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"Thirst for the Water that Satisfies"

Feb.1, 2015 LWCF Annual Meeting Jn.4:5-26


"Living Water Christian Fellowship" - that's our name. As we review our Annual Report in preparation for today's annual congregational meeting, do we see "living water" pouring out of the pages? As we set a budget and elect leaders, are we taking measures that will truly offer "living water" in our community? What are people "thirsting for" at a soul level...and what is God our "source" wanting us to do about it?

In the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, the theme of thirst and drinking courses strongly through the account. John 4:5 "So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph." Now here's a fine point you may not find in the commentaries: what does the name of the town, "Sychar", mean? Literally it's "drunken-town"! How'd you like your community to be called that? Instead of "Blyth" we might be "Boozeville". So there's some irony here in that Jesus sits by a well and talks about fresh or stale water with someone from "DrunkenTown".

Yet the name points to a truth: we all hanker for something, we all yearn for that which would satisfy. What are some reasons people get drunk? What's motivating that? A webpage at West Virginia University outlines some reasons "Why People Drink". It observes, "Curiosity is still a prevalent reason for alcohol consumption today." "Perhaps the most problematic reason for alcohol use is peer pressure." "Another reason for alcohol consumption is stress reduction...Alcohol can ease physical and emotional pain." "Many believe that alcohol instills a sense of social confidence and promotes relaxation in the company of others.This occurs because of alcohol's disinhibition effects. There is no doubt that loneliness can serve as an incentive for alcohol use and abuse.Isolation can be another reason to use alcohol." And: "People enjoy the psychoactive effects of alcohol for various reasons.It provides a sense of relief and disassociation from reality.A sense of adventure or perhaps a spiritual search is often given as the causative reason for alcohol consumption."

Now, this isn't a sermon advocating that you drink alcohol or warning against the perils of excessive drinking: we're just trying to understand WHY people turn to alcohol. What are their hidden hungers or thirsts? To recap from that website - curiosity; peer pressure; stress and pain relief; freeing you up and helping you relax in social settings; loneliness or isolation; the chemical "adventure effect" (escape?) and even "spiritual search" are factors. Now, as you consider that list - aren't there a bunch of those that can also be addressed by Jesus and active fellowship in a church, without the negative side effects alcohol can bring? No headaches or hangovers, no drinking away the paycheque, no toll on the family or marriage as often happens when alcohol is seen as the solution to one's problems.

In today's passage, we see Jesus offering better relief to a woman who is hurting emotionally, relationally, and in her social setting. His "living water" is much better than strong drink.


There's an Olympic race called "the 110 m hurdles". A hurdle is a bar 42 inches high, spaced 30 feet apart; there are 10 of them along the course. There's no fixed time penalty for knocking over a hurdle, but it slows down the speed of the runner.

Picture Jesus as a sort of "heavenly hurdler". The woman He meets at the well at Sychar puts up a series of hurdles, obstacles, to block His way. But just like an expert athlete, He keeps on clearing them in pursuit of His goal: her salvation.

The first hurdles come as a pair: RACE and GENDER. Vv7&9 "When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?""...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."

Hear the hurdles? "I am a SAMARITAN (1) WOMAN (2)." The racial burden is very significant and stretches back centuries. When Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, the captors exiled many Israelites, and brought in other people groups from Babylonia to help farm the land. The remaining Israelites intermarried with these immigrants, resulting in their offspring being "impure" from a Jewish bloodline perspective. Remember Nehemiah's severe objection to such a thing happening later in Jerusalem (Neh 13:23-28).

One of the Samaritans, Sanballat, had led opposition to Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem around 432 BC (Neh 2:10,19; 4:6). Around 30 years later, Sanballat built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. The Jews under John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritans' temple in 129 BC. So you can see there's considerable "bad blood" between the two groups. Samaritans could be nasty to Jews from Galilee taking the shortest trek to the religious festivals in Jerusalem; Jesus Himself experienced such hostility in Luke 9(51ff). Often Jews would take an extra 3 days and skirt around Samaria just to avoid the region altogether when travelling between Galilee and Judea. So good Jews like the Pharisees wouldn't even touch a cup a Samaritan had been holding lest it make them "unclean"; it's surprising Jesus' disciples were even buying food in the village (v8).

The other hurdle here is that of GENDER: she's a woman, He's a man; rabbis wouldn't stoop to have dealings with women in public - and certainly not with a woman of her reputation, as later comes to light. Nevertheless, Jesus not only talks to her, He makes a polite request of her!

