The Emptying Christ (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Third Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading was John 4:5-42.

A few weeks ago, when Lent began on Ash Wednesday, I invited you again to the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament. Each Sunday in Lent, we are looking at one of those disciplines. Today’s is fasting.

Ugh, fasting. Fasting often sounds terrible to us. The dictionary defines it as “abstaining from food.” We fast before surgery, and before bloodwork. There’s a fad right now about intermittent fasting for our health. We hear about fasting as a spiritual exercise, giving up food or perhaps just certain foods on certain days. But let’s be honest, it sounds terrible. It sounds like punishment, or penance. It sounds like suffering.

Well, fasting from food as a spiritual exercise has a long and commendable history in the church. If you feel called to fast in this way, and if your health is such that you can safely do so, then by all means do so. You may grow in surprising ways. Let me know how it goes. But I don’t think we’re all called to fast in that way.

Perhaps the kind of fasting we’re all called to is a bit broader than just food: let’s redefine fasting as giving something up, denying ourselves a certain thing, in order to receive something else. And that’s something we all do regularly.

If we want to start exercising more, say taking a walk first thing in the morning every day, then perhaps we have to give up a little sleep. Or if we want to get more sleep each night, then perhaps we have to give up some television time.If we want to save money for a vacation, then perhaps we have to give up going out to eat as often. That kind of thing. We make decisions like that all the time in our lives. When we give up one thing in order to make room for another, that is fasting.

Today in this sermon we’re going to practice that, just a little. This sermon is going to be different from usual. We’re going to sing the Hymn of the Day at various points throughout the sermon, one verse and refrain at a time.

We’re going to give up the normal sermon and hymn structure we’re so used to, we’re going to fast from the status quo, and we’ll see if that just might make room for something else. Perhaps we might receive something through this fast. Let’s sing.

1 "Come to me, all pilgrims thirsty;
drink the water I will give.
If you knew what gift I offer,
you would come to me and live."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

Today’s gospel reading began with Jesus tired out from a journey. He sat beside the well outside the city of Sychar, at noon, at the hottest, sunniest time of day. His disciples went into the city to get food, but he stayed there. He must have been hungry, thirsty, exhausted. But when the disciples return, he wasn’t interested in food.

The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, eat something.” He responded, “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” It’s tempting to think that Jesus didn’t need food because he was God. But he was also fully human, like you and me. He was tired, a stranger in the land of the Samaritans. He was weary, in need of rest. Let’s sing.

2 "Come to me, all trav'lers weary;
come that I may give you rest.
Drink the cup of life I offer;
at this table be my guest."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

In this story, Jesus didn’t eat. It’s not even clear if the woman gave him the cup of water he asked for. What is clear is that he was somehow nourished anyway – and he nourished others.

Jesus was not some superhuman who didn’t need food or drink. He surely did. But there were moments when he those things up for a time, so that he could do something more. In the moment at the well in Sychar, he didn’t eat or drink. And in that moment, he provided his gift of love. His gift of strength. His gift of meaning. His gift of life.

And perhaps he was nourished by this. Perhaps it was precisely through offering this gift of life that he found he had everything he needed as well. And perhaps it was because he himself was empty that he had so much to offer. Let’s sing.

3 "Come to me, believers burdened;
find refreshment in this place.
Come, receive the gift I offer,
turn to me and seek my face."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

Believers burdened. We just sang that. Sometimes it seems like it shouldn’t be like that. Sometimes if feels like if we believe in God, then our lives should be good. But we have all learned that that’s not how it works. We are burdened. Believer or not, we are burdened. Burdened by worries, by pain, by illness, by grief. Faith in God doesn’t take those burdens away.

Jesus had the most perfect faith there ever was, and it didn’t take pain and grief and suffering away from him. Ponder the image on the screen. This is one of our Stations of the Cross. This is the twelfth station, entitled “Jesus dies on the cross.”

Jesus was surely burdened. And yet, look how he glows. Do you see that golden glow just behind him? Even on that cross, constructed of so many nails, he glows, as though light is flowing from him. In today’s gospel, Jesus offered living water to a woman. On the cross, he pours out that life for us all. Let’s sing.

4 "Come to me, repentant sinners;
leave behind your guilt and shame.
Come and know divine compassion,
turn to me, I call your name."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

Jesus gave up everything on the cross, emptying himself. And emptying himself was what his whole life was all about. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to grasp. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.

From the very beginning, Jesus emptied himself to become incarnate as human. He emptied himself throughout his life, sharing compassion and healing and teaching. And on the night before he was betrayed he said to his disciples, “This is my blood, poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus poured himself out, emptied himself, like living water. Let’s sing.

 5 "Come to me, distressed and needy;
I would be your trusted friend.
Come and seek the gift I offer,
come, your open hands extend."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

Jesus emptied himself. That’s fasting. Giving something up to make room for something else. Making an empty space, where living water can flow. We too are called to empty ourselves. Not because we’re the source of living water, like Jesus, but so that we can be its vessels. So we can receive that living water, and then pour it out.

We are called to fast, to empty ourselves of whatever stands in the way of that gift. That can mean different things. Sometimes it means letting go of something we’re clinging to. Sometimes it means turning back from a path we know isn’t helpful. Sometimes it means turning away from anger and bitterness over things that have happened to us, or from guilt and shame over things that we have done.

Whatever is filling us up right now, if it is not the living water of God, then we are called to empty it out. To fast from it. To make room for the water that Jesus promises, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Come to Jesus. Give up whatever is it that stands in the way. Let go of whatever you hope in that’s not worthy of hope. Empty yourself and make room, because Jesus has living water, an ever-flowing fountain, a well gushing with water, a gift of grace that will never end. Let’s sing one last time.

6 "Come to me, abandoned, orphaned;
lonely ways no longer roam.
Come and take the gift I offer,
let me make in you my home."
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.


“Come to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty,” by Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939. © 1992, 1996 Sisters of St. Benedict, 104 Chapel Lane, St. Joseph, MN 56374. Reprinted by permission of OneLicense #A-714816.

Station of the Cross XII made by Alan Manicke for Prince of Peace Ev Lutheran Church, 2017.

Featured Image by Barbara from Pixabay

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