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The Source of Living Water: Discovering the Fountain of Life

February 21, 2008

John 4

Today, we begin a new series of sermons entitled Streams of Living Water. We are fortunate to live in Spartanburg County. Most of our church families live in this County; but our congregation is also represented in three counties in North Carolina, as well as in Union, Cherokee, and Greenville counties. This area’s waterways are so important, so significant. I believe I am correct in saying that at least 145 creeks and streams in Spartanburg County are named. Many of those actually have names that are a part of churches: Buck Creek, Motlow Creek, Holston Creek. A number of places in our county are named after springs: Boiling Springs, Glen Springs, Cedar Springs, and Cherokee Springs. Spartanburg County is well supplied with water.

Eight major rivers irrigate this county. We might think of these rivers as the circulation system of our county. Maybe you can identify the eight. Three of them have the name Tyger: North Tyger, Middle Tyger, and South Tyger. Two of them have the name Pacolet: the North and South Pacolet. The Enoree River comes along our southern border. Two are named creeks: Fairforest Creek and Lawson’s Fork Creek. This circulation system has been important in the county’s history and economic development.

The Cherokee never occupied this area. That is to say they did not build villages here, but they did consider all of this land theirs. They actually used this part of the country as a buffer against their neighbors to the east, the Catawba tribe. Both the Cherokees and the Catawbas would venture into this part of the country to hunt because game was so plentiful. All of these waterways attracted the game. Indians from both tribes would come in, set up camps, and hunt. It was here they made their arrow points and spear points.

I can remember when I was a boy, after a good hard rain, I could walk through fields that had been recently plowed, especially along these waterways, and find arrowheads and spear points. We used to go along the Old Georgia Road and stop at Fairforest Creek. If someone had plowed a field there, we would usually find arrowheads. Another good spot to find them was further out where the Old Georgia Road crosses the Tyger River. Years ago, I had a Tampa Nugget cigar box full of those arrowheads, but I honestly do not know what happened to them. Perhaps my younger brothers took them over or my mother did with those what she did to my baseball card collection. They disappeared somewhere along the way.

Governor Tryon of North Carolina decided he wanted to investigate this area to see if it would be suitable for English settlers. He sent a scout named Colonel Thomas Howard into this area. Howard Gap Road is named for him. At that time, Tryon and Howard actually thought this area in South Carolina was a part of North Carolina. The boundaries were not so clear back then. Colonel Howard scouted this area, going toward Columbus, Tryon, and Landrum.

One day, he was walking on the side of White Oak Mountain and found a young Cherokee boy named Skyuka who had been bitten by a timber rattler. The boy was the son of one of the tribal chiefs of the Cherokee nation. Skyuka is the Cherokee word for chipmunk. Because Howard treated the wound and the young boy recovered from this snakebite, Colonel Howard became friends with that particular clan of the Cherokees.

Sometime later, Colonel Howard fought in a fierce battle, the Battle of Round Mountain. Skyuka and his Cherokee clan teamed up with Colonel Howard in that battle. Afterwards, a treaty was signed on White Oak Mountain at a place called Treaty Rock. It is where the old Camp Skyuka used to be. That treaty identified an Indian boundary that went from the top of that mountain down into the Piedmont area. If you travel Highway 29 between Spartanburg and Greenville, you will still see at the county line a historic marker that identifies that old Indian boundary. That line became the boundary between Spartanburg and Greenville counties.

The chief on the other side of that line was a Cherokee named Attakulakula, a name for bobwhite. His name sounds like the call of a bobwhite. Many wars occurred there, but this part of the country was under treaty. The Indians left, and the settlers poured in here. Among the first, of course, was Charles Moore, who established the plantation that still exists. It has been preserved as Walnut Grove. Even before Moore arrived, in fact ten years before the treaty was signed in 1765, a man named Elijah Clarke settled on the Pacolet River at a place called Hurricane Shoals. It is about where Clifton #1 Mill is located. There, he built a log cabin and actually became the first settler in Spartanburg County. Elijah Clarke had done what later settlers did – looked for waterways that provided fresh water.

