There's Got to Be More
It is season finale month on television this month. This is the month where television junkies all come out of the closet and admit how addicted to their shows they really are. Presently, I am in a course at seminary every night for three hours, which has eliminated all opportunity that I have to watch any season finales. I have to admit that there are one or two shows, like Alias, that I really like, and will have taped, but for the most part, I have given up keeping up to the newest shows. It seems that as soon as "I commit" my allegiance to a new show, it is cancelled - so it is with reluctance that I watch anything new. Some of the new shows are just plain old weird - some of them just seem creepy and dark or just have a stupid plot. Who actually likes shows about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Will and Grace? Or, what about the reality TV shows where single girls do their best to land a rich guy to marry them. It seems to me that reality TV has been going a bit too far. Whatever happened to the shows that were around when I actually had time to watch TV - like "the Cosby show", "Seinfeld" or "Cheers".
We all know how the theme song of Cheers goes, "Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. And they're always glad you came. You wanna be where people are, people are all the same. You wanna be where everyone knows your name". And in the midst of the aftermath of the last year, maybe the lyrics of this song ring every more clear.
Let's face it, we all have the need to feel like we belong, like we matter to someone, like we want to feel special - that we are worth something to someone. We want to feel loved, to be understood, accepted - warts and all. This need compels us to become vulnerable. Vulnerable to the point of perhaps being hurt, disappointed we find ourselves crying out in desperation just to feel understood, to have this big void inside of us - the insatiable void filled.
Some of us may try fill it with work- the more we work, the bigger our promotion, the higher our status, the more we are able to become invaluable to the company the more our personal value increases. Family time, leisure time and time we would invest into the things that are really important to us, maybe even God, are swallowed up with the compulsion to get things done at work; if we don't do it, no one else will… This dependency on work may fill the void for a while, but while you are busy getting ahead in the business world, at the end of the day or at the end of the month, you soon discover the loneliness of coming home to an empty house or not having anyone to share your victories with.
Maybe we try filling it with relationships; sure others can fill the void that we have in us for intimacy, acceptance and belonging. Sure to never be alone, we surround ourselves with people - people that make us feel good about ourselves, that make us laugh, that make us feel happy and better about who we are
I have friends that think that the latest and greatest will make them happy. They have the brand new house, with the newest trendy shag carpet, stainless appliances, hardwood floors, newest stereo systems, newest fitness equipment, newest computers, newest vehicles and newest holiday locations. Forget about keeping up with the Jones - they are the Jones! Time as a couple is spent going to the tanning salon and gym to keep up their appearances so their presence will be sought after. The value that their lucrative jobs hold are monetary and their friendships are determined on social value. Anything less than Starbucks or Abercrombie & Fitch are clearly unacceptable. Evening are spent in front of the fire talking about what they will buy next, sipping French imported water and dreaming of the African safari coming up next month. What they don't realize is that what they have will never be enough and that they have started on the dangerous path of acquisition and materialism that can never be filled, because "the more you get, the more you want". At the end of it all…
Friends, life doesn't have to be like this. I have often asked myself, how is it that I can find completeness in life - where is it that I can be myself - that I can not only loose myself, but that I can also find myself. Is there such a place where to simply "be" is enough - and that our value is not based on our gross, our appearance, our past, our business sense and family. How do we find this life worth living?
An English journalist, who was not a Christian, Bernard Levin put it well. He wrote, "To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die… I have not managed to answer the question yet, and however many years I have before me they are certainly not as many as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late… why do I HAVE to know why I was born? Because, of course, I am unable to believe that it was just an accidentally; and if it wasn't one, it must have meaning. COUNTRIES like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a big whole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it… it still aches."
I moved here in January of 2001, which brought me into the most tumultuous time of my life. My very identity had been wiped out from under me and I didn't know who I was anymore. Within the course of two months, I had resigned my position as youth pastor at a church in Canada - where I was a big fish in a small pond, left countless friends, positions on committees, sold my sports car, and a great house to move to another country where the money was all the same colour, where I was a small fish in a big pond, where I was just another face in church, with no friends, in a tiny apartment and where I couldn't find a Starbucks (which I have since fixed!). What I had perceived to be my very identity had been blown away and I was left broken, alone, deflated and I felt like the very life in me had been sucked away.
