The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as God commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put God to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to God, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
God answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah, or testing, and Meribah, or quarrel, because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested God saying, “Is God among us or not?”
So Jesus came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Creator neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Creator in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Creator seeks. God is spirit, whose worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of the One who sent me and to finish that work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”
As many of you know, while I was a Methodist pastor, i served two country churches. One was named Poplar Springs--not surprisingly, there was a spring in a grove of poplars across the road from the church. One of the patriarchs took me to see the springs. There wasn't much to see--a tiny stream of water flowed from a rock outcropping, and trickled down to be lost in ferns and moss and grass. He told me he remembered being sent as a boy to the spring to get water for the church picnic. Water for baptism also came from the springs. Even though the spring could not be seen from the church, and the water now comes from a well, that spring, that living water, was at the centre of that church's life.
Living water is water that is moving, changing. A lake, a fountain, a river, an ocean--those are living waters. A puddle, a basin of water, a swimming pool--those are not living water. Living water is to be desired because it is fresher, cleaner, healthier. Water that is not living is stagnant, stale, and the breeding ground for disease and mosquitoes, at least potentially, unless we treat it with chemicals, like a swimming pool. Even a glass of water tastes better when it is fresh.
So we can understand the excitement of this woman at the well--a never-ending source of living water. Wells can go dry, rivers change their courses, lakes can dry up...but this well will never go dry--the well that is God's love.
It is that love we remember in baptism. Today we will baptise two beautiful babies. Their baptism is not a means of their receiving God's love--that they have already. But it does mark the recognition by the community that they are indeed beloved children of God, and are part of our community, too. Their parents and their godparents and we too, as a congregation, will be making promises to teach them about God's love for them, and to show them how to live in ways that show that love to other people.
This story of the woman at the well is really a baptism story. The woman at the well learned something about God, was told about the living water, asked for this living water, and then went and told other people, who came and listened and learned, and believed for themselves. Most of us don't remember our baptism--but we may remember our confirmation. That was when we took those baptismal promises for ourselves. We were old enough to make those decisions for ourselves--what is wrong, what is right, how do we choose to show and share God's love? How do we find nourishment for our spirits, our souls? These two babies can't do that yet; but we who are grown-up can and do. Many of us find that refreshment, that living water, in a spiritual community--a church, a synagogue, a drumming circle, a mosque, a temple--a gathering of people who take the time to just sit and be with God for a while, to speak to the divine, and to listen for the divine whispering to us.
We come to drink that living water, to remind ourselves of God's love for us and presence with us. We come to share living water with others, reminding ourselves and them that we are all beloved of God. And then, like the woman at the well, we go out to share that love, that living water, with other people, inviting them to come and taste the living water of God's love for them, too.
The woman at the well was sure the water was not meant for her-for one thing, she was a Samaritan, a group that had split off from Judaism and were now antagonistic. And then there is the question of all her husbands--five, and yet none of them really her husband...whatever that means, it is surely significant that she was at the well in the middle of the day, when she would not be likely to meet many people. Was she avoiding others because they ostracised her? It is at least possible. And she was so refreshed and strengthened and healed by that living water, that she went running back to town to tell everyone about it.
It is always there--this living, enlivening, strengthening water. It is for everyone who wishes it--not only Samaritans, or Jews, or members of a certain church or churches--it is for everyone, every child of God. Taste those living waters, and be refreshed, and know that you are loved by God.
In all God's names, amen.