“Living Water for a Thirsty World” by Nancy Lawrence

March 21, 2021

photo by Sheri Bergen

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Our name, “Living Water,” is taken from the 4th chapter of John,  from Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, when he asks her for a drink of water.   [Reading selectively from Peterson’s The Message: ]

“How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman for a drink? (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)   Jesus answered, If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking ME for a drink, and I would give you fresh, LIVING WATER.” …he goes on to describe LW as an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life. She asks him for some of that LW…and she finds Jesus telling her things about herself he’d have no way of knowing.  “Oh so you’re a prophet? Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”   Jesus responds, “ …the time has, in fact, come when what you’re called [Jew/Samaritan] will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.  …That’s the kind of people God is out looking for:  those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship.  God is sheer being itselfSpirit.  Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” The woman says, “Well, I don’t know about that. …When the Messiah arrives, we’ll get the whole story.” “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

This story embodies for me something of our current Lenten theme about Grace. God’s grace shows up for this woman who hears Jesus’s offer of Living Water;  she asks to receive it, not knowing how it will turn out; and ultimately shares it with her entire village who become believers that Jesus is the Messiah.  Grace offered; grace received; grace shared.

But I want to shift gears, and tell you about our mission group, Living Water.

It’s 2003…Marjory Bankson, Emily Gilbert, and Muriel Lipp are sounding a Call, inviting a new mission group to come into being, to tend the inner life of Seekers Church.

These 3 founders, each in her own way, were making a difference in the world.  Marjory: president of FAW, leading retreats all over the country, a published author.  Emily: a staunch feminist, a former lobbyist in Virginia legislative life (on behalf of issues of faith, social justice).

Muriel: a true Mystic, lover of Nature, author of a published children’s book about being still/silent out in the forest, to discover the magic of what shows up in the silence.  Those were our founders.  I think I would’ve joined up with them even if invited to sell hotdogs on the street corner!

I was relatively new to Seekers, had recently retired without a clear sense of my Call for that next season of my life, other than BEING…whatever that meant.

So I joined LWMG along with EmmyLu Daly and Linda Strand

[Today there are 6 of us:  Marjory, EmmyLu, myself, plus Cynthia Dahlin,  Jean Adams…and since last year, Jackie Mbabazi, whom we’ve adopted as a virtual member (our weekly meeting is during her workday.)]

In choosing the name Living Water, our founders wanted to claim not only our own thirst but also God’s promise of living water to those who ask.

From its beginning, our church has always drawn people who are already engaged in outward ministry.  But, this outward journey of service must be grounded in prayer and intentional reflection in order to sustain whatever Call God has given to each person.

So w/that in mind, LW’s Call speaks to our intent to support the inner life of all Seekers by:  Coordinating silent retreats for Seekers; Offering classes & workshops about aspects of the inward journey;   and  Accompanying our elders in our group as they age.

Such a rich 2-way street as we share deeply with each other.  EmmyLu & Jean are valued role models of hard-earned wisdom, courage amidst diminishment, humor and grace in living this life to its fullest, …enriching our life together with love given & received.

In LW, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as our group’s Spiritual Director, each week receiving and responding to individual written spiritual reports…as we learned to companion each other on our spiritual journeying.

I also found a place of outward leadership/svc as Retreat Assistant for LW’s silent retreats…

Leading from behind….logistics plus in the background something akin to hospitality, handling the physical aspects of schedule, mealtimes, wake-up calls, etc., so the participants can let go of all that and totally focus on being “on retreat.”  I’ve especially enjoyed that aspect of silent retreat leading.

At Dayspring, it’s hard not to find yourself opening to the beauty of Nature, and opening to that place inside each of us where that of God and one’s deepest Self connect.   Being together in the silence…

Instead of in-person retreats this past year, Living Water has held 2 silent retreats on Zoom, with another scheduled next month – April 24th – to be led by John Morris.   Hopefully we’ll be back to Dayspring next fall.  Stay tuned.

I want to go back for a moment to our mission group’s beginning to say more about another aspect of our call.  