Note the posture in which He places himself with respect to her. He doesn't start by showing off like Moses or Jacob offering to water a shepherd-woman's flock, or to operate the bucket: that's a lot of work to pull a pail of water up a hundred-foot-deep well! He doesn't play the white knight, but asks HER for a drink. He humbles Himself, perhaps puts her at ease, that He's not going to try to overpower her or take advantage of her like other men have in the past. He meets her at her level, comes to where she's at.

Next the woman challenges Him with the hurdle of ANCESTRY, pride of family background, being of the right "stock". Vv10-12 "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 flocks and herds?"" She means it rhetorically, of course - "You can't possibly be greater than our father Jacob! He drank from this very well himself!" Kind of like those hotels in the states where there's a little plaque on the wall of the room, "George Washington slept here."

Each of these hurdles represents an attempt people commonly use to bolster ourselves up, to manufacture respectability, to prove to others and ourselves that we're important, we matter, we're not just a "waste of skin". Men lord it over women (the gender hurdle). Whites lord it over blacks (the racial hurdle). Those in community from families of good breeding, the long-term so-called "pillars of the community", may not have much use for those who are just there temporarily renting an apartment, or who've moved in from another place. Newcomers may find it difficult to "break in" to existing social groups. Each hurdle we step up on becomes a means of exalting ourselves over another human; a self-manufactured righteousness.

Another major hurdle is that of INTEGRITY. Jesus' offer of "living water" has piqued the woman's curiosity - she'd dearly love not to have the burden of coming every day to draw water up 100 feet, then lug it back home, and living or fresh water (spring water) would probably taste so much better than the stale water at the bottom of the cistern that's been just sitting there, perhaps turning brackish. But Jesus perceives she needs to realize He's talking about an elixir that medicates not just physically - giving relief and refreshment to a weary body - but spiritually. So He has to delicately peel back the covering on a festering wound, her keenest sore spot. Vv16-18 "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."" Yowch! How'd He know THAT?!

Here we see again the theme John the gospel-writer has introduced before, that Jesus knows supernaturally what's inside a person: Jn 2:24f "He knew all men...He knew what was in a man." As with Simon who He instantly nicknamed Peter, or Nathaniel under the fig tree (1:42,48). Jesus has this kind of spiritual "x-ray vision" that can scan us and know every bad thing we've ever done - yet He loves us and pursues us anyway.

This woman had failed miserably in her relationships, struck out: worse than that! A strike-out involves 3 times, but she was on her sixth partner, and they hadn't even bothered to try to get married. Yet Jesus doesn't condemn her, instead mentions it and actually turns her admission into a positive thing, commending her for speaking the truth. The Heavenly Hurdler just keeps on coming straight for us, despite seeing and knowing our hidden shames and failures.

The Samaritan woman must have done a double-take at this point. How does this man know all this? He may even have revealed more, for when she runs to tell the rest of the village, she states: V29 "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did." But give the gal credit, she recovers quickly and deftly changes the topic. This was getting a little too personal! So she brings out one more sure-fire hurdle - RELIGION. Nothing like a good religious doctrinal thorn to derail a discussion that's become uncomfortable. Vv19-20 ""Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."" Ah, back to the old "bad blood", the sore wound of a history of conflict between their peoples. Implying here, "You can't be much of a prophet if you're going to 'dis' the place that's most precious to me spiritually! Tread carefully buster, you're walking on holy ground! Don't mess with MY sacred cows!"

Yet not even this most sacrosanct of hurdles dissuades the weary pursuer from His quest. Jesus clarifies that true spirituality isn't about religious rituals or bringing sacrifices and bowing in a specific location. He's ushering in a totally new phase that frees humans to worship regardless of where they find themselves. Amazing! What a break from centuries of past tradition! Vv21,23-24 "Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.""

Because of the cross, our sins can be forgiven: whether failed marriages, botched relationships, pride of race or breeding, harshness to the other sex, OR a perpetual chasing after idols of drink or chemicals or money or gadgets or entertainments or ANYTHING to try to salve that inner ache and emptiness, that yearning to know we're valued and matter in the everlasting scheme of things.


