Sermon: Give Me Thirst

Important Announcement

At a meeting on March 15, 2020, the Board of Deacons of Church of the Holy Cross resolved to suspend in-person worship services for March 22 and March 29. We will consider the situation as we approach April and decide whether it is wise to resume gathering for worship. In the meantime, we plan a worship experience for these two Sundays accessible via the Internet; details will follow.

March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent

John 4:5-42

by Eric Anderson

According to Sherri Brown, writing at Working Preacher, “By the first century CE, Samaritans held a Torah-centered faith focused on the patriarchs, centered worship on Mount Gerizim, and looked for a messiah who would be a prophet like Moses, while the Jewish people held a broader scriptural tradition that included the prophets, centered worship in Jerusalem, and looked for a messiah-king in the line of David. Although sharing the same founding history, they currently shared nothing else, including food, drink, or utensils.”

Reduced contact. No shared food, drink, or utensils.

Actually, that sounds somewhat like our shared condition as we take proper precautions in a pandemic…

Despite the history, despite the animosity, despite the risk of spiritual contamination, Jesus asked this woman for a drink, sparking arguably the most remarkable conversation in the Gospels. As Kathryn Matthews writes at, “The conversation we’re eavesdropping on this week is the longest one Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels – and we note that it’s with a woman, not a religious leader! He’s talking about a ‘water’ that will satisfy the deepest longings of her soul, and she, understandably, is thinking about how heavy that clay jar is each day on her way home.

“And yet, before long, much sooner than Nicodemus, she grasps that this person, this stranger, this ‘other’ is bringing her something even more central to her well-being and more necessary for her very life than water itself: the living water of God’s grace and acceptance of her, just as she is.”

There are a lot of reasons to admire this woman. She did not seem to have had an easy life: a series of marriages, and does it matter whether her previous husbands had died or divorced her? Those are hard times in the first century or any age. She came to fetch water at noon, an unusual and uncomfortable time of day, suggesting that she may have had other obligations or, perhaps, that her household needed more water. Even when she sought to hide the truth, when Jesus asked her about her husband, she told the truth to do it.

It’s a model some leaders of nations might profit from.

She embodies the best single model for evangelism I know in the Scriptures. It consists of an invitation, “Come and see,” followed by a compelling description of her experience, “He told me everything I ever did.” She completes the offer, however, with the best thing ever: she asks a question that encourages her hearer to summon their own answer. “He couldn’t be the Messiah, could he?”

When you put it like that, what else could her neighbors do but come and see?

She also knew how to distinguish the trivial from the essential. Once she concluded that Jesus was a prophet, she went straight to the great theological question that divided Jews and Samaritans: where should one worship? In the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem? Or in a mountaintop shrine such as the one on Mount Gerazim nearby?

As Liz Goodman writes at the Christian Century, “But she doesn’t frustrate Jesus. Jesus finds in her an equal for conversation, someone who can hold her own in a back-and-forth with someone whose charisma is so compelling that it took nearly no coaxing for him to get two of John’s disciples to turn and follow him instead. Jesus doesn’t seem to come across a lot of equals. She, by contrast, isn’t just compelled but engaged…”

She got so engaged and excited that she left her water jar behind when she went to tell her neighbors who she’d met. She re-ordered the priorities of her life based on her experience. She deferred the satisfaction of one kind of thirst so that she could relieve the greater thirst of her spirit, her household’s spirits, and her neighbors’ spirits.

That’s a grasp of the essentials.

That’s what we should learn of her today.

We have many thirsts. We have spiritual thirst for a sense of God’s grace and presence. We have relational thirst for the sustenance of human love. We thirst for knowledge. We thirst for peace. We thirst for justice. We thirst for truth.

Our essential thirst in March 2020 is, I think, for health now at risk from a viral pandemic.

We need to work at satisfying that thirst first.

When our Board of Deacons meets following worship today, I will recommend that we not meet for worship for at least two weeks. I have already begun planning a worship experience via live video over the Internet in anticipation that we will need to do this at some point. It won’t be what we want. It may not satisfy the thirst of our souls.

But we need to satisfy a different thirst first.

I’m sure you’ve been deluged with numbers in the last few days. You’ve seen charts and graphs, including at least one that’s supposed to illustrate “flattening the curve” that’s been modified to look like cats (because the Internet is all about pictures of cats). I’ll try to keep my use of numbers manageable and, with any luck, accurate.

Most people who contract coronavirus will be fine. In that, it’s like other serious viral respiratory illnesses like influenza. Most people who get the ‘flu feel rotten for a while and then get better.

In the case of COVID-19, there is a higher rate of serious illness requiring more advanced treatment or hospitalization. Again, most of the people hospitalized will get better. But.

If a lot of people contract the illness at around the same time, and if a 1 out of 5 of them has to go to the hospital, we’re going to run out of space, equipment, and medical staff to treat them. That’s what has happened in Italy. The hospitals are full. And people are still suffering injuries and heart attacks and requiring cancer treatment at the same rate as before.

If we slow down the spread of the corona virus, the same number of people may get sick, but they won’t be sick at the same time. There will be space in the hospitals. The supplies can keep up.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store – I know, that’s a silly thing to do on any Saturday. You know what I saw in the toilet paper aisle: empty shelves.

Here’s what psychologist Randy Renstrom has to say about that on Twitter: “You know how everyone rushed to stores at the same time and bought out everything at once instead of staggering their visits?

“Now imagine that same thing in hospitals, but instead of toilet paper, it’s ICU beds and ventilators that are out. This is why everything is cancelled.”

To slow this down, we need to reduce contact with one another, and that hurts. It feels cowardly, even, or dismissive of our strength. But it’s not about my strength, or yours. It’s about the health of the next person we meet. It’s about the health of the next person they meet. It’s about neighbors we will never know but whose health we influence by slowing the spread of the disease and making sure there are hospital beds available when they’re needed.

There is precedent. In 1918, the District of Columbia recorded its first patients with influenza in late September. On October first, 162 new cases were reported. On Saturday, October fifth, Protestant ministers in Washington announced that they would not hold services the next day. They released a statement that read:

“Resolved, in view of the prevailing condition of our city (the widespread prevalence of influenza, that has called forth the request from the District of Columbia Commissioners for the temporary closing of all churches) we, the Pastors’ Federation, in special assembly, do place ourselves on record as cheerfully complying with the request of the Commissioners, which, we understand applies to all churches alike. We furthermore recommend that our people shall conduct in their own homes some form of religious worship remembering in prayer especially the sick, our allied nations at war and the present canvass for the fourth liberty loan.”

(Click here for an account by Caleb Morell)

They didn’t have the Internet in those days.

Friends, I confess that I am getting tired of crises and disasters. We’ve gone through a lot in the last two years, and here we go again. We can be confident of our good hearts and our compassion for our neighbors, because we’ve done it and we’ve seen it. We can be confident of our basic good sense, except possibly around toilet paper. We can be confident of our community’s resilience. Let’s give it every aid so that we can sustain that heart and compassion and good sense and resilience.

She left her water jar to satisfy her most urgent thirst.

Let us tend to the health of our community. That is our first thirst.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Give Me Thirst

Yes, there are differences between the text above and the recorded sermon. It was ever thus…

The image of Jesus and the Samaritan woman by an unknown artist is a miniature from the 12th-century Jruchi Gospels II MSS from Georgia. – Center of Manuscripts (Tbilisi, Georgia), Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on March 15, 2020

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