Living Water-the Rev. Nancy Wright

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: June 24, 2012
Visiting preacher: the Rev. Nancy Wright, Pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church, S. Burlington, Vermont.

1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16, Psalm 113, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-31

It is wonderful to return to St. Michael’s; my ten years of ministry here with Jeff Gill and Fred Hill were full of wonderful memories, and sad memories, as it was the 80’s during the height of the AIDs epidemic. The church was a family in ministering to those in need.

My being here was in the capacity of a spiritual director, and it’s in that capacity that I know Rev. Liz Maxwell, as well as a good friend.

As I am on sabbatical, you are the first congregation with which I can share the travels and insights and prayers of my heart. I’ll dive right in.

The scripture reading, Jesus stilling the storm, raises the questions that I focus on for these four months of sabbatical: who is he, who is Jesus, who even the winds and the sea obey him? And a further question, what is the relationship of Jesus (our Lord and savior and beloved friend) to the winds and sea, and for that matter, the creatures of the winds and sea—puffins, whales, cormorants, gulls, and, yes, you and me, whose bodies are mostly water and whose eyes flow with water when we grieve? And I bring to your memory the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, which is my sabbatical theme: Jesus meets her at the well at mid-day; he asks her for water

“Give me a drink.” “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

This story took root in me, and built, and I knew my need of living water. What it was exactly, I didn’t know; I knew that I would die without it, and that my congregation, going through some decline, could also be nourished only by this living water. I am asking Jesus for living water. Through scripture: I realized that living water means much in scripture:

“Ps. 105:40 He gave them food from heaven in abundance; he opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.” Ps. 42:1 “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night…” Rev. 22:17 “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come” And let everyone who hears say, Come. And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Water facts: From “Respect Water, Protect Water”:

“Water is one of our most precious and valuable resources. Without it, we would perish. Plants and animals need a reliable supply, and it is critical to growing crops….Despite its importance, over 1 billion people around the globe still lack access to clean water and thousands perish daily for lack of it. In the natural world, many of our most important aquifers are being over-pumped and half of the world’s wetlands have been lost to development. There is a political dimension to water as well: Almost every major river system on the planet is shared by two or more nations, making water a source of international conflict and a matter of national security” (The Pacific Institute)

National Geographic Summary: Americans use about 100 gallons of water at home each day; millions of the world’s poorest subsist on fewer than five gallons; 46 percent of people on earth do not have water piped to their homes; women in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water; in 15 years, 1.8 billion people will live in regions of severe water scarcity; there is pollution of lakes, streams, and rivers.

I began to wonder, what does baptism mean in this context? Can we wash away our faults in polluted water?

My own thirst perhaps equipped me to see the thirst of other, especially women who draw water sometimes walking 3.7 miles for water; I pictured the woman at the well; and countless others in Africa. Many now not able to find clear water. Most children die from lack of clean water, in developing countries. The next wars may be fought over water.

Through a Lilly Endowment clergy sabbatical grant for travel and reflection I’m able to devote really full time to the search for living water. I had been to Palestine and Israel on a Lutheran delegation and knew the deep faith and suffering there; I was able to go back three weeks ago and understand more fully the illegal settlements in the West Bank that take so much water from the Palestinian villages; water shows the disparity and the injustice. And the fact that the state of Israel withdraws water from underneath the West Bank and yet charges the Palestinians more for water than it does the Israelis.

Our gospel story of today shows that in situations in our own lives and the world, situations of risk, struggle, vulnerability, chaos, and storms, Jesus brings cam, strength, integration, and justice through his presence. I am keeping a list of Living Water stories; my goal is ninety-nine by the end of the sabbatical.

Examples: Two springs lead east to Jericho from Jerusalem; you can walk along the river, and people enjoy doing so, but one is now enclosed in an illegal Jewish settlement; we went there by mistake, only Jews and people with Israeli license plates can walk there; fortunately that was not our goal, so we turned around and went to a true spring of living water: it was open to anyone who wanted to walk; Muslims, Christians, and Jewish young people, all walking and enjoying the water. Truly living water.

A person of living water: Bishop Mounib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, synod of Jordan and the Holy Land and head of the Lutheran World Federation—with whom I met, spoke of the Palestinians knowing either despair or deciding with hope toward solidarity and vision: living water. And our sister church, Christmas Lutheran, that is the second largest employer in Bethlehem—which fosters a college, arts’ institute, dance, all through the dedicated leadership of its pastor, Mitri Raheb.

The church’s work, including the Episcopal church in the Holy Land; Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace (Presbyterian Church, ,USA) and the Kairos document.

Jordan River—can’t swim beyond the middle line; guards only 4 feet away. Injustice through the stream where Jesus was baptized, yet, I felt cleansed in coming out; Susan said, “though sinless there he took on our sins and needed to face them during the 40 days of meditation.”

Then the pilgrimage continued to Scotland and Iona; a thin space, where St. Columba established Christianity in the 5th century; water meditation by a small lake, based on the woman at the well: how often we take water for granted; and God for granted. Yet God is our source, water for our souls and water for life. The communal prayer the first evening at Iona was for justice in the Holy Land (including a boycott of Israel) made me feel absolutely at home.

How can the church see the love of God through Jesus in all creation? (Culture turns creation into a commodity.) Water shows us God! Deep pools remind us of our inner life, where God dwells within us, known when we go into our depths.

Rushing, living water, spring water, reminds us of abundant life in God, as a sign of God’s overflowing blessings on creation. In desert regions we see how water is life’s essential element: even a small leak from a pipe gives rise to a pink bougainvillea: God’s desire is for flowing life, and our baptismal fonts create such symbols of oasis.

The power of water in huge waves, the darkness, even terror of the sea or of a raging river that threatens homes and fields (as did last year’s Vermont hurricane), remind us of the power of God, the scouring action of the Spirit on our lives.

And water locates us in our particular watershed, in our case here, the Hudson River watershed. As adults and infants are baptized here, do you know and celebrate the cleanliness of the water that comes from the Catskills and Croton and is a world marvel? Can we connect baptism to the living, untamed power of water? Do we celebrate the Hudson River, its clean up, its fish, swimming along within a quarter mile? Its 206 species of fish: shad, flounder, bass, eels, herring, bluefish, minnows…

At Ascension we’ve saved energy through a new boiler and new light bulbs, people bike to church; we’ve cleaned up Bartlett Brook over four summers; we’ve educated parishioners. We’ve had a stewardship campaign that began at the edge of Lake Champlain. I’m grateful for the Episcopal Church’s work, especially in supporting the Millennium Development goals, which include halving by 2015 the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, and Lutheran World Relief. I’m grateful to all the NGOs that provide water and continue to strive for justice and peace. I continue my pilgrimage, glad to share living water stories. Could it be tht the community that looks for living water and celebrates it is a church in renewal? Amen.

Pilgrimage blog: