Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon: Better Than Bling

John 4:5-42

Once there was a man who went on a hike.

It was a beautiful day. The kind of day that just invites you to keep walking. The perfect temperature, just the right breeze. The sun brightening every surface so that the colors are vibrant. Every bird seemed to be singing a joyful song. And so the man kept walking, enjoying the day and the hike.

After a while the man realized that despite all of the beauty around him, he was missing something. He had walked all this way, and had not brought any water with him. He was beginning to be thirsty. So as he walked he began to look for water, to listen for water, even to try to smell water in the air.

After some time he saw a sparkle in the distance, a shimmer, a glint of sunlight off of something. Rushing toward it, he imagined the taste of the water, and the way it would refresh him. But as he drew near, he realized that it was not water at all, but a vein of fool’s gold. In his disappointment, he did something that would make very little sense to us when we are thinking right, he picked up a piece of the rock and put it in his mouth hoping it would somehow help his thirst. Of course it didn’t. It just tasted like metal and dirt, and made him want water all the more to wash the grit from his mouth. He spit what he could out. But now he had to find water.

He was obsessed by his thirst. He no longer noticed the sun, the breeze, or the birds. His pace was no longer that of a man on an ambling, enjoyable hike, but a frantic race.

Again in the distance he saw a sparkle, again he rushed toward it, this time only to find a large diamond, shining in the sun. This was no fool’s gold, no item of false value, it was perhaps worth millions to the right jeweler. So what did he do? He licked it. He was thirsty, he needed water. But licking it didn’t do any good. As you well know. The diamond itself was pretty but it didn’t satisfy his real need.

And this could be our life, couldn’t it? The frantic search for the thing that satisfies our deepest thirst. Trying things that don’t actually help, in fact, things that make it worse. When I read the quote about the psychologists thinking that our attraction to bling, comes from our primal search for sources of water, I thought, “How interesting that we might get distracted by a shiny rock, like a diamond or a lump of fools’ gold when what we need is water. What we thirst for is water. We can eat the rock, and we are still thirsty. Its satisfaction is purely a deception. Look at your neighbor’s bling – they are pretty, they are fun, there is nothing particularly wrong with the items, but let’s be honest, they aren’t the meaning of life.

As we live our lives there are lots of things that are sparkle,

there are lots of things that are pretty, there are even things that we think of as very valuable—worth millions. But they never really could satisfy our deepest needs. It simply isn’t possible for them to do that. Yet we try them anyway, even when we know they won’t work.

Think about it. Throughout our lives we chase the things we need, we search for the things that really satisfy us, that bring joy and fulfillment to life, that make it worth living. And yet we get caught up chasing the wrong things. When I meet with families for funerals, I often ask what made your loved one’s life worth living. I have never had anyone say, a diamond, or a bank account. [with irony] Perhaps that is because I have never done a funeral for a rich enough person, but I doubt it.

And diamonds and wealth aren’t the only sparkling things out there that can mislead us. People seek to quench their deepest thirsts in lots of ways, and often they discover the things they thought would satisfy them don’t. It could be their jobs, chasing after better opportunities thinking that success will make them happy, and it doesn’t. It can be in relationships, chasing man after man or woman after woman, going through marriage after marriage thinking that eventually one of them has to make us happy. Oh, so many things sparkle like water, and we taste them, and they only make us thirstier. Look at your neighbor’s bling – do not taste it . . . just look and think.

What Jesus says in our passage today is that he is the living water.

He is the thing that satisfies. He isn’t a deceptive sparkle that is misleading us, but he is the very thing that spiritually we have always been looking for whether we have known it or not.

For the Samaritan woman, this claim proves to be true. Finally she finds what she has been looking for, a meaning and purpose in her life that she had not felt before. We can guess based on her history that she had tried to find happiness through relationships, but it had never worked. If she were the hiker in my opening story, she would have licked 5 diamond rings, and would be trying another, when Jesus would walk into the scene. No water in hand. No evidence of a canteen or bottle. And he would say to her, “I am the living water.” And of course we heard their conversation in the drama earlier.

Jesus pushes her to examine deeper, to think spiritually. For so long she has assumed that not being a pure Jew, and being a woman the spiritual realm was no place for her. But Jesus tells her that, “a new day is coming, in fact, it’s already here, when what matters is the heart of the worshipper” and thus this well of living water is available to her.

As they talk about the things of God, the woman understands that there is where her thirst lies. She is thirsty for the Divine Presence, and no human being, no matter how impressive can satisfy that need. Once she takes a sip of this living water, through her encounter with Christ, it overflows into her relationships with others and changes their lives too. She begins pulling others to Christ, so that they can find the spiritual waters of God that he offers.

So let’s make her story personal and connect it to your story.

Where is your thirst? What have you been longing for? Have you gotten lost looking at the sparkling jewels of the world? Put yourself back on that hiking path in the story I told earlier, how can you get yourself up, cast aside the distractions and head toward the waters of life that you know are flowing from Christ.

What are those distractions, what have you tried? What fools’ gold have you eaten that left you spitting it out, and thirstier than ever?

Perhaps there have even been people who told you that you certainly couldn’t look to God for help. Maybe people even tried to prevent you from reaching Christ, or got in the way of the real living water, pretending to be substitutes. But there is no substitute for the real living water. But today, Jesus beckons to you. The water is for you to drink. Yes, you.

So how would you go about leaving those distractions, substitutes, things that have gotten in your way, behind? Because Christ is sitting there beside the waters of life, ready to give you a drink. And as he says, “The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”

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