The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - March 19, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 4:5-42
Sermon Title That Samaritan Woman

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     It was about 7:00 when I got the phone call.  It was summer time, and it was hike day at camp.  This was the day when all the campers went on a hike.  There were differing abilities, so we had the shorter hikes, maybe a mile or two, and the longer hikes.  Normally it was about one mile per hour for kids hiking, so we would start early in the morning dropping off the kids who would be hiking the longest, and then later in the morning bringing kids who would do medium or easy hikes, and then they would normally be picked up in reverse order, easiest hikes would arrive at their destination first, followed by medium and then hard.  While I was really good at timing most hikes, there were a few counselors who were more experienced and would plan a hike that would go above tree line.  They were always aware of safety, so it Is clear, they will take this trail to the summit, if it is not clear, they will take this trail around, staying below tree line.  For these longer hikes I would tell them to call me when they got to the trailhead and I would come pick them up, most of the trailheads I could be at within about 20 minutes. 

     So 7:00 I saw the call and knew it was one of the counselors who had taken a longer hike.  A bit faster than I was expecting, knew it was a hard hike, and thought it would be closer to 8 when they called.  But I answered.  They were not at the trailhead, just a few hundred yards from it, but a girl had fallen and twisted her ankle.  So I said that I would get one or two other counselors, some stronger ones, to come down with me, we would be on our way soon. 

     I loaded up my pack quickly.  Grabbed my first aid kid, some ice packs, ace bandages, grabbed a piece of nylon webbing, not sure why but sounded good at the time, a flashlight and my headlamp.  And one water bottle.  On hikes we always tell the kids to bring two full bottles.  2 liters for each kid, but I was going to get there, if they didn’t have this girl out to the trailhead yet, it was only a few hundred yards, one liter was plenty. 

     We left the trailhead about 7:30, and around 8:00 passed the rest of the group.  Probably a wise choice, leave a smaller group with a couple of staff with the injured girl, get the rest of the kids back to camp.  By 9:00 we knew that it was more than a couple hundred yards.  It was about 10:00 before we came to a junction in the trail, stopped to rest a few minutes and figure out which way we needed to go.  It was not until about 11:00 that we finally found the small group with the injured girl.  The staff had been helping her down, but the trail was narrow and steep.  There was no way that she could just lean on someone, and she didn’t want to put any weight on her ankle.  The best way was to carry her. 

     She was not a large girl, but kind of average size for a 13 year old, maybe about 120 pounds.  We took turns, and the strap turned out to be kind of useful as we strapped her to someone’s back for a little bit and then switched off when that person became tired.  It was a hot night, so just about every time we stopped, we would each take a drink, especially the person who was doing the carrying.  It was about 4:00, still dark, all of us very tired from not sleeping and carrying this girl, that we realized we were running out of water.  One of the counselors, a really strong guy from England was just about the only person whose legs were not ready to give out, so we all decided that he needed water more than we did.  Each of us poured our water into his bottle.  It was almost like those gold mining shows, where you are holding your breath to see how much water we really have.  And the result was not good, about 250 milliliters.  For those of you who were not forced to learn the metric system, that is just about a cup of water, or about 8 ounces. 

     It is circumstances like that when you realize how important water is.  We passed several streams on the way up and down.  Maybe not streams, but little bits of flowing water coming off the mountain.  I remember a time when I would drink out of a stream, but by this time I knew that was not safe.  

     In our passage this morning Jesus offers this woman living water.  If you go back and translate it, the word that was written is one used for flowing water, like a stream or river, as opposed to stagnant water. 

     When I was living in Missouri we had lots of springs.  The camp there was just over 4,000 acres, but was surrounded by the Ozark National Scenic Riverway and state owned land.  The Current River, which is the one we were closest two was a spring fed river.  If you took a canoe and floated even a few miles you would see some of these springs.  Often just something that looked like a stream except that upon closer inspection you realize the water is coming out of the ground rather than flowing from someplace else.  On the property, we had two springs that I found.  One was a pipe coming out of pile of rocks, with cold water flowing out of the pipe.  The other was a pipe that has been put into the ground, and had a “U” shaped piece attached to the top of it.  These were great places to get water that was safe to drink.  The water had been flowing underground, so just like well water it was cold and clean. 