People often settled near those shoals, a place where the water spills down over rocks, sometimes making what looks like a whitewater rapid or a waterfall. Those shoal areas are significant because that falling water could generate power. One shoal on the North Tyger River was a place called Tanner’s Mill at first. It later became known as Anderson Mill. It is right where the Old Georgia Road crosses the Tyger River. You can still see there an old grist mill where falling water would turn the wheel and generate power to ground corn.

George Dean Johnson has built a new building uptown at the corner of Main and Hall Street. I was talking with him about the fountain in front of that building just a few days ago. A part of your homework assignment is to go by and look at that fountain. An artist turned topographical maps of some of the key places on key rivers in Spartanburg County into works of art. Each of the seven panels depicts a shoal or a waterfall that has been significant in the economic development of this county. The panels include two from the Enoree River, two from the Pacolet River, two from the Tyger River, and one from Lawson’s Fork Creek. I would encourage you to look at that fountain because it depicts in a very clear way the importance of these rivers and shoals in the history of our county.

On Friday, Clare and I took a short road trip. We went as far north as Tryon and ambled around a little bit. We also went to a very large bookstore in our area, one that is not Christian. I started browsing around the shelves and went to the section marked spirituality/religion. To be very honest with you, I was looking to see if the store still had copies of my grief book, which had done well there at Christmastime. I saw in that section such headings the Occult, Holistic Religion, New Age, Alternative, and Metaphysics. Among the books arranged in alphabetical order by author, I found my book, When Grief Comes, next to a book by Joel Osteen, who is the prophet of prosperity.

Finding my book among these other topics gave me an ambivalent feeling. I am glad the bookstore still carried my book, but having it in that particular section really made me stop and think. How can a bookstore have a section that includes so much confusing and confounding material? People are looking for something to satisfy the emptiness in their deepest spirit. They have a thirst. Something is missing in their lives. People are longing for something deep and meaningful, satisfying, and fulfilling.

We live in a dry, thirsty land, just as the hymn says. People need to know how to quench their thirst. To be honest with you, most of the books people would read from that section would be like trying to satisfy their thirst by walking on a humid day. Nothing in so much of that is deep, satisfying, and fulfilling. It is vapor. You cannot be refreshed with vapor.

Anyone who loves rivers as I do knows that it is important for us to keep our rivers clean. I read a report on the rivers of Spartanburg County that was. That report, dated 1970, identified all three of the Tyger rivers and Fairforest Creek as being contaminated. I can remember swimming in the North Tyger River there at Anderson Mill at a time when the water was so caustic it would eat a hole through a pair of blue jeans. We have a responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to take care of these rivers. It is not only a responsibility we have to God, but it is also a responsibility we have to our community. An organization here called SPACE has taken on the tremendous project of cleaning up the Pacolet River basin, which includes the North and the South Pacolet Rivers, as well as Lawson’s Fork Creek.

Our son Kris, as many of you know, was a Presidential International Scholar at Wofford. He made a trip around the world, completing a project called Water and the Spirit. He was able to explore some of the great rivers of the world. He journeyed the entire length of the Amazon, sleeping in a hammock for several weeks. He traveled the length of the Ganges in India, all the way to Calcutta. Kris was also able to tour part of the Nile River and explore the area of the Jordan Valley.

When he returned to Spartanburg for his senior year at Wofford, his concern about rivers carried over into the waterways of our county. As a senior art project, he created three works of art simply called Lawson’s Fork 1, Lawson’s Fork 2, and Lawson’s Fork 3. He dragged out all kinds of debris people had thrown into the creek and put it together in a kind of artistic way, trying to call our attention to the simple fact that garbage does not belong in the river.

How much more do our waterways need to be cleaned? How much more do people need the pure streams of living water that nourish the human soul? People do not need to have polluted water. They need pure, living water.

I do love rivers. I have paddled the south fork of the New River in North Carolina and Virginia and the French Broad River in the mountains of North Carolina. I have also rafted on the Nolachuckee, the Nantahala, the Chattooga, and the Ocowee. I want to take you on a river adventure over these next Sundays and Lent. I want you to travel with me downstream as we look at the streams of living water that flow through the history of the Christian church, streams of living water that flow through the Bible. We can find real spiritual refreshment in these streams of living water that flow through this dry, thirsty land. I invite you to look ahead with me over these next Sundays to Easter, when these streams of living will all merge.

