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Sunday May 23, 1999 ~ Pentecost Sunday
Sermon Text:  John 7: 37-39 [20:19-23]

Acts 2:1-21   *  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13  *  Psalm 104:24-34, 35b


Spirit Life

I went to sleep last night looking forward to this morning.  Pentecost is one of my favorite Sundays.  The music and scripture lessons are always so inspiring on the Day of Pentecost.  In fact, the word "inspire" means literally "to put the Spirit in".  We Christians need to claim and hold fast to the word inspiration.  It is our word!

If Pentecost is anything, it is inspiring.   It is the day God inspired or, "put the Spirit in" the church.

But alas -- when I woke up this morning -- it was a different situation entirely.  I thought of an old story which I am sure I've told before, but it is especially on my mind today.

// The story is about a man in his early fifties who woke up one Sunday morning rather late.  His mother, who lived with him, woke him and said, "Son you're going to be late for church."  "I don't feel like going to church today," he replied.  "It doesn't matter how you feel," she countered, "You should go anyway."

"Gee, Mother," the man continues, "Give me three good reasons why I should go to church today."

"Well," she says, "First of all, church is good for you.  Secondly, you need to set a good example for your children.   And thirdly, you're the pastor!" //

I can remember as a child wondering if the teacher ever felt like playing hooky. I never wondered if the pastor felt like skipping church! Now it can be told --  the cat's out of the bag -- every once in a while a Sunday comes along when I would like to hang a "gone fishin'" sign on the pulpit.

Today was one of those days.  I didn't like the feeling at all.  I hope this isn't all that shocking to you because this is exactly the kind of day Pentecost is all about.  Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit descended upon and inspired the church.  I found myself in need of enthusiasm and enthusiasm is precisely what the Holy Spirit is!  Enthusiasm is a "kissin' cousin" word to inspire.  As inspire means "to put the spirit in."  Enthuse means "to put God in."

Inspiration and enthusiasm are at the heart of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today. What a relief!  This means that we are not left on our own to inspire or enthuse ourselves.  It means that inspiration and enthusiasm which give us power to accomplish the work of the church are gifts of God.   God gives these gifts as the essential equipment we need to accomplish the work of Christ.

I have a friend who is a great salesman.   He makes a fantastic living because he is such a great salesman.  His bookshelves are lined with books about sales and selling.  One whole section is devoted to motivation.  This friend listens to motivational tapes all the while he is driving to his appointments. He told me, "Every single morning, I put one of my tapes into my walkman and listen while I am getting ready to make my rounds.  By the time I go out the door, I am totally psyched up!"

He offered to loan me some of his tapes so that I could get "psyched up" on Sunday mornings.  Although I declined the offer, I wondered briefly this morning if I shouldn't have borrowed at least one for emergencies!

Pentecost, however, is not about getting "psyched up" -- it's about getting "powered up."   When we truly understand the spiritual basis of inspiration and enthusiasm, it becomes clear that these are things we can not produce out of our own resources.  They are a part of the "rivers of living water" Jesus promised to those who believed in him.

Here's the key issue.  When you find yourself feeling flat or blah and generally without enthusiasm for the day  (or for life for that matter!), it is not a problem of needing to be psyched up.   It is a spiritual issue of needing to be "opened up" more fully to the ministry of the Spirit of God in your life.  And so it also is with the church as a community.  When we encounter those times when there is a lack of enthusiasm for the life and ministry of our church (and if you haven't experienced this -- you will) -- it will be necessary to look closely at the meaning of Pentecost for our corporate life.

A lot of years ago, while serving a rural church as a student, I was blessed to have a retired pastor who was a member of the church.   He was the most supportive and encouraging member of the church. While he did not have the benefit of a formal seminary education, he had served faithfully for generations and had that aura of wisdom that seems to attend people like, "the old country doctor" and "the old country preacher."  In spite of the physical difficulties that had come his way after eighty some years and the arthritis that bent his frame, he was always effervescent and happy in his spirit.  I asked him once how he managed to keep himself enthused and inspired every Sunday morning for decades.

I doubt that his answer would capture a place in our more sophisticated books or seminars on homiletics -- but it was honest, clear and compelling.  "Well," he said, "I always made sure to rise early enough to get prayed up before I went into the pulpit!"  (I must tell you -- I have heard this man pray at church suppers and committee meetings.  Listening to him when he was just  offering a prayer, I didn't even dare ask him just how long it might take to get prayed up!)  The point however, was this.  Getting "psyched up" is something we do to ourselves.  But getting, "prayed up" opens the way for God to do something to us.  It makes possible a bit of Pentecost for the task at hand.

And so I am quite happy -- even enthused and inspired to be here with you today instead of sitting in some boat out there with a fishing pole in my hand!  ( ...I think!)

***

Our readings today from the Gospel of John point us to some ways in which the ministry of the Holy Spirit can make a profound difference in our lives.  There is a natural kind of progression as we encounter: [1] An Invitation,  [2] A Promise,  and  [3] A Transformation.

[1] An Invitation [John7:37]

Our reading from John seven tell the story of how Jesus issued the most astounding invitation imaginable.  It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles when the priests were pouring water from golden pitchers and the choir was singing the words of Isaiah 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."   Suddenly Jesus cries out to all those gathered, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!"

