Sunday Night Worship – 2/24/08 (Fluvanna Prison)

“Leave Your Jars Behind”

John 4: 5-42

I really have only one thing to tell you tonight so I’m going to say it now: When you believe that God is the One giving you what you need to survive, you can leave behind your inadequate attempts to save yourself.

Do you know what I mean?

And do you know what it’s like to walk miles in the desert at noon, by yourself, carrying a water jug to fill up and quench your thirst with? Do you know what it’s like when you realize after all that walking and sweating that there is not a well on earth deep enough for your thirst? Do you know what it’s like to be met in such a lonely place by Jesus, offering to fill you up so you are never thirsty again?

This unnamed Samaritan woman does. Early morning was normal time for drawing water from the well. Women went together in the cool of the dawn to get water for their families, socializing and talking along the way. No one went to the well at noon. It was way too hot.

So long before Jesus starts asking her questions, we understand that she is something of an outcast, forced to make that daily journey on her own in the hottest part of the day. A daily reminder that she is not welcome in the social circles of her town. Do you know what that’s like?

And out of nowhere there is this man. A Jewish man and a rabbi at that! And he’s talking to her! This simply wasn’t done – men and women talking alone or Jews and Samaritans socializing. On top of that, no one ever talks to her – that’s why she’s there at noon in the first place. And on top of all that he is brazen enough to ask her for a drink.

What do you mean by this, you a Jew asking me a Samaritan woman for a drink?

And Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (v. 10).

Maybe you already know this, but there is a big difference between finding water to live and receiving living water. ( ) You can go to the well every day — early morning, noon, or night — to draw enough water for the next day. You can walk all that way and back, careful not to slosh it all out onto the dry ground. You can love the cool, fresh taste of it and you can long for it when you don’t have it. But that’s just water to live.

Then there’s living water.

The woman is confused and curious when Jesus mentions it. Where do you get this living water? You don’t even have a bucket and this well’s really deep. How do you plan to get it?

He doesn’t answer the question directly. This water here will leave you thirsty again eventually. But if you drink the living water I give you’ll never be thirsty again. The water I give you will gush up like a spring to eternal life.

I find this part amazing, because if I had been at that well with Jesus I don’t know if I would have been that brave. There in the crazy heat of the day, talking with someone she isn’t supposed to be talking with, the woman receives what must have been the strangest invitation of her whole life.

She’s used to fending for herself. If she doesn’t walk out here in the middle of the day there will be no water. She doesn’t have friends to bring some back for her and she can’t make the load lighter by going with the other women at dawn. She came here to draw her own water and now this complete stranger with no bucket is offering her some water she’s never heard of.

And what does she do? Does she tell him to go take a flying leap? Does she think he’s being cruel and taunting like the rest of the people she meets? Does she even think he may have spent too long in the mid-day heat himself?

Without hesitation she says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (v. 15). Whatever it is, I know I need it. Please give me this water! Is that what you would say to Jesus? Are you that brave?

Then it gets scarier because Jesus knows more than he has let on. He says back to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back” (v. 16).

She tells him she doesn’t have a husband and he says You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband. What you’ve said is true.

That is all he says about that.

We don’t know why she’s had so many husbands. We don’t know if they’ve died or run off or what. We don’t know anything except how Jesus responds to her. When she confesses the truth of her life all he says is “you’re right.” He recognizes the truth.

A lot of folks like to focus on this part of the story. They want to talk about her five husbands a whole lot more than Jesus did. They want to decide things about her and her life based on this one fact. They want to condemn her and her past.

This is not what Jesus does. I’m here to tell you that there is a big difference between condemnation and the hard healing truth. Do you know what I mean? The truth about who we are can be hard to see, hard to say, and hard to deal with. But at least it’s the truth. Saying it and seeing it is at least honest. It is a starting place. It is the only place to start.

The woman must know this somewhere deep inside because after she has been brave enough to ask for some of that living water, she’s honest enough to tell Jesus the whole story about her life.

None of this changes anything about Jesus’ invitation to the living water. He asks her for the truth and he listens to it all. He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t change his mind about the offer. He doesn’t decide to get up and walk on to another well. He doesn’t tell her to stop talking to him. He still wants her to have living water gushing up inside her to eternal life.

The story tells us they talk a little while longer and then the disciples come up. And when they get there they are so shocked to see Jesus talking alone with a Samaritan woman that they are speechless. They just stand there gawking and wondering what is going on.

And in that silence “the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people [there], ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!’” (vv. 28-29).

I told you that I had only one thing to tell you tonight and it depends on this: the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. It is such a small-seeming thing that it would be easy to overlook. Of course when she gets to the city she tells everyone she runs into about this amazing man she’s met. She’s a great evangelist even though we never find out her name.

But the big news – the biggest statement she makes — is when she leaves that water jar. That water jar was her one friend on her daily trips to the well. It represented life to her because she had to have the water it held for her every day. This was how she took care of herself, how she kept herself alive.

And she left it behind!

Do you think maybe that water jar represents even more? What else was she ready to leave behind? Where else in her life was she protecting herself and trying to save herself? Where else in her life did she think it was all up to her?

Maybe it was that long line of husbands, there to give her a name or a home, or some kind of security. Maybe it was being able to take care of herself. But she gets up and runs back to town to tell all those people who wouldn’t even allow her at the well with them. She leaves behind all those ways she thought she was taking care of business. She leaves what she thought she had to have in order to make it through the day – she leaves that water jar, sitting there empty by the well.

When Jesus offers her living water she says Whatever it is I know I need it. What do you say?

I’ll say it again: When you believe that God is the One giving you what you need to survive, you can leave behind your inadequate attempts to save yourself.

If you have a water jar with you tonight, know that God makes the same offer to you. There is living water for you. There is eternal life for you. There is living water that is so abundant it overflows all our water jars and it quenches the deepest thirsts of our lives. If you have a water jar with you, know that you can leave it behind.

You may have come here to draw your own water. But God’s got a better offer.

What do you say?

Thanks be to God!

24 February 2008

Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center

© Deborah E. Lewis