(sermon note: 02-20 sermon note)
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, 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.” ’ 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.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three men who were out walking in the desert one day. The first man was carrying a glass of water. The other two men asked him why. The man replied, “If we get thirsty, we can drink it.” The second man was carrying a loaf of bread. The other two men asked why. The man replied, “If we get hungry, we can eat it.” The third man was carrying a car door. The other two men asked him why. The third man replied, “If we get too hot, we can roll down the window.”
Of course our lectionary devisers add this text about Jesus’ “living water” immediately following the text about Jesus’ “living bread” from last week. We need both food and water if we’re going to survive in this world! Jesus knew these were fundamental necessities for all life to exist as well. Yet he transforms them into completely new necessities by simply making them living bread and water. Unfortunately he doesn’t resolve any of the confusion that we talked about last week involving the “living bread” with the introduction of “living water.” Water is no more alive than bread, at least we hope it isn’t. We wouldn’t want our water having anything living in it no more than we’d want our bread having anything living in it! Indeed, we’d very much prefer both our bread and our water to be quite nonliving. And yet both “living bread” and “living water” are somewhat ironic expressions. They both enable life to exist in this world so in a sense they are bread and water for the living and thus living bread and living water. All irony aside, confusion abounds with both expressions, “living bread” and “living water.”
And John makes the expression, “living water,” even more confusing by equating it to the Spirit. The Spirit is the so-called “living water” that Jesus invites us to drink of and quench our thirst, at least according to John. So what do you think of his interpretation? Is John’s interpretation of “living water” being the Spirit accurate? “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”…out of the believer’s heart shall flow the Spirit…does it fit? Well, believers receive the Spirit. How? Through faith and trust. Belief comes from having faith and placing trust in God. Belief comes from opening yourself to receive from God. Receive what? The Spirit, of course! Now then, the Spirit isn’t a static, finite being. No, the Spirit is infinite and constantly in motion so perhaps the imagery of a flowing river is a good one in describing the Spirit. We can’t receive the Spirit and hold it inside of ourselves. No, the Spirit is much bigger than you or me and merely works through us. The Spirit uses us to accomplish the will of God, plain and simple. We are mere conduits for the Spirit. Faith and trust open us to receive the Spirit and belief channels the Spirit to do its good and life-giving work. So yes, out of the believer’s heart does flow the Spirit!
Which brings us back to the irony of the expression, “living water.” The water itself isn’t alive; it’s the life it enables that makes it a “living water.” More accurately, it’s the life that the Spirit enables that makes it “living water.” Yes, Jesus clearly had an agenda when he invited us to quench our thirst with his living water. Jesus had boldly promoted the work of his trinitarian partner, the Holy Spirit. “Come, open yourself to receive my good friend, the Holy Spirit!” Why? Because the Spirit gives life, something we all want! Recall the fruit or work of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) Friends, we want these things! We all want love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and generosity and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control in our lives! Those who tell themselves they don’t want these are lying to themselves. We all want these because they all lead to life. Unless you simply no longer want to live, you want and need the work of the Spirit in your life! Like food and water, the Spirit is a fundamental necessity of life.
So, Jesus invites us to receive the Spirit into our lives and into our hearts. Jesus invites us to LIVE! Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus not only offers living bread and water in the deserts of our lives. Jesus offers a car door to roll down the windows! I know, an absurdity but reflective of the abundant life he has to offer. In just a few moments, we’re going to celebrate that abundant life being poured out on little Lillian. God will name and claim her as one of his beloved children and God will send his Spirit upon her. Just as He declared at Jesus’ baptism, He is most pleased in her and the life that awaits her. He is most pleased in all who have been baptized and have received his Spirit. Our God is a good God and wants us to live abundantly. Our God is a merciful and gracious God, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Ps. 86:15) If only those around Jesus knew this, maybe they would have stopped questioning his authority as we heard them do in our reading for this morning. All he ever wants to do is offer us living bread and living water! Let us be open to receiving his most generous gifts of life. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.