Reflection September 28: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

       Let us pause for a moment as I offer words of prayer adapted from Seasons of the Spirit:

God of living water, God of flowing rivers,
God of gurgling streams,
we are as dependent on you as we are on water itself.
Refresh us with your life-giving water
that we may become streams of living water
that bubble over with the fullness of life
that you intend for all people.
In the name of Christ who offered “living water”
to anyone who was willing to receive it
we gather this day to celebrate
and give thanks and praise to you.
 (Seasons of the Spirit, Pentecost 2, 2014, pg. 73, adapted)

       For a few weeks in the Autumn portion of the Season After Pentecost, our worship services often have a more Creation-based focus. Two weeks ago, our worship focused on thanksgiving for God’s presence in all of Creation. Last week, when Esther planned and led worship, the theme was God’s presence and activity in wilderness places in the world and in people’s lives. God’s presence both creates and sustains people of resilience and determination even in the midst of the most inhospitable conditions.

       Today, our scripture readings, hymns, and prayers are focused on water. We are reminded of the deep connection we have with water in our faith tradition. We remember and give thanks that God’s gift of life giving water has nurtured and sustained the physical and spiritual needs of people of faith throughout the ages.

       Personally, I have always had a great affinity with water. I grew up across the street from the Fraser River delta and spent many hours as a child walking our dog on the dike road and sitting reflectively watching the ever-changing face of the river. Living on the west coast of BC I was also within easy access of the ocean and learned to swim in tide pools created at Crescent Beach for that purpose. Wherever I travelled for my theological studies, I would seek out the nearest source of water – a creek, pond, river, lake – whatever was available and I’d go there whenever we’d have a break from our intensive theological sessions. I was, and am, drawn to water. It calms me, energizes me, and fills me with a sense of God’s presence. I feel more alive when I am near water.

       Last week when I was on Study Leave, I took time each day to take a break from the books I’d assigned myself to read and I went to Marysville and took a reflective walk along the Marysville Falls trail. Later in the week I participated in an individual and communal Retreat at a retreat centre on the East shore of Kootenay Lake. While there, I revelled in the sound of the water lapping against the rocky beach and watched the sunlight glinting diamonds in the rippling water. Figuratively, I dipped deeply into the spiritual well of scripture and communal wisdom.

       We are blessed in Canada to have an abundance of fresh water rivers, creeks, and lakes. Canada has the world’s largest resources of fresh water. In fact, more than half of the world’s fresh water resources are in Canada. In its abundance, it is sometimes easy to forget how very precious water is and how essential it is to life itself.

       In biblical times, in the Middle East, everyone knew the precious nature of water. Travelling in a hot and arid landscape, knowing where sources of water lay meant the difference between life and death.

       Early, in biblical history, water was connected with social justice and the right and freedom to live. 2nd Kings and Proverbs suggest that to “drink water from your own cistern” indicates liberty and life for people. (2nd Kings 18:31; Proverbs 5:15) The prophet Isaiah poetically connects his people’s yearning for freedom with God’s life-giving presence when he promises that, “God will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11) The prophet, Amos, declares that God wants to let, “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Water and spirit are inextricably linked in our faith tradition. Biblically, from beginning to end, water is symbolic of life and God’s liberating and creative action in the development and nurturing of communities of faith. In our baptismal liturgy we welcome a person as a member of the worldwide Christian community; we remember and give thanks for this legacy of God’s presence revealed in the stories of faith in the Bible. Next time we have a baptism, listen carefully to the words when I give thanks to God and say,

“Blessed are you, our God, Maker of heaven and earth, Keeper of sky and sea. In your goodness you give us the sign of water. At the beginning your Spirit was at work, brooding over the waters of creation’s birth, breaking the waters with the word of love, bringing forth life in all its fullness. Over and over you have shown your grace to us as water – cleansing the earth, parting for the exodus at the Red Sea, flowing from the rock in the wilderness.”

At that point in the baptismal liturgy, water is poured into the baptismal font and I say,

“In the fullness of time you gave us Jesus: nurtured in the waters of Mary’s womb, baptized in the river Jordan by John, giver of living water, wellspring of eternal life. Therefore, infinite and present God, we thank you for the water with which you bless us. We pray that those given to the waters of life will live in your grace. Pour out your holy Spirit upon us and upon this water, that all who are gathered under this sign, being one in Christ, may be nurtured by the waters of life.”

         In today’s gospel story, Jesus promises life-giving water to the Samaritan woman at the well. In doing this, Jesus extends God’s love and blessing to everyone and anyone who will receive this gift of spiritual health and wholeness. We, as Christians, are people of water and the spirit. We are called not only to be thankful for these blessings but also to share God’s blessings generously with others.

         In the Gospel of John, several chapters after the story of the woman at the well, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’.”

         There are many ways in our time and place that we can embody our faith and share living water with others. We do this in our ministry of hospitality and being a welcoming community. We do this when we offer care and concern for others in our Prayer Shawl ministry and when we visit others at home and in the hospital. We do this in our worshipping community when we sing, speak and pray together. We do this when we extend ourselves and work with unity and purpose with other churches in our community. We do this when we reach out to others in our community who are in need of care regardless of what their religious beliefs and affiliation may be. We do this when take seriously environmental concerns and do our part in caring for the world God so loves. We do this – embodying Christ’s living water – in every aspect of our lives as people of faith.

         We are grateful for God’s faithful presence, guidance and encouragement to us and for Jesus’ example of faith-filled living, and so we pray:

Source of Life, we are grateful that in the life of Jesus
we discover the gift of living water.
Empower us also to be vessels of living water
in this world you so love.
May our worship and work together
bring us a renewed vision of life together
as Christian community.
And, may our hearts and minds be open
and receptive to your wisdom and guidance
now and in the future.
Devoted, in the name of Christ, we pray.


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