An Excerpt from the Sermon on April 7th

Delivered by Chris George, Senior Pastor

Frank Zeitler, a devout Catholic, painted “Living Water” in 1924. He was born in Germany in 1874 and died in Milwaukee in 1940. His works are showcased in churches and museums around the world. Celebrated for his historical works like “Marquette and Juliet exploring the Upper Mississippi,” he is best known for his religious paintings and sculptures. It appears, based on research, that Smoke Rise is the only Baptist church that houses one of his works. Here is the story:

“Living Water” was originally installed in the chapel of the Good Shepherd Home for Unwed Mothers in Memphis, TN. This home had been established by a group of nuns shortly after the Civil War. In 1963, when the Good Shepherd Home closed, Rev. Carl Hart, who was then chaplain at the Shelby County Penal Farm, was offered anything in the chapel that he could use in his ministry in the prison. Carl asked the Mother Superior if that included the painting hanging on the wall behind the altar. She laughed and said, “It’s glued to the wall. It’s yours if you can get it off.”

Carl Hart took four prisoners with him the next day and with putty knives, they scraped the painting off the wall. It was rolled-up in an old army blanket and placed in a wooden box where it stayed for the next 35 years. In 1998, Carl had it put on a canvas stretcher and hung in their home.

In 2008, Carl and his wife Janie gave the painting to their church, Smoke Rise Baptist. The painting underwent a complete restoration and was framed for the first time. The fact that our church even has this painting is nothing short of a miracle.

When I think of the many women at the Good Shepherd Home who must have stared above the altar and felt a connection to this Samaritan woman and found comfort in the compassionate face of Jesus—this Samaritan woman who had been judged by her society just as these women in Good Shepherd had been judged by their society—I am moved almost to tears by what this painting must have meant and the message embodied in this work.

The painting is displayed in a prominent place at Smoke Rise in our foyer. It reminds us that those who were once rejected are now accepted; those who were once left out are now drawn in; those who were once outsiders are now welcomed.

All of us in some season and some of us in this very hour, are thirsty—thirsty for attention, acceptance, forgiveness, friendship; thirsty for peace and purpose, for strength and hope. Thirsty for “Living Water.”

You will likely meet someone this week who is thirsty. Remember the painting. Resist the urge to cast judgment. Offer her water. Offer him water.

Living water is most often shared in a chalice called love.

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