Rivers of Living Water

Water Droplet

The Day of Pentecost (Year A), June 9/12, 2011

John 7:38: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart living waters will flow.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, peace, and mercy to you, from God our Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter. Amen.

When the family and I moved here last summer, as soon we crossed the Mississippi, we couldn’t get over how green everything was. We spent July in Eastern Colorado and Western Nebraska and driven I-90 across South Dakota and had grown pretty well accustomed to a khaki colored landscape. Living here this last year and seeing how well watered this land is, how full of life the prairie and the surrounding hills and valleys are, is a fact that we still find ourselves marveling at. And yet, every once in a while, you manage to see places that are all dried out. Places where the water doesn’t reach, places where nothing seems to grow, where dust, and death, and decay still seem to win out. Driving around this time of year, you have to really look for them, but they’re there. Along fences, or tucked in the back corners of a field. Places where the water just never quite seems to get, or places that have been worn down and packed hard by long use. Or in the old buildings, once so full of life and work, now empty, leaning, and lifeless.

We know these places in our own yards. Those spots in the lawn that are the first to turn from green to brown when the rain doesn’t come for a few days. The space on the side of the house, where no one’s going to notice anyway and it just isn’t worth the trouble and the work to keep it looking as nice as the rest of the yard. The houseplant that gets put in a clever, out of the way spot, that seemed to add a nice, subtle touch to the room, but was so subtle and out of the way that it never got watered.

And we have these places, not just in our fields and our yards, but in our minds and our hearts. We have these back corners and side places that just never seem to be able to do any good. Places overgrown by weeds, full of last fall’s sticks and leaves, or simply hard-packed and barren. Places that point their fingers and wag their heads, and remind you that no matter how well everything else seems to be doing, no matter how green and thick the lawn is, no matter how good the rhubarb tastes, or how brightly the peonies pop, there are still those places that stand as a reminder that we have not cared for God’s gifts. And the longer those places remain, the clearer it becomes that it is not just that you have not cared for them, but that you cannot. These places in your life cry out for a little water, a little care, but you have nothing to give.

We ignore these places. We focus on the things that are going well. We fix our attention, and point others to the things that are going right. Colorful, full of life, producing much good fruit. We don’t want to acknowledge those places of drought, where nothing will grow, and we don’t want anyone else to see them either….But Jesus has come to bring water to the desert places! God spoke through the prophet Isaiah “Come to the waters, everyone who thirsts,” (55:1) God spoke through the prophet Isaiah,  “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (58:11).

Jesus’ occasion for speaking the words of our Gospel lesson was the Feast of Tabernacles, fifty days after Passover. The people commemorated the time that Israel spent wandering  in the wilderness by stick-huts  to live in for the eight days of the feast, and offering many sacrifices on the altar in the temple. And each morning the priest would go in with a golden pitcher full of water on the foot of the Altar and the choir would sing from Isaiah chapter 12 “With joy will you draw water from the wells of salvation!”  Recalling for the people how God had made water flow from the rock when the people were dying of thirst in the desert. And on the last day of this feast, Jesus gets up and shouts to the crowd gathered that a water greater, and more thirst quenching then they could have ever imagined has arrived.

This water is a major theme in St. John’s gospel. Jesus began His public works changing the water into wine at the wedding at Cana in chapter two. In chapter three he tells Nicodemus, “unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” That is, only the Spirit can bring a person to new life, and he does this through the water! To the woman at the well in chapter four, he says “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks of this water that I give will become in him a spring of water welling up in him to eternal life.” And here in our lesson today from chapter seven, He says “If anyone thirsts, let them come, let them drink!

Still, this Jesus, who had this living water to give to anyone who would ask, knew what it was to suffer the pain of those places where the water does not reach. The places where nothing good grows, and there is only death, a place called Golgotha. From the cross, in chapter nineteen, Jesus said, “I thirst,” and all that was given to him as his lips cracked and his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth was some sour wine on a dirty sponge.  And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The temple was broken, and his side was run through with a spear. Life was gone from this place, and the people looked on him who they pierced, and then looked on.

But from that wound on His side began to flow blood and water. From the Son lifted up, perversely glorified on the Cross, from His heart pierced, from the temple crushed, came water forth, a spring, bubbling up to eternal life. The headwaters of the river of life. It is the beginning of that river the prophet Ezekiel was shown in a vision, flowing from the threshold of the temple toward the East, growing deeper and wider as it went. “Son of man, do you see this?” Ezekiel was asked, and as he looked he saw the water flowing down to the sea, bringing life to every creature in the land that it passed through, full of many fish, and on its banks all kinds of trees bearing fruit of every kind, whose leaves never grow brown and dry because their water flows from the sanctuary!

This is the river of living water, that as St. John clarified would accompany the Spirit, “whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” And in the events of Pentecost we saw these events being fulfilled. Jesus was glorified and ascended, and now the Holy Spirit was being sent. He came upon the disciples and gave them wisdom, understanding, strength, and rivers of living water that would flow now from their hearts. And flow they did. Through the words of the Gospel and the waters of Baptism, that river of life flows from the heart of Christ, through the hearts of all believers, bringing new life and good fruit, where before was only drought and death.

This river has flowed through our world ever since, making life to spring out of dry ground, wherever it goes. And it has come to us to give us new life. The Holy Spirit was given to us in the waters of our Baptism. The Holy Spirit brings this water to us through the church, this water that has its beginning in Christ’s heart, and washes us clean of our sin, and makes new life to spring forth within us.  The Spirit is daily at work in us, making new life and good fruit to grow where once was only drought and death. We pray that He would continue this work in us, until this work finds its completion on the  last day.  And we pray as well that He would make this river of living water flow from our hearts, just as Christ promised, so that this water might flow to all whom God has placed in our lives: our families, friends, and coworkers. That we might teach them not to despair, but point them to the source of our hope, the source of that living water that refreshes and strengthens the soul in all distress and affliction. Amen

May the love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.