A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin

Psalm 95, Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a line from the first reading which really struck me. The chosen people in the midst of the desert, on the way from the slavery to the freedom of God, they tend to look back. And so we hear: ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt?’

So here we are right in the midst of Lent. For me, I decided to go to the 7:30 morning Eucharist four times. So far I am doing ok, but my other lent resolution was not going so well. It is a bit private. It is about forgiveness. I found the road to forgiveness is very hard. I would rather go back to the way I was. But this is the decisive moment: Do I head back to Egypt? Or do I trust that the Lord is guiding me? A voice in my head said, ‘Don’t go back to Egypt. Keep going to the promised land’.

Some of you have heard my first sermon when I talked about my journey to Christianity. Today’s gospel reading, the woman at the well, also contributed to my conversion. We are meant to identify with this woman in this archetypal encounter with Jesus in some way.

The woman is a seeker. We all are. We seek all kinds of things, but the important point is that as we seek, we have already been found. She comes to the well. To speak metaphorically, the well is all the things we seek to find satisfaction. As she comes to the well, Jesus is already there. There is nothing more important in this whole story and in the whole spiritual life than this idea: the primacy of grace. It is not you who chose me, says God, but it is I who chose you. Here is the principle. If only we would surrender to the God who has already been looking for us, we would be in the right space.

One great spiritual master once said that imagine a helicopter trying to land. Metaphorically the helicopter is God’s grace and God’s presence. The spiritual life is not jumping into the helicopter or building our own helicopter. It is simply clearing the ground to allow the helicopter to land. That is the primacy of grace.

We are all wired for God, we are built for God, ordered for God, hungry for absolute reality, but then we seek the satisfaction of that deepest longing through worldly things, through created goods.

Since I came back from Denmark last century. Sounds long time ago. I had a very well paid job in Shanghai. Only after three years’ working in that job, I bought a very spacious apartment in a very good location. In my early 30s, I was very proud of my achievement. I became to seek pleasure, comfort, and honor. I tried in vain to satisfy the deepest longing of the heart with something less than God. So it made me frustrated. I went back to the well every day, drank from the well, but got thirsty again.

You see, none of those things, worldly goods: money, power, honour and pleasure, good though might be, but none of them is God, none of them is meant to satisfy me ultimately.

The woman coming day after day in the heated of sun draws water from this well. That symbolically represents all of us who seek satisfaction in all the wrong places. Don’t we agree?

What Jesus says makes a great point: ‘everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whatever drinks the water I gave will never be thirsty. The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’. I believe that the whole spiritual life is in those words of Jesus.

Looking back to my young adult life in Shanghai, when I drank the well of wealth, try to satisfy the deepest hunger of my heart, I got thirsty again. I drank the well of approval, I got thirsty again. I drank the pleasure from gourmet food, upmarket products, I got thirsty again. Those things are good or at least are neutral, but they fade away, wear off, run out. My hunger is the infinite hunger for the infinite good, and all these finite goods either fade away, wear off or run out.

What is the one reality that never runs out? What is the one fountain that never runs dry? The answer is divine life, which is precisely what Jesus offers to the woman at the well.

Then the conversation goes on with the woman. Jesus points out the solution to satisfy our eternal thirst and hunger. The true worshippers will worship the Father neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem, but worship in spirit and truth. Worship, worship. You see that is the central theme of the whole bible. Sin is the bad worship. I place something other than God at the centre of my concerns. That’s why we go back to the well over and over again. That is why we get caught in these rhythms of addictive desire. What Jesus offers now is true worship: in spirit and truth. He wants us aligned to him. He wants our hearts and minds aligned to his heart and his mind. Now it is time to get our whole lives ordered according to him and his purposes. Then we will find water gushing up in us to eternal life. This story is about everyone. How do we get our lives properly ordered? Well, we listen to him, we drink from the living water he offers us.