Pentecost - In the Spirit

Pentecost  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  24:15
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Jesus is claiming to be the site of the outpouring of rivers of life-giving water. We are invited to come and drink and believe in him, from whom the Rivers of the Spirit will flow out. The Spirit is pouring out upon all flesh today, not through a building, not through a temple, not through a revival meeting — but through our hearts. Specifically, the hearts of those who hear the message, hearts of ones who have come to drink fully from the fountain that is Christ’s life.

The New Revised Standard Version Rivers of Living Water

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It has been a heavy week for our nation. And so while I have a sermon prepared, it will ring hollow if I don’t acknowledge what I know many of us are feeling as we gather together today. Riots have broken out around our country in response to the senseless, brutal, racist killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this week. This murder on the tails of so many other black lives lost and diminished through systemic violence and centuries of cultural enslavement. Lord have mercy. We lament and we cry out and we rise in solidarity with the voiceless and oppressed.
Add to this the death toll of over 100,000 Americans to the Coronavirus, amongst some 370,000 deaths worldwide. Lord, have mercy. We lament and we cry out and we rise to stand for the silenced lives of all who we have lost.
To be the church, to bear witness to the liberating power of Christ, is to never, ever shy away and turn a blind eye in such times. For so many of us gathered here today, we could do just that. So many of us are the privileged, the stable, the relatively well off so thanks very much, we’re fine. We could ride the wave of such unrest and emerge unscathed.
But this is not the witness of the people of Christ. Rather…on this Pentecost Sunday…we bear witness to the power of the Spirit which does not spread division, but rather unites all people and brings to light injustice so that it may be dismantled. We turn to the one who offers living water, not just for ourselves, but so that we might be the ones who quench the thirst of the parched masses in our world who have been denied a drink for so long.
Hear this: words and actions that aggravate violence, ways that amplify disunity, hearts that seem bent upon sowing unrest and demean the other — this is not the work of the Spirit. This work is Anti-Christ. And the church must also speak out against such evil and hold fast to the Spirit which unites and binds together.
Lord, have mercy.
Friends, the people we see rioting in the streets, the people who march through our very city of Bellingham, the people who bend the knee in protest and lift their voices enraged at injustice — these are people who are thirsty! Thirsty for a life free from racism. Thirsty for a life free from bigotry. Thirsty for a life free from oppression. Thirsty for a world where there is unity and shared spirit of family, mutual respect and celebration among people of different races and colors of skin. Do not turn your eyes away from their thirst. To deny their thirst is to deny their life. To deny their thirst is to either privilege your own thirst or to deny your own thirst as well, saying it doesn’t matter or life isn’t that important.
The Spirit we proclaim today is the same spirit that the prophets promised would bring justice that would roll down like a mighty river. This is the same river of living water that Jesus offers.
In love and liberation and hope, we invite all to come to that water. Come with your burden, your pain, your scars, your chains. Come and be set free. This is Pentecost. This is the Spirit. This is the way of life in Christ.
So today, may the winds of Pentecost, the winds of the Spirit, blow through our world. May the rivers of life that are on offer from Christ be offered by the church freely, with hospitality, compassion, welcome, generosity, and hope. May we be a people on the cusp of a new way, just like the first church, just like the first believers, torn away from their lives by a liberating force of love that overpowers hate, life giving water that undoes the weight of death. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers and come, Oh Holy Spirit, come.
Let’s pray.
As some of you know, I enjoy distance running. I like it when I have a chance to go out on a trail for 2 hours or more and run and climb and twist and turn and discover new destinations all around beautiful Whatcom County. A couple of months back I went out with no destination in mind and got myself a little bit lost in the Chuckanut Mountains. Thankfully, fellow trail hikers pointed me in the right direction and I made it home safely.
One of the things you really notice when you’re way out on a trail or a distance run is how thirsty you get. When you run races, there are typically water stations every few miles where you can hydrate and refuel. But when you’re training and out there on your own, either bringing water is key or not going too far (not spreading your wings farther than you’re ready to fly) is a necessity.
And after that run where I got a little lost, I bought one of the best tools in a distance runner’s arsenal: a hydration pack. Now, I can fill up a lightweight backpack with water, a couple of granola bars, my cell phone, and easily hit the trail for a long run without worry of getting thirsty. I can pack water in with me, just enough for the day, enough to sustain the workout.
What if you could only go get water from one aid station and only at the start or the finish line? What if you could only get the food you need from one grocery store and everyone had to line up outside to get it in their turn? (sounds a little too familiar…actually).
What if the Good News could only be found at the Temple, only be found by coming to the church building? What if the Spirit of God was only doled out on Sundays in the church sanctuary? How could we operate? How could we be sustained, our thirst quenched?
Thankfully — we find good good news in today’s Pentecost text. The Spirit has blown open the doors of the building in the work of Jesus Christ. Come, drink, be filled, and let the rivers of the Spirit pour out all around!
Festival of Tabernacles, where we find Jesus in this reading from John, was initiated as a harvest celebration festival and over time, began to point to the hope of God’s ultimate outpouring of abundant water from the source of God’s dwelling, the temple.
Think about it this way: to mark the end of harvest is to celebrate that God has once again provided for the people what they need for the year’s food stores. A festival would involve celebration and feasting, gathering together in Jerusalem at the Temple to celebrate the goods of the year. Over time, as the festival evolves, imagine how it begins to take on markers of God’s faithfulness through the ages — year after year, God provides with the harvest. Some years more, some years less, but every year, we look back on the harvest and thank God for what has been gathered. To touch on God’s faithfulness in the past year also would begin to form people’s expectation of the future and would certainly provide hope for the harvest again.
