Rev. Stacy Swain “Living Water”
March 27, 2011
What in God’s name was I thinking? What about jumping off a cornice at the top of a mountain, onto a steep slope could possibly have seemed like a good idea? Sure, from the safety of my living room, helicopter skiing sounded exciting. But it was quickly becoming an entirely different matter, as the whoosh of the blades carried us deep into the back country of Alaska — up towards a saddle of gleaming snow that was wedged between two jagged mountain peaks. As I peered out through the windshield of the helicopter at what was coming, my excitement gave way to ambivalence tinged with fear.
But, I knew that if I spent too much time thinking about what was happening I would lose my nerve. So I said I’d be the first one out behind the guide. He went and I followed. I jumped over the edge of that cornice into what I could not even see. And miraculously, I landed on my feet on the snow below.
But then something strange started to happen. I could feel myself moving. I could feel the crisp cold air moving by me, but when I looked down at the snow around, it was still. My skis were not moving at all and yet I was. It was the strangest sensation. How was it that I was moving and standing still all at the same time?
I looked up when I heard the voice of the guide calling to me from further down the mountain and when I saw him there, standing by an outcropping of rocks, I realized that what was happening was that the entire face of snow on which I stood was moving. A great upper sheet of snow had detached from the layer of beneath it, and was sliding down the mountain while I remained still in the midst of it. I was being carried by snow itself, carried effortlessly the slope.
And in that moment, I was struck by the unbelievable beauty of it all. There at the top of the world, surrounded by majesty on a truly magnificent scale, surrounded by soaring peaks, glass blue glaciers, by power and might, I felt as if the hand of God was gently holding me carefully delivering me down the side of that slope. And as I moved, fear melted away and joy and gratitude and awe rose within me.
She was still a ways off when she saw him. He was by the well, sitting on a stone wedged in between two scraggly trees. When she saw him she considered turning back. It had seemed like a good idea, coming to the well under the heat of the midday sun. She was so tired of their whispers and stares. Better to come at noon when no one would be there. But there he was. She stopped for a moment, ambivalent about continuing on, fearful even of encountering this stranger. But, by the looks of it he was a Jew. Well, that was good. He would certainly not talk to her, a Samaritan woman. She could just fill her fill her jar quickly and be gone.
She was concentrating on the raising the full bucket from the well when he spoke. His words made her jump and the water sloshed in the bucket. “Give me a drink” he said. Startled she handed him the bucket and traversing the boundaries of culture herself by engaging him in conversation asked “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus did not answer her question but instead reframes her inquiry suggesting that it is actually she who does not understand who it is that she is talking to, not him. He says “if you knew the Gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, give me a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
How strange. Not only did he feel perfectly free to make a request of her but he was even suggesting that she, a Samaritan woman would do well to ask something of him?
She could not see where this was going. Could not see where he was leading her but she decided to let him be her guide and so before she lost her nerve she pressed on asking “Sir she said, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”
Jesus smiled at this. He dipped his hand into the bucket letting the cool water run out from between his fingers, and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
With his words she felt herself slide off of solid ground. There under the heat noon day sun with his eyes on her and his words still in the air, something began moving within her. She looked down in bewilderment for her feet were standing on the same patch of dirt, the scrub trees were there next to the rock. She was standing completely still and yet she could swear that she was moving. There under the majesty of his gaze upon her, she felt herself carried beyond fear, beyond limitations, there in the magnificence of his presence she was being delivered and in that moment she felt joy and gratitude and awe rise within her. “Sir, she said, Give me this water.”
It is so easy to think of the holy as that which is somehow distinct from the ordinary realm of things and experiences. We call this place a sanctuary because it is set apart from the rush of the outside world. And we carve out special times to come into the rarefied atmosphere of this sanctuary to experience something of the presence of the Holy. And I have certainly felt it. I felt the holy so clearly two weeks ago in our Ash Wednesday service. I feel the holy in the rarefied atmosphere of prayer group and our open sanctuary time. I feel the presence of the holy now and through the soaring notes of the music and song. And this is good.
But Paul Tillich in his work Dynamics of Faith, reminds us that the Holy cannot be domesticated. It cannot be confined to set apart places and rarefied moments. The Holy is moving, alive in the world, rushing gushing up within people of faith like a spring carrying them by its power into new and fuller awareness of what it is to be alive. This is living water we are talking about. Not confined to a well dug by human hands. This is impossible movement, snow moving on snow, carrying us out of fear and into wonderment.
Tillich says that to live aware of the unfettered movement of the holy within and around us is to live a life of faith, and that when we do all of life becomes a sanctuary. That ring of mountains and snow, a sanctuary. That dusty patch of ground beside the well, a glorious sanctuary. Everywhere and everyone can in a heartbeat become a sanctuary a dwelling place for the presence of the holy.
Sometimes entering into the sanctuary of life and encountering the holy may mean that we will be asked to move from our comfort zones. We may have to risk something new. Hopefully it will not require anything as fool hearted as jumping off the side of a mountain, but it may require moving through fear and jumping head long into something even though we may not be able to clearly see where it is that we will land. It may mean, like the Samaritan woman that we are called across boundaries set by culture and expectation into new relationships that will challenge us to break out of our mind set and see in striking and life giving new ways.
Whether it be in a school yard in Nicaragua, or in a class room in Zambia, or in the activity room at the Waban Health Center. Whether it be learning about our prison system and our national epidemic of violence in Book group, whether it is around the table at lunch bunch, or right here in this sanctuary, wherever it is, let us not be surprised if the strangest thing begins to happen. Let us not be surprised if we feel ourselves beginning to move even though we are standing perfectly still. Let us not be surprised to find that we are being lifted up and carried by the Spirit of God, moved by a spring of living water gushing up within us. Let us not be surprise if fear melts away and joy, and gratitude and awe rise within us. For these things are bound to happen when we have Jesus for a guide. May it be so. Amen.
 Paul Tillich. Dynamics of Faith. (Harpers & Row: New York, 1957). P. 12