Living Water

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, March 23, 2014

Ex 17:1-7; John 4:5-15

 Seething torrents, tumbling in a cold boil

Relentless crashing, tearing away the sure and the firm,

Tossing rightside wrong the logic of gravity and trust.

The essence of life betrayed by its very source.

Destroyer and provider;

Faithful sustainer and raging killer:


Powerful beyond imagination, yet easily weakened, polluted, unable to yield a drop of life: Water.

Most common of resources yet most precious; the greening power of new life, sweet sustenance, source of hope: Water.

It was the lack of water that led the Hebrews to despair. They had withstood the whips of their taskmasters, the slaughter of their infants. They had survived the cruelty and derision of their slave owners. But somehow, that all seemed bearable when they came face to face with death, for death was surely immanent when no water was to be found. “Why bring us from slavery to die of thirst?” they demanded of Moses, “Is God among us or not?”

The land of Israel and Palestine is rugged and harsh. Even in the wet season, rain is not dependable. When you look out over the land, you see a few small, thorny bushes here and there, a few olive and cedar trees, but not much other foliage; no grass, no weeds. It is mostly white, dusty Jerusalem rock that meets your eye. Water is scarce, especially for the Palestinians today.

This was the dry, barren landscape that Moses and his people tried to negotiate. Without water, it seemed impossible; it seemed as if God had abandoned them.

In this province of abundant water, it is hard for us to relate to stories of drought. But even here, our relentless winter has forced over two thousand Winnipeg homes into a frozen drought.  No water to drink, no water with which to cook, to wash clothes and bodies. Water has to be hauled—as it does with 80% of the rest of the world’s population.[1] This includes northern Manitoba reserves, where there are still communities that haul their water all year round. You may remember a series of articles in the Free Press a few years ago about the scarcity of clean water on our northern Manitoba reserves. The United Nations recommends 50 liters of clean water per person per day to meet minimum standards. In disaster zones, the United Nations recommends at least 15 liters of clean water per person per day. The Free Press found out that many people in the Island Lake area get by on 10 liters per day.[2]  The journalists found despair amongst the people who felt abandoned by the south. I expect many of them also felt abandoned by the Creator: “Is God among us, or not?”

Our scripture tells us that God will provide, but how can we believe this when provisions are not enough; when some people do not have even the basic necessities of life?

Sadly, God has provided—not just for you or for me. God has provided for our whole world. But when some of our world takes more than its share, the rest is left with not enough. We are all the hands and feet of Christ. This is how God provides. But if we use our hands to hoard; if we use our feet to tromp, we are abusing the body of Christ.

Yesterday was World Water Day. This year, the United Nations’ theme was the link between water and energy. The UN predicts that, by the year 2030, the world will need 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy.[3] It is unsustainable. When those of us who have the luxury of enough use more than our share of what God provides, God can hardly be blamed when others do not have enough.

Laura Rance suggests that the only way our planet will have enough is if we begin to work together and decide what areas of the world should grow which crops according to water supplies. Farmers need to think twice about irrigating yet more land. Why? 70% of global water use is for irrigation and is drawing down groundwater reserves at unsustainable rates.

If we believe that we are the hands and feet of Christ, then we believe that God does provide through us. And not only to provide charity. God is counting on us to use our God-given brains and wisdom to think globally and sacrificially. This means that we have to think not only of ourselves, but of future generations here in Canada and in the rest of the world. We don’t do that very well. It’s much easier to send off a donation than to be willing to give up what we take for granted.

I was telling someone in this congregation that I’m going to buy some lamb shanks to make a lamb stew for our Maundy Thursday communion supper. She told me where I can buy local lamb instead of New Zealand lamb. I hadn’t thought about that. It’s crazy that New Zealand lamb, readily available in the big grocery stores, is cheaper than local lamb. But if I’m willing to walk the talk, I will pay more to support local farmers and reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

This Lent, we’re challenging the congregation to support Fair Trade Coffee. It costs more, but it puts more money in the farmer’s pocket. Fair Trade Coffee is usually shade-grown. Although coffee grown in the sun boosts productivity, coffee grown in the shade of bigger trees benefits from birds that live in the trees and eat the coffee berry borer, the most damaging coffee insect pest in the world. Shade-grown coffee does not need the pesticide used on sun-grown coffee plantations. Shade-grown coffee is usually organic. Yesterday I read an article that questioned whether or not organic food really is safer for you. While I think it is, I wondered why people aren’t also asking if organic food is safer for the earth. We have to move beyond the concern of self-benefit to the benefit of the earth and all its creatures.

If we are serious about being the hands and feet of Christ, are willing to walk the talk? Are we willing to pay a bit more for something, to do without something else? God is counting on us to provide. When those without clean water ask if God has abandoned them—the answer is that we, who have the resources and the power of choice, have abandoned them and our God-given responsibilities for one another.

As those whose water lines are not yet frozen, offer to hook up their line to their frozen-out neighbor; as we begin to look at labels and ask where we can buy locally produced food; as we pay more to support farmers in other parts of the world, we begin to drink the living water that Jesus promises.

May we taste the hope of the baptismal waters, living water sprinkled on our parched skin, quenching the deep longings of our soul, anointing our hands and our feet to be an offering of today

[1] Laura Rance, “World’s water needs raise warnings,” Winnipeg Free Press, Sat., March 22, 2014, p. B12.

[2] Mia Rabson, “First nations to alert UN to water woes,” Winnipeg Free Press, Wed, February 16, 2011, p. A5.

[3] Laura Rance, B12.