Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost, Series A

Sermon on John 7:37-39
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 12, 2011 (The Day of Pentecost, Series A)

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place on the day of Pentecost. Not the “first (Christian) Pentecost” we celebrate today, and about which Jesus is prophesying here. We tend to think of the events in today’s reading from the book of Acts as the “first Pentecost,” because it was on that day that the Christian Church was founded, and it took place ten days after the first Ascension, or fifty days after the first Easter. But Pentecost was actually a festival on the ancient Israelite calendar. The name means “fifty days,” and we of course think of it as fifty days after Easter. To the Jews who gathered both in today’s Gospel and a couple of years later in today’s second reading, it meant fifty days after the Passover. Pentecost was a festival that commemorated the giving of the Law by Moses on Mt. Sinai.

One of the ceremonies that took place in connection with the Israelite feast of Pentecost was that a pitcher of water would be taken from the pool of Siloam (which functioned as Jerusalem’s water supply and was also the pool that many people thought had healing properties when the water was stirred) and poured out as a drink offering in the temple, commemorating the water from the rock which God gave to quench the people’s thirst. And that forms the background for what Jesus says in this Gospel lesson.

“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.’” As John points out in v. 39, Jesus is prophesying about the giving of the Holy Spirit which would take place at this same festival in a couple of years. He says that to receive the Holy Spirit and have the water which, if one drinks it, he will never be thirsty again, they needed to come to Him.

Now, many Christians are obsessed with the Holy Spirit. We Lutherans are often accused of not emphasizing the Holy Spirit enough, because our worship services aren’t focused on our emotions or on spectacular signs and wonders, but on the reading and preaching of God’s Word and receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament. But that’s actually the way the Holy Spirit wants it to be. His job is to testify about Jesus. It is precisely by coming to Jesus, listening to Him and partaking of the living water of His blood, in which we are washed in Holy Baptism and which we drink in Holy Communion, that we receive the living water of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in the faith. The Holy Spirit’s job is to testify about Christ, not about Himself. He’s kind of like John the Baptizer in that way. It wasn’t the tongues of flame or the speaking in many languages that brought 3,000 to the living waters of Holy Baptism, it was the clear and plainly-spoken sermon by St. Peter regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And that should be a comfort to us. Yes, there are times when our emotions of love and gratitude for the salvation accomplished for us by our Lord on the cross are so overwhelming that we could just burst, and, if it weren’t for the fact that our fellow Lutherans would probably give us weird looks, we would even be tempted to jump up and shout “Alleluia! Amen!” But those emotions aren’t always there. There are times when the Word that is preached doesn’t seem to have an impact on us at all. But it is the Word itself, not our reaction to it, that is the vehicle for the Holy Spirit to come to us. Even when our emotions are full of darkness and despair, when we are in the middle of some crisis in our lives or patiently awaiting relief from some ongoing suffering or grief, the living water is still planted within us by the Word. We may not see the spring that comes forth from our heart to sustain and nourish our growth in the faith, but it is there. And it will continue watering the soil of our hearts even when all we see inside ourselves are rocks, a hard path, or thorns and thistles. The Holy Spirit dwelling within us doesn’t always make His presence obvious. Sometimes it’s downright hidden under the sorrows and troubles of life in this old, sin-infested world. But the living water is still there. The promise of resurrection and ascension with our Lord to dwell with Him eternally at the Father’s right hand is still there. Our baptism into the Holy Trinity, our eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood, is still there. The spring of living water is still there, and it will continue to sustain and nourish us, no matter what may come our way, until we reach the eternal feast in the new Jerusalem, where the tree of life and the river of life, God Himself, will sustain us until eternity. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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