The Fount of Living Water Pastor Jayson Galler
For: Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, TX
On: Pentecost, 2006 June 04
Text: John 7:37-39;
+ + + In Nomine Jesu + + +
The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel reading; please listen again but to a slightly different translation.
37 And in the last day, the greatest day, of the feast, Jesus had stood up and cried out saying, "If one might be thirsty, let him come to Me; and let him drink, the one believing in Me; 38 just as the Scripture has said, Rivers of living water from within Him will flow.'" 39 And this He said about the Spirit, Whom the ones having believed in Him were about to receive; for not yet was the Spirit given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Greetings also to you from your brothers and sisters in Christ at Grace Lutheran Church, Eglin.
Today's appointed Gospel reading may seem odd to you for our New Testament festival of Pentecost. One reason it at first seemed odd to me is because the event St. John relates took place in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles, which is a harvest festival different from and months after the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost. Yet, the organizers of the series of readings used here rightly saw fit to put this reading from St. John's account on Pentecost Day. The Old Testament festival of Pentecost celebrated the close of the wheat harvest with its firstfuits, but the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the gathering of all the fruits of the land, and Jesus used that occasion to point to the Holy Spirit's work of gathering together the whole Christian church on earth. This Pentecost Day we not only commemorate the original New Testament Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit through St. Peter's sermon gathered 3thousand into the Church, but we hear Jesus' call to come and to drink and we remember how the Holy Spirit gathers people into the Church using "The Fount of Living Water".
During the Jews' annual Feast of Tabernacles, when they would go up to Jerusalem and live in tents, the people recalled their ancestors' desert wanderings. On their way from Egypt across the desert, they camped at R?ph'-?-d?m, but there was no water there. Through Moses, God provided water flowing out from a rock. To commemorate that event during the Feast of Tabernacles, seven days would begin with a procession from the fountain of Siloah. A priest would carry a pitcher of water to the altar of burnt sacrifice and pour it and a pitcher of wine from the drink offering over the altar. Trumpets would sound and the people would sing words recorded in Isaiah: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."
But, on the eighth day, the last day and greatest day of the Feast, there was no procession of water, perhaps to help the people remember "the greater spiritual blessings of which the prophets had spoken." In that context, Jesus, who had been sitting down in the Temple courts teaching, stands up to urgently speak to the people. He makes a solemn pronouncement: "If one might be thirsty, let him come to Me; and let him drink, the one believing in Me." Then, Jesus points to Himself as the fulfillment of the teaching of the Old Testament that, "Rivers of living water will flow from within Him"from within Jesus, "The Fount of Living Water". St. John immediately connects those "rivers of living water" with the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess, is given through the preaching of God's Word and the administration of His Sacraments, and the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.
Although I expect that Pastor Harris has tried to insulate you from it, I imagine that if you have read any of the publications from the Missouri Synod or the Texas District, or if you have browsed any of the of their official web pages, you have seen the call to be Ablaze! Ablaze! is a vision or movement within the LCMS and other church bodies and agencies "to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who do not yet know Him", specifically with "100-million unreached and uncommitted people" by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (By the way, in its four years just more than 1.6 million people have been counted on the official Ablaze! web counter.) In all of the Ablaze! literature, there is very little mention of coming to and drinking from "The Fount of Living Water" or even just of the Holy Spirit; but there is a lot of talk of "igniting the world" and "fanning the flame" and of how "joining together in effort" and "strategically coordinating resources", using them "efficiently and effectively" or "designing one's own strategy" or "developing mission models", will accomplish more than would otherwise be accomplished, especially by sharing the Gospel "in the places where [it] can make the most significant impact". I expect Pastor Harris has helped you understand the well-intentioned but wrong theology behind such an approach.
Criticizing such wrong theology of our Synod and District is almost too easy, especially if we forget to look at ourselves. Maybe, as the Synod and District suggest, we do not think or do enough to support the spread of the Gospel abroad or even in our own communities. Or, maybe, like the Synod and District, we lack confidence that through faithful preaching of the Word and right administration of the Sacraments God will add to His Church those being saved. Maybe you look around and wonder if "The Fountain of Living Water" really flows here. Such a lack of missionary vision and doubts about how God adds to His Church are sins we commit on account of the sinful nature that clings to us even after our conversion, the sinful nature that before we come to believe made us spiritually dead.
In the Middle East, the Dead Sea is just what its name suggests: that is, dead. The landlocked, salt lake is 400 meters below sea level, and remains salty despite the fact that fresh water falls on it and flows into it. The Dead Sea is so salty that fish carried into it die and normal plants cannot live along its shores. The prophet Ezekiel, though, saw a vision where water flowing from the Temple gradually and miraculously increased its flow, and, when it made its way to the Dead Sea, made the Dead Sea alive, so that fish could live in it and all sorts of trees could live on its shores. In Ezekiel's vision, the Dead Sea is a symbol of our sincaused death, and the water flowing from the Temple is what we need to live.
