The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Give Me a Drink—A Sermon on World Water Day

Grace and Peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Sometimes, I start sermons by asking everyone to take a deep breath together. Because it’s finals, I’m going to do that. Ready? Inhale, exhale. Good. Again? Inhale, exhale. Good. But because I’ve just read you the approximately 4,000 verses of tonight’s Gospel, within which Jesus had a convoluted conversation about water, I’m also going to ask everyone to take a drink of water. (Note to my dear readers at home: at this point, I literally poured glasses of water for my students. You should get up and get a glass of water, if you can. Stay hydrated!)

As your pastor, attending to a holistic view of your needs--spiritual, mental, emotional, physical--is my job. That’s why we feed you dinner every Wednesday, and keep a bowl full of snacks on the coffee table. It’s why I pray for you, especially during finals week, or when you’ve let me know there’s something going on in your universe. And it’s why I’ve asked you to drink some water. Your hydration is important to me!

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus goes to a well. We don’t do that anymore, we get water from faucets or bottles or pitchers in the chapel. Living in California, we know a thing or two about drought, and recently we have learned a thing or two about rainfall. In the last several months, we have become more familiar with the idea that #WaterIsLife, as we’ve followed the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Water Protectors. This week, the EPA disbursed $100 million dollars that Congress approved in December to be sent to Flint, Michigan, to repair its now infamous lead-damaged plumbing. [1] And, wouldn’t you know, today, March 22, is World Water Day!

This year’s theme for World Water Day, from the United Nations, is wastewater. What we do with our non-drinking water could use an overhaul. “1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water” that’s contaminated with human waste, “putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.” On its face, turning wastewater into drinking water may not sound very delicious to you, but “safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.” [2] We have the capacity and technology to turn wastewater into life-sustaining clean water.

Since it’s World Water Day, your facebook feed, like mine, may have had a smattering of posts with links to organizations like charity:water,, or religious organizations that focus on improving access to water. In any case, you’ve probably seen photos or videos of people in water-insecure communities around the globe trekking serious distances to retrieve water. These images are usually of women, usually in the Middle East or Africa, with various buckets, baskets, jugs, or other water-holding contraptions. They look a lot like what the Samaritan woman at the well might have looked like—thirsty, tired, and poor.

In verse 7 of the gospel reading, “a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her ‘give me a drink.’”

Then she asked, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” to which Jesus replied that she ought to have asked him for “living water” for he would have given some to her, had she asked. Reasonably, she is perplexed by the idea of living water, and that Jesus doesn’t even have a bucket. And then verse 13 is where we—and the woman—come to understand that Jesus isn’t talking about water from this well, because he says, “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. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

This living water is the water of our baptism, and the coming of Jesus the Christ quenches our thirst for God. And to speak in poetry and metaphor like that is beautiful and comforting and true, but it is not all that this story offers us. It may seem odd and vague to you, or weirdly specific in its details and numbers and circling back to this whole ‘living water’ thing. In his exchange with the unnamed Samaritan woman, “Jesus does what he often does: Jesus crosses every conceivable boundary, Jesus sees the lines that are drawn in the sand and specifically walks right over them. The specifics are everything in this story.” [3]

It matters that the person Jesus meets at the well is a woman. It matters that she’s from Samaria, and that Jesus isn’t. If that wasn’t part of the point, the story would just say “a person.” And this would still be a good story but it wouldn’t be the same story. If we didn’t already know why these specifics mattered, the Gospel author reminds us, by saying that “Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans”. This stems from an old disagreement about which mountain—Zion or Gerizim—was the right place to meet God. Speaking with her is a pretty serious break from his previous conversation partners—usually men, usually Jewish religious leaders; not usually women, not usually non-Jews, especially not usually “enemy” Samaritans.

Jesus knows it, and she knows it. “Jesus’ journey to Samaria and his conversation with the woman demonstrate that the grace of God he offers is available to all. Jesus and his ministry will not be bound by social conventions.” [4] Jesus offers this living water to you, and to me, and to all of us. In this story, he illustrates the universality of the gift by giving it to someone who nobody else considered worthy.

On our earth, water is a precious resource. Each and every living thing—including each of us in this room—needs it, and a lot of it, to survive. But hoarding water is not the way to live. We know that it is possible to provide plenty of clean water to everyone we share this planet with. We know that plenty of water is wasted every day, instead.

The same is true for the grace of God. Keeping silent about what God has done for us, what the living water provides, is not the way to live. Sharing the good news of Jesus the Christ opens the floodgates for all to share in the beloved community. We know that plenty of people are shut out from the church every day, instead. All who are thirsty are welcome, here. All who are hungry are welcome, here. All are welcome, for it is Christ who does the inviting.

Thanks be to God!

[3] The Rev. Jason Chesnut, sermon “Specifics Matter”
[4] Gail R. O’Day, “John” in Women’s Bible Commentary, 384.

You Shall Live—A Sermon about Stories

History is Happening—A Sermon on Abraham, Nicodemus, Jesus, and Us