Rivers of Living Water

Text: John 7:37-39
Date: The Day of Pentecost
+ 5/11/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Every year I always take a bit of pride on “Super Bowl Sunday”…of never mentioning it during the entire service! On the contrary, however, every year I always take a bit of extra care to acknowledge the national remembrance of “Mother’s Day,” and especially this year when Mother’s Day coincides with the Day of Pentecost. I mean, we really can live without a “Super Bowl Sunday.” But none of us can live at all without, or ought to ignore the vocation of motherhood. In the Bible, of course, it goes all the way back to the first woman when the first man “called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). Likewise, the history of salvation begins with the promise that the Savior would come from “her offspring” (Gen. 3:15). Though the promise of salvation is traced through the fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and the Savior would be “of the house and lineage of David,” many women are also named in the genealogy of the Christ. Finally, of course, the promise found its fulfillment when a man named Joseph was asked by God to step aside as the angel said to his wife, Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35).

On this day, the Day of Pentecost, we acknowledge the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” to be the Mother through whom all are to receive eternal life through the new birth from above, conceived and born anew in the womb of Holy Baptism, the Church which is the Bride of Christ. Now, just as none of us would be here or have life without our mothers, so, as Martin Luther says it in his Large Catechism, “Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord, unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spirit.” God has “a unique community in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit reveals and proclaims, through which he illuminates and inflames hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it” (Kolb-Wengert, LC Creed:38, 42, p. 436).

The Day of Pentecost following our Lord’s sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection and glorious ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on High found its fulfillment when the disciples of Jesus received power as the Holy Spirit came upon them and caused them to preach, witness and proclaim “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), that is the Gospel of Christ to the many that were gathered there in Jerusalem for this festival. As when the Holy Spirit caused the 70 elders of Israel to prophesy or preach, as we heard in today’s Old Testament reading (Num. 11:24-30), “but they did not continue doing it” (Num. 11:25), so when the disciples were enabled to preach in the many languages of the people gathered in Jerusalem on this day, it was a one-time event for that particular Day. That is, the preaching of the Gospel would continue in the many languages of the world “publicly” through men “rightly called” and set apart for this work (Augsburg Confession XIV), but also “privately” or individually through the witness and testimony of all Christians as the priesthood of all believers. As Moses said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). Well, on this Day He did, and He does.

It was to a woman at a well, and a Samaritan one at that, that Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:13-14). Likewise, it was on the last day of the festival of Tabernacles that Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (Jn. 7:37-38). As “the waters break” at the birth of every new human being, so water is the metaphor used through Scripture to speak of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual new birth of faith and eternal life. “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (Jn. 7:39).

This “living water” is faith that both shows that you have eternal life and is the means or the power by which we are to minister to other people. The Holy Spirit makes us holy through “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (Apostles Creed). “That is, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us in the church’s lap, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ” (LC, K-W p. 436).

On the Day of Pentecost, and at the preaching of Christ by St. Peter, “those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). And though the book of Acts progresses from “adding” to “multiplying,” the growth of the Church happens one soul, one sheep, one lamb at a time as each individual soul, each sheep, each precious lamb has their baptismal name written in the Book of Life and is called, gathered, enlightened and made to believe in Christ with personal faith. So, little flock of the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, do not look to numbers but to the water and the Word, the Holy Spirit and faith, Who works through sacrament and preaching, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), one woman at a well, one lame man by a pool, one Zacchaeus in a tree, one Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot, one persecutor named Saul on a horse, one son, one daughter at a time, until the banquet hall of the marriage feast of heaven is filled.

Don’t miss the miracle that is faith. For, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” In other words, that you say you believe is itself a miracle, the living water that Christ promised would well up and flow forth in you. Through confession and absolution of sins, through the Divine Liturgy of Word and Sacrament this living water continues to flow as the Holy Spirit sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. Like a well-watered garden He produces abundant fruits of faith: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), as we live and walk by the Spirit.

On this Mother’s Day we give thanks to God for our own mothers, for the Mother of Our Lord, for all the faithful women who served in days of old, and those who still do, and for the Holy Church throughout the world, the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.