Thirsty? That's what Jesus asks us today. Today is Pentecost, the day the Ascended Jesus poured out from heaven the Holy Spirit, but the day on which Jesus is speaking in our text is the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Each day of this Old Testament 7 day festival the priest poured a golden pitcher of water mixed with wine into 2 perforated bowls and it rained down on the altar. The water mixed with wine was symbolic of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the ingathering of the heathen nations. After this, the over 400 priests on duty would march around the altar chanting, "Work now salvation, Jehovah." They did this once each of the first 6 days of the feast. On the 7th, however, they marched around the altar 7 times while chanting. This is why the text calls this day, "The greatest day of the Feast." It was also known as "The Great Hosannah."
Picture it. All this pomp and ceremony is going on at the temple. The priest is standing there with a golden pitcher of water mixed with wine poised over the altar of burnt offering. The people are chanting, "Lift up thy hand; lift up thy hand," to the priest so that he would pour out the pitcher raining its contents down on the altar. Probably right at that moment when all were focused on the water/wine, all are thinking of the refreshing outpouring of the Holy Spirit on mankind Jesus said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink...streams of living water will flow from within him." Then, John to make sure we get the point writes, "By this He meant the Spirit."
So are you thirsty? You know you can die of thirst. Humans need a constant supply of water. You can go much longer without food than you can without water. Nothing lives without water. In Ezekiel's vision, he doesn't just see bones but "bones that were very dry." These bones were completely, totally, forever dead. Dryness is synonymous with deadness. Our sinfulness, our fallneness, our wretchedness has left us hopelessly dry. David when looking back at his sin of adultery and murder and how he tried to hide them, excuse them, pretend that they were not there, says literally in Psalm 32, "My life juices were turned into the drought of summer." Are you thirsty? Have your sins against God and man left you dry, powdered, dead?
Or maybe they have left you like Psalm 51 which is another psalm David wrote about his horrendous fall from grace. You're very familiar with part of the Psalm. You sing it every Sunday in the Offertory. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me./ Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me./ Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit." The Offertory is all about the Holy Spirit and it can only be sung by one who knows that his or her sins have left them without water, dry, very dry.
Thirsty? Don't you long for water to wash away the grit and grime of your sins? Last time I was in North Zulch the well went out. For 2 days we didn't have water. My how dirty one can become without water in just 2 days. Without water you can also become delirious not knowing up from down, right from wrong, hope from fear, life from death. Can't you hear the thirst for water, the almost delirious cry for it in the Offertory? "Renew a right spirit within me" because mine is so wrong. "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation" because I see nothing but the hot fires of hell in my future. "Uphold me with Thy free spirit," because my spirit is bound by drought, dust, and dirt.
"Thirsty?" Jesus cries out in a loud voice to sinners like us. Jesus is a well of water. Not just a well but a spring. A well fed by a spring of water that will never go dry. He came into this world fresh, moist, vibrant spreading water and life everywhere He went. To lepers with dried, dead skin, He gave new hydrated flesh. To people who were on their way to dust and ashes, Jesus gave a well of new life. To the blind with dry, lifeless eyeball, Jesus gave pools of light. Everywhere Jesus went He spread the water of life. Jesus was doing what the prophets foretold. The desert was bursting into bloom. Picture West Texas after a spring rain. Where there has been nothing but brown dirt and dried brush, there is now green leaves and flowers busting out all over.
Jesus is all water and refreshment; you and I are all dust and dirt. Jesus descended into our dirt. I mean more than He took our flesh and blood which are made from dirt. I mean He descended into our sins and sinfulness. The dirt that belongs on our face from our dirty thoughts, our dirty words and dirty deeds, was smeared on His. The filth that is layered on our body because rather than fearing, loving and trusting God above all things, we fear, love and trust everything and anything other than God was caked on Jesus. The dryness, the dustiness, the parchness you feel in your very soul because of all that you know you are and all that you know you're not, all this was given to Jesus.
The green tree, Jesus, was sent to the hell fires of the cross as if He were a useless, dried stick fit only to be burned. Jesus who was an artesian well of living water was sent to the cross to die of thirst. When He cried out in a pitiful, forlorn voice, "I thirst," all He was offered to drink was wormwood and gall because that's all we sinners deserve. Jesus tongue swelled and split. His lips cracked and bled. His throat hurt more than any sore throat you've ever had. The eternal fires of hell roasted and baked every last drop of moisture out of the body and soul of Jesus until the wrath of God against all sinners and sins was completely satisfied.
