Sunday February 10, 2019
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Christine Pae
Jesus, Living Water
When I was a college student many years ago, as part of the students’ mission team, I spent one month on a Navajo Indian Reservation near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Our job at the reservation was simple. We visited the Native American church members’ houses, sat with their families, listened to their stories, played games with children and youth, and taught Bible lessons at the Sunday school. It was June. The scorching heat and dry air often dehydrated us. We felt tired. Our bodies and spirits did not function properly. Some members of the mission team constantly suffered headaches due to dehydration. Unfortunately, the Indian Reservation did not have enough drinking water. A drought had affected the region for some years and dried up the rivers. The fast growth of Phoenix also sucked up already scarce water resources in the reservation.
So, it was natural for us to keep thinking about water. Fresh water, cold water, the water that would truly quench our thirst, wet our lips, run through our bodies, and make us live again. Living at the reservation, we did not mind how we looked, although we could not take a shower for many days. When we could not tolerate our thirst, we drank Coca-Cola like many Navajos. Coca-Cola was cheaper than bottled water. Although everyone in the reservation knew that Coca-Cola would dehydrate them more, when the thirst was unbearable and drinking water was unaffordable, Coca-Cola was a forced option. The lack of drinking water and the abundance of soda were detrimental to Navajos’ health as many of them suffered diabetes.
Meditating on today’s reading from the Gospel of John, I thought about Navajo Christians who left inerasable spiritual palm prints on my heart. In retrospect, I am convinced that they have spiritual privilege and wisdom to understand today’s Gospel reading because they knew what was like to live without access to clean drinking water. Jesus might have a special preference for those who do not have access to reliable drinking water because, by their experience, they might better understand the message of Jesus who identifies with living water. Living water is liberation, liberation from the privatized water resources. Just as a person cannot possess God, water must be shared.
Water carries out many vital symbols in the Episcopal Church. Water symbolizes baptism, purification, the spirit of God, and life itself. Water is full of mystery. It looks like an inanimate object, but it has its own life. Water is the essence of life. It has the power to ensure that every one of God’s creatures lives. At the same time, water has the power to destroy life. There is no single way to describe the characteristics of water. However, water as an analogy helps us understand who and what Jesus is.
When Jesus cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink,” he invites us intimately to experience him, feel the Spirit, and be united with him. Those who are thirsty for the meaning of life and the Ultimate Reality are invited to come to Jesus and to drink the living water of Jesus. Knowing Jesus is like drinking water. Clean drinking water has no smell, no taste, no color, and no shape. However, we know that it is water when we see it, taste it, drink it, and touch it. We can know water only by feeling it. Although we feel and experience water, we might not be able to describe it adequately. Water is like the Spirit who is with us, within us, and around us. We know that God’s spirit is imminent because we have experienced God’s presence in our lives at least once in our lifetime. Although we cannot fully explain what the Spirit is like, when the Spirit touches us, we know we are touched by the Spirit, just as our lips and throat know the taste of water when the water touches us. The church is and should be the community of people who experience the living water of Jesus Christ.
18th Century German Theologian Fredrich Schleiermacher once said that feeling and intuition are the essence of religion—the feelings that we had when water completely quenched our thirst, the feelings we once had when the Spirit filled our hearts with joy as if God held us in His arms tightly. Now, the Evensong service creates space where we intimately welcome God’s Spirit, feel its presence as if we drank water in the desert, and become united with the Spirit just as water runs through our bodies. The good people of God are often divided over the different interpretations of the meaning of water, the experience of water, or the right way to drink water. Today’s reading from the Gospel shows a similar division among people. After Jesus had invited people to drink living water, people were divided over the identity of Jesus because they interpreted their experiences of Jesus differently. Sometimes, it seems enough to just live in the experience without trying to analyze or explain it when we cannot fully understand it. We need intellectual humility whenever we encounter the mystery of God. The temple police might be those who acted, following their feelings and intuitions when they listened to Jesus’ words. Although they could not articulate their feelings and experiences, they could not arrest Jesus because they felt something different in their hearts.
Living water of Jesus Christ has the power to quench our thirst, our spiritual thirst. Also, we should not forget that it is not only the spirit but also the body that needs water to thrive. Both spiritual water and material water should be available for all the living beings on Earth. God created water abundantly.