Summary: God created us with a thirst only he can satisfy.
Sermon #9 in a Series on the Gospel of John
An albatross (known as a sign of good luck) arrived in the nick of time to lead the ship out of the destructive ice field:
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hail’d it in God’s name.
But the Ancient Mariner, for reasons unknown, shot the lucky bird. He shipmates then spoke of the dread which they read in his face:
“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?” — With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
As a result of this evil act, the ship is becalmed and as thirst threatens to kill the crew, they utter the famous lines:
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, uses the fact that though 75% of the surface of the earth is water, only 1% is fresh, unfrozen, and suitable for drinking. Because of the 3% concentration of dissolved salts, drinking seawater dehydrates the body as it tries to remove the salt. Therefore, in the midst of a vast ocean, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
It is called “The Universal Solvent” – it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. The average adult could live 30 days without food, but only 5 without water. Roughly 70 percent of your body is water. A chicken contains about 75% water, a potato 80%, a tomato 95%.
We do not think about water much, because it is cheap and plentiful here; but in the majority of the rural population in third world countries, woman and children still spend hours each day collecting water from distant sources. They do so because water is necessary to live. It is used by your body to regulate temperature, flush waste, and process food. All of your organs use water in their function.
How apropos, then, for Jesus to chose this most common and essential element of life to explain Life. There is nothing else on earth that we must go and get and ingest which is as essential to life as water. Yet everyone who drinks will be thirsty again.
There is, also, another thirst which begs to be satisfied. And just as with drinking saltwater, seeking to satiate this thirst with “polluted” sources will poison you. Jesus speaks in John 4 of the thirst of the soul.
We can hear this story in (at least) three ways.
One is as an evangelist. An article in the Wall Street Journal last week described the new, militantly evangelistic push in European atheism. People who hate God are going on the offensive. No longer content with passive disbelief, they are adopting methods used by Christianity and Islam – a fervent desire to make converts. We may criticize their philosophy as internally inconsistent, but they are accurate in noting that Christianity is a missionary faith. We will study the specifics at a future date (Lord willing), but glance for a moment at verse 39: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony….” Her experience with Jesus made her into an evangelist for Jesus – she told others about the Messiah. So too, all here who know Jesus, will want to give testimony. (This, by the way, is a fruit of true faith and, therefore, a test of conversion.) Jesus’ method of “offering living water to dry and thirsty souls” must be our model for faithful and effective witnessing. And since the elders have targeted evangelism and local outreach as our first priority for growth, improvement and change in the coming years, we should be especially attentive.
Another way to hear this interaction is as one who never before has personally tasted the water of which Jesus speaks. Surely some of us remain, like this woman, blind to the spiritual realities Jesus describes. We need to say to the Lord: “Sir, give me this water.”
The third group is those who find themselves newly dry. In times past, living water has gushed from our lives. For varied reasons, however, the fountain is cut off. This passage and the weeks following can reconnect us to the source.
Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. For a canal delivers water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs.” Here is a spring to fill your reservoir to overflowing.