I realize now that I was trying to find meaning or self-worth in all the wrong places. My meaning did not come from the friends I left behind and didn't have here, my meaning did not come that I used to have a youth group that I cared for and that loved me and now I didn't, or that I had a great home and now lived in a smelly apartment. I had been trusting in all sort of peripheral things to feel like I was someone… but what I needed to do was to trust in God and allow him to be the one who gave me meaning and identity. I had been trying to fix my broken heart with all sorts of things that could not satisfy. The only thing that could satisfy was to find myself and loose myself in who Jesus is. This search is not something unique only to me though.
In the Old Testament, King Solomon struggle for meaningful life… in the end of his time, after he had built a great kingdom and had everything he could ever want said:
"I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecc. 2:10-11)
And we see this search for a sense of significance found again in the New Testament in John 4.
Let me draw you into the story.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Galilee from Judea. There were two basic ways to get there - the long way and the short cut. The short cut worked fine, but not many respectable Jewish people used this route because you had to cut through Samaria, where the unclean gentiles lived.
The text tells us that Jesus and his disciples had to go this way, which seems to tell us that it was part of Jesus' mission to see this group of people.
At about noon, they stopped and sat down. The disciples went into the village to scrounge up some lunch and Jesus stayed behind. He looked around the dusty, rocky hills and saw a woman approaching the well to draw water. It was a bit strange that she was coming at noon to draw water. Because it was so hot in the midday, it was the regular practice of the locals to draw water in the evening when it was cooler. The fact that she was drawing water then tells us that she avoided the normal schedules of the people - she wanted to go alone, was she shunned by others? Who was she?
Here we see Jesus do the unexpected. He asks her to give him a drink.
She asks him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?
Now, this may not seem like a big thing, but a Jewish man was not allowed to drink from a vessel held by a Samaritan woman, as it would be deemed to be unclean. What he is doing here is breaking down social norms and treating her with dignity.
Jesus responds, "IF you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water". His response to her is complex and goes right over her head.
She responds, "Sir, you have nothing to draw the water out with and the well is too deep. Where do you think you are going to get this living water? Are you greater than Jacob, who gave us this well that was used by his descendants?"
Jesus responds, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty again. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life". This would be a big thing here where water is scarce and has to be pumped. Think about how good life would be if a fresh spring was close-by and if you wouldn't be thirsty again. She is thinking this is a great idea; this would fix her life, make her life simpler and cause her much less work. If she has this, she won't have to make the trek back to the well every day in the noonday scorching sun, and won't have to face the people. We all know how important water is - that in many ways, it is the essence of life - think about how much her life would change is this major part of it was taken care of.
Embracing this offer that seems too good to be true, she says, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water!" And she waits for his response, and the one she gets she sure never expected.
Jesus says to her, "Go, call your husband and bring him back." To which she replies, "I don't have one."
He responds with these words, "You are right, you don't have one. The fact is that you have had five of them and the guy you are living with right not your husband".
If I was she, I think that I would feel like my heart was sinking to me feet. How would he know about this - were they talking about her even where he was from - where was he from she wonders?
The woman often intrigues me. We don't know a lot about her, but we do no that she went to public places when no one else would be around and that she had a lot of husbands, even by today's standards. The demands of society and the reputation that she bore made her a weak person. I often wonder why this gospel story is not about a rich, well put together person and Jesus. I think that Jesus is showing us that the living water, the peace that he gives, the eternal life is for everyone - it doesn't matter who you are. By custom, Jesus should not have talked to this person at the well, not to mention that it was a woman with a reputation. The touch of Jesus, the living water, the infilling of the Spirit, is extended to all of us - it doesn't matter if we are rich or poor, good looking or not, man or woman - - this story transcends all of that. What it shows us it that God loves us. Period. Strong or weak.
In fact, God works with very weak people. If you think the Bible should be a book of virtues, inspirational stories of role models we should emulate - that means you think the Bible should be like all other Scriptures and religions. But it is not, because every other religion says God is at the top of the ladder. He has put a ladder down between you and heaven, and he's standing at the top of the ladder and saying: "Perform, do good, live right, emulate the heroes, earn your way to heaven."