Barely a year into it, our youngest member at the time, Linda Strand, suddenly died from an aneurism…totally unexpected.  She was only in her 50’s.

Her death felt like a wake-up call, propelling us toward offering resources to our church and beyond about end-of-life issues, including even those practical things we know we should do but often put off.   e.g., We found ourselves leading workshops on how to prepare “5 Wishes” – a DIY advanced directive specifying how you want to be treated if you are impaired or dying and unable to speak for yourself.   Other workshops followed about various aspects of death/dying.

As cremation became more prevalent, we helped create rituals for burial or scattering of a loved one’s ashes.

We continue even now to lead Seekers worship each year on All Souls/All Saints Day,  remembering  loved ones who died that year.

We work with families/individuals on ways to memorialize their loved ones who have died.  e.g., the Memorial Wall of tiles naming those loved ones, plus a nearby Memorial Book with a photo & 1-pg biographical sketch of each person.

Another example is the Bench at Dayspring in memory of Linda Strand.

As all these needs & questions re death & dying were crossing our path and engaging us in our first decade or so, Marjory Bankson described it this way:

“We stretched the traditional understanding of “Inward Journey” to include… reclaiming the sacred aspect of death itself.”   [Story of Seekers Church 1976-2006, pg.149.]

In the ensuing days after Linda Strands’s death we assisted her family in planning her funeral. First there was an open-casket visitation/wake at her home, that helped her family/loved ones begin the hard process of letting go, accepting her death. Then the next day, her body was cremated and her ashes scattered out at Dayspring at Lake-of-the-Saints.  …a sacred place of returning to the water/to the earth the cremains of our loved ones.

I REMEMBER THAT DAY.  We are all standing on the shore as Peter Bankson wades out into the lake, carrying an urn that Marjory has made [an unfired clay urn] filled with Linda’s ashes.    And he begins to scatter her ashes on the water.

As I’ve been re-living that scene lately (preparing this sermon), another more recent image keeps coming up beside that of Peter with Linda’s ashes.

It’s that familiar scene of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River as John raises Jesus up from the water, and God blesses that new beginning.   What a vivid image of a “birthing” through water as Jesus steps into his Call.

And over here, the scene of  Peter at Linda’s death, returning her ashes to the water  BIRTH  –  DEATH:  like bookends enclosing the span of a life.  But that take on “death” doesn’t hold all of it for me.

Because, although Linda had died, it also feels like we are BLESSING HER DEATH as also a “BIRTH” INTO NEW LIFE.    

After all, isn’t DYING  a lot like the process of BEING BIRTHED?    

It seems that way to me.         BIRTH, DEATH, NEW LIFE…

BIRTH, DEATH, NEW LIFE… Muriel Lipp, our beloved Mystic, might’ve said it this way:  all 3 are part of that larger circle of life where we are all connected, all held in God’s loving arms.  I surely see it that way, too.  BIRTH,   DEATH,  NEW LIFE.

 It’s probably no coincidence that Birth…Death…New life, these three, are also the reference points of the Lenten journey, as we walk with Jesus from his baptism, to his crucifixion, to his resurrection.  I think of that as the outer framework of Lent.

We are also invited during Lent to spend time on the INWARD JOURNEY… LISTENING for God’s voice, EXPERIENCING God’s healing,  and SENSING God’s leading.           

 It’s about saying Yes to the signs of God’s grace.

Much like the Samaritan woman who said yes to the grace offered by this stranger who’d asked her for a drink of water, as she, in turn, asked for and received Living Water that brought new life to her and her community.  

Saying Yes to the signs of God’s grace.  

Much like you and I, searching within for signs of grace leading us toward a new Call,  or going within for the spiritual sustenance we need to live out the Call we already have.

Saying Yes to the signs of God’s grace.

THIS LENTEN SEASON, …EVEN NOW,  

May we not only notice where the grace of LIVING WATER is showing up in our lives,  

but also open ourselves to receiving that grace…not being afraid to say Yes,

…taking it in,

So that together we can become Living Water for a thirsty world,

             sharing the grace we have received.

…Living Water for a thirsty world…       May it be so.      Amen.

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