The Sunday Sermon: the cup of living water

Joining in on Christ’s Mission to the Outsider

It’s great to be back with y’all after my paternity leave! Can’t wait to introduce our baby Jem to you sometime soon. I’m not getting loads of sleep right now but it is such a delight to have a baby in the house it more than makes up for it. Laurel sends her greetings — she’ll be returning from her maternity leave during Holy Week. 


My son Jem started out as a big boy — nine pounds, ten ounces — and he’s got to be at least eleven pounds by now. You can imagine Laurel spends a lot of time nursing these days! Besides trying to keep our place somewhat tidy and changing fistfuls of diapers, one of my chief tasks as of late has been to keep Laurel’s water bottle filled. She drinks so much water, and our baby grows and grows and grows.

Today we join with the United Nations in celebrating World Water Day. We humans can live without just about anything for a week except clean water, and yet hundreds of millions of us live without enough. Today we also join with our international Episcopal Church in celebrating the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, or ERD. ERD makes sure that water bottles, so to speak, all around the world are filled again and again so that all babies, all families, all people grow and thrive.

I was in that room when our baby was born, I was right there, and I’ll tell you, it was astonishing. God and God’s creation and God’s love are astonishing. But it’s also astonishing to imagine how different little Jem’s life will be from a girl’s in rural Tanzania, where from an early age she might spend eight hours a day waiting in line for water for her family, sandy water that is scraped out of an ever-deepening hole in an otherwise dry riverbed miles from her village. Why God? Where are you in this sad and unjust state of affairs?

If we’re searching for God today, we’ll find Jesus with an outsider, in a region of outsiders, in Samaria, at a well. The Gospel explains the social anomaly clearly enough: one didn’t often find Jewish men speaking to Samaritan women. But there he is anyway. And because this is one of the great stories of the Bible, and only found in John, and only read in church once every three years, we have a tendency to settle into our comfortable insider role as spectators, watching the woman’s confusion, her curiosity, and her astonishment as she discovers a truth we already know: Jesus is the Messiah. But when we get too comfortable with a biblical story, we’re often in for a surprise.

Join me in imagining this morning that when our eyes adjust to the desert glare we see the Samaritan woman at Jesus’ side, and Jesus is giving us that look like he’s just asked us a question and is waiting for an answer. Uh oh. Now we’re confused: we look down and the water bucket is in our hands! “Give us a drink,” Jesus repeats. And so we do, the bucket scraping against the stony sides of the well as it lowers into the dark. It is heavy lifting up. It is cool as it splashes onto our hands as they drink gratefully. We’ve just quenched the thirst of Our Lord. Astonishing.

Looking up again the woman’s villagers have gathered round. They smile warmly. They too ask for water. Jesus is laughing and playing with the kids some distance away. We spend the day taking turns hauling up the water. There is always more to be drawn, more dry lips to wet.

As dusk approaches it is time to go home. It is time to go to church. This church.

Did you know that the Church exists for outsiders? Christ’s Body on earth, the Church, is called to proclaim to all people this greatest of news: God loves us. You. Me. There is an outsider inside each of us constantly forgetting the truth of God’s love. There are those inside this stunning sanctuary today that can’t yet trust this truth. And there are plenty of people outside these walls who’ve never even heard of such a Love or of such a God.

We as the Cathedral community make this love known to each other very well. We have fun together and we look forward to catching up with each other during coffee hour. That is a sign that we really do believe God loves each of us. It is a gift of this community.

What is not so easy is to make real God’s love in the warmth of welcome we extend to those whom we do not know. The man standing by himself at coffee hour. The woman eating a doughnut on the bench outside the Guild Room during the Sunday forums. The homeless man across Sixth Avenue with his back against a tree. It is not so easy because it involves a risk to cross a social boundary. It is not so easy because there is always a new outsider to welcome with the good news of God’s love, good news that can be simply shared in a smile, a hello, a listening ear.

And I wish I could say that this was a dilemma limited to Sunday mornings. But there are six and a half more days each week filled with outsiders. Think of them. Whom do you worry about at work or at the grocery store, whom do you keep in your prayers?

There are even those whom we have not met, and probably will never meet, people like the girl in Tanzania waiting in a water line, people whom we can bless nonetheless with a refreshing reminder of God’s love. Episcopal Relief and Development builds wells in developing countries for five thousand dollars each. Our diocese has committed to raising the funds to build at least one this Lent. Help us do that in the courtyard after the service today. There will be a table there with all the information.

We build wells for people elsewhere not just because we have the taken-for-granted luxury of indoor plumbing; we bring enough clean water to all people in Christ’s name because God loves us, because Jesus seeks out the outsider in all of us and stops us short with his curious, no astonishing assertion that he is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world, and he waits at his well, patiently offering cup after cup of living water in today’s desert of thirst, and we are invited again and again into the cool wonder of God’s love.


The Rev. Colin Mathewson

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