, are two different things). Relationships. Reading. Singing. Playing an instrument. Laughing. See, the bread for our journeys will be different for each of us, but each of us needs to discern what will work best for our unique circumstances.
Elijah understood how dire his circumstances were. He was ready to let God take him. He confessed several times of his sins. Confession was also part of the bread for his journey. And when he ate of that bread, and drank of that water, he was strengthened for a journey that led him to a very close encounter with God.
This morning’s Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us that in faith, in our love of Jesus, that in Christ, we are all one. The things that make us unique, or different, don’t matter in Christ. The unique journeys that we are all on don’t matter, only that we are on the sacred journey of life in Christ.
I’m pretty sure none of us is running for our lives, thank God, but the metaphor is still a good one: you and I need bread for the journey, or else the journey will be too much.
Discerning just what kind of bread we need is sacred work. Discerning what our journey is like is sacred work. Following the angel’s instructions and remembering to get up and eat to prepare for our journey is sacred work.
As we continue to journey together as one, worshiping community, we can discern together what kind of bread we need for the journey. For me, it probably includes Sue Britt’s cookies! But the journey that is set before us as a worshiping community will require us to get up and eat, to fuel up, to take responsibility for making sure we are strong enough for what God calls us to do.
But some of that work needs to be done alone, in private, in prayer. Contemplative prayer, where we open our hearts to God to see what God has put there, is different than asking God for healing, or deliverance, or forgiveness. We can only journey so far on an empty stomach. And if we don’t get up and eat, we’ll find that we won’t have enough in the tank at the end of the journey, on the biggest hill of the journey.
As we look ahead to the week to come, and the months to come, and the years to come, we would do well to remember that in our journey in Christ, we are all one. And Christ, in many ways, is our bread for the journey. Even as the path has us following him, he offers us bread and juice in a sacred supper, he offers us refreshing water in our baptisms, he offers us ways to live and love that are consistent with what our Creator God hopes and prays for us.
For Elijah, confession was part of this sacred meal. Perhaps it is for us, too. We know worshiping together must be a part of it, even if there are parts of the worship that do not feed us. That’s ok.
Loving our neighbors enough to share of our hard-earned resources is part of our sacred meal, giving us bread for the journey.
Forgiving those who have caused us harm can be bread for the journey.
Allowing others to fully be and express who God has created them to be can be bread for our journey.
Adding our voices to the joyful noises of worship can be bread for our journey.
My example of riding around Owasco Lake happens to be just one way that I ran out of fuel while on a journey. I’ve done that too many times to count! Each of you may have countless examples of what it feels like to run out of fuel in the middle of a journey. And it’s important to reflect on those times, because this morning, the angel is telling us to get up and eat, or else the journey will be too much.
As much as we hear from the pundits and the prophets of the day that the point is the journey, doesn’t it feel good to arrive at your destination? To have completed a particular journey, and arrived safe and sound? Again, a metaphor for sure, but an important one. Whether it’s the journey of life that we are on, arriving at the end to meet our creator, or a shorter, side journey of life to learn a lesson, or grow in faith, or to teach a lesson to others, if we remember to take some bread and water before we leave, no journey will be too much. We’ll always have enough fuel to make it to our literal or our metaphorical destination. Let’s get up, and eat. We have a journey ahead of us. Amen.
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