Sunday 19th March - Lent 3 - Eucharist - Clephane Hume

Ex 17:1-7 Ps 95; Jn 4:5-42

Holy God, well-spring of life,

by the gentle dew, the steady rain,

you nourish and give increase to all that grows;

you make the desert a watered garden.


Today’s pre-service statement makes clear to us the benefit of water and really, you only need to read the appeals in the papers this weekend to see that the combination of drought and politics has a devastating effect.

Some of you may be following the Christian Aid ‘count your blessings’ programme for Lent. One day the week before last, participants were asked to count the number of times they turned on a tap, and to donate accordingly.

We do that without thinking – people with water meters might be a little less quick to act. But they too take it for granted. Lack of water is simply something that we don’t consider – enough of it falls from the sky round here. Sometimes far too much.

But in the lands of deserts, it’s another matter. Miles and miles of sand dunes or barren gravelly waste. Even dew is valuable.  If you watch David Attenborough’s programmes you can see the results. Or the blossoming of the Australian desert when the rain comes.

Earlier in the month, I was invited to attend a lecture about an expedition across the empty quarter – part of Saudi Arabia. Water was a major consideration and even when pools were found, they might be brackish and unfit to drink. We heard that the strategy of old was to water your camels and then fill in the hole with sand so that your enemies had to redig the well and thus not follow you too quickly.

Such is desert life. But equally, there is beauty in the shapes of the sand dunes and intriguing fossils to be found among the gravel, so it is not all grim.

Thus, if we stop to reflect, we may find that our experiences of desert in the spiritual sense are not without their own value. The God who knows us through and through may give us, and I mean give, challenges in order that we may develop. Sometimes the pain of growth is necessary, while not exactly enjoyable. But God knows just how much we can cope with. Like the grit in one’s shoe, once it is dealt with, you can carry on.

Round here the gardening season is getting under way. Preparation for planting is important. Similarly, if we are to water and nurture the gardens of our soul, we need to work! First, a practical example. Many years ago I read an inspiring book – the Greening of Africa. It details how people in drought areas can make the most of their precious resources.

When some of us went to Ethiopiain pursuit of the Tabot, I was delighted to see how some of the schemes had been implemented. I think the others found my excitement at the sight of terraces of small stones a little odd, but it’s a simple and effective technique to hold back erosion and enhance irrigation food results. And the technique is still being applied in Sudan and other countries that the media are currently drawing to our attention.

What would be the little pebbles that might build up your spiritual life? A group of people are on retreat in Alnmouth taking time to do that. Or you might be involved in a Lent discussion group. Like building little walls, self reflection takes energy and isn’t always comfortable, but we can’t all sit around like the Israelites in the desert, complaining of having no water.

Moses in his desperation, sought advice from God. And the rock gushed forth.

We can similarly cry for help. Opportunities for nourishment are there and we all have our preferred sources. God will supply.

In the gospel we hear of Jesus experiencing the very human need for water. Coming to an area where Jews were not very welcome, he is tired and thirsty so he sits down by the well. Not just any old well, but Jacob’s well. A link to history and God’s gift of land to his people.

Having no means of drawing water, Jesus sits and waits.

And here comes the challenge. When he wanted a drink to slake his thirst, Jesus initiated a conversation with someone on the margins with whom he should really have had no contact. A Samaritan and woman. Also living with her sixth partner. People were horrified. And we too might be quick to criticise someone who has had five husbands. Surely that must mean dysfunctional relationships??? Or simply misfortune.

But Jesus sees right through her. He knows the course of her life. And identifies her hunger for a better one. So he offers her Living Water. A slightly puzzling concept.

Not ordinary water. Whoever drinks of it or is touched by it through baptism, will not thirst.

I don’t know who chose the illustration on the front of the service booklet but it’s very apposite for the whirlpool that this conversation unleashed! The Holy Spirit at work in a tumultuous way. Food for thought for those present then and now. A major impact on the Samaritans.

Our rather quieter, local river of life is snaking its way gradually through the church and today we shall be adding our prayers to enhance it. (A blue paper ‘river’ with illustrations provided mainly by the children in the congregation)

Side streams flow in, to add to the strength of a river, compensating for the tributaries which make demands on it. A parallel to the progress of our spiritual lives.

Rivers are not only full of water. They carry debris, silt and possibly toxins.

Lent is a time to sort it all out in preparation for the joy of Easter.

The pebble in your shoe can be used to build a wall, thereby making best use of the water. Not a barrier to keep others out, but a means of shoring up and stabilising your faith. Sustained by the living water. Which God provides for us.

Harrison P 1987 The Greening of Africa. Paladin

Illustration - Hokusai. Naruta whirlpool.