Water from the Spring

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2024


I was reading a sermon written almost a hundred fifty years ago by a minister named Alexander Maclaren, and I was really moved by how he talked about my sermon text today. Most of us know it best in its King James form: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He talked about it in terms of four metaphors. I’m not going to use exactly the same ones; I’m going to talk about John 3:16 in terms of a spring, a stream, a pitcher, and a drink.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff about the gods of the nations—Gods like Zeus and Thor and Mars. But when I read about them, I always manage to be surprised at what motivates them. They’re not surprising because they’re so unusual. In fact, what’s surprising about them is how selfish and lustful and petty their desires are.

A lot of people complain about the Old Testament and how vindictive the God of Israel sometimes seems to be. But for the most part, the difference between the One God and the many gods is like the difference between night and day. The God of Israel is portrayed as steadfast and protective, forgiving and caring. Yes, we know there are unpleasant stories in the Hebrew Bible. But when we want our faith affirmed, we have plenty of places to look. One of them, of course, is the 23rd Psalm, where we learn that the Lord is our Shepherd; we need fear no evil, for God’s rod and staff protect and comfort us. There are literally thousands of passages in the Old Testament that tell us about God, but if this psalm were the only one we had, it would be enough to keep us going in troubled times.


And, like I said a few weeks ago, if John 3:1-17 were the only passage we had from the New Testament, we would have enough for more than a kernel of the Christian religion. And that one verse, John 3:16, contains some of the deepest truths of the faith—probably more than many of us are aware of.

That opening thought—God loved the world—is the source of everything. It is the spring from which the water flows. There would be no love in the world if God had not started it in love, for (as 1 John 4 tells us) God is love, and we love because God loved first.

And the nature of God’s love is beyond our imagining. Think about the statement, “I love the woods.” If one of us says that, it’s a broad statement. Our love for each individual tree in the woods isn’t worth talking about. We just love the general idea of the woods. Or the statement, “I love Mexicans.” We probably couldn’t care less about the vast majority of the people of Mexico. We may love their language or their food or maybe we’ve enjoyed some of the interactions we’ve had with them, but “I love Mexicans,” to us, an almost thoughtless thing to say.

But when Jesus says that God loved the world, he’s talking about something deep and personal. God knows each person in the world and loves us with a depth that we cannot understand. If we think of the person we love most in the world, the person we would love no matter what they said or did, then perhaps we can begin to understand how God feels about each one of us. That is the spring from which everything flows.


The fresh spring of God’s love is the source of a stream—the stream that gave us God’s Son when (as Romans 5 told us) we were utterly helpless, while we were going against all that God is and all that God stands for.

Notice that we’re still caught up in God’s actions, not our own. God’s love is the source of all that is, and the giving of the Son is what God is doing to bring the water of that spring to where we are. We often think of “gave his only Son” as meaning that God gave him to die for us. And though it does mean that, it also means that he gave him to live for us. To be born as one of us that God might identify with us. To show us through his words and actions how we to be human. And so don’t limit the meaning of God’s gift to the moment of his death. He lived a whole life filled with meaning before he died.


It’s not until now that we are asked to dip our pitcher into the stream of God’s love, God’s giving, and actually believe in what’s already been done. We call this “believing in him” faith. But faith is actually a very nebulous word. It sounds theoretical and theological, maybe even pie-in-the-sky. We speak a language that’s sort of naturally divided in two. A lot of our words are Germanic, or English—but this is just a little over a quarter of the English vocabulary. So most of our words come from French and Latin origins. But this doesn’t mean that the vast majority of the words that come out of our mouth were first French or Latin words. No, most of our everyday speech is still English (i.e. Germanic).

And that word faith is actually from the French. It’s more of the head than of the heart. There’s another Germanic word that’s much more of the heart than of the head, and that word is trust. If we’re having a crisis of faith, then let us turn to trust. Is the One whose love is the source of all that is, and whose love sent us Jesus to be trusted? And so to dip our pitcher into the stream of God’s love is to trust that it is living water, that it’s life-giving.


And finally we drink. And in drinking, we find that the living water leads to life that is more than life. To trust that God loves us and gave us Jesus raises us above existence and gives our lives meaning. It leads to life beyond death, and gives us purpose in the here and now.

The King James translation says that, in believing in Jesus, we will not perish. And I think we all know it’s possible to perish before we actually die; it’s possible to be caught up in death even while we’re still alive. Meaninglessness is all around us, and it’s killing the world. To trust in God is to believe there’s something more, and that this “more” can empower love, it can heal what’s broken, and bring peace—in this life, and in the next.


The spring is the source, and the source is love. From this love flows the gift of God—a Son whose life taught us how to be human and whose death showed us the extent of love. In trusting God—believing in him—we dip our pitcher into the stream that we might bring the source near to us. And in drinking we receive the benefits of all that God is and all that God has done for us.

This is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. So don’t put your trust in those preachers and those Christians who use the Name of Jesus to divide and conquer. The good news of Jesus Christ is living water from a life-giving stream, not a poison well. Trust, and find out what life truly is.
—©2024 Sam L. Greening, Jr.