The Lord your God has saved you. He has brought you ought of Egypt to receive His gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and thus to worship Him in righteousness and holiness before Him.
This is most certainly true, despite appearances and all experience to the contrary. But you surely do not yet see it or feel it. Not when you are surrounded on all sides by desert wilderness, and there’s no well or water to be found. Not when sin, death, the devil and hell still assail and oppress you, so that you are staggered and cannot stand.
It is still true, nevertheless, that God the Lord has saved you, and even now He is giving you life; even though your sinful heart is doubtful and afraid, irritable and quarrelsome.
In spite of His great and free salvation, your thoughts, words and actions — proceeding from your sinful heart — do not praise and honor the Lord Your God, but profane His holy Name. Instead of worshiping Him (in faith and with thanksgiving), you grumble against Him, and against His servants. And you put Him to the test: “Is the Lord among us or not!?”
Thus hardening your heart against Him, you close yourself to His gracious gifts of life; you cover your ears against His Word, and you shut your mouth to His food and drink. And you go thirsty. In foolish desperation, you long to go back to your former idolatry, to the land of sin and death (from which the Lord has set you free), where all the water turns to blood, and the more you drink, the more you thirst. In truth, by such apostasy, you’ve already gone back to pagan Egypt.
Now, perhaps you have considered the irony that Elizabeth Taylor died this past week, in the days leading up to this Lord’s Day with its appointed Gospel. Some of you probably remember her movies when they first played and were popular, but her heyday was before my time. For my part, all I ever heard or knew about Elizabeth Taylor is that she had once been a movie star, that she used to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, and that she had been married and divorced many times. Seven different husbands (one of whom she married twice), and all but one of her marriages ended in divorce (one of her husbands died within a year or two of their wedding).
When asked why she got married so often, Elizabeth Taylor replied flippantly and with profanity, that she had no idea. One can only assume that she was searching for something she never found, and in the process, the Lord’s sacred institution of marriage came to be regarded as a joke and a punch line. But there is nothing funny about adultery, and there is a tragic sadness to all of this. All the more so because Elizabeth Taylor sought her salvation among the Jews, that is to say, in the false religion of Judaism, apart from Christ; but she did not find what she needed there, either.
The Samaritan woman at the well in this morning’s Holy Gospel had a checkered past, not so different from Elizabeth Taylor’s, but she was given what she needed in the water and the Word of Christ Jesus. Until that day when He went to meet her and call her to Himself, she had thirsted for something she did not even know, nor could she ever have found it on her own. Not in her series of husbands, nor in her fornication with the man she was then shacked up with. She needed forgiveness for her many sins, and reconciliation with God, and the Holy Spirit of the Messiah.
Your needs are no different than hers were. Your own sins are no less damnable than hers, even if they have not included adultery and fornication. Even setting aside the Word of the Lord, by which He condemns the lust of your eyes, of your heart and your mind, as adultery, you have your own covetous lust, your own desperate thirst for that which is not God.
What is it that you thirst for? What is your drink of choice, and what well do you attempt to draw it from? The false gods of Egypt take many forms. You can make an idol out of marriage, for example, even if you’re only married once. Maybe it’s alcoholism or chronic drunkenness, or gluttony, or maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with actual food and drink for your body. God knows that you need to eat and drink, after all, and He is gracious in giving you daily bread and fresh water. But what do your heart and mind, your soul and spirit thirst for? What do you crave?
What do you worship? That is the question at hand. Whatever it is that you thirst for — not only with your lips and tongue and throat, but with your heart and soul and all your strength — that is your god. And your hard work in going to fetch a pail from that well — that is your “worship.”
Therefore, if your well and your water are anything but Christ Jesus and His Gospel — Repent
Return to the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Turn away from your covetous lust and desperate selfishness. Leave behind the water pot with which you would draw your own salvation. Do not “obey your thirst” for anything that is not the true and living God.
Instead, seek the Lord where He may be found, where His Word is spoken, where His gifts are given. Find Him where He comes to find you: in the courts of the Lord’s House, in the midst of His true Jerusalem. Not with grumbling, anger and complaint, but in faith and fervent prayer.
Beloved, if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that speaks to you, then you would ask of Him, and He would give you living water. So ask, and do not doubt, but firmly believe that He will give you what you need. Not on this mountain versus that one, neither here nor there per se, but in His Church on earth — wherever on earth it may be — established and built upon the Rock of Christ.
Even Samaria or South Bend become the Mountain of God when Christ is at hand.
Here your thirst is quenched, in ways you would never have imagined. For here you are cleansed within and without, in body and soul, by the Spirit of Christ: from His Cross and Passion.
To be sure, where you have sinned He admonishes you. He reproves, corrects and exhorts. He calls you to repentance. But still, He does not write you off. He does not make an end of you. He does not strike you with His Law to stone you to death and destroy you, although you deserve it.
He does speak His Law forthrightly, in order to expose your sin: to tell you everything that you have done wrong and all that you have failed to do right. And it is the case that your sin must be condemned and punished; it must be put to death and dealt with, lest it bring you down to Sheol.
But see now the staff which His Law wields, and hear how He strikes with it, not you, but the Rock (which is Christ). For the Lord takes the blow and the burden of the Law upon Himself. By the wood of the Cross, the heavy staff of Moses cuts Yahweh to the quick. He is stricken, smitten and afflicted, beaten and bruised, pierced and wounded for your transgressions. For your salvation.