In the Gospel reading, the divinely-inspired St. John tells us how the living water of the Holy Spirit would flow from within Jesus after Jesus was glorified. As strange as it might seem to us, Jesus was glorified when He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; Jesus was glorified when He the third day rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven. As St. John reports Jesus' passion, Jesus hanging on the cross gave up the Spirit and, after His side was pierced by a spear, Jesus hanging on the cross produced from within Himself a sudden flow of water. Jesus, Who in His suffering on the cross thirsted, on the cross produced the living water, which living water, if we drink, will make us never thirst again. By the living water Jesus provides, those who thirst for righteousness are filled. He Himself said, "If one might be thirsty, let him come to Me; and let him drink, the one believing in Me." I should point out that when Jesus says "let one" come or drink, Jesus is doing more than saying we have His permission to come and to drink; Jesus is saying we must. And, so we do. We come to Him and we drink; we who are baptized are baptized into His death, buried with Him, and live a new life just as He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father.
I remember the first time as a boy I saw up close the water in the Baptismal Font. I remember thinking then how the water seemed so ordinary, as if there was nothing special about it. That may be how it appears, but the spiritual reality is much more! Dr. Luther, in the hymn he wrote about Baptism, put it this way:
And though our mortal eye is dim / And sees but simple water;
Faith sees Christ Jesus, and in Him / the Lamb ordained for slaughter.
We see the cleansing fountain, red / with the dear blood of Jesus,
Which, from all sins inherited / And our misdeeds, can free us;
Eternal life bestowing. (ELH, 247:7)
The simple waterincluded in God's command and combined with God's wordworks forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal life to all who believe. With the word of God, the simple water is life-giving water, rich in grace, that washed us clean and clothed us in the white robe of Christ's righteousness. If you have not been baptized and ask, as did those hearing St. Peter's sermon, "What must I do to be saved?" Hear St. Peter's answer: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." If you have been baptized, live in that forgiveness of sins, for, as Dr. Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses, "the entire life of believers [is] to be one of repentance." To Baptism we all return by daily contrition and repentance, drowning our sinful natures with their evil desires, so that a redeemed nature arises and lives before God in righteousness and purity forever. When we individually repent and believe that Jesus died for us, God forgives our sinour sin of lacking missionary vision, doubting how He adds to His Church, or whatever our sin might be, and He even forgives our sinful natures themselves.
I remember one night watching on Discovery Kids with my then-8-year-old niece a show called "Endurance: Hawaii" (the show is sort of like "Survivor" with children). When two different teams had a showdown in what was called the "Temple of Fate" they did so with a variation of the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors" using wood, water, and fire. One team chose wood, and the other chose water; the one that chose wood won, since wood floats on water. I thought it somewhat interesting that, in that game, fire beats wood, but water beats fire! Water also beats fire in the Church. The water of Holy Baptism is the way God has chosen to bring souls into His Churchby the thousands as after Peter's sermon or even one believer at a time. Some may talk about other baptisms, even John the Baptizer spoke of a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and then there's the fire that seemed to rest on each of the apostles on that Pentecost Day. But, we know that at the Baptismal font each of us had our own "personal Pentecosts" of a sort as we were baptized, with water, fire, and Spirit combined. Others may talk about spiritual gifts as if God's Word needed something extra to do its work of creating faith when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. God's real spiritual gift to His Church is the Office of the Holy Ministry that purely preaches the Gospel and rightly administers its sacraments: Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, and Holy Baptism. The Baptismal Font is where we find Jesus, Who is "The Fount of Living Water". With "The Fount of Living Water" the prophecy of today's Old Testament reading from Joel is ever being fulfilled with the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people: sons and daughters, old and youngeven as Joel's later prophecy is fulfilled of a fountain flowing out of the Lord's house.
Imagine a pitcher of water poured over the altar here in the chancel at Trinity, as was the custom at the Feast of Tabernacles. Then, imagine another pitcher, and another, and anotherbetter yet, imagine a never-ending fountain bubbling up in the chancel. The water flowing out would go on, and on, and on, bringing life to whomever it reached. In Ezekiel's vision of the water flowing from the Temple the water was at first ankle deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, and finally so deep that it could only be crossed by swimming. The salvation the Lord causes to flow down from His throne to His people may indeed seem small in any isolated glance, but "The Fount of Living Water" can slake the thirst of all those who drink, and, indeed, whether we see them in this place (or in any single congregation), the whole fullness of the Church is ultimately reached. This Pentecost Day and every day, may we with those of old celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles always with joy draw such water from the wells of salvation.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
+ + + Soli Deo Gloria + + +