Christ the Living Water

During the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, participants made connections women from around the world. Participants also made connections with the Presbytery of New York City. On Sunday, several participants preached in congregations of the presbytery.

Emily Denon, student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, preached at Glen Morris Presbyterian Church. Her text was John 4:5-42. This passage contains the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s Well.

The sermon begins with a consideration of water – water that plays a key role in literature and in the Bible – water that plays a key role in the encounter:

The Bible sometimes reads like manual on how to find water, keep it unpolluted and ensure that there is enough to go round.  The first mention of water is found in the first verse of Genesis … the flood serves to herald in a new world, and is the catalyst for God’s first covenant with humanity.  Moses and the Israelites pass through water as they leave Egypt and slavery and begin their journey to the promised land.  Issac finds his wife Rebecca at a well and a few chapters later his son Jacob meets Rachel at a well. 

           Jesus walks across the waters of the Sea of Galilee and empowers his disciples to navigate the water successfully in the midst of a violent storm.  Water serves as a source of refreshment and more when Jesus turns water into wine at Cana … John the Baptist’s baptism with water helps reveal Jesus, who himself uses water to baptize and wash his disciples feet.  When Jesus heals the lame man at the pool of Bethzatha, he reveals that he has greater power than the water there and he later employs the water of the pool of Soloam to give sight to a man born blind.  And finally water, along with blood, flows from Jesus’ side during the crucifixion.  In a much more mysterious and powerful fashion, John’s gospel depicts water, along with the Spirit, as an agent of birth into the kingdom of God. 

            What each of these stories reveal is the symbolic and actual use of water in heralding in a new world, a new life and new order.  Without the presence of water, the source of life, that which cleanses, that which bears us into the world, that which Jesus used to baptize, radical change, rebirth cannot occur.

The sermon notes that – at the well – radical change and rebirth occur in the Samaritan woman.

… she is the one who Jesus choose to reveal himself, for the first time as the Messiah, she is also the first person in the gospel to convert an entire town.  She is the first evangelist, and as the disciples, muttering on the sidelines observe, there couldn’t be a worse candidate for the job. 

            The Samaritan women epitomizes the other, she is the quintessential deviant, she is a non Jew, perhaps a sinner, she is sexually shameless, she has had five husbands, she is currently living with a man not her husband, and she is conversing in public with a man outside her kinship group … Nevertheless in her encounter with Jesus she is transformed into an insider, she repeats Jesus’ original words, ‘give me to drink’ with her own insistence “give me this water.”

            The woman of Samaria becomes in the narrative simply the woman, and as geographic particularity subsides, she becomes the model for all women, one who has gained knowledge of how to worship “in spirit and truth”.  No longer representing the adulterous, foreign, unknowing Samaritan nation, her fidelity to Jesus, the welcome he receives by her people, and her knowledge mark her as an insider.

           According to Jesus the benefits of living water are not to be saved for the life to come, but can be realized in their life now. The salvation Jesus promises the woman is not some far off potentiality, or anticipated hope, rather the salvation he speaks of occurs at that moment, when the woman is restored to a new life. 

            Giving voice to the type of salvation Jesus offers is Dorothy Day, a fierce advocate for the liberation of all people … She is quoted as saying “we cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know God in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.  Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet too, even with a crust, were there is companionship.”  She was acutely aware of the new life that is possible now, heaven is a banquet, but so too is this life, it embraces difference, food, community, family the good life now, shared with all others. 

            It is the banquet of this life that Jesus ushers the Samaritan woman into and it is the good life here and now that Jesus instructs the disciples to see, to prepare for.  The kingdom of God on earth is what the disciples are called to proclaim and what Jesus enacts in his communion with the Samaritan village.   And it is what we the church also proclaim—Christ the living water and the Kingdom of God on earth.

Read the whole sermon.

Thanks to Emily for sharing. Thanks to Glen Morris Presbyterian Church for inviting Emily to preach.

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