By Julie Yarborough
July 13, 2003
John 4: 7-15 and Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
“Where do you get that living water?” the woman
asked, and we ask it, too. Where do we find the water that quenches our thirst,
once and for all? Jesus responds to her
and to us, “…Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be
thirsty. The water that I will give
will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) This living water doesn’t just satisfy a
physical need, it quenches the thirst of the parched soul. Those who are
seeking a deeper spiritual connection understand this type of thirst – this
desire for something that is missing inside. Listen to the words of the psalmist:
O God, you are my God, I
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
And again in Psalm 42, verses 1 and 2:
As a deer longs for
so my soul longs for you,
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and
the face of God?
Often, when we seek a deeper connection with
God, we are very aware of our thirst. At other times, we are barely aware of the need for the life-giving
waters offered to us when we are spiritually connected.
Heather Murray Elkins, professor of worship and
liturgical studies at Drew University, tells a story about a young boy named
Robbie who helps with a baptism remembrance ritual at a retreat that she was
leading. For the ritual, children between
the ages of nine and eleven are invited to hold large chalices of water at
various stations around the sanctuary. At a certain point in the service, participants are invited to approach
one of the stations and touch the water, as the children say to each person,
“Remember your baptism and be thankful.” Sometime after the service, Robbie’s step mother came up to Heather and
said, “I’m afraid there was a mistake in the service – my son has never been
baptized. Did that mess it up, you
know, cancel out anybody’s baptism?”
Heather assured her that it did not, but sensed
that there was something more behind the woman’s question, and asked her if she
would like to take a walk around the lake at the conference center. As they walked, the woman told Heather that
she and her stepson of two years had taken the same walk earlier in the day,
and that Robbie had been unusually quiet. When the words finally came, Robbie asked a question, “Can I get
“Yes,” had been her response, “What makes you
“You know,” he said, ”Saying that remembering
part made me thirsty.”
She assured Robbie that he could get baptized
and offered to call their pastor when they got home to make the
arrangements. She knew that he had not
been baptized, because his natural mother had not wanted anything to do with
organized religion. Robbie’s mother had
died three years earlier when, angry and addicted, her car went off the road
and ended up wrapped around a tree. The
last two years had been difficult, for both Robbie and his stepmother.
Robbie kept staring out at the water, wanting to
say something more. “Can you get
baptized if you hate someone?”
Gently, she asked him, “Who do you hate,
Robbie?” He kept staring at the
“My mommy,” he answered, “She didn’t love me if
she left me like that.” He repeated his question. “Can you get baptized if you
Knowing that this question couldn’t wait, but
feeling woefully inadequate to answer such an important theological question,
the woman replied to the best of her ability. She was worried that she might have said the wrong thing.
“What did you say?” asked Heather.
“I told him that the water helps with the
The water helps with the hating. How right she was. The water helps with the hating, it helps with the hurting, it
helps with the sorrow and the pain and the confusion and the chaos. The waters of baptism remind us that we are
God’s beloved children, and that we are connected to the Spirit and to the
gathered community of believers. It
reminds us that we are not alone, that we are part of something much bigger
Church we celebrate baptism in a variety of ways. Most common are the infant baptisms, which we celebrate quite
frequently throughout the year. When an
infant is baptized, the parents make a promise on the child’s behalf, to raise
the child in the Christian faith and to expose them to the teachings of
Jesus. The presiding pastor, usually
Chuck, then sprinkles water on the baby’s head in the name of the Trinity.
Then, the gathered congregation also makes a promise, to nurture the child in
Christian community as he or she grows in the faith.
The second most common form of baptism at Christ
Church is practiced on Confirmation Sunday, in May or June, when the
Confirmands, having finished a course of study with Chuck, make a public
profession of their faith. One at a
time, the youth are led into the cold waters of the Baptistery, which is
located under the floor of the chancel. (A few days before that Sunday, the trap door covering the Baptistery is
removed and the tank is filled with water.) For those youth who were baptized as infants, the “dunking” or
immersion, is an opportunity to be reminded of their baptism. For those youth who were never baptized as
infants, the immersion experience is a baptism that they will never forget.