I am very indebted to the Quaker writer Richard Foster and his book entitled Streams of Living Water. At the end of this month, I will attend a conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with Foster, to whom I have been very drawn. He is a deep spiritual thinking.

Today, I want you to think with me about the source of living water. Every river has a source. If you go to the source of the mighty Mississippi or the Missouri, you can actually step across the little stream, the little trickle of water that comes out of the side of a mountain. You can find the source of the rivers that flow through Spartanburg County. I said in the first service today that I knew the Pacolet River flowed over Pearson Falls, which is about halfway between Tryon and Saluda. After the sermon, a fellow in our congregation, a real outdoorsman, said, “I can show you exactly where that little spring comes out of the side of the mountain between Round Mountain and Hogback Mountain. I was just there this week.” Finding the source of living water is important.

If you go to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center’s Heart Center, you will notice that photographs on the walls are pictures of waterfalls from our area, one after another. Those waterfalls come over shoals, reminding us of how just refreshing, how peace-giving these water sources can be. I really cannot think of a better place for that type of display than in a heart center. Where else do you need refreshment more than a heart center? Where else do you need to be reminded of the source of peace and contentment than there?

My mother was raised on a farm in Barnwell County. The old unpainted farmhouse was made out of heart pine. When we found out that the house was falling down, my dad and I went to that area and got some of that wonderful lumber. The baseboards in that old country house were rough 2 x 12’s. In earlier years, a chamber pot had rested under every bed, and an outhouse had been positioned down by the barn. The top of the deep well there had a brick wall around it. A wooden bucket was lowered with a crank until it hit the water way down below. When you cranked the bucket back up to the top, you would dip some water out, usually with an old gourd. That sip was the most refreshing water in the world. Who would have thought that water that cool, clear, and refreshing would come out of the ground in Barnwell County?

Jesus met a woman who was dying of thirst. She had come out to Jacob’s well, located about a mile and a half from a city called Nabulus in the Holy Land. An unfinished church has been built around the well, but it has no roof. That well, about eight feet wide in some places, goes through limestone. The Jews, Muslims, and Christians of all sorts seem to have no dispute about the fact that this was the location of Jacob’s well. When Jesus asked this at the well to draw water for a drink, she was astounded. He, a Jew and a rabbi, was speaking to a woman in the middle of the day and a Samaritan at that. Her life was a mess. She had been married five times, and she was living with a man who was not her own. She had been trying to quench her thirst in all the wrong places, but it had not worked. She was still thirsty. Jesus talked with her, saying, “I can give you living water. It is not water that you are going to have to go way down deep to get. It is fresh, life-giving water comes to the surface.” The woman found that water in Jesus.

That water has just one source, just one. You are not going to find it anywhere else. No matter how far you search, no matter how many books you read in that spiritual/religious section of the bookstore, you will never find the living water anywhere except at one source, Jesus Christ. It is just that simple. It is also just that hard because if you want this living water, you at least have to take the time to receive it.

I said that your homework is to see the fountain at Main and Hall Street. Your real homework is to go to the fountain of life. Go there every day. Go every day to the Scriptures. Every day humble yourself in prayer. Pray that Christ Jesus, who is the source of living water, will quench your thirst. If you do that, it will make a profound difference in your life.

Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel called Elmer Gantry, a story about a preacher gone bad. A person in that story says to Elmer Gantry, “There is little difference between the two of us. We both are very unhappy because something profound is missing in our lives.” That can be true of so many people. It is true of some of us. If you want your thirst quenched, you must come to the source of living water. As you discover the source, you will discover the streams. You will find it only in Jesus Christ.

The key verse of this series comes from John 7:38: “If anyone thirsts, let that person come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me in this way.” Please, please, take the time to go to the source of living water. Drink deeply of the life-giving water that only Jesus Christ can give.

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely


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