- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Lowell Schuetze at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va.:

Nothing could be simpler than Jesus' request to the Samaritan woman for a drink of water [John 4: 5-42]. But there were cultural complications. She said, "How could you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"
When you are thirsty for water, that's the only focus you have. In the arid lands where Jesus lived, it was essential and life-giving. But all of a sudden, Jesus starts talking about "living water." It is a different image from the stagnant water in a desert well, hidden under dust and debris.
Think instead of the geyser Old Faithful at Yellowstone Park, and how right on time it shoots 100 feet into the air. Better still is cool water, like a memory I have from hiking in the mountains near Colorado Springs. A tiny stream of water rushed over an edge, and when it hit a rock, it shot up 15 feet in the air and came down like a cool refreshing shower. Or think of a bubbling artesian well. No matter how much cool water you draw out, it keeps coming.
So the Samaritan woman's question was natural. "Where do you get that living water?" Jesus could have said, "I am the living water," and we could make it many of the "I am" references in the Gospel of John. "I am the light," and "I am the way," and "I am the Good Shepherd." But no, Jesus turns the conversation back to her, and about who she is.
Jesus said, "Go get your husband," and that simple statement opens up something different. He knows she had had five husbands, and was not married now. Now the topic was her, and about her circumstance, and why she came out to the well alone in the scorching afternoon. Everyone else in the town came out together in the cool morning, and it was a great social event. She comes out to draw water alone. Could it be that this woman is a social outcast? She may have been the gossip of that morning around the well. Could it be that she had this deep and abiding thirst for acceptance, for forgiveness?
Now, she is offered living water, which satisfies a thirst that no other water can quench. Jesus is telling her, "You're religion may condemn you and your townspeople shun you, but I will give you living water." Where do you get that living water? Then the conversation deepens. We know that religious wars are fought over places of worship and holy sites. They are places toward which you face in worship, or visit in pilgrimage. Many churches place their altars toward Jerusalem. With our building, there was no choice, and if we worship toward Rome or Salt Lake City, that's just fine.
The Samaritan woman mentions the well's ancestry and Jerusalem, but Jesus said, "Those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and truth." He said the time was coming when they would not "worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem." Here, there and everywhere those are the places of worship. Where do you get that living water? The only water that will slake our particular human thirst? We find that water by worship in spirit in truth, here and now.
The living Lord can tell us everything we ever did. There are no secrets. There are no pretenses to be made, no posturing about human perfection, which is not needed or desired. We are asked to be our real selves, offering that up in confession. We offer up intercessions for the needs of others and pour our whole selves into praise and thanksgiving.
When we worship in spirit and truth, in the company of others, the Messiah meets us where we are. Whatever the circumstance, whatever the grief or burden, whatever the challenges, guilt or shame. He comes not to judge us. He comes not to sharpen our pangs of guilt or unworthiness. He comes to give us living water so we thirst no more. We can leave behind the jug that we brought to draw out the stagnant water, and take the living water in.

Next week: a sermon at a Maryland church.

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