I can imagine being a farmer in the middle of the season, watching plants begin to sprout up and wondering about what would be the yield for the coming harvest. Would it be enough? And then, as that farmer, remembering the festivals of years past. Oh, the joy to celebrate how God had provided. Oh, the memories of God’s goodness. And in that middle of the season reflection, a farmer can find hope, a memory of God’s goodness for the future, hope that the upcoming harvest would be enough, as well. And so the festival can begin to take on an eschatological hope — a hope of the ultimate end, of God’s reign in goodness and power. It is bigger than a harvest — it is about how God’s faithfulness would lead ahead of us because we trust in God’s goodness thus far along.
And so Jesus speaks into this hopefulness at the festival. As he does many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus takes a hope and an anthem of the Hebrew people, that longing for streams of living water, and reenvisions the teaching with the promise of the Messiah as himself, right at the center. The Scriptures are being fulfilled in him.
So come, drink, and let your thirst be quenched. He says that the ones who celebrate and trust in him as hope will be the ones who then have that very same living water, pouring out of themselves. And we all know it’s not just water we’re talking about. It’s not just a good harvest and God taking care of our needs. What’s happening here is Jesus is assuring those who believe in him that even when he goes away, there will be the Spirit of Life, the Living Water of Spirit itself, with them, for them, pouring out through them, blessing all peoples with the harvest that is not of simply food and material abundance, but the ultimate providence of God’s living presence in our human lives themselves. God with us, fully, with our spirits, the Spirit enlivening us. Not just God who is far off or God in Christ form, but the Spirit of God indwelling and empowering you and me and all those who take a drink of that living water.
Wow. This is powerful stuff. You thought you came to the festival to celebrate a good year’s harvest? How about we blow it wide open and celebrate that the Spirit of God is falling upon human lives and empowering them to roll out of the Temple site like rivers of living water, rivers of justice, mercy, grace, forgiveness, witness to the one who is greater than all need, all lack, all hunger, all injustice, all racism — the empowering one, the Advocate is coming, as promised.
I wonder about this passage in our context. But first, I want to take an intermediate step. Think about this teaching in the context of the early church — the ones waiting in the upper room that we remember from the first story of Pentecost.
Like the disciples and Jesus gathered during the Festival of Tabernacles, in the book of Acts, the early church members were gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Shuvot, or the Pentecost celebration, 50 days after the Passover. This was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. Pause there and catch the striking book end to the two festivals we find in these passages. Jesus promises, at the festival of the end of harvest, that the River of Life is coming. And then at the festival marking the good beginning of the harvest, with new first fruits being gathered, we see the disciples given the gift of the new way of being human, the advocate, the Holy Spirit.
Are you tracking with me — Jesus promises the Spirit and the Spirit arrives as the firstfruit of a new age, a new harvest, a new outpouring of living water for the ones who have witnessed it. From yet another gathering together of God’s people, from all around the world, in Jerusalem, we find an outpouring of Spirit which empowers and sends God’s people out from its epicenter in a whole new way, empowered with a message of living water to be shared. A new harvest was opening up.
So from the Festival of Tabernacles to the Festival of Shuvot/Pentecost, now we move to our context.
It is very easy for us to want to gather again at the Temple and look for this outpouring of the Spirit to come. Not the Temple itself, but how about how we think of our church buildings — isn’t that where we’re supposed to be today, isn’t that the site of Pentecostal revival? Isn’t it supposed to occur there and then send us out?
Well, we can’t today. So, are we sunk? Does this powerful teaching of a promised Spirit just fizzle out and dissipate and leave us alone once more, huddled in our homes?
It sure feels like an anticlimactic moment, doesn’t it. Shouldn’t we be dancing and signing in many languages and waving streamers (or doing whatever it is good Presbyterian Pentecostals do!!)?
Here is where I want to challenge us to rethink what it means to live “In the Spirit.”
Back up for a second. Jesus gets up in the Temple and teaches — but does he teach that the Temple is the source of that living water? Nope. He says he is the source. Come to him and drink.
And does he say that out of Temples that we go create all around in his name, that that living water of the Holy Spirit will continue to pour out? Nope. Where does that water come from, instead?
Our hearts.
To be in the Spirit is to have that water filling our hearts and overflowing from our core, our being, our Spirit.
Are you quarantined at home? Are you alone or relatively isolated? Are you longing to get back to a building where you can get your Living Water once more?
Hear this Good News — the Spirit is pouring out upon all flesh today, not through a building, not through a temple, not through a revival meeting — but through our hearts. Specifically, the hearts of those who hear the message, hearts of ones who have come to drink fully from the fountain that is Christ’s life.
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
The waters of justice will flow from those who have found the one who gives living water.
Let’s bring it home: what does it look like to drink in Christ’s presence today and receive that Spirit of Living Water?
It looks like slowing down to truly breathe in God’s presence in each moment.
It looks like taking care of ourselves and nurturing even the smallest spark of hope in this dark time.
It looks like loving others not out of obligation or for our own manipulative ends, but out of the joyful fulfillment that comes from offering care.
It means seeking wisdom and drinking it deeply, rather than being thrown about by the storms of the words on the streets or in the news.
It looks like filling the cup of another with a kind word of peace or a strong word of solidarity — acknowledging that by filling others cups, we might all be able to drink from that water and be sustained.
Friends, from our homes, from our lives in dispersion, we become tributaries and avenues for that Living Water to pour out and spread through the world. This is what Jesus inaugurates — no longer do the people need to go to the Temple to find that water. Rather, we go to the places where we find Christ. We go inward, at times, to hear his voice more clearly. We gather together like we are, to see him in each other. And we drink fully that we might get into the flow of the River ourselves, to get Into the Spirit.
Let anyone who is thirsty come to Christ! Hallelujah! Our thirst is quenched, our hearts filled, our Spirits enlivened on this day.
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