But the truth is: You'll never make it up ladder, and neither will I. The people we look up to in the Bible seem to have one thing in common. They have revelation from God. They have miracles in their lives. They have incredible things happen to them, and yet they mess up again and again. Why? Because no human being can climb the ladder into heaven in and of themselves. We're simply not capable of doing that! This woman had definitely discovered that she could not climb the ladder to heaven by herself, not to mention the ladder to happiness either.
But our God knows that! Our God, the Christian God, is not a God who stands at the top of the ladder but who sent his Son down to BE the ladder. He's not a God who says: "Perform or do better." But he says my Son, Jesus Christ, will come down and live the life you should have lived and die the death you should have died.
That's the reason Bible stories are not stories of role models to emulate and heroes to admire. They're stories of weak people like you and me and the woman at the well, who have a strong God who came down to do what we could never do for ourselves and died on the cross to save us.
God works WITH weak people.
As I see us in her, I see the people of our society as WEAK people who have been hurt - for whatever reasons. When it really counted, the woman at the well didn't want to be alone and poured her life into different men that come and went, perhaps hoping to feel love and acceptance by someone - but instead just built up baggage and a reputation. Her reputation caused others to look down on her and for this reason she avoided them, even if it meant hardship. All she wanted was love and she tried anything she could to fill this void. She tried to climb up an imaginary ladder to get an imaginary sense of fulfillment that wasn't really there. She tried ladder after ladder after ladder and when she was given the invitation to the "real thing" she didn't know quite what to think.
This emptiness, this thirst, this insatiable need of fulfillment can be met though. Jesus promises us that if we drink of his living water we will have springs of eternal life welling up within us. What he is meaning is that our fulfillment and completeness - this newness of life - comes from Him - it doesn't have to come from every other thing around us that will only leave us as fulfilled as our next glass of water. This need that Jesus meets doesn't have to be refilled everyday or does not need a quick fix to get it to hold each day - it is flow as steady as a fresh, living well that spews fresh water. It doesn't run dry; it doesn't grow stagnant or get stale. We don't have to go hunting it down - because it is there for us.
We don't have to go on looking for acceptance and meaning in everything and everyone that is around us. The things we try filling our life with to have meaning only last for a while, and then leave us wondering what is next and what is better. Climbing ladder after ladder after ladder to never really get anywhere, but to be left frustrated and hopeless. There is good news!
And it is here for us today.
God's invitation to us…
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
And you, who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul might live.
Only God can fill a God shaped emptiness and only God can heal that ache in your soul.
Today, are you tired of trying to fill that void in your life - that void that never seems to be filled. Are you tired of spending your best - your time, talents, energy, resources - on thing that do not last and that do not satisfy? God is calling us - you and me - to so much more. He is calling us to drink deep of his living water - his presence in our lives - his spirit in us - working in us and through us - his presence helping us - giving us peace
God is inviting you to accept his beckoning - - to be refreshed with the living water - the water that we quench that inmost, most intimate need completely and forever.
So come… all you who are weary and thirsty. Come all you who have been trying to get ahead on your own. Come all you who have been trying to quench that insatiable thirst looking for meaning that just leave you wanting more….
Are you tired up climbing up the wrong ladders, looking for significance and meaning on your own, when it can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you tired of that empty feeling that just leaves you feeling emptier each time you try to satisfy it.
The same Jesus the early church worshipped on the day of Pentecost is the same Jesus that is calling you today. He is calling you to drink of HIS LIVING WATER that will satisfy your deepest longings. We don't have to try doing things on our own anymore; instead we look to someone who has done it for us. Jesus says, "He is the way, the truth and the life… that he has come that we may have life, and life everlasting".
His invitation to you is to come and drink of the living water. We are going to pray and then sing another song. If you have sensed the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit calling you for the first time to come into a relationship with him or to come back into relationship with him, then I would invite you to indicate this by coming up to pray at this altar.
Some of you have been a Christian for a long time, but something has been missing. You have been going to church, and have been "doing the stuff", and "singing the songs", but you have been trying to find your identity and sense of meaning in all sorts of things that world has to offer, instead of in your relationship with the Lord who offers you the living water that fulfills.