3 Lent—24 February 2008
St John’s, Keokuk — 10:00
Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.
Suppose that one day you are dusting off some old decorative bottle that you picked up at a garage sale somewhere, and suddenly there’s a billow of smoke, out of which appears a genie who says, “O Master O Mistress, your wish is my command! You are granted three wishes!” What would you wish for?
The “genie in the magic lamp who grants your three wishes” seems to be a universal part of our common cultural heritage, and keeps showing up over and over. Remember the old TV series with Larry Hagman as the astronaut and Barbara Eden as Jeannie who lived in a bottle? (Thanks to Nick at Night and TVLand, I can talk about old TV shows to young people and they still know what I’m talking about!) A number of years back, the Walt Disney folks got Robin Williams on board and did very well with a genie! I also recall a TV commercial in which this Indiana Jones type fellow discovers an antique lamp, which he rubs, and the genie pops out and grants him three wishes. First the fellow wishes for great wealth, and is immediately surrounded by piles of gold and jewels. Then he wishes for the adulation of women, and is immediately surrounded by a harem. Finally he wishes for long life, and the genie with a smirk turns him into the Energizer Bunny. So be careful with your wishes! You might get them!
There’s something about this “genie in the magic lamp who will grant your three wishes” that really hooks us. I suspect that this fantasy is not too uncommon, at least among children. As adults we realize that too much of that kind of really off-the-wall fantasizing probably isn’t too healthy (don’t we?!)—it tends to sap our sense of responsibility for our own lives—but we can at least remember those childhood dreams, and after all it’s also not healthy to get too far out of touch with our childhood. And we have our own grown-up modern version of the genie-in-the-bottle fantasy, anyway. It’s called the Iowa Lottery.
So what would you wish for? Maybe a million dollars. That’s straightforward! And there’s lots of very constructive worthwhile things that you, or I, could do with a million dollars! (The word for the day is “tithe”!) I remember that when I was a child I fantasized a wish for 20/20 vision. (I’ve worn glasses since I was seven, and it got to be a drag fairly early on, and it just gets worse!) But then, I also remember that when I was in college in the early sixties, the Air Force had a heavy recruiting campaign on for reserve officers who would agree to take flight training—ROTC had too many desk jockeys and not enough pilots—and at the time I said to myself, gee, I love to fly; if I had good eyes I’d take them up on that. And I probably would have. That would have put me on active duty just in time to fly B-52s over Hanoi. (With great respect to the men who did that, many of whom did not come back and some of whom came back only after many years in prison camps, I don’t mind passing on that opportunity.) So be careful about your wishes! You might get them! On the whole, our wishes—even our most fantastic and extravagant wishes—tend to be petty, narrow, shortsighted, and not really very imaginative after all.
I was put in mind of all this by the Scripture readings today—readings which remind me also of the Prayer Book’s Collect for the first Sunday in October, in which we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”
Look at the Old Testament Lesson. The people of Israel have escaped from Egypt, principally through God’s mighty intervention on their behalf at the Red Sea; and now, free at last, they are trekking across the Sinai wilderness toward their ancestral homeland. And what are they wishing for? Water. Well, sure, they need water. But considering what they’ve just been through, you’d think they’d have a little more faith and trust than that. The Reign of God and of God’s Righteousness were still singing in the air, and here the Israelites are, already, whining, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink?” No wonder God was ticked! (The Psalm today is an expression of how ticked God was. Made ‘em keep wandering in the wilderness until all the whiners had died off.) And maybe this event was in Jesus’ mind when he said, don’t be so anxious about stuff like that.
The Gospel today shows us the Samaritan woman at the well. A well-known story from St. John, who likes to tell long stories about Jesus—we’ll get a couple more of his in the next two weeks. John tells longer stories than Matthew and Mark and Luke do! Anyway, here’s Jesus promising the poor woman the water of eternal life, and all she can think of is not having to make so many trips to this darn well. If she could have had her wish, she would have settled for indoor plumbing. Jesus was offering a whole lot more than indoor plumbing!
What do we really want from God? (Be honest, but be mature—no silly stuff.) What do we really want from God? Me, I’ve got a pretty good sense of what I deserve (maybe not a good enough sense of what I deserve, but at least an inkling), and my desperate hope is that God will give me a break!
But what does St. Paul say today? “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” While we were yet sinners—petty, nasty, obnoxious, and altogether undeserving—Christ died for us. Our vision—even for ourselves—is so narrow! And God’s love for us is so broad—so far beyond anything we might ever wish for ourselves, so far exceeding anything we can even desire for ourselves, much less deserve! Like the Israelites, we sit in the desert and whine about being thirsty, and nag at God to save our lives; God says, “Save your lives? I’m going to transform your lives!” Like the Samaritan woman, we’d like indoor plumbing; God offers us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life! We want God to give us a break. God wants to give us an Easter!