     But you don’t have to go that far, there are many springs in New Hampshire, many of which are safe to drink from.  On my home from Gorham, there was a spring right on the side of the road, which I would often stop at.  It was a bit fancier than some, which a concrete structure surrounding it and a pipe sticking out from the wall.  I found that this spring, and many others, are great to drink from quickly.  I thought the water from the spring up north was great until I let it sit for a few days.  Fresh it was great, after a day or two sitting out started to taste bad.

     We all need water.  Do you remember a few years ago they started what seemed like a national campaign to encourage people to drink water?  Everyone should drink eight, 8 ounce glasses of water a day?  Recently they have determined that there is no evidence to support that, and it turns out you get fluid from the food you eat, and things you drink besides water, like tea and milk.  The latest recommendation I heard was that if you drink when you are thirsty, and you are probably going to be fine.  But with the majority of our body being water, we do have to drink.

     I would like to suggest that this water idea of God is true.  I could argue that we all need God, somedays we feel like we need more than other days.  But we also like clean, fresh, water right out of the ground, not the stagnant stuff that has been sitting around.  And maybe Jesus can be that clean, fresh, safe, moving water for us, or what could be translated as living water.

     I watched a video clip the other day, which of course I could not find when I went back to look for it.  It was a young man from Harvard or Yale who was talking about religious groups.  We all know that many people, who when asked, will say that they have no religious affiliation.  Because they will check “None” on a survey, they have become the “Nones.”  But a lot of them, perhaps 2/3 believe in some kind of God, and 1/5 pray every day.  But they are not interested in the religious organizations that exist in our churches today.  For them, this is stagnant water.  But they are going other places to find that community.  This person on the video clip mentioned a dinner club for people who had recently lost a loved one.  Others might find this community in a yoga group, or even a microbrewery.  And these groups will often fulfill the community roll that has often been filled by churches in the past.  This group will drive each other to the doctor, or bring over dinner when needed.  These groups will also start to define morals and expectations for behavior of other members. 

     Some of you might be thinking that a group at a microbrewery has no possible connection to church, but I would argue that they could be very similar.  Every church now looks at its budget, its expenses and worries.  Members die, and while we do get new members from time to time, they are not pounding down our doors.  Adding a praise song or two to the worship service is not going to change that.  Moving the service time from 10:00 until 11:00 is not going to change that.  Even if we add a projector, lights and a band, the smoke and mirrors might attract a few, but I don’t think it lasts.

     Maybe our living water must be new and fresh.  This does not mean that we have to give up what we enjoy.  We can gather on Sunday morning at 10:00, have a really nice service, sing our favorite hymns, add in a new one here and there, hear what is hopefully a good solid sermon.  But what I would like to challenge you to do this week is look for places where we might explore that living water. 

     If we find that people are longing for a group to belong to, as it appears from the formation of dinner groups, and yoga groups and other types of groups, and 2/3 of those believe in a God, are we called to think about how these new groups may be church in the future? 

     I was recently reading a book that was talking about what church would be in the future, and where I got to in the book, the answer was that nobody knows.   The community part is already happening, those groups are self-forming, but is there a way that some of those groups might find value in what we might call church?  Certainly this would look very different, and really challenges our idea of what is required to be a church. 

     So I leave you this week with the idea that water is something we all need, while we can get it from many sources, it is something that we don’t really value until we don’t have it.  How can we, as the church share this living water with those around us, both now, and those that might be around us in the future.  Remember not all water is safe or good, may look good at first, but there maybe sources of water that we have not considered.  That Samaritan woman was confused when Jesus offered her living water, but she wanted it.  We don’t know exactly what that water will do for us, or how to find that living water today, we also want it.