Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost (Series A: John 7:37-39)

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, in the opening verse of our very short text for this morning, Saint John sets the context for us. He wants us to know exactly what was happening as Jesus spoke these words. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and said…” Our Lord was in Jerusalem for the great Feast of Tabernacles, a festival that celebrated God’s provision and protection of His people during their wanderings in the wilderness. They traveled for forty years, but they did not lack anything. Their clothing did not wear out; when they were hungry God sent quail, when they were thirsty God provided water from the rock. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated each of those gifts with various liturgical ceremonies. One of the most dramatic was the water ceremony, which commemorated the giving of the water from the rock. On the last day of the feast, the great day, water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam, carried around the altar six times and then poured. As this is happening in the temple, Jesus stands up and cries out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

We are a thirsty people. Not physically, for we do not have to travel through the desert, we are blessed with clean water to drink. No, we are thirsty in many other ways. Every person that walks this earth is thirsting for something. We thirst for fulfillment, this vague idea that we need something to complete us. We can’t always put our finger on it, but we know that something’s missing. We thirst for love, for care, for attention. We thirst for what we see others have. We want their perfect lives, not realizing that even the people who seemingly have it all are also thirsting. We thirst for acceptance, we thirst for forgiveness. We thirst for God. People can deny it all that they want, but every person has a ‘God-shaped hole’ in their heart. They are searching for God whether they know it or not, their thirst is ultimately for the One who just might have all the answers, who might be able to provide for that thirst.

Thirsty people go to desperate lengths to satisfy that thirst. They drink and drink from stagnant pools, thinking that this ugly water will somehow bring fulfillment, will fill that hole in their heart. You know these pools, perhaps you have even drunk from them yourselves. Lust and pornography, drugs and alcohol, gambling and crime all try to satisfy our thirst, but each pool is simply filled with stagnant and dead water. Those who peddle dead water as the solution for thirst make millions year after year. Their products will always be in demand, because people are always thirsty, and their solutions don’t provide a cure. Dead water cannot satisfy, no matter how much your pour into yourself; ultimately dead water only brings death.

Thirst can only be satisfied with living water. Living water flows, living water is continually moving from one point to another, providing for plants, animals, and people. We know that it is much better to drink from a flowing stream than from a stagnant pool. Water that gives life is moving, it itself is living and active, bringing life to those who need it. We can all picture in our minds a mountain stream, running clear from the peaks to the lush valleys. Living water never fails, it can be depended upon, it can be trusted to satisfy.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’” Only Jesus gives such living water, only He can satisfy our thirst. That is His promise in our text, that He has come to pour out living water. The world is thirsting, and only He can satisfy that thirst. How does He do this? What is this living water that He brings? Saint John, as usual, is very helpful in explaining the words of Jesus. “Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” To satisfy your thirst, to satisfy my thirst, to satisfy the thirst of all people, Jesus was going to pour out upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is what Pentecost is all about: Jesus acting to satisfy our thirst. But as John emphasizes, we can’t run to Pentecost first, for it is only the result of even more important events. “The Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Jesus had to be glorified before He could give us living water. When we think of Jesus’ glorification, we think of the Transfiguration, we think of Easter, we think of Ascension. We’re partially right: those were events where Jesus was shown forth in His glory. But in John’s Gospel, the glory of Jesus is fully revealed only in His humiliation, only in His death; the glory of Jesus is shown on Calvary’s cross. There Jesus was glorified by the Father as the sacrifice for sin, the redemption price paid to reconcile humanity with our Creator. There Jesus glorified the Father by laying down His life as the required sacrifice, showing forth His Father as a God of love. Jesus is glorified in saving you, He shows forth His glory in paying the price that you owed, in forgiving your sin. His glory was shown forth in His suffering and death, for your sake. On Easter Sunday, Jesus was glorified as the Father raised Him up in victory over the grave. Jesus’ glory is shown in His triumph over death, which is now your victory. On Ascension Day, Jesus was glorified as He took His place at the right hand of the throne of God, there to pour out living water for eternity. The living water Jesus promises can only flow from the cross, only from the empty tomb, for there He won the gifts He now gives through the Spirit.

We cannot have Pentecost without Good Friday and Easter, for Pentecost is all about delivering the goods He won through His death and resurrection, bringing living water to you and me. On Pentecost, Jesus acts to satisfy our thirst by sending us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us living water by bringing us Jesus. That is His task, that is what He delights to do; He brings Jesus to us and us to Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn’t point to Himself, but instead to Jesus, He brings us the living water, the water Jesus provides through His redemption on Calvary’s cross, through the triumph of the empty tomb. Only this water can satisfy our greatest needs. Only faith in Christ can satisfy our thirst; only being joined with Him can fill the emptiness in our hearts. In our text, Jesus declares, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” On Pentecost, Jesus gave His people that living water to drink, water that gives life, water that satisfies.

In order to truly understand Pentecost, we must keep our focus on that fact: Pentecost is all about Jesus and His gifts. The miraculous signs and wonders all serve the proclamation of Jesus. We commemorate this day because Jesus delivered the goods, He acted to bring living water to you and to me. The Church received the Holy Spirit so that it could go forth and bring living water to all future generations. Jesus won salvation on Calvary’s cross, but He delivers salvation to you and to me through the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church. The proclamation of Jesus, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper all provide this living water. Through them, the Holy Spirit satisfies all the thirst that we have in this world. He declares that Jesus loves you, Jesus forgives you, Jesus cares for you. He provides fulfillment, He satisfies your thirst, because He provides for your greatest need. Because Jesus gives living water, we do not drink once, but we come back to its flowing streams day after day, drinking deeply of His forgiveness, His redemption.

We have been refreshed by living water, we who are thirsty come to the Word of God to drink deeply from our Lord. For those who drink of this water Jesus has a great promise: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” On Pentecost, this promise is fulfilled. The Spirit of God is placed upon all the believers, and what do they do? They proclaim the Gospel. The Spirit is given to proclaim Christ, to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus. The Church alone has the message that can satisfy the deepest longings of all people. What we have is the only thing that can fill that ‘God-shaped hole’ in all people’s hearts. We have the only water that can truly satisfy, for we know that all other water in this world is stagnant and dead, that it promises fulfillment, but delivers only increasing thirst. We proclaim Jesus to those who are searching everywhere else for fulfillment, those who are desperately thirsty. We know who they are, we know how they are trying to fill that hole, and we have the only message that can truly bring fulfillment. We have living water, which flows out of us and into the lives of others. We have the great privilege, the opportunity, to gently lead our friends, our families, our neighbors from the stagnant pools of dead and poisoned water to the living water the flows only from Christ.

We bring them to that living water so that they may drink from it for eternity. Saint John describes this reality in the book of Revelation. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” Living water, flowing water; that is the gift of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift will satisfy us for eternity, it will quench our thirst forever, as we hear at the very end of the Bible: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” In the Name of the One who satisfies our thirst with the gift of the Holy Spirit, who gives us living water, now and for eternity, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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