In 1996, a young marine corporal named Joey Mora was standing on a platform of an aircraft carrier patrolling the Iranian Sea. Incredibly, he fell overboard. His absence was not known for 36 hours. A search and rescue mission began, but was given up after another 24 hours. No one could survive in the sea without even a lifejacket after 60 hours. His parents were notified that he was "missing and presumed dead. Yet two days later Four Pakistani fishermen found him, treading water. He was delirious. His tongue was dry and cracked and his throat parched. He said it was God who kept him struggling to survive. What was the most excruciating thing of all? Joey said that the one thought that took over his body and pounded in his brain was "Water!" [NBC Dateline: Nov. 1998]
Physical thirst is a terrible thing. Extreme dehydration damages organs, especially the brain, and quickly leads to death. Water is the main component of our body, and is involved in its smooth running – to carrying nutrients to and waste materials away from cells, to regulating body temperature. On average, with right conditions, we could only survive 3-5 days, 12 days in extreme cases, without water. It has been predicted, that with the effects of climate change, water will become more precious than oil, and the conflicts of the future will be over clean, fresh water. According to a UN Report -- one out of 10 persons in our world lack access to clean water -- Six of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones – but only 4.5 billion have a toilet – actually it is the lack of water to flush and a sewage system for waste to be flushed into.
From our lessons today we see that the need for water is paramount on everyone’s mind - from the people of Israel crossing the wilderness, to Jesus and his disciples traveling through the hostile territory of Samaria. The people of Israel have been freed from slavery in Egypt. They’ve reached camp; they are thirsty and there is no water to be seen. Here, in the wilderness, they are realizing the price of freedom which is stirring up a deep thirst in them. So they quarrel and they blame Moses for their predicament. Even Moses fears for his life. Eventually God sends Moses and the elders and commands Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, through which God provides water.
Thirst can bring out the worst in people. And it is the leadership here who get the brunt of the people’s frustration and needs. It is a good reminder to us that when Moses and the elders find themselves “in hot water,” they exemplify true leadership—they do not retaliate or start fights with the people. Instead they take their problems to God, and allow God to provide the solution. God gives the people water. A good protocol to keep upfront as Union’s leadership expands.
In the gospel of John, we see a different kind of thirst. Jesus and his disciples have entered Sychar, unfriendly, Samaritan territory. – Samaritans and Jews had centuries-old bad blood – so there was no welcome party here for the famous rabbi and his disciples. Jesus was tired from the journey and he was thirsty. A Samaritan woman comes at noon to the well, and Jesus initiates a conversation with her. He asks her for water. Already there are unusual things afoot: A woman comes alone at noon, instead of morning, to draw water – and Jesus publically addresses a woman, and a Samaritan, no less. Thus begins the longest dialogue of Jesus in the gospels – around water, thirst, life’s priorities. All this with a woman enslaved to the judgments of her day—judged an outcast as a Samaritan, judged an outcast because she’s had five husbands—and currently living with a fellow without the benefits of marriage. Jesus does not judge her or condemn her. He treats her like an intelligent, worthy human being. Legend names this woman Photene – meaning the enlightened one -- who not only engages Jesus in a thoughtful, lively manner, but ends up becoming the first Samaritan missionary of the good news.
Photene came to the well to draw water and left with living water – ironically leaving her bucket behind. Like Jesus, we become thirsty. We know the symptoms of dehydration: dry mouth, nausea, lightheadedness, weakness, heart palpitations. We recognize less the signs of spiritual dehydration. We forget that just as our physical body is predominately water and cannot survive long without water, so too we are made of spirit, a spirit that thirsts, a thirst that often goes unrequited because we do not easily see that at our core we are spirit, a spirit we need to hydrate on a daily basis. Impatience, quarreling, gossip, stinginess, bitterness, greed, intolerance and prejudice, are all symptoms provoked by spiritual dehydration.
If we don’t take a Sabbath, we become spiritually dehydrated. If we don’t have a prayer life, a devotional life, we become spiritually dehydrated. If we do not practice love, mercy and forgiveness we become spiritually dehydrated. If we don’t have a relationship with Jesus – we are spiritually dehydrated.
Without the living waters that Jesus gives us our spirit is thrown off. Like the people of Israel we can become complainers and criticizers; testing God instead of praying and having faith. Without living waters of Jesus we can become a community that ostracizes – Photene was ostracized by her village – as much as she was ostracized by the disciples – they didn’t know anything about her – but because she was a Samaritan and woman -- yet when they saw Jesus speaking to her they were astonished – and thought it inappropriate of Jesus.
Jesus has a different vision for us – he wants to give us living water that will transform us – make us wholly hydrated spiritual persons. People that can go through the wilderness and thrive. People who can take the steps to be free of what has enslaved them. People who do not flee uncomfortable territory. People who can engage others unlike themselves -- with respect, with care and with love. People willing to listen, to change, to share. That’s who will are called to be. Spiritually hydrated people – through Jesus, the thirst quencher.
It may come as a surprise to us, but the One who appeases our thirst, is also the thirsty one. Jesus first comment to Photene is “Give me a drink.” God does not need water, but God, a being of unconditional love – seeks to love us. The great mystic Julian of Norwich, writes: God has a great thirst for us, that draws us near to Him, …. He draws us (as water from a well) and drinks deeply, and still He thirsts for us, and for us he longs. (Mother Julian, Chapter LXXV). Dag Hammarskjold, one of the early founders of the United Nations; concurs: “I am the vessel,” he reflects: “The draught is God’s ---And God is the Thirsty One.”
God’s water is love, which we see and taste in Jesus Christ. God’s greatest desire is to love, and be loved freely in turn by us. It is of no surprise to us that Jesus’ final words on the cross, that wilderness that closes his earthly life, are all statements of relationship and love. Towards the end, he says, “I thirst.” John 19:28. Of course Jesus may have been physically thirsty. The greater thirst, is the thirst Jesus has for us – to love us, forgive us guide us to all righteousness – to be connected to us by love. Jesus, the living water, thirsts. We are thirst quenchers for Jesus.
Our journey through Lent is intended to be a spiritual wilderness – a journey to Samaria – a foreign place, a sojourn to a place that pushes us out of our comfort zone. A call to go to the well. Our experience during these weeks awakes us to thirst. What do we thirst for? To be more loving? To be more patient? To serve more? To be more giving? To stop fighting so much? To have more faith?
It is God’s desire to give us these things: as the prophet Isaiah affirms: “The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. (Isa. 58:11)”
God gives us more. The desire for us to be the thirst quenchers in the world – not doubt to make clean water available to all – but the spiritual water the world needs – How to connect – how to care – to love. Today, Paul and Thomas have given us all an example – to step forth where there is a need – to help us make this church an oasis – a well of deep refreshing water for God’s people gathered in this community. May we realize that we are living wells – hydrated and hydrating, thirst quenchers – in how we care for each other and in the love we bear to the heart of God. Amen.