Rivers of Living Water

Text: John 7:37-39
Date: The Day of Pentecost + 6/7/14

This is the day we celebrate the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples on the Day of Pentecost. To be sure the Holy Spirit had already worked repentance and faith in their hearts. They had come to Jesus; or rather Jesus had come to them and called them to follow Him and believe in Him. They had already experienced the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, minds and lives. But now, on the Day of Pentecost, they were to receive the Spirit for a larger purpose, the purpose of being enabled to witness, to testify, to evangelize, to preach and to teach others of Jesus Christ. How many others? As Jesus said at His Ascension, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like tsunami waves in the ocean that witness, that Gospel has come to our shores, our families and our hearts. In other words this event extends to this very day. In this sense we could say, today we celebrate the birthday of The Holy Church Throughout the World.

Today St. John reminds us of the time when Jesus stood up and cried out to a great crowd, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” We will sing those words in today’s Offertory Hymn (LSB 699). With this metaphor of thirst and drinking water He spoke of the faith of anyone and everyone who comes to believe in Him and becomes a disciple, a learner, a follower, a worshipper. But then Jesus added, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Then St. John explained, “Now this he said about the Spirit” pointing to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit beginning on this day and every day since. The “living water” is the work of God the Holy Spirit through the Church bringing people to repentance of their sins and faith in Jesus as the only Savior. The “rivers” are the channels, the means by which the Holy Spirit will do His work beginning with the testimony, witness, preaching and teaching by the disciples. It therefore includes the Word and Sacraments and the office of the Holy Ministry, the liberating power of the Gospel literally gushing out to every corner of the world through the Holy Church.

So this same Spirit has been poured out on you probably many times, but beginning in Your Holy Baptism. There the pastor placed his hands on your head while saying, “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting” (LSB Agenda, p. 9).

Through the ages the initial imparting of the Spirit in Baptism came to be separated to the greater enlightenment by the Spirit as emphasized in the Rite of Confirmation. Therefore the blessing said was that of the Spiritus Septiformis or seven-fold gifts of the Spirit from Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah (Is 11:2-3), when the pastor would place his hands on your head and say, “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give you his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, of grace and prayer, of power and strength, of sanctification and the fear of God.” This blessing has since been removed in Lutheran Service Book in order to de-emphasize the separation from Baptism and emphasize the identity of Confirmation as founded on Holy Baptism.[1] Therefore now the pastor blesses with the exact same words first said at baptism (LSB Agenda, p. 30).

Another “sending” of the Spirit was fifty days before Pentecost on the first Easter day as Jesus instituted the office of the ministry when He breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). So likewise, to this day at the ordination of a pastor, the presiding minister, at the laying on of hands prays the Easter words of Jesus, “Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He repeats the Lord’s words of institution of the ministry. Then he says, “The Lord Jesus pour out on you His Holy Spirit for this office and work that you may faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Amen.”

The main work of God the Holy Spirit is to bring people to saving repentance and then to create, sustain and strengthen the gift of faith in your hearts. It begins with Baptism. But like waves of living water the Spirit continues to be poured out in the sacraments and in the preaching and teaching of Holy Scripture which He Himself inspired the human writers to record in the Bible and through the witness, confession and testimony of word and deed through each Christian, that is, through you. You bring the refreshing, living water of the Gospel to others as the Spirit produces a new spirit in you through His gifts of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). By these gifts you and all Christians are enabled to live and walk by the Spirit in holy lives.

The work of the Spirit will finally be completed in you, of course, as your spirit is received into the presence of Christ and your body committed to the ground, in “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself” (LSB Agenda p. 130). But for now live in hope. Rejoice in the Lord. Consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God. Live in the forgiveness of your sins. Love God and love one another by the power of the fire of the Spirit’s love and the rush of the living waters of God’s blessings and grace. Peace be to you. Do not be afraid. And “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).

[1] 6/5/14 Email response from Paul Grime, “Al, yes, it was to bind confirmation more closely to baptism, as well as trying to avoid the misunderstanding that an extra measure of the spirit is somehow received at Confirmation.”