The Water of Life
I want to lift up several pieces this morning for us to consider. First, from the Hebrew Scriptures: My people have committed two crimes: first, they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and dug wells, broken wells that can’t hold water (Jeremiah 2:13) and second from the writer of the letter to the Hebrews: Love each other like family, be free from the love of money and be content, God has said: I will never leave you or abandon you. (Hebrews 13:1, 5). I want to look at these through the lens of the Gospel passage, so let us start there.
In the Gospel reading from Luke (14: 6-14), Jesus has been invited to dinner at someone’s house. This is not just anyone, Luke mentions that this is one of the leaders of the Pharisees. This is still common practice today in the Orthodox Jewish communities that I know. The leaders are expected to invite people for Sabbath dinner. It is an honor to be invited, but it is also an expected honor. Each of the leaders would invite people each week, but the important people would of course be invited, and of course they would expect to get special treatment, and of course they would be expected to invite their host to their party.
Jesus is being watched closely, he is the outsider here, and an interesting rabble-rouser, he is an itinerant rabbi. There is a sense of them being both intrigued and troubled. So they are watching him, and, he is watching them. Grace before meals is spoken on eating the first morsel of bread and runs thus: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who bringest bread forth from the earth.” Then the meal is eaten, and then the benedictions are said at the end of the meal.
At some point in the meal, no doubt, after Jesus had had something to eat, they would be expecting him to say something. And he does, making comment on how they had jockyed for position, trying to get the best place, and how that could get you into trouble. What if you chose a high position, but then someone of higher status showed up. The host would have to tell you to give up your seat, the only place left at that point would be the bottom, which would be embarrassing. Jesus says, look! If you want to play status games, be clever about it. Choose a low seat, and then your host will say come up higher! Then some other schmuck who was not so clever will end up in your old seat, and you will have the greater honor. All find and good, Jesus, but what if it doesn’t happen? What if your host does not bring you up? Then there you are down with the commoners! Well, at least you didn’t lose your seat in an embarrassing manner!
But then there is the meatier issue. He turns to his host and says, look, if you really want to do something special, if you really are interested in having a right relationship with God – and remember these are Pharisees, these are people who spent much of their waking days trying to follow the Law correctly because they really, really wanted to be right with God – so, he says, if you want to make a splash in the righteousness pool, throw a big dinner and invite people who cannot return the favor. Why? Because when you invite people who have the means to invite you back, they will – and you will be repaid. If you cannot be repaid, Jesus says, you will be adding credits in the heavenly bank account.
What is he really getting at here? For one thing, there is a long-standing tradition of doing good deeds, it is called a mitzvah. Doing good deeds is considered an obligation if you are a good person. It is not optional, you feel compelled to do good deeds. It is simply part of what a good person does. I think what Jesus is doing here is giving a definition of what a good deed really looks like.
Like the answer to the question “and who is my neighbor?” this is the answer to the question, “and what is a good deed?”
The answer is, something that cannot be repaid. When we think of something that cannot be repaid, I think of life itself, and that God has given us life, and if we want to follow that example, and be “God-like” which I think we are called to do, then we will want to do things that cannot be repaid. This is extravagant giving, outrageous giving, giving the way God does.
So let us now go back to Hebrews. Love each other like family, be free from the love of money and be content, God has said: I will never leave you or abandon you. These are the teachings from Hebrews, the advice on how to live in Christian community. Love each other like family. What does this mean? Well, think about it. If someone in the community needs something, then the rest of the community would get together to help make that happen, don’t you think? That’s part of what I think is so terribly valuable about being part of a church community – that one does not feel so alone, which is the great modern curse. But it is difficult for many of us to think in terms of adding people to one’s family. That is part of what baptism is about, doing the formal “adoption” to say to this person, “you are a child of God, and now you are part of this family.”
If that wasn’t enough, then the writer of Hebrews says this: Be free from the love of money and be content. Our entire economy is built on the opposite of this! We are taught to love money and to not be content. We are taught to trust money. Here is where I come back to what God says through the prophet Jeremiah: You have abandoned the spring of living water. You have built broken wells that will not hold water.
We understand water in this part of the world. When I went to the east coast for the Wild Goose Festival, I was struck, as I always am, about how much water they use. I grew up learning how to conserve water, regarding it as the precious commodity it is. How much more, in the middle East, where water is such a valued thing, for God to say to the people: I am the spring of living water – and we remember Jesus referring to himself that way. But you have left that spring, God says, and then, because you must have water, you have dug wells, but they do not work, they are broken. Over against this, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that this source of living water has said to us, I will never leave you or abandon you, never. Here is something we can trust. Here is the place we can always find life.
Isn’t that what we want: Life? Real life, not sitting in an institution staring at a wall, whether that’s in a old age care home or in an office cube pushing paper.
How do we take these passages for today, when our government is contemplating what to do in Syria, when there is so much terror, so much pain in the world? How do we relate?
How do we say, God is still the spring of living water, I do not need to be afraid, because God is always with me, how do we say, I am content, I do not need more. How do we say, what is the right thing to do to be good to my neighbor, how do we invite new people into our families?
It is a lot to think about! What makes sense to me is that we pick the one thing that really strikes us personally, and decide to do something internally and externally. What do I mean by that? Well, suppose you are struck by the words about water, about God being the spring of living water. Perhaps you wonder if you are drinking from that spring or trying to live from broken wells that do not have any good water. Then you think perhaps you will re-evaluate your life to see what the sources of energy are for you, and perhaps you will change some things. That is the internal movement.
At the same time, you think about other people who do not have access to that spring of living water, or perhaps to any water at all, and you decide to give a regular amount to Charity:Water so that people who do not have access to clean water will get some. Or perhaps you will decide that your way of giving will be to volunteer so that someone who thinks that no one cares will know that someone does care.
Perhaps what strikes you out of all of this is fear in the face of our involvement in imminent warfare in Syria. The internal response might be to do some meditation on fear, on peace in one’s own heart, on peace in our own families. The external response might be to write letters, to go talk to a congressperson, to give something to Doctors Without Borders, or to Oxfam, and Oxfam has things that we can do, individually or as a small group if someone wants to try something.
How do we do this? We start small, doing one small thing, and then deciding what is next.
But what is really important is not so much the what as the why we do what we do. When it works well, it is because it comes from knowing that God is there with us, always, always!
It comes from knowing that God is the spring for our lives, one that will never dry up. When we know that, we know that money can be in our lives, or not, and that we can be content, we can treat each person who comes to us as a potential family member, we can walk through our lives not being afraid.
What a joyful way to live, no matter what is going on around us! I hope you will take time this week to consider, what will you do, and why.
Where is God going to work in your life, and how are you going to respond?
Where will the water of life flow over you, and through you to the next person?