1981: Sermon in Tangier

The King of Morocco’s call to pray for rain
Sermon preached in St Andrew’s Tangier in 1981 by the Rev. F.P.B.Ashe

LIVING WATER

We have given up National Days of Prayer since England has gone pagan. But during the war the King called for several. We prayed, and wonderful things happened. How or why, I don¹t know, because I doubt whether we deserved it – but miracles did happen.

It had not rained here for over two years, and the King of Morocco called for a Day of Prayer for rain. We were camping at Acila, just down the coast, and all day long we saw men going to and from the Mosques. They believed that God would respond. That evening we saw a small cloud appear over the Atlantic, and that night it started to rain. And it has been raining every day.

How precious water is! In England we do not realise it, because we often think we have more than enough. But if we have a freeze-up, or a water main bursts, and we get left for some days without water, we begin to realise how precious it is.

I was once travelling in the Northern Territories of what is now called Ghana in West Africa. We stopped to pour petrol into the car’s tank out of a four gallon tin can. We used to throw them away as one throws away a tin that had baked beans. A group of women gathered round us who were obviously on their way to get water from a river. They stood round, chattering away, and we thought they were just interested in seeing white men. But when I had finished pouring in the petrol, I slung the empty can into the bush. It was as if I had fired a starting gun. With a yell they all disappeared after the tin. A few moments later a small wiry girl emerged in triumph holding the can. It turned out that those women had to walk three miles to the river from their village, and they had to carry the water in heavy earthenware pitchers, or in calabashes, which were light, but did not hold much water. A petrol can was a prize worth fighting for.

So I suppose we can be in three possible states about water:

1. No water at all. That very soon means death.

2. A little water. We know where there is a supply, and we have to make a daily pilgrimage to get it. If we don’t bother to go and get it, then there soon follow thirst, and dirt, disease and misery.

3. The third situation is where the water is laid on, and flowing. The supply is actually in the house, always available.

Jesus used the analogy of water to describe the Spirit that he can give.

You get the same three possibilities:

1. No Spirit leads to spiritual death.

2. There is the daily pilgrimage to the supply of spiritual water that so many of us make. We go to Jesus, and laboriously carry back a canful, that we can pour over our plans for the day.

I do not want to minimise the value of this, but is it not true that much of our prayer consists of saying,  “Lord, help me” or “Lord, bless me” or “Lord, give me strength”. We say, “Lord, these are my plans for today, please bless them.”  “Lord, help me live my life.”

We know how wonderfully God responds to that sort of prayer. He does help. He does give his blessing. He gives us strength and courage to cope with the burdens and tragedies of life. But when Jesus was talking to the woman who had come to draw water from the well at Sychar (St. John 4 : 5), he said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is speaking to you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you Living Water.”

She did not understand, so Jesus went on, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

There is a difference between going to get water from the well, and having the water, as it were, laid on inside. The woman was quick to see the difference. She said, “Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither have to come here to draw.” She did not know what Jesus was talking about – but do we?

Do you know what Jesus was talking about?

I have discovered in my ministry that many people who draw deeply and constantly from God’s great source of love and power, do not understand that it can be laid on from within. The supply does not have to be poured on from the outside, but can bubble up from inside.

This is what is meant by the “indwelling Spirit of Christ”. Jesus is not only a Friend near us – a Companion – he is not only our Leader – the One we want to follow and imitate, and grow to be like. He offers to be more than that. He offers to enter in, and it is this “entering in” of Jesus into the heart of man that makes all the difference. We would like it to happen automatically. We would like to think that Baptism and Confirmation are all that are necessary. But we know that spiritual things do not happen like that. There has to be the response of faith. The gift may be given at Baptism, but it may not be accepted. We may eat the bread and drink the wine at Holy Communion but not recognise it as the Body and Blood of Jesus given for us.

So how do we get the Living Water into our hearts?

First, we have got to want it – to want Jesus to take over our lives. In fact we have got to want it more that anything else. The reason why most people come to Jesus and beg him to take control, is because they are in trouble. While things seem to be going well, we think we can do without Jesus at the helm. But when the storms blow up and we know we are sinking, then we know there is only one hope of salvation. Let’s not leave it until we get our lives into such a tangle that it is impossible to untangle them. But even then – even then, there is hope, because Jesus can make the best of a bad job.

Jesus will not push in. He will not take over a reluctant heart. He will not share a heart with someone or something else. Jesus is Love, and Love must reign supreme. If you want to keep a bit of self in your heart, or another person, or a resentment, or an ambition, Jesus can’t come in. He can’t come in, because Love must reign supreme. Then, when he is really supreme, anything he can love can come in too, and you find that when you love Jesus most, you love others more.

God wants us to be loving and forgiving – to love as he loves us, and to forgive as he forgives us, and he has provided some wonderful aids to help us love and forgive – Himself – the Bible – Prayer – Holy Spirit – Sacraments – Church – Grace – all in order that we may be able to love and to forgive.

Has your Church made you better able to love and forgive? If not – then you have missed the whole point of it. Do your prayers, your Bible reading, your hymn singing make you more able to love and forgive? If not – it is all a waste of breath. Does your Church Prayer Group, your Youth Fellowship, your Sunday School make you better able to love and forgive? If not – you might as well belong to a Tennis Club.

How often we mistake the means for the end, and think that by “going” or “doing” or “belonging” , that God will be pleased. He will only be pleased if those things produce love and forgiveness.

That is the Living Water that Jesus offers us – His own spirit that can change us, and change the world. No spiritual water means death. We become dry, desiccated, hard, brittle. Then there are those like the women in West Africa who go on their daily pilgrimage to fetch water from the source.

Or we can have the Living water within us, springing up into eternal life.