God rebuked Israel in the Old Testament for turning away from Him to counterfeits that could not satisfy. Jeremiah 2:13 "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." The Creator designed us, fashioned us for communing with Himself: He has constructed us not just with a soul and body that have basic appetites and yearnings, but with a spirit made for, custom-designed for, fellowship with His Spirit. And He wants to more than just satisfy, He wants to overflow or effervesce in us!

Jesus speaking of Himself says in v10, "He would have given you living water." You can see how he picks up the imagery from Jeremiah. In contrast with ordinary water that leaves a person thirsty a short time later, v14 "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Actually, the translation "welling up" is a bit too tame; NRSV "gushing up" is better. Robertson comments: "spring (or fountain) of water leaping (bubbling up) into life eternal." Like those Alka Seltzer tablets that make the water go all fizzy and bubble up; the same verb's used in Acts 3(8) and 14(10) of someone jumping to their feet.

A couple of chapters later in John 7:37-39 Jesus declares, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." [John notes] "By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive." So Jesus offers a package deal: when we receive Him and believe Him to be who He says He is, the long-awaited Messiah or Saviour, we get not only His forgiveness for our past sins because of His death on the cross in our place, we also receive ALL of God, including the Holy Spirit who gives us fellowship with the Father and power to live as God's own child.

Various New Testament passages talk about the "gifts of the Spirit" and the "fruit of the Spirit". Could those be aspects of the "spring" or "streams" of living water Jesus is talking about? Bubbles of love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control? (Gal 5:22f) Gifts of helping administering teaching giving serving faith - and so forth? (1Cor 12:9,28) Whether or not you notice it in your own life - as I look around this church fellowship and flip through the pages of the Annual Report, I see a lot of the Holy Spirit's fruit and gifts manifest. The challenge is not to keep that bottled-up in a cistern, but let it flow forth in our community as a stream that's noticed and brings glory to Jesus.


This is what we, Living Water Christian Fellowship, have to offer our community: all of God, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit's power. The Samaritan woman secretly hankered after it. She said rather wistfully in v25 "I know that Messiah...is coming.When he comes, he will explain everything to us."" Then we hear the very climax of this passage, something Jesus told only one other person - a blind man in John 9(37) - before his trial, because it risked being misunderstood and overlaid with political baggage by most Jews: V26 "I who speak to you am he." Literally, "I am (he), the one speaking to you."

Suddenly, the astonishing truth became clear to her: she was standing face to face with the Messiah, the long-awaited Anointed One, God's designated Deliverer! God was no longer a remote concept, a vague deity far off in the clouds. God was nose to nose with her, exposing to her the truth about her whole life, valuing her while acknowledging the "broken cisterns" she'd tried to dig by her serial relational failures. And He wanted her! The Father was actively seeking worshippers "in spirit and truth".

So Jesus comes - to Sychar, to Boozeville, to Blyth, to a watering-hole near you. Jesus is the immediate Messiah, bringing God near, wherever we are, however we've blown it, no matter how far we've slipped down the social ladder. He clears all those hurdles of race and gender and shame and religion, and hotly pursues us - for US! Objections countered, misdemeanours forgiven, souls laid bare - He wants us with Him forever, savouring the fresh, effervescing, life-renewing "living water" only He can give.


Now - how do we get it out there? We don't need a Keystone XL pipeline... I'm looking at the pipeline! Let's share His goodness and grace with those we meet everyday at our OWN watering-holes. Let's make our community "DrunkenTown" - but drunk on something that's better than alcohol!

Jesus bumping into the woman at the well may seem like a chance encounter, but He turned it to something with eternal significance, of lasting value - something that would dramatically impact an entire village (4:39-42). Use your encounters well to offer others living water.

Robert Shockey, for instance, doesn't believe in chance encounters. To him, every contact is an opportunity to evangelize. When Shockey answers the phone, for example, and hears the person on the other end saying, "Sorry, I must have the wrong number," Bob responds: "Maybe not!" Usually there's a pause on the line, followed by something like, "What do you mean?" That gives Shockey an opening to initiate a conversation about the gospel; he's led more than one person to faith in Christ that way.

Evangelist Billy Graham once answered the phone in his hotel room; the caller asked for so-and-so, and Mr.Graham told him he had the wrong number. There was a pause, and the person remarked, "You sure sound a lot like Billy Graham." The evangelist replied, "This is Billy Graham" - and during the ensuing conversation, the caller gave his life to Christ.

We have something wonderful to share - SomeONE wonderful to share! Let's seize the opportunities - as a church AND one-on-one. Let's pray.