Monday, March 28, 2011

Lent 3 of Series A (John 4:5-26)

“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: a well is a place of romance. Now that may seem to us to be a strange statement. Wells in our world today are something underground, hidden and dirty, maintained by city workers and plumbers. But in both the Old and New Testaments, wells were a communal place, a meeting place, a place where the whole village went to draw the most basic necessity of life, water. And so, if a young patriarch or prophet wanted to find a wife, the well was the first place to look. It was to a well that Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, it was at a well that Jacob first gazed into Rachel’s beautiful eyes, and it was at a well that Moses first met the shepherd girl Zipporah. In the Bible, if you want to find a spouse, you travel to the well. For at a well, available young men have the unique opportunity to find available young women.

And so when Jesus, tired from his journey, stops to rest at a well, it is no surprise that the first person to meet Him is a woman. She has come simply to draw water, as she does on each and every day, but this day will be quite different. “Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.” The woman is repulsed. Has Jesus forgotten that He is a Jewish man and she is a Samaritan woman? There are rules against that sort of thing. And now He starts going on and on about ‘living water?’ What kind of a guy is this? The words of Jesus, as they have for so many others, leave her completely confused. “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” Jesus’ reply leaves her intrigued. What difference is there really between Jews and Samaritans? (Those were just silly rules anyway…) And hey, He’s kinda cute, and He doesn’t have to know about her past. And so she uses a line repeated all too often in the bars and other meeting places of this world: “I have no husband.” She has come to the well to fulfill her physical thirst, but perhaps this guy will be the one to fulfill a deeper thirst. She has tried so many others, but maybe this one will finally be the ‘one.’ [Law] But Jesus calls her out, for this is no ordinary man speaking with her at the well: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

His words fall like a hammer upon her. She has been caught in the act, caught in the act of adultery. Her sin falls under the authority of the sixth commandment, but it points fundamentally to a violation of God’s first and greatest commandment- “You shall have no other gods.” She has embodied her people, the Samaritans, who were known for chasing after the gods of the nations. She has embodied you and me, for we continually search after other ‘gods,’ so often of our own making. She has let her lust, her search for fulfillment consume her. God created her, God created you and me, God created our first parents, and He desired to be in communion with us, but we would not have it. [Law] We rebelled against Him, we chose other gods, idols of wood and stone, money and work, idols that consume us, then leave us in ruin. We idolize other human flesh, whether in a physical relationship like the Samaritan woman, or in our thoughts, our eyes, on our TV, or on the computer screen.

This woman came to the well seeking to fulfill her physical thirst, but her sin left her in a desert with no fulfillment, with no life-giving water. Sin leaves ruin in our lives. We go from well to well, from the well of money to the well of lust, and we drink deeply of the water we find there. But we soon find that this so-called water leaves us more thirsty than before, unfulfilled, parched and still searching. And like this woman, we travel from well to well, hoping that at the next one we will find fulfillment. We, the people of God’s own creation, wander from well to well crying out “I have no husband.” [Law] For we have forsaken our creator, the One who was to be a husband to us, His perfect creation, and for that we are left to wander in the desert of sin and death, drinking from poisoned wells, wells that never satisfy, wells that lead ultimately to eternal death.

The Old Testament book of Hosea is very much a love story, containing the cries of a God whose heart is literally breaking over the rebellion of His people. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away.” But Hosea is also the account of a God that loved His adulterous, rebellious people so much, that despite all that they did to Him, He still called them back. “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” The bridegroom would come to this earth, true God taking on human flesh, to court His people and call on them to return to the God who loves them. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” This bridegroom came to Cana’s wedding feast and declared His power as He changed water into wine. John the Baptist pointed to Him and declared, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” This same Jesus Christ came to the well on that day and courted a sinful Samaritan woman, the example of her sinful people, the example of all sinful people, of you and me. He came to call her back, to call us back from our idolatry.

But He knew that simply calling us back would not do any good. For we would fall again, we were corrupted through and through with sin, we needed more than mere courtship. The bridegroom could not only woo His bride, He must pay for her sin. [Gospel] And so Jesus Christ traveled to the cross, the bridegroom giving His life for His bride. Jesus took upon His own shoulders all of our sin, all of our rebellion, all of our adultery. He was not spared from a single one of our sins or any of the sins that have ever been committed. He took them all upon Himself, and there He shed His blood to pay for them, the pure and sinless Son of God, the pure and sinless Bridegroom in the place of His sin-stained bride. He died for your sin, for my sin, He died to make us whole, to make us pure, to bring us to Himself as a radiant bride. GOD LOVES HIS ADULTEROUS BRIDE.

As He hung upon the cross, having paid the price for our sins, having given up His life for ours, a soldier pierced His side. John tells us what happened: “at once there came out blood and water.” The blood that paid the price for our sin, for your sin and my sin, poured out, but so did water. Living water. For the bridegroom dies and rises again to pour out living water upon His people, water that satisfies, water that purifies, water that makes whole. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That Living water poured out from His side on Good Friday, and it flowed out to cleanse us from our sin, to make us whole, to make us holy, to deliver us from the desert of sin, from the wasteland of idolatry. No other well on earth can satisfy us, only the spring that Christ provides, the spring of Living water that flows to us. [Gospel] Jesus poured on our head that living water in Baptism, making us His own, claiming us with the promise of eternal life, the gift of forgiveness that He won on the cross and through His victory with the empty tomb.

Now, the geography of worship has changed. We no longer go to the temple, or to Mount Gerazim, but to wherever that Living water flows. “Jesus said to her, ‘woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will we worship the Father.” Jesus has altered the landscape, the temple has been fulfilled in Him, He is the new location of God’s gracious presence on earth, His presence to forgive and renew, to save and strengthen. We no longer have to search in our world for fulfillment, for Christ has told us where He gives complete and perfect fulfillment. He gives it where His Word is proclaimed, where Living water is poured on heads in Baptism, where His very Body and Blood are given for people to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. Wherever Christ has promised to be with His gifts, there we worship. There the Bridegroom welcomes His bride, cleansed and renewed to stand before His Father in heaven for all eternity. It is in the Divine Service where the courtship finds its realization, for there Christ is joined with His Church, His bride, in intimate fellowship and communion. [Gospel] Jesus brought the Samaritan woman, you, me, and all people from the wasteland of sin to Himself as the only place where Living waters flow, pouring out on us forgiveness, life, and salvation. In His death and resurrection the relationship is restored, the marriage is renewed, and we will dwell as the bride of Christ for all eternity. As Saint Paul declares so beautifully: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

As Christians, we do not travel on this pilgrimage with perfect fulfillment, without feeling the temptation to find satisfaction in idols of one sort or another. Our sinful nature always wants to find fulfillment in something, anything other than the God who created us and acted to redeem us. We are in constant need of forgiveness, and that is why our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ continues to satisfy our spiritual thirst again and again through His gifts, offered in this place. We travel on this pilgrimage through a parched land, drinking from the Living water every time that we hear, read, or taste Christ’s forgiveness, every time that He covers our sin. We cry out when we enter into this place with the words of the Introit: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts… Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” But we also enter this place with the hope and promise of an eternity in God’s presence: “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord.” May the Lord sustain with this promise and give us to drink from the springs of Living water until that Day when we drink it anew in His kingdom, Amen.

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