Simply going to the store has been an adventure these past few days. On Wednesday night we came in to set up for our soup supper and realized that we didn’t have the keys to our supply cabinets. We went to Shop-Rite to buy paper plates, bowls, spoons napkins and a case of bottled water. When we got to the water aisle, the shelves were almost bare and at the far end of the aisle a couple of workers were unwrapping a pallet of water and people putting cases in their shopping carts as fast as they were unwrapping it. We just needed one case, I thought, but it was easy to get caught up in a kind of competitive frenzy that made the acquisition of this water a kind of battle. I had to get a case of water, I thought. Maybe I need three or four, I thought, but I fought through that anxiety and just got the one we needed for the night. And when we got out of the water aisle and returned to my senses, I thought … wait. We have all the water we need for tonight … for tomorrow and the next day … just by turning on the tap.
We take it for granted, but indoor running water is an absolute game changer. Except when camping, I’ve never had to go to the well to get water for the day, but all over the world people still travel, sometimes for hours, to a well to get the water they need for a day. In the morning when I wake up I go to the sink, turn on the faucet, and fill my cup with life-sustaining water. Each of us has our own access to a well that flows directly into our homes, and that difference — indoor running water compared to a community well — has effects that ripple out to change every aspect of our lives.
At the heart of the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well — the Eastern Church names her St. Photine (light) — so let’s call this important apostle by that name. At the heart of this conversation between Jesus and Photine is the comparison between coming to an ancient, deep well of water and a gushing spring of water that wells up from inside a person. Then another comparison that compares worship at particular holy site, like a temple in Jerusalem or on Mt Gerizim and worship in the Spirit and in Truth. That is, worship that is not in a particular geographic location, but located in the Spirit, centered in Christ.
And that is the gift that Jesus gives to all. He gives himself for the life of the world, and he gives the Holy Spirit that sustains us in an eternal life, unites us with Christ and the Heavenly Father and connects us in the Spirit with God’s people of all times and places. This life-giving Spirit is given freely to all. It is received by faith. We trust in, and we believe in Jesus and his word and work for us. And it is that faith, that trust that form the basis of new relationship with God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
What caused the mini panic and run on water at the Shop-Rite on Wednesday? It was a crisis in faith, in trust. We forgot that water flows into our homes. We failed to trust the life-giving, life-sustaining nature of that water. We refused to turn on the tap. In baptism, we have been joined in faith to the death of Jesus and raised in the hope of sharing in Jesus’ resurrection. In baptism, we have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the life-giving source of eternal life that is the down payment on the promise of life in the world to come. We have a source of living water .. the very presence of the Spirit within us … to sustain us in this new relationship of faith and love. But sometimes we forget to simply tap into that Spirit. We go out in a panic to buy water when all we need is right here. In the Word … in the sacrament … in faith and hope and love.
This living water within us can unite us in the love of God. The Spirit crosses the boundaries and short circuits the rivalries and competition and even prejudice and hatred that separates us. It makes us all children of God. Through Jesus and in the Spirit, God gives abundant life to whole world.
And that’s the wonderful promise of this story of the meeting of Jesus and Photine at the well. First, that God reunites two rival peoples, two branches of God’s family together again in a new relationship that centers on faith in Jesus. Second, that the gift of the Spirit in an abundant source of life that empowers our witness to Jesus and through us gives life to the world. Photine receives this gift in faith and shares this good news with the whole village and the village is transformed by God’s presence. Like a spring that bubbles up into a deep pool and then ripples out, moves to water the whole world — that’s the good news we have and share.
But there is one more promise here that we need to recognize, especially this week as we have all been called upon to do our part to stop the spread of this virus. We worship God in the Spirit. It is the Spirit that unifies and unites us … those who are here in this sanctuary and those who are with us now in the Spirit in their own homes. It is in the Spirit that Christ is present with us and for us. God is with us whenever and wherever and however we gather around God’s Word and the sacraments. The internet let’s us see in a new way what the Spirit has always done … just like indoor running water allows us to see what Jesus has already given us in the Spirit.
So, whether here or there, we are together in Christ, in the Spirit, in fellowship with God.
There’s an old story about a pastor who meets a person for the first time and in the course of the conversation was asked, where is your church? The pastor said, “Well that’s difficult to say right now. Some are at home. Some are at work. Some are in hospitals and nursing homes. Some have gone on into the presence God around the altar of the Lord. Some are playing. The church I serve is out there somewhere.”
In the days and weeks ahead, and for the time being, we will have to find different and new ways of gathering, but this pandemic also shows us something we knew all along but maybe never really understood until now: we are the people of God, gathered around the Word and Sacraments and then sent into the whole world to share the good news in what we say and what we do, to love and serve all people following the example of Jesus, to share the gift of living water that brings people to new life in God through Christ in the life-giving Spirit. Be the light. Be Photine. Shine the light of Christ in your neighborhood. Give ... don’t hoard the gift of living water.
Not in Jerusalem. Not on Gerizim. Not here at 445 Old Post Rd in Edison … but where we are today, in the Spirit and Truth and the name of Jesus. Amen.
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