Sunday, June 04, 2017

Pentecost - June 4, 2017 - Water from a Rock

Acts 2:1-21
John 7:37-39

You can’t squeeze water from a rock. Do you know that saying? There are variations on it in several languages, and it’s easy to see why. No matter how hard you try, you will never manage to get a drop of water out of it, and it’s pointless to even try. Have you ever felt that way? Had a day, or a week, or maybe even a month or year, when you just have nothing left to give? It happens in life, that we expend all our energy trying to meet the demands of life––of work and church and family––until there is absolutely nothing left. Yes, even in the church this happens. We give it our all, and then find at the end, that we are done. Finished. Nothing left in the tank. No water left in the rock.

It’s frustrating to feel that way. To feel that you have finally reached your limit, and to see that there is work still to be done. We all want to live meaningful lives, and to contribute, and to make the world a better place. We want to be people who give water to the world, actually. Jesus’ words touch us today because we strongly desire to offer living water to others. We want to help others grow. We want to be there for the people in our lives. We yearn for it, actually. We thirst for it. To see those around us grow––grow up, grow into themselves––because of our presence in their lives, because of our watering, if you will, this is what makes our lives meaningful.

One of the challenges of life, though, is that we often don’t realize this until it seems like it’s too late. It’s usually only at the end that we realize that what makes our lives worth reflecting on, what makes our death bed more comfortable, is that we have helped others in their need. That we have given them water when they were thirsty. But what happens when you look back at your life and with you had done more? When you want to help the thirsty but you have nothing left? No time, no energy. You can’t squeeze water from a rock.
There is a rock hidden in our readings from today. It lies behind the words we hear from Jesus this morning. Our Gospel reading for today takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is a time when the Jews celebrate the harvest, in the fall. They also commemorate the time when they were wandering in the desert, and they were thirsting for water, and God provided them water from a rock. Maybe you remember the story––they complained to Moses that they were dying of thirst, and Moses complained to God, and God told Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, and when he did, water flowed from the rock and the people were saved, which, clearly, was a miracle. So, as part of the festival, the Jews would bring water from the pool of Siloam in a grand procession to the Temple, where they would pour it into a bowl on one side of the altar, and pour wine on the other side, and two channels would carry the water and the wine down to the base of the altar, as a reminder that God provides the people with the most important thing in life––water. Indeed, the Jews believed that when the heavenly Temple came, in the end times, the water flowing from the altar would be so full of life that it would bring dead fish back to life.

So this rock that sends rivers of water at Horeb is behind Jesus’ words that whoever is thirsty should come to him and drink, and that from the believer’s heart will flow living waters. Jesus is saying that he is the rock in the desert which will give people life, and that we, in turn, will become a channel of life for others. Even if we are rocks.

Which brings us to Pentecost. Pentecost in the Christian tradition is about the Holy Spirit coming upon the people. Being “being poured out” on them, to be more precise. And while we often think of fire as the element of the Holy Spirit, the image of water is here, too. The Holy Spirit is poured out, it flows from Christ, onto the believers gathered there, so that they, in turn, can pour it out on the world. 

They will prophesy––which means to tell the truth about God––so that the world might have life. In fact, early on in the Gospel of Luke, the prequel to the book of Acts, we hear exactly what the prophesying is. The priest Zechariah proclaims it, after the birth of his son, John whom we know as the baptist. The prophet of God will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins. Those who prophesy will speak and act on the words of God, so that the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up, so that the rich are sent away empty and the hungry are filled with good things. The Holy Spirit flows from Christ onto the disciples at Pentecost, and onto all the people gathered there, so that they can speak and live out these words that bring life, that flow like rivers to water a thirsty world.

No matter who they are. This is the radical claim of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit is poured upon, and then pours from, men and women, old and young, slaves and free. From children to seniors, from those who do not yet understand what it is to live a meaningful life to those who think they are out of time to do so. From little shoots just springing out of the ground to those who feel like fossils––plants that have ossified and turned into rock. 

The claim of Pentecost is that Christ’s living water will flow from all of Christ’s believers, even those who feel they have nothing left to give. Especially those who feel they have nothing left to give. Pentecost is that day when we celebrate that God continues to bring Christ’s new life to the world, even though Jesus no longer walks among us. Pentecost is when we realize that the work of Christ has been given to us, and more importantly, that the life that Christ shared with us has been given to us to share with others. So that they may have life. So that just as people went to Christ in their thirst for love and meaning, and he gave them life-giving water to drink, so we can, too. Pentecost is when we celebrate that though we may be rocks, Christ’s waters flow through us to give life to the world.

This water may be a spring, bubbling quietly from the ground. It may be a steady reliable stream. It may be a rushing river that floods the delta with new soil and then recedes again. The ways in which you share Christ’s life with others may be through quiet prayer on their behalf, or through steady help on a weekly basis, or it may be a flood of giving that brings new life to hundreds and then subsides. But I tell you, on this day of Pentecost, that you are not a rock from which no more water can be squeezed. You are not finished. Your work is not yet complete. Your life is not yet over. 

This is the last time that I will speak to you as just you, the people of St. John. Our final service will have more people than just you, possibly even more guests than members. So I want to take a moment just to tell you how thankful I am to God that you have allowed your hearts to be open to the Holy Spirit in these last few years. I believe that God has called you down this path, and it is never easy to follow where God calls. You have been courageous, and humble, and truly disciples of Christ. From your hearts have flowed rivers of living water, and it has given new life to many, and also to me. Pentecost is not something that happened two thousand years ago. It has been happening here, in this church, over the last few years. God’s Spirit has been poured out upon you, and you have seen visions and dreamed dreams of the possibilities of Christ’s new life for you and for those who are thirsty around you. As you go out from here to new places, just as the disciples went from Jerusalem to the world, the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you will continue to go with you, and God will provide opportunities for you to use them. You will find new life, and more importantly, be new life in the communities you will join. You are needed, each of you, as bearers of Christ’s Holy Spirit, to quench the thirst of the world. You have been and you will be a rock from which flow rivers of the living water of Christ, and so I say, without reservation, Thanks be to God. Amen.

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