February 20, 2022 – Living Water
Acknowledging the Territory
At our General Council meeting last Sunday, we were reminded that all too often the acknowledgement of the Land, which most United Churches do each Sunday, can become an empty symbol unless we really think about what it means and how we can put actions to the words. So this morning, I would ask that we simply take a moment to think about our own relationship with the first peoples of Nova Scotia and particularly of this region and about what we might be able to do to improve that relationship.
Lighting the Christ Candle
According to John, Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Living Water and I am the Light of the World. Today as we light our Christ Candle may we see reflected in its light, the one in whose name we gather.
Call to Worship
Living Water flows with abundance to fill us with hope.
Living Water flows with abundance to wash away our regret and guilt.
Living Water flows with abundance redirect our path.
Living Water flows with abundance to float us to a new life.
Washed in the Living Water,
we gather to worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison) ~ written by Carol Penner.
God of our hearts…here we are! We’ve come with thirsty hearts, praying that your Word will satisfy us. We come with aching hearts, praying for good news to comfort us. We come with grateful hearts, praying you will accept our praise. We come with overflowing hearts, praying for a chance to share your love. You, who know our hearts and hear our prayers, be with us now in this hour of worship. Amen.
Gift of Music Crashing Waters at Creation #449
Scripture Readings John 7:37-52
In our scripture reading from the Gospel According to John last week, we heard Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life”. Today we hear him talk about “living water” and he invites all who are thirsty to come to him.
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Our scripture today occurs during the Jewish harvest festival called Sukkot or the Festival of Booths. It is one of the three “pilgrimage’ festivals when all Israelites who were able to do so, were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. The booths or sukkah were temporary shelters, in which the farmers would live during the harvest, but they were also intended to remind the people of the dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
In both the celebration of the harvest and in the remembering of the 40 years in the wilderness, water was an essential element. In the fall, when this festival of Sukkot took place, the land would be extremely dry after the long hot summer. It was a time the people would begin to look forward to the coming year knowing that, if the rains did not come, there would be no harvest next year.
One of the traditions that marked Sukkot was the daily parade, lead by a priest, that went from the temple to the pool of Salome. The priest would scoop up water from the pool in a golden pitcher and then carry it back to the temple where it would be poured over the altar as a visceral prayer that God would send water.
And so, on the last day of this week-long festival, Jesus, who had been sitting in the temple teaching, went out into the crowd, stood up and shouted, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
It is within the prayers and rituals associated with the celebration of Sukkot, the Jesus quotes, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ The actual wording is probably more accurately translated as “out of his heart” and in the context of Sukkot, would refer to God. It is a promise of abundant rains for the coming season and a reminder of all the times that God has provided water in the past especially in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
But when Jesus uses this quote, we read it in the context of the story we heard earlier about Jesus’ promise to the Samaritan women that he would give her living water that would become a spring or river welling up inside her. We read this as a promise that if we believe in Jesus then he will also give us this living water.
And I believe this is exactly what John intended. For John, because Jesus is the very essence of God, any life-giving water that flows from God, flows from Jesus. Therefore, it is Jesus who can offer the people the living water that satisfies not their physical thirst, but their spiritual thirst.
Some of the people listening heard this and believed. But certainly not all. Much of what we hear Jesus say in the Gospel According to John is difficult to understand and sometimes, even more difficult to accept. But this is the reality of faith. There may be times when everything seems to fall into place and we find it relatively easy to believe. But sometimes, the more we try to understand, the less sense it seems to make. And we are not alone in this.
John often tells of how some people in the crowds who heard Jesus speak, immediately believed. But then, in the very next passage, Jesus says something that causes them to question and doubt. Even when it appears that John seems to feel everything is black and white, that you either believe and are saved or don’t believe and are condemned, there are many who seem to move back and forth between faith and doubt.
And for me, there is one particular character in John that seems to personify this ongoing struggle between faith and doubt. He appears only in John and is only mentioned three times in the entire gospel. But the more I look at his story, the more I see the beauty of the struggle. His name is Nicodemus.
We first met Nicodemus last month when he came to Jesus by night, asking questions. Nicodemus was a member of the Council or Temple authorities that consisted of Sadducees, Pharisees and High Priests. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. As such his role was the interpretation and implementation of the laws of Moses as they were recorded by the Scribes. It was a position of considerable power.
And yet in Jesus, Nicodemus saw something that went beyond the law, and so, perhaps uncertain of what others on the council might think, Nicodemus approached Jesus by night in order to ask his questions. The answers he receives are not what he expects, and following that conversation, Nicodemus disappears from the scriptures. If we had no other record of Nicodemus, we would likely be left with the impression that he simply could not accept what Jesus was saying and chose to walk away. But in the passage that we read this morning, Nicodemus reappears.
About half way through the Festival of Sukkot, Jesus began teaching in the temple. As always seems to be the case, his teachings began to stir up a lot of controversy. Some believed, some did not and some became very upset. The temple authorities were among those who got most upset, and so the Pharisees and the Chief Priests got together and decided to send the temple police to arrest Jesus.
But when the temple police returned, they returned without Jesus. Perhaps part of the reason was that no one was able to get near Jesus because of the crowds that surrounded him, but part of the reason was also that the temple police had been quite overwhelmed by what they had heard Jesus say. It is not clear if they understood and believed what he said or if they had simply been in awe of how he spoke but, whatever the reason, they did not arrest him.
