(Note: I wrote this sermon just days before the seriousness of the Covid-19 disease was embraced by our nation’s government and its citizens.)
17 years ago at a Men’s Breakfast I asked church member Robby Robinson what he thought the greatest risk to human life would be in the future. Robby was a well-read man who had a never-ending appetite for knowledge. He responded that the availability of clean water would be the most urgent concern nations would face in protecting their populations from disease.
This past week I read on the well-respected “Water Is Life” website the following words:“The course of world society in the twenty-first century is likely to be substantially influenced by a single resource: drinking water. Clean water is key for a quality of life. Without water, life—animal, plant, or human—cannot exist. Without water, any one of us will be subject to variables that will cause challenge and struggle to live a healthy life. 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions and 10% of the global disease could be reduced through improved water supply, sanitation, and hygiene.”
Friends, the Coronavirus (aka Covid-19) has reminded us that our world is intimately interconnected. The decisions we make or fail to make have global consequences. Look at how quickly this new virus has spread across the earth. Our relationships here and around the world directly impact our ability to effectively confront diseases old and new. The unity of humanity is not only an ideal to celebrate or dream—it is vital for our planet. Those in the church or in politics today who promote disunity amid humanity by their ignorant, reckless, and violent rhetoric put us all at risk for declining physical and spiritual health, even death.
Such was true in Jesus’ day as well. Indeed, Jesus was born into world of sharp racial, ethnic, class, and gender distinctions:
The Romans were separated from the Jews;
Jews were separated from gentiles, including Samaritans;
as were free and slave, male and female.
That social and religious and political stratification is present in our second Lesson today from John. None other than the esteemed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow retold the story of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman which poignantly captures the import of what happened that day and what it means for us. Longfellow retells the story in John beginning from the perspective of the Samaritan woman. [She thinks to herself:]
“The sun is hot; and the dry east-wind blowing fills all the air with dust.
“The birds are silent…
“I wonder who those strangers were I met going into the city?
“Galileans they seemed to me in speaking, when they asked the short way to the marketplace. Perhaps they are fishermen from the Lake; or travelers, looking to find the inn.”
Friends, the Samaritan woman continues: “And here is someone sitting by the well; another stranger; A Galilean also by his looks. What can so many Jews be doing here together in Samaria? Are they going up to Jerusalem to the Passover?
Friends, suddenly the stranger, Jesus, says to the woman:
“Give me to drink. [She responds:]“How can it be that thou, being a Jew, askest to drink of me which am a woman of Samaria? You Jews despise us; have no dealings with us; make us a byword; call us in derision the silly folk of Sychar. Sir, how it is Thou askest drink of me?
“If thou hadst known the gift of God, and who it is that sayeth give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him; He would have given thee the living water.
The Samaritan woman, tired and a little frustrated, speaks next, saying to Jesus: “Sir, thou has nothing [to draw water] with, and the well is deep! Whence hast thou living water? Say, art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave this well to us, and drank thereof himself, and all his children and his cattle?
Jesus replies: “Ah, whatsoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh the water I shall give him shall not thirst forevermore, for it shall be within him a well of living water, springing up into life everlasting.”
Longfellow ends his narrative, as the gospel writer John does, with a hint that the woman realizes she is in the presence of someone unlike anyone she has ever met. She says to Jesus, who remember, is to her a total stranger: “Every day I must go to and fro, in heat and cold, and I am weary. Give me of this water, that I may thirst not, nor come here to draw.”
Friends, as the fisherman whom Jesus called to drop their nets so as to join him and become fishers of men—so did this woman leave her water jug behind and become an evangelist who brought many to Christ by her passionate witness to his power and wisdom. Here we see another example of the Rabbi Jesus’ use of metaphor to introduce people to the good news of God’s justice and love.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus say to Nicodemus that he would need to be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God. This morning, we see Jesus comparing the gift of God being like priceless water which quenches the thirst of everyone who has endured drought. It’s true that humanity cannot live by bread, or water for that matter, alone. We need the spiritual bread and water, we need the love of God, in order to be fully alive in this world. And we need the gift of the Spirit in order to live lives pleasing to God. We need the Spirit of God in order to bring light to a world often in the darkness of prejudice and unity to a world divided.
With the Samaritan Woman’s question: “How do you a Jew ask a drink of me a woman of Samaria” at the forefront of our minds—I close with the brief story of a man named Elias Chacour.
God used Elias Chacour as an instrument of his peace, as living water for a world thirsting for unity and hope. Returning to Michael Lindvall, just this past year, he wrote:
“Some years ago, I met Elias Chacour in northern Israel, in a little town in Galilee called Ibillin, not far from Nazareth. Chacour…is an Israeli citizen, an Arab, and a Christian.
“Later an archbishop in the Melkite church, Father Chacour then ran a remarkable school and college in 1 billion, one of the few educational institutions in Israel where Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze students are invited to study side by side.
“Father Chacour was clear about why his school had to be this way. It had to be this way, he said, because the God he worships has no regard for human divisions.
“The God he worships loves Christians.
“The God he worships loves Muslims.
“The God he worships loves Jews.
“The God he worships loves Druze.
“The God he worships loves agnostics, loves atheists, loves Arabs and Israelis.”
“One evening we were talking on his rooftop overlooking the hills of Galilee, the very hills Jesus had once walked.
“[Father Chacour] told us that when people in that part of the world first meet, they often ask each other a routine question, ‘What were you born?’
“It is a big question, and you are supposed to answer, ‘I was born a Melkite Christian,’ or ‘I was born a Shia…or an Israeli…or a Lebanese.’
“Chacour told us that when people ask him this question, he always answers the same way.
“He always says, ‘I was born a baby.’”
“He said it on the rooftop that night: ‘I was born a baby,’ and then he laughed and laughed, laughed till tears came. There is no “us” and “them” in the love of God.”
Friends, may our church be a witness to the reality of “the gift of God” for all humanity—in these times of Covid-19 and during all the seasons of our lives. May we help each other experience the “living water” which comes to us through the wisdom and love of God--that quenches our thirst for meaning and hope—that unites us and will never will let us go.