Although not practiced at Christ Church
frequently, we do offer a third option, and that is baptism of adults or older
children, commonly referred to as “believer’s baptism,” by sprinkling or by
immersion. It’s called believer’s baptism, because unlike infants, the older
child or adult can make a decision to follow in the teachings of Jesus. A few
years ago I had the opportunity to baptize Leah Trangucci, who was twelve years
old at the time. Leah planned to
participate in confirmation here at Christ Church, but felt a desire to get
baptized before that time came. Leah’s
soul was thirsty. She wanted a deeper relationship with God and she didn’t want
to wait. She also wanted to be
“dunked,” because she had witnessed the confirmation service and she knew what
a powerful experience that could be. I
shared with Leah, that I, too, had been twelve years old when I was baptized
and that it had been an experience that I remember to this day.
If you or someone you know has never been
baptized and has a desire to be baptized, I invite you to speak to me or to
Chuck or to Tom. It’s never too late to
be bathed in the living waters of the Spirit.
When we tap into the living waters offered to us
in the spiritual life, whether that includes the ritual of baptism or simply
the knowledge that we are beloved children of God, something wonderful and
strange happens to us – we can’t help but share the news. Like the woman at the well, we want to run
and tell everyone that we know about the change in our lives. We want to share the good news - we want
others to feel the same joy.
Listen to Anne Lamott describe why she makes her
son, Sam, go to church:
make him because I can. I outweigh him by nearly seventy-five pounds.
But that is only part of
it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which
is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say,
purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of
spirituality. They are people in
community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews,
Christians – people banding together to work on themselves and for human
rights. They follow a brighter light
than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.[ii]
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be
thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water,” the woman pleaded with
Jesus. They spoke some more, and the
woman became convinced that Jesus was a least a prophet, and at most, the
Messiah, whose coming had been foretold for centuries. Leaving behind her old way of life,
symbolized by her water jar, she ran to tell everyone she knew of this living
water and the man who changed her life, who knew her so well that he told her
everything she had ever done.
Buechner describes this phenomenon of dropping everything when the moment of
crucial decision arrives:
But on the really
crucial decisions of life. . . It is
all of me, heart, mind, will [that is involved] and when the moment comes, and
I find myself moving out for good and all, one way or another, there is a kind
of relentless spontaneity about it, a kind of terrific sense of conviction, so
that if you are Matthew in the tax office, you lay down your slide rule and
your pencil, do not even finish the form that you happened to be working on at
the moment, but just push back your chair and start heading for the door
without even bothering to pick up your coat hanging over by the water
cooler. And then you step out of there
forever without once looking back over your shoulder, and start following the
way you have chosen: not that way over there or that way right here, but this way. Of all the ten million and one
ways in the world, you choose this way. Or maybe it chooses you – to put it a better way. Or you choose each other, your way and you.[iii]
We are faced with many choices in our lives –
some choices are unhealthy and lead us closer to death, and others offer us a
deeper connection to life. Life and
death have been set before us, and God wants us to choose life. We are not compelled to do so, but we are
invited to taste of the life-giving waters that can nourish our souls, by
entering into a deeper relationship with the One who came that we might have
life and have it more abundantly.
This morning, I invite you to participate in a
water ritual. On the table in front of
you are a clear pitcher with water in it, and a crystal bowl. As I pour the water into the bowl, I will
motion for you to come forward in two lines and touch the water. We all know that water is necessary for
life. May this water remind you of the
waters of the womb, of the cleansing power of tears, of an ice cold glass of
water on a hot summer day, of the refreshing splash into a swimming hole, of
the pulsing waves of the ocean, of the water that washes us clean in the
shower, of the water found in the baptismal font, of the living waters offered
to us when we enter into a deeper relationship with the Divine Presence.
all you who are thirsty
to the sources of living water
of us feel flooded. There is too much
to do and
feel in danger of going under.
rest beside the still waters and feel the ease of the cool stream.
of us feel empty. We give and pour
no time to tap into the source.
taste of the eternal springs of living water. Drink deep and long.
of us feel blocked and stagnant. Judgment,
frustration, and wounds limit the flow of grace.
be plunged into the healing waters and fresh rivers of God’s love.
come to touch the living water…
the joyful water flow.[iv]
[i] Heather Murray
Elkins, Worshiping Women: Re-forming God’s People for Praise,
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), pp. 34-37.
Lamott, Traveling Mercies, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), p.100.
Buechner, Listening to Your Life, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,
[iv] Larry J.
Peacock, Come to the Water, in alive
now! Vol. 24, No.3, Remember Your Baptism, May/June 1994, p.5.
© 2003. This sermon is the copyrighted property of