ray trygstad:



By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for the Advanced Lay Speakers Course, Lent 1996
Aurora District, Northern Illinois Conference, the United Methodist Church

It was a blistering hot day. The traveler was sweating profusely; an annoying drop of sweat kept beading up on the end of his nosing, finally falling off to make a dark circle in the dust that passed for a road. For travel by foot, it was an extremely dusty road, and each time a rider came by, commonly on a donkey but occasionally on a horse, it would raise a cloud of dust that would parch the throat and cake onto the sweat. He had some companions with him on his journey, but they had split off to go buy some groceries. They were still learning to keep up with this strong young man, this carpenter from a small town, who had the brawny sinewy arms common to his profession and walked with a strong stride born of years of walking. His companions were a mixed lot; fishermen, civil servants, and even a physician, and none of them were quite used to these extended journeys afoot. It was hot and he was tired and dusty and thirsty. He saw a village ahead and sighed with relief at the hope that he might get a drink of water. Water was like gold in this dry and thirsty land, especially at noon when the sun was high overhead and there was no shade to provide relief from the heat. He had never been to the village before, but he knew where he was, and recognized the well as Jacob's Well. After a quick search revealed that there was no bucket or rope, disappointedly he sank down beside the well to rest and hope that someone would come along who would draw him a drink. Finally a woman came to draw water from the well, a Samaritan. As he was in Samaria, this was probably not too surprising, but what he did next was. For you see, the traveler was a Jew, and Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. He asked her for a drink from the well. She was taken aback. "Sir, you, a Jew, would ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?"

It's hard for us to understand today what was going on. This man was talking to a despised class; it's as though a blue collar worker passing through a small town in Mississippi in 1950 were to stop and ask a black woman for a drink. The Samaritans were the descendants of Jewish peasants who had been left behind when much of Israel was carried off to Babylon. They intermarried with non-Jews that the Assyrians had brought into to settle the area, and practiced what was viewed as a debased form of Judaism. When the Jewish intelligentsia had returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, but they were rebuffed by the Jews, who told them in Ezra, "You have nothing in common with us...". Consequently the Samaritans built their own temple at Mount Gerazim. The depth of hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans was akin to that between the Hamas Palestinians and the Israelis, or between many Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. This was asking for water from an enemy.

This carpenter from Nazareth, this Jesus, told her that if only she knew who he was, she would ask him for living water, and she would never be thirsty again. Water is a powerful symbol in the Middle East; water is life, and water gives life. It cleanses; it refreshes; it restores the body and soul of one grown hot and dusty and road-weary. It should be no surprise that water held a strong religious significance; the symbolic act of baptism as practiced by John the Baptist quickly replaced circumcision as the ritual of initiation into the faith for early Christians. Water (and some variations on water) are a part of sacred rituals in many lands; for example, the Gaelic words from which we get "whiskey" mean "water of life". In any case this was not uncommon symbolism, although at first the woman of Samaria did not understand what Jesus was talking about. "What do you mean; you have no rope or bucket, and the well is deep!" Jesus told her that the water he could give to people would "become a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever with eternal life." Still a literalist, the woman responded that would be great, and she would never have to trudge out here to the well again!

Somewhere during this conversation, although the Gospel of John does not mention it, the woman lowered her bucket into the well. It WAS a deep well, and the water was cool and delicious. She gave a dipper full to Jesus who drank it thirstily, and may have even asked for more. Refreshed, he was ready to go on, but his conversation with the woman persuaded him to tarry. Jesus spoke of water for the soul, but the water for the body was still important.

How many of us have been that man walking hot and dusty down the road? We are fortunate that most of us have rarely experienced true thirst; we draw water from the faucet, or maybe a Gatorade from the fridge "for that deep down body thirst". Frequently in the midwest, we have considerably more water than we want. Consequently, we don't really know what "deep down body thirst" is. Even more so than in Christ's walking this Earth, the thirst that we experience is not a thirst of the body but of the soul. It is truly a "deep down thirst"; we see many trying to assuage that thirst. Unfortunately many today cannot find the well. They find bottled water with many labels: New Age water (which is really rebottled "magic water" and sometimes snake oil), Doing Good Things water, maybe even some exotic foreign brands, but the water is not enough, or it is bitter, or tastes of sulfur or iron. Jesus remains the well of living water, the pure clear water, the well that never runs dry, the well that will slake the thirst of out souls. The water is free, and it is a short trip to the well, but one we have to start ourselves. Once we drink, the water will flow wherever we go, but Jesus expects us to get up off the couch and take the first step. And in the depth of our souls, we truly need never be thirsty again. There's an afterthought here as well. When the thirst of our soul is slaked, we find ourselves in the position of the Samaritan woman. We have to drop the bucket in the well and draw some water for the Lord. This is not the spiritual water; this is the real water that the truly thirsty in body need to allow them to open their soul to the Living Water. It may be a blanket, it may be a bowl of soup, it may be a listening ear or a caring voice; it may even be twelve dollars and twenty four cents dropped in the offering plate. Paul tells us faith without works is dead; Jesus counts on us to draw the water for Him.

So this is it. Water in a dry and thirsty land. Water for the body and Water for the soul. Water for those we despise and water from our bitter enemies. Water from the Well, the well that never runs dry. Drink deeply, that He may give us the strength to draw the buckets of cool, clear real water, and ladle it out to do His work.

Let us pray: Lord, fill us with the Living Water of Your salvation, and give us strength to draw and carry the buckets to serve You by serving others. Amen.

Copyright 1996 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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