Water Reflections

Year A, Lent 3

Exodus 17:1-7 

Psalm 95 

Romans 5:1-11  

John 4:5-42

The image of flowing water in a dry land runs through three of our texts this week. In Exodus the people threaten mutiny as they beg for water in the desert. Moses prays to God for help. Water gushes from a rock to quench their thirst. But the place of the fountain is called “bitterness” for the water is received only after much quarreling and doubt. Psalm 95 celebrates in retrospect the miraculous, saving fountain of water from the rock. The psalmist encourages the people to remember God’s graciousness and to trust God instead of hardening their hearts like the quarrelsome people in the wilderness. John 4 extends the metaphor of water as a symbol of God’s life and love in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. Her quick perception and response to Jesus’ revelation of new life initiates a flow of people that come to Jesus through her invitation. It is like water gushing from a rock – the rock of hard-hearted enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews.

There is a fairy tale of Spanish origin the quest to achieve life-giving water for a church that was set down in Andrew Lang’s 19th century collection of folk and fairy tales. “The Water of Life” is recorded in The Pink Fairy Book which is free on Kindle from Amazon. I also discovered an audible recording of the story on YouTube. The story is more about what it takes for three brothers and their sister to obtain the water, along with a talking bird and a branch from the tree of eternal beauty, than it is about the properties of the water itself. I find the quest metaphorically interesting. It requires a great amount of persistence, focus and honesty of purpose. It is a journey tale with sacrifice and delight. The story holds the failings of the people of Israel in the desert as well as the success of the Samaritan woman as she embraces her very candid conversation with Jesus. I think it could be told with some adaptation for a children’s time or in a sermon.

There is another theme running through these same three texts. It is the theme of reflection or mirroring. The 13th century Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, once wrote, “How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.”  

We can trace the sentiments of Rumi, in Exodus 17, Psalm 95, and John 4. The Hebrew people in the desert saw God through the lens of fear and blame. They assumed that God was out to get them. Yet God, in steadfast love and faithfulness, responds to their complaints and doubts with water to keep them alive. The psalmist in the retelling of the Exodus story has the perspective of centuries later to rejoice and sing with thanksgiving to God for the water from the rock. And to give the people of his/her time a warning about how to relate authentically with God. “O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! … the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. … Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,…” (Psalm 95;1,3,8). The Samarian woman’s view of God is shifted from one of judge to one of life-giver as she in confronted by the blunt honesty and willing compassion of Jesus. Each text seems to bear our Rumi’s observation, “How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves.”

What of the magnificent passage we have from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome in Romans 5. My dad, a Baptist minister, seminary professor and president, often preached on Romans. I always hear him reading this passage in my head when I encounter it. Does the passage from Romans fit into either of these two motifs in this week’s texts? Can we see the truth of Rumi’s words? Is there a metaphor echoing the living water from the rock or the well of God’s grace?

Paul’s words to the Romans encourage the church to “boast” in God’s saving glory as well as in their sufferings for both bring them closer to God in Christ. In either case, Paul is encouraging the Romans to exult or to joy in the reflection of Christ in their lives. While they can glory in the victory of Christ over death, they do so in the midst of their own sufferings and persecution realizing that these, too, are reflected in Christ. “…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Knowing that Jesus the Christ already experienced the journey from suffering to hope that Paul describes empowers our faith journey when it moves through troubling, suffering times. While it may be stretching the image a bit too far, I can hear the living water from God’s well-spring of life bubbling forth as Paul reminds us that” God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” and we are already overflowing with this love.

In Lent we stay really busy encouraging our parishioners to slow down and reflect on the journey of Lent. Yet its often quite difficult as pastors and educators to find the time to slow down ourselves. We, too, deserve the right to rest, to collect ourselves, to slow down to see our selves in God’s image. I invite you to take time this week…15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, an entire afternoon…to practice slowing down. I leave you for your St. Patrick’s Day reflection with a prayer from another Irish saint, Brendan the Navigator (484–577). 

“The Journey Prayer”

God, bless to me this day,

God bless to me this night;

Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,

Each day and hour of my life;

Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,

Each day and hour of my life.

God, bless the pathway on which I go,

God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole;

Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,

O God of gods, bless my rest and my repose;

Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,

And bless, O God of gods, my repose.

         (found on the website, godspace.com)

And if you need a smile, check out Christy Moore’s upbeat, contemporary take on the saint and his journeys in the song, “St Brendan’s Voyage.”

Blessings on your Lenten story journey,

Jane Anne

(Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!)

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