The response of the Pharisees is highly insulting to the temple police. “So, he fooled you too, did he? Well, I guess you can’t expect much more than that from a bunch of uneducated police who don’t even understand the Law. But it doesn’t really matter since if they don’t know the law that can’t be saved anyway. You wouldn’t see a Pharisee or a Priest being fooled into believe in him.”
And this is where Nicodemus comes in. As part of the council, he askes one simple question, but that question seems to throw everything the others Pharisees have just said into doubt. “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” What were the charges against Jesus? What had he done that he deserved to be arrested for?
Notice that Nicodemus never receives an answer to his question. Instead, the others turn on him and accuse him of being a ‘Galilean’, which basically meant they were accusing him of being an uneducated hick from a nowhere town that could not possibly be taken seriously. After all, the scriptures clearly say that no prophet can every come from Galilee. And just to make their point, they suggest that if Nicodemus would just look at the scriptures, he would know that.
Nicodemus does not respond to them but once, again disappears from the scripture. This time we are left wondering if perhaps, Nicodemus’s initial meeting with Jesus had had a more profound effect on him than we realized. We are left wondering if, maybe, it’s OK not to be absolutely certain about our faith from the very beginning.
For me, this is why, the more I look at the Gospel according to John and the more I explore some of his stories, especially the story of Nicodemus, the more I find myself relating to a Gospel account that I have often struggled with. There have been times, and I guess still are times when I find the Gospel According to John just a little bit too rigid for me, just a little bit too black and white, in a world that often seem overrun by grey.
Yet in the story of Nicodemus, I find a new image of faith, not as something that must be wholeheartedly embraced as a single, simple answer to every complicated question of life but rather as a process of questioning, seeking, contemplating and coming to faith. I never though that this was something that I would find in the Gospel According to John.
I am learning that John frequently challenges me to look at images and ideas that are all too often taken at face value, in a different way. John challenges me to ask myself what it is that I hunger for and thirst for. John challenges me to see beyond my own assumptions and my own often narrow vision to find unexpected and perhaps sometimes confusing answers.
John challenges all of us to not only face the deep hunger and thirst, the deep longings of our souls, but he also challenges us to ask if, perhaps, we can find a source that satisfies that thirst in the revelation of the Divine that we see in Jesus. For some people this will be easy, something that they embrace without question. For others it may be more difficult.
But the good news is that regardless of whether we rush to that source of living water unquestioningly or whether we come to it over time though our wondering and our questioning, that source of living water will never dry up. It will always be there, flowing freely and abundantly to nurture, to renew, to refresh and to sustain us.
Gift of Music As the Deer Pants for the Water #766
We Offer Our Gifts
We are here, gathered in worship because, despite our questions and uncertainty, we are committed to following Christ’s way. And so, as we gather, we pause to remember that our commitment to God includes the gifts we offer. Those gifts may be the financial gifts we give through our envelopes that we drop off at the church, through Par or through online donations. But the other gifts we offer, the gifts of our time, our talents, our abilities, and our prayers, are just as important and just as valuable. So let us take a moment now to ask God to bless whatever gifts we offer.
Let us pray;
Divine source of all that nurtures and sustains us, we offer our thanks for all that we have received from you, and we ask that the gifts we offer may be touched by your spirit so that they may reach out to touch and bless others in your name. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Part of what we do in worship is to pray together. But sometimes there are prayers so personal that the words of someone else simply don’t say what is in our own hearts. And so, each week, we take a moment of silence, to offer our own personal prayers for the people and the situations that are in our hearts and on our minds. So let us take a moment now to offer God our personal prayers.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Source of Love, of Hope and of life itself, we come to you today acknowledging the times of dry wildernesses and thirst in our lives. We come knowing that we need you and trusting that when we need it most, you offer us Living Water.
When we doubt your love for us, when we grumble that your presence seems unreliable, when we must face the regrets and the bad choices we have made, when we feel excluded and unworthy, you offer us Living Water.
When circumstances, or the inhumanity of others, have left us feeling alone and wounded, when the world around us seems so filled with pain and uncertainty, when we struggle to find hope when everything seems so hopeless, you offer us living water.
When everything seems to be going perfectly, when all our needs seem to be met and when we seem to have an abundance of all the joys and blessing of life, you call us to give thanks for all that we have but to remember that these things alone cannot satisfy the deep thirst of our souls. You call us to remember to continue to drink deeply of the living water that you offer us.
You also remind us that this living water is not for us alone, but for all people. You call us and you challenge us to share what we have, both physical and living water, so that all your creation may flourish and may know the deep joy of thirst quenched and hope renewed.
And so, as we gather here in prayer, we drink deeply of your living water. As we draw from your well, we seek your guidance and your grace as we strive to reach out to pass that cup to others who, like us, are thirsty for your grace.
Bless our efforts as we seek to follow the one who, for us, became your living water, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Closing Hymn Water Flowing from the Mountains MV#87
So now we go out from here trusting that the Living Water we seek is there. waiting for us, if only we ask. We go knowing that when we ask, the one who is the source of all life is with us, the one who helps show us the well is there to guide us and the one who fills us to overflowing is around and within us at all times. We go knowing that, we go with God.