He has been thirsty, even to the point of death, so that you may be given to drink from His well.
It is entirely and solely for the sake of His love that He does so. Not because you are so loveable, but for His own sake, because of who He is, He loves you. In some ways, it really is that simple.
He remembers you and loves you. As in the past, so also now and forever. He remembers you by taking action to save you, to bring you back out of Egypt to Himself; to turn your idolatrous heart from gods of stone to Himself, your God in the flesh. All of this He does at His own expense, by His own sacrifice, by His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death.
For He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has saved you. He is the Rock of your Salvation, your strength and your song, who has brought you out of bondage into life. He follows you in steadfast faithfulness, through the wilderness all the days of your life, even to the last.
It is true that you are rocked and staggered by tribulation, by hurts and fears within and without, by trials and temptations, so great and so many that you cannot stand upright.
You are always tripping and stumbling and falling, and dying.
But take heart, dear one. The Lord is with you.
Yes, He is hidden from your sight for now, and He is with you in the form of a hard rock — but even so, His hardness is not set against you; it is for you, that He may be your sure foundation.
Behold the living water streaming from His open side, and with it flows His own Blood of the New Testament. From this Rock, the font and the chalice have been filled with His Spirit and His Life for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Here is water. Drink. You shall not die but live.
The same life-giving water of the Holy Spirit is poured out for you, even in the desert, in this very preaching of the Gospel. It quenches your deepest thirst by forgiving all your sins. It cleanses your soul and your body with the righteousness of Christ, your Savior. It gives you eternal life.
Therefore your tribulations, though many, shall not be permitted to lay you waste on the desert floor. They rather produce in you hope and patient endurance, which shall not be disappointed. For none of this depends upon you, but on Christ, and He does not fail; He shall not fall.
By your own strength, you cannot stand, but Christ sustains you. Even in His death, He is lifted up to save you, and it is in His grace and peace and righteousness, by His Cross, that you do now stand. His Spirit lives in you, and you live in Him. In Him you are strong and courageous!
This is the true worship of God, that is, the Cross of Christ, by which He offers up Himself to God the Father in perfect faith and steadfast love. His Body and His Life are offered up for you and for all, even unto death, in order to atone for the sins of the world and to reconcile the world to God. And by His Word and Holy Spirit, you are united with Him in that sacrifice of faith and love: not that you make atonement for yourself or anyone else, but that you are returned to God the Father in Christ, and having been justified by His grace, you live and abide with Him in peace.
As He comes to meet you in His Church, and He speaks His Word of the Gospel to you, He gives you the gift of His Spirit, who also unites you with Christ Jesus in the one true faith. Thus, by His grace, through His Holy Spirit, you worship the Father in and with Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.
Not only that, but in such faith before God, you also live (and worship Him) in fervent love for one another. For where you are not driven by a temporal thirst that is never satiated and never can be satisfied — when your thirst is for the one true God, who freely pours Himself out for you in Christ Jesus and fills you with Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit — then you overflow with divine love for others. You are faithful in your marriage to the spouse that God has given you, or you are chaste and pure in your life outside of marriage, but either way you love and serve your neighbors at hand. You forgive those who trespass against you, and what is more, you gladly do them good.
It is ever and only in Christ Jesus, and always by His grace alone, that you now stand before God in perfect peace, and that you so live and love in His presence in righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Your life never does advance beyond this dear Lord Jesus, the Christ, but you live and move in Him by faith in the Word that He speaks to you in love.
Really, as St. Paul also says, it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, and you in Him.
And for now, in this life on earth, it is in, with and under His Cross. It is hidden from your eyes, so that you neither know it nor have it apart from His Word and the preaching of it.
Where you thus discover, in yourself, that you continue to falter, to fall short and to fail, first of all take heart that your sins are forgiven. That is what the Gospel is and does: the forgiveness of all your sins. Day after day, they are washed away by the water and the blood that flow from the side of Christ Jesus, which He pours out for you in His Church by and with the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, do not despair, and do not suppose that you will or you must (or that you even could) rectify yourself and restore your own life. Rather, simply return to that fountain of life, to Christ and His Spirit, by returning to His Gospel, to His means of grace, to His Church on earth.
That is the well at which He is found, where He freely does pour out His living water for you.
Do you recall the story when Abraham’s servant went to find a bride for Isaac? He waited at a well, where the women went to draw water, and when Rebekah came he asked her for a drink, in much the same way that Jesus asked of the Samaritan woman in this morning’s Gospel. The goal was not to be served, but to serve: to give the good gifts of the Father, to woo and to win a bride for the Son. So was Rebekah called to be the bride of Isaac, and so was that Samaritan woman called to her true and heavenly Bridegroom.
Dearly beloved, the same is here true for you!
Bride of Christ, rejoice! For here at hand is your true Bridegroom, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father. He has sent His servant here to you, to give you His good gifts, to woo you and to win you with His gracious love and tender forgiveness, and to bring you home to Himself.
Come, therefore, and drink deeply from His Cup, from His own hand. Drink the living water that flows freely from His open heart into yours. Hear His Word of the Gospel, which is Spirit and Truth. Receive His free gifts, which are life and salvation. For He is indeed the Savior of the world. Not only that, He is your Savior and your God, and you are His beloved.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.