Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Ps 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life. The gift of water. I am not sure how deeply we see water as a gift of God to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life! It is all too easy for us in our 21st century homes to turn on a tap and have sustaining, fresh, cleansing water at our fingertips. We are blessed, truly blessed to have this. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience water scarcity, briefly. I had gone on a diocesan trip to Rwanda and had seen water holders at the schools, a science diagram showing how to create a water purifier from little stones, sand and a plastic bottle, the houses with no internal water source. But I had only seen them. It hadn’t entered my understanding, my comprehension, just what these all meant. Until the last weekend of our stay. We woke up on the Sunday morning to empty taps. There was no way to wash, no way of cleaning our teeth, of washing our hair, no safe water to drink, no way to flush the loo. In the warmth of the day, all these things became very important. We were lucky. Large buckets were carried up the stairs to our corridor, and we could help ourselves to the water there. But the buckets were large, and water is surprisingly heavy.
Look at a bucket or large container. Imagine carrying it up and down your street. It’s not easy. Water moves. It flows. Now imagine you had to do that every day, in the heat of the day, and if you work for hospitality, possibly up and down stairs, more than once a day. We are so lucky to have the gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse us.
“I go to collect water four times a day, in a 20-litre clay jar. It’s hard work! I’ve never been to school as I have to help my mother with her washing work so we can earn enough money. Our house doesn’t have a bathroom. If I could alter my life, I would really like to go to school and have more clothes”.Elma Kassa, 13-year-old girl, Ethiopia (1).
“10-year-old Bukhari Aden (and) his mother Dama Mohammed .. collect water from a pond in Ethiopia. After giving water to the camels and donkey, they take two jerrycans back for the cows at home. He has never been to school. “In our village the children are responsible to look after the animals. There is no water near the village. If water is available nearby, it would be easy for me to go to school.”https://www.unicef.org/stories/climate-drought-horn-of-africa
This is the reality for many across the world, not just in Africa, but all areas where sanitation facilities are lacking. Across the world, 1 in 6 people lack safe access to safe drinking water. In at least 80 countries, covering 40% of the world’s population, people encounter serious water shortages. And without clean water people die. Water borne diseases flourish – typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea (1). This year and last, these water shortages have affected even Europe, I am sure you can remember the images of the River Po in Italy dried up, and the driest summer in 500 years has prompted concern for water scarcity in Europe for farmers, homes and factories (2). And yet, water is a gift from God for all people.
There is a reason Jesus calls his message, his promise, the gift of living water. His message brings life to our souls, to our spirits: it refreshes us and enlivens us. This is a gift of God, but it goes alongside the gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse us. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” God gives us the living water of the spirit and the living water for life: chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle .. a shake and a shiver, glinting and gleaming and sparkling, as Kenneth Grahame puts it (3).
We are lucky, we don’t have to stagger under the weight of heavy buckets. But, perhaps we need to listen again to words of the baptism service and remember that water is a gift of God, and should be treated as such. It is precious, it gives life, not just to us but to the whole of creation – plants and animals, birds and water creatures all depend on water to live. As a gift of God to the people of God do we need to relearn to treat God’s gifts with respect? To use the gifts wisely and carefully? And to work to promote decent access to life-giving water for all God’s people, all God’s children? Then we will show the work of the living water in us, that gift of the message and love of God, of Christ in our lives. Yes, drink deep of the water of life offered by Christ, and let it refresh us, our spirits, our hearts to look towards God’s gifts in God’s creation, for all God’s creation, and protect water, preserve water, share water, so that all can have water to sustain, refresh and cleanse.