Third Sunday in Lent March 27, 2011.
This third Sunday in Lent focuses on that which satiates the thirst of humanity for forgiveness, continuing care, and hope: the living water offered by Jesus Christ. The story from Exodus illustrates the primary human need for water. Wandering in the wilderness, the people who were once miraculously brought out of slavery to freedom are deathly thirsty. Overwhelmed by their singular need for refreshment, they demand water. Far from whining or baseless complaining, the people's thirst crushes the ability to ask politely, act rationally, or calmly recall God's past salvific action. They turn with a kind of cranky hope to Moses, one who embodied God's action in the past. Even in complaint and overwhelming bodily thirst, their demands reveal an expectant faith. That cranky faith is rewarded with an abundance of water that rushes unexpectedly from the rock.
In the familiar story of the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John, expectant thirst and abundant water appear again. Her encounter with Jesus Christ and living water is one of truth-telling and love. All pretenses are washed away as the woman's thirst gives her the trust to honestly name the messiness of her life. The woman's thirst for living water becomes expectation. She simply hopes for a taste of the water that may quench her thirst whether it is simply a physical thirst or one deeper in her soul.
Somehow, in the presence of Christ and with this overwhelming thirst, she is made strong enough to stand exposed and vulnerable in the presence of Jesus. This stands in contrast to her presence at the well in the heat of mid-day rather than the morning with the rest of the community. Her timing at the well reveals a reticence to be exposed with that truth within her community. She is a sinful human being who does not seem to fully comprehend the words Jesus speaks. Her thirst is her only statement of faith. Simply being thirsty in the presence of Christ releases the abundant flow of living water.
In the flow of living water, the details of the Samaritan woman's broken relationships and shamed status in the community are washed away even without being named as forgiveness or absolution. In the presence of Christ, she is simply freed to know grace in fullness and truth. In turn, that living grace overflows through her, back to the city. Her proclamation of the gospel wordlessly restores her to the community. In turn, her life becomes a place through which the living water abundantly flows.
Rather than being signs of weakness or distrust, being thirsty and expecting refreshment are powerful signs of expectant faith. Salvation is offered in the death and resurrection of Christ not because of our worthiness in the eyes of God, but because of our belovedness. Paul notes in his letter to the Romans, "But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). Without considering what we deserve, God offers what God desires: reconciliation, hope, and life. Poured into our hearts by God, the gift of faith is as simple as a thirst for refreshment.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when a person is led to the waters of baptism. One is brought to the font needy and exposed but standing strong with the expectant faith that fuels our nerve to stand so vulnerable before God. As we stand at the edge of the water surrounded by the faithful community and exposed as sinners with trembling hearts at the cusp of judgment and hopeful anticipation, the saving water of grace flows toward us. We are buoyed up by the living water even before our thirst for it is quenched. Whether or not we cognitively understand what is happening or we can articulate the details of what we believe, our thirsty expectation reveals the gift of faith.
Our encounter with the water washes us clean of sin without necessarily naming every detail. This sacrament satisfies our thirst for joy even though it may be difficult to articulate at the moment. Our lives are refreshed in the moment and from then on throughout life no matter whether or not we can articulate when or how. In turn, our often inarticulate words and actions of mixed motivations provide an outlet through which the living water abundantly flows to the rest of the world.
Today's readings make it abundantly clear that God's grace, the living water, flows in the direction of thirst and anticipation rather than right behavior or comprehension. Even a complaining faith that directs its grievances toward God reveals trust in the one who gives eternal life.
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2010|
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