Sunday, May 11, 2008
Sermon - Pentecost Sunday - John 7:37-39
The Day of Pentecost
“The Feast of Living Waters”
Today is the day of Pentecost. It is one of the three great holy days of the Christian year. Along with Christmas and Easter, today, 50 days after Easter, has long been one of the “big three” for Christ's people.
Perhaps it is because Pentecost is the “Birthday of the Church”. Or maybe because it is when we see the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit - in his most visible demonstration of power. Or maybe it's because the ancient Jews celebrated three major festivals, too... Rosh Hashannah (the New Year), the Passover Feast, and one less know to us modern Christians, the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Booths”.
It was this third feast, this one of these three pilgrimage feasts, that brought many observant Jews from all over the world to Jerusalem on the original Christian day of Pentecost. What a perfect occasion for the Holy Spirit to pour out his Living Waters and for the gospel to be spread and shared with many nations.
Our Gospel reading today from John tells about Jesus celebrating on this Feast Day, a year before the events of the passion. But it was more than just a day.
Actually, the feast of Tabernacles would last 8 days, and included a number of ceremonies and traditions. It was a harvest feast, in some ways similar to our own Thanksgiving. During the feast, participants were to live and eat in tents, or booths – temporary dwellings. This would remind them of their forefather's wilderness wanderings. It would perhaps also remind them to be thankful for the permanent land and yearly cycle of agriculture they now enjoyed. And maybe also to show how this earth itself is a temporary dwelling, compared to our eternal home in heaven.
Among the interesting aspects of this festival, were the important connections to water. During the feast, a priest would draw water with a golden pitcher and pour it on the altar. And the final day – the day on which Jesus spoke – was called, “the Festival of Living Water”. On it, the people would pray for rain to come and water the land for next year's crops to grow too.
So it's no accident that on the “Festival of Living Water” Jesus says HE will give the living waters – and John says that water he spoke of is the Holy Spirit. Waters that have little to do with agriculture and harvest, but waters much more important for quenching the spiritual thirst of all people. Waters which refresh us, and make us refreshing to others.
Consider for a few moments, the words of Jesus on the “Festival of Living Water”.
“Let all who thirst come to me.”
Do you thirst? I don't mean do you need a tall glass of water or a bottle of gatorade. I mean do you thirst? Do you recognize, spiritually, that you are parched and dry and in need of something to refresh you? Like the dry ground of the Israelite farmers, are you in need of softening up, so that the seed can take root?
Jesus isn't speaking here of the thirsts of our sinful nature – the passions of the flesh. He means the thirst for righteousness that comes when a soul knows its sin. Like Peter's hearers on that first day of Pentecost, who were “cut to the heart” and asked, “what shall we then do?”
So do you know your sin? Do you feel the weight of your conscience for the wrongs you have done? Do you see the law you have broken and the consequences that follow? Can you see through your rationalizations and excuses like God does? What about that nagging voice of the law bearing down on you, that pointing finger that shows all your faults and flaws? Do you thirst for righteousness?
Or do you thirst from hurt? Do your own sins and the sins of those around you bring pain and suffering that seem unbearable? Do you just wish it would all go away? Are you thirsting for a better time, a light at the end of the tunnel? Hope in the midst of hopelessness? An oasis in the hot scorching desert?
“Let all how thirst come to me and drink.” Jesus is the only one to quench the thirst. We can't do it ourselves. But his blood shed at the cross gives us life, even as he gives it to us to drink in the sacrament. His baptismal waters wash away sin, not just back then, but even now, and we are refreshed. Jesus is all about forgiving, refreshing, renewing and giving life. And he does it, also, by sending his Holy Spirit.
Today, confirmation day, we mark and remember that living water which washed away your sins in Holy Baptism. This isn't so much a day recognizing all the great things you've learned about your faith in the last couple years. It's not even mostly about your opportunity to state your faith publicly, though you will. Confirmation is when we recognize and confirm the gifts God gave you in your baptism – the living water of the Holy Spirit. It is there that you were brought to faith and made spiritually alive forever. There, at the font, God made you his child for eternity.
But today, you will also begin to partake of the blessings of His Supper. And as the Lord feeds you with his own body and blood, you will continue to be refreshed with forgiveness, life and salvation. And all of us, believers, here today, enjoy these same blessings, as we too are his children. As we too are fed and nourished by him.
Notice this, though. When Jesus speaks of us, who believe in him, after our thirst is quenched, and we have received the spirit.... Notice what he says...
“of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. Will... not should or may or must. It simply will happen.
Sometimes we get the idea that to really, truly, be a Christian, we must do this work or that work – we must give our offerings and give more, or we must go to church every sunday or help old ladies across the street. Or even the idea that we must constantly evangelize the world, personally.
But Jesus doesn't say must or shalt or even, “would you please?” He simply says what happens with the believer. Those who have received the living water, now have the Spirit's water flowing from their hearts. And so the flood of his blessings becomes a rising tide washing over more and more who believe in Christ and are saved.
You may not recognize, ever, how and when it happens – that those waters flow from you. But it's not our job to go around measuring such things. Ours is to believe in him and live according to that word. How will the Spirit flow from you? You may never now how and where and when, but he will. God will use you as he sees fit, to bring others those living waters.
On this day of Pentecost, this feast of Tabernacles, this festival of Living Waters, consider the Living Water that quenches our thirst – our spiritual thirst for righteousness and hope. That water which also flows from each of us – as we trust in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Be thankful for this great flood of blessings, through Jesus Christ our Lord, For we are baptized, and we believe in him, amen.