All of God's hot rage, all of God's fiery fury against your sins, and not only your sins but the sins of the whole world, was spent on Jesus on the cross. That sin that bothers you so. That sin you confess, confess and reconfess, has been suffered and died for by Jesus Christ. That sin that sticks in your conscience like a hot poker drying up the water of your salvation and therefore your joy in it has been put out by the blood of Jesus. As many sins as you can think of, and many, many more that you're not even aware of have been taken out of the way once and for all by Jesus.
Thirsty? The whole world needs water. Our world is fallen, despicably sinful, and so very, very dry. Jesus ascended into heaven to pour out His Spirit on all mankind. And how does He do that? What did He say to His disciples before ascending into heaven? He sent them into all the world with what? With Water. He said, "Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them." And on Pentecost what did those disciples do? The crowd gathered. Peter preached about their horrible dryness. They were terrified. And where did Peter point them? To a change in their behavior? To making up for their killing of Jesus? No, he pointed them to water, to Baptism saying, "Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit."
Friends, when we fall away or even wander away from our Baptisms, we become dirty, not right with God, not joyful in our salvation and definitely not free. When we wander or fall away from our Baptisms, we dry up because we have wandered or fallen away from the Holy Spirit. Your main connection to the Holy Spirit is through your Baptism. Those waters, says St. Paul in Titus, have the power to regenerate you and renew you by the Holy Spirit. These waters have the Holy Spirit you are thirsty for, the Holy Spirit you need to be forgiven, the Holy Spirit you need to be refreshed. So when after this sermon you pray in the Offertory for the Holy Spirit, your thoughts should go right back to your Baptism.
Have you ever noticed in the Offertory that we do nothing but beg, plead, pray for God to do everything? We don't promise to have a clean heart, we ask God to create one in us. We don't pledge to start having a right spirit within is, we ask God do renew one. We don't say we'll do better at staying in the presence of God or holding on to the Holy Spirit. No, we in fact say that we don't deserve to be in His presence or to have the Holy Spirit, so we beg Him to let us remain in His presence and to not take His Holy Spirit from us. We don't tell God how much joy we have in His salvation, but ask Him to restore that joy to us. And we don't promise that we will hold Him up, but ask to be upheld by His free Spirit.
The answer to the dryness that any of you feel in your body or soul is the Holy Spirit. The plug in point for all of you for the Spirit is the Water that was poured over you at your Baptism. But there is another plug in point available to you. Our two confirmands, Gilbert and Christy, have been studying for 14 weeks to have the privilege of receiving the Spirit in this way. Of course, I'm talking about Holy Communion. Let me show you how this is connected to Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
First, I find it interesting that in the Feast of Tabernacles not just water was poured out on the altar but water mixed with wine. From ancient times water was mixed with Communion wine because that is what the Lord used in the Last Supper. St. John in both his Gospel and First Epistle makes a big deal out of the fact that he saw both water and wine flow from the heart of Jesus when it was pierced on the cross. Second, while we usually think of the Offertory as connected to the sermon which precedes it or perhaps to the offering which follows it, there is also a connection to the Lord's Supper. In the ancient Church at the singing of the Offertory is when the people brought in gifts for the poor and the bread and wine for celebrating Communion.
Finally, Martin Chemnitz, a 16th century Lutheran theologian, makes a strong connection between receiving Holy Communion and receiving the Holy Spirit. He quotes Ambrose, a 4th century Church father saying, "As often as you drink, you receive remission of sins and become drunk in the Spirit." This is a reference to Ephesians 5 where Paul says, "Do not get drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit.. speaking to one another in psalms and hymns...always giving thanks for all things." If I translate this last part literally, you'll see the connection between being filled with the Spirit and taking Communion. Paul says the Ephesians are to be always "giving thanks" which is literally "eucharisting." Eucharist is another name for the Lord's Supper.
The strongest link of all between taking Communion and receiving the Holy Spirit is our Lord's own words. He plainly says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink...[S]treams of living water will flow from within him." In Baptism, you put on Christ; in Communion you drink Christ, and in both places you receive the Holy Spirit. So when you're thirsty, when you're feeling dirty, not right with God, cast away from Him, without the Holy Spirit, lacking the joy of His salvation, and not being held by His free Spirit, you know where to go. To Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit flows like water, and to Holy Communion where the Holy Spirit flows like wine. In other words, go to where Jesus tells you to meet Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost (6-8-03), John 7:37-38a