“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns, that can hold no water.”Jeremiah 2:10-13
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:1- 15
As the rain pelted down early last Friday morning, waking me up from sleep, I suddenly thought about some of the new names given to churches in Hermanus, among them Living Waters and, simply, Rain. In the past local churches have usually been named after saints, like St. Peter’s, or according to the denomination to which they are affiliated., such as Mowbray Presbyterian, Rosebank Methodist, or the Dutch Reformed Church in Hermanus. Nonconformist churches sometimes have chosen names from the Old Testament like Bethel, which means the House of God, or Bethesda, the House of Mercy. But there has been an explosion of new trendy names in recent times. One is In Via, “on the way,” in Stellenbosch, another is Renaissance in Pretoria, and next month I will be preaching at Mosaic in Randburg. Then there are those on our own doorstep like Rain, Living Waters and Live the Life.
There is something attractive about these new church names. They tell us something about what the church is meant to be rather than its institutional connections and form of government, however important that might be. I guess we are all glad that this place is called Volmoed, “full of courage and hope” rather than after our friend Fr. Roger Hickley’s favourite saint, St. Agapanthus. In a time when denominational affiliations and loyalties are no longer as strong as they once were or are non-existent, I can understand why some people searching for a life-giving faith after a period of spiritual drought might find Rain more appealing than going to Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and Living Water more attractive than Ebenezer Tabernacle. Certainly as the rain woke me up last Friday, it was living water that came to mind and set me thinking about such things. We all thirst for living water, but I guess that in the end it does not matter much what label is on the bottle as long as it contains the water of life..
The metaphor “living water” comes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The people of Israel, he says, have “committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns, that can hold no water.” Broken cisterns were a serious matter in the Middle East as it is today, especially in times of drought. We at Volmoed know all about the dire consequences that follow the drying up of the spring of clean water that has gushed out of the rocks up the mountainside for as long as anyone can recall. Virtually every day we have to check our water supply, make sure that it is clean and sufficient for ourselves and our guests. You can live a few days without food, but you cannot live without fresh water. You can get away with second class meat, but not water from stagnant pools or polluted rivers. Only pure, living water sustains life.
So living water is a powerful biblical metaphor. The prophet Isaiah describes people joyfully drawing “water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) Wells that go deep into holy ground, and never run dry. Ezekiel speaks about the living water that will flow out of Jerusalem when the Messiah comes. John has all this in mind when he tells us about Jesus and the woman at the well, or when he describes Jesus standing outside the Temple and inviting all who are thirsty to come to him and drink.( John 7:37-9) The water that Jesus offers is the gift of the Spirit, the water of eternal life.
Eternal life is not simply life that goes on forever, it is a spirituality that quenches our deepest thirst. The contrast is that between death-producing polluted water, and the crystal clear spring water that is life-giving and sustaining. Between the law which kills and the Spirit which gives life. It is the difference between the religiosity of hate and exclusion, and the Spirit who sets us free to be responsible, committed to justice and love for others; a religion that is self-centred and a religion of the Spirit who evokes compassion; religion that dehumanizes and the Spirit who makes us truly human; religion that tries to take possession of God’s name for dubious purposes, and God the Holy Spirit who takes possession of us in order to give us life. Like stagnant water that kills the body, bad religion kills the soul; like fresh water bubbling forth from the spring of eternal life, the Spirit renews and energizes the soul.
As global warming increases and droughts become more frequent, we can anticipate that clean water will become even more a cause of strife than oil. We will all have to learn not only how to save water but also how to share water. Clean, pure, life-giving water is becoming a precious commodity that has to be treasured, but also shared with others especially those who are thirsty. And this is true of the living water of life that Jesus gives us; it is not provided for us to bathe our souls in; it is meant to be shared with others. Just as Volmoed depends on being able to provide clean drinkable water for our guests, so Volmoed like the church more generally exists to share the living water of the Spirit with all who are thirsty for abundant life. Water is not ours to possess simply to quench our own thirst, dammed up in the church, kept clean and pure for private use. The water of life is poured out for all. So in the end it does not matter whether your church is named after St. Agapanthus or simply called Rain, Bethesda or Mosaic. What matters is whether a church gives us access to the well-spring of the Spirit of Jesus. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, let the one who believes in me drink…Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-39)
O God, the well-spring of our lives, pour into our hearts the living water of your grace, that refreshed by you we may live this day in steadfast reliance on your strength, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 15 September 2016