Summary: A Pentecost sermon on the outward sign we are given today - not tongues of fire, but baptism. Focus on the transformative effects and the death/life dichotomy.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Three in One who provides us with the rivers of Living water through the Spirit.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A Blessed Pentecost Sunday to all of you here in Chiefland. This Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate the gift of the Spirit to the disciples in the outward sign of tongues of flame appearing above their heads, we remember the outward sign of the gift of the Spirit in our own lives – the water combined with God’s Word sprinkled upon us in Baptism.
Water is a very familiar thing to us. Our earth is made up of 2/3rds water. Our bodies are made up of 60 per cent water. We know what it is to feel water going down our throats, sprinkling on us in our showers or when it rains. We know water very well. We rely on it for life.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Christ says to each and every one of us, “let him who thirsts come to me and drink, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Just a little earlier in our reading, we find out that the day on which Jesus makes this remark about the “water of life,” is the last day of the Feast of Booths. Now, for us today that makes very little difference. We have no idea what the last day of the Feast of Booths is about or even what the Feast of Booths itself entailed.
The Feast of Booths or “Succoth” was a time to give thanks for the harvest that God had provided for the Israelites. After the threshing floors and the vineyards had been cleaned up after the harvest, the Festival of Booths began. Much like our own traditional holiday of Thanksgiving, the Feast of Booths celebrated the plenty that Israel had by comparing it with a time when there was not plenty, the time when they lived in booths and tents in the Exodus wanderings. The last day of this celebration was considered to be an extra day.
On this extra day, a prayer was to be said asking God for two things – the first that He would stay with the children of Israel, and the second, that he would send water in the form of rain even after the harvest was over – so that the animals and humans could have water even after the grains and grapes had been gathered.
This is the day that Jesus stands up and announces, “Let him who thirsts come to me and I will give him the water of life.” What Jesus is announcing is that He is the answer to these prayers for God to be with his children and for water to keep everyone from thirsting. He announces this beginning here in the feast of Succoth, and He continues to announce this gift of living water until the end of time, where we find Him saying the same in Revelation.
Still, water can also be a very destructive thing.
In the past hurricane season, we saw the effects of Hurricanes Katrina, and Rita, and Wilma – making the lives of so many around us so much more difficult than they had ever been. Even before that we saw the destructive effects of the South Asian tsunami as it caused many lives to be utterly changed forever. Only a short while ago, I was blessed to spend some time in the little town of Santa Patricia in Nicaragua, where most of the inhabitants of that town are refugees from Hurricane Mitch who lost husbands, and children, and mothers, and homes.
Even in the Bible, water can be a destructive thing. It is the element with which God wipes out almost all of humanity in the great flood. It is the element which God uses to wipe out the Egyptian army that is following Moses. It is the thing that causes the disciples to doubt their Lord for the first time in the Gospel of Mark.
We are wary of water because we know that it can bring about change. We look at the amount of water that God has for us, and we see that it is enough to be damaging to our lives as we know them. We see the flood of water that Christ is offering us and we ask for only a taste, only a sip of this water of Life that He brings to our lips.
There is a story of two missionaries who went to a small village in Africa to spread the love and forgiveness of Christ. After a few months living amongst these people and telling them about Jesus, some of them approached the missionaries to be baptized. The day arrived when they were supposed to be baptized. When they showed up, they were wearing pajamas. Unsure of why, the missionaries still baptized the people. It wasn’t until later that the missionaries understood why, when they witnessed a funeral. This particular cultural group buried their dead in their sleeping clothes because they were only “going to sleep.” The tribe had understood the death involved in Baptism as well as the rebirth.