This is astonishing!

It will help our understanding if we remember back to the time Israel wandered in the wilderness. They were roaming the desert without water, ready to fire Moses and Moses was crying out to God for water.   Only the direct, miraculous intervention of God -- through the ministry of Moses -- kept them from certain death.  God provided water and the people lived.

It is on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, in the midst of celebrating all that God had done for the people of Israel that Jesus issues his incredible invitation.  The potency of his words were not lost on the crowds that had gathered to participate in the feast.  There was conflict and division over Jesus and his words.  They understood Jesus to be talking about much more than physical thirst.

To cut to the chase --   Jesus is saying (to them and to us),  "If your life is empty and without meaning -- come to me -- you will find what you are looking for!"

A young Nation of Israel had gone through a time of tremendous physical stress in the wilderness -- their thirst was life threatening.  For you and me, the wilderness is more an inner condition than an outward one.  The thirst may not be physical nor physically life threatening -- but it is soul threatening.

Have you ever had one of those times when you feel like the glass of soda that was left out all night? Flat?!  You hit a spell when you can almost feel your spirit shriveling up inside.  There is no enthusiasm for the day when that alarm goes off.  Instead of hitting your feet with a bright, "Good morning God!" -- you want to pull the covers over your head with a sullen, "Good God -- morning!"  Desert is a good analogy for your soul.  Its dry and barren and sometimes frightening.

[2] A Promise [John 7:38]

It is in the mist of this "dry and thirsty land" that the cry of Jesus comes with a powerful promise, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." [NIV - Better than the NRSV in this verse]

The promise is even more dynamic than comes across in most English translations.  The text actually reads something like,  "As for the one who is continually trusting in me -- rivers of living water will flow from within them."  The languages suggests that the person who has a continuing relationship of trust with Jesus Christ will experience a fountain of life coming from within.  "Flowing water" is an abundant supply of water such as could sustains life in the wilderness.   It brings the joy of a suddenly discovered oasis in a "dry and thirsty land..." Jesus' promise is that when we have an ongoing, trusting relationship with him, we will experience a life giving, sustaining force that bubbles up from within.

John then adds an editorial comment.   Jesus, he points out,  was referring to the work of the Holy Spirit within the lives of his followers when he spoke of these "rivers of living water."  The promise came to fruition on the Day of Pentecost in a historical sense.  But the promise also comes to fruition in the present in our lives when we hear and response to the invitation, "Come to me."

The moment I recognize my spiritual thirst and decide to take that thirst to Christ, I make possible the opening of an inner faucet which allows the "water" to  flow.  It is important to note the RSVP in Jesus' invitation and subsequent promise.   The formula goes something like,  "If anyone is thirsty....  let them come and drink...  and then rivers of living water..."

It's not, "If anyone is thirsty, I will give them water..."  It is, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come and drink."  Jesus did not promise that if a preacher were to wake up some Pentecost morning without the proper inspiration, he would do some kind of "auto-fill" which would save the day.  No -- the preacher will die on the vine unless he or she decides to, "...come to me..."  And so it is with all of God's people. Christ invites us, but we must RSVP.

And when we decide to respond, a wonderful transformation becomes possible.

[3] A Transformation [John 20: 19-20]

In the gospel reading from John 20, there is a transformation that happens in the lives of Jesus' followers.  They are gathered behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews" the text says.   But, Jesus shows up behind those locked doors and John says, "...the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord."

In other words folks -- whatever the difficulties we face in our outer world, Christ is able to penetrate the locked doors of the issue and bring joy!  In the text, fear is replaced by joy.  If you follow that earliest Christian community, you will not only see joy replace fear, but courage will replace timidity.  Not only will they not hide behind locked doors, they will advance into a hostile world with amazing success.  Instead of "scared to death," they are "strengthened to life."  Spirit life! This is the transformation that inspired the words of Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic, "He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat!"

All because of Pentecost -- the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is something that happened almost 2000 years ago.

Pentecost is something that happens to a community of people.

Yet -- Pentecost is something that happens even now.

Pentecost is something that can happen personally -- to you and me.

It brings about transformation.

It is not a major thing really, but instead of going fishing, I came to worship.   Instead of feeling flat and uninspired, I found that the Lord could supply what I could not.  Christ supplies from within what we can not find from without.  And I am encouraged once again to know that the Lord cares for the little things in our lives and for the little people in our world.  It was not a major thing -- but it was what troubled my heart today and something inside said, "Let not your heart be troubled..."

My hunch is that there are a lot of folks out there who struggle with an inner wilderness --  finding  themselves quite thirsty in an emotional-spiritual sense.  People who are like plants drooping for want of a sufficient supply of water.  It might even be that you are one of those people.

My prayer for all of us is that Pentecost might not only be something that took place way back then to those people -- but that it would become a reality for you and me -- today!


Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

Connections in the Texts

There is an interesting correlation in the texts that begins with the Psalm of the day.  With respect to the creatures of the earth, the Psalmist says... "...When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.  When you send forth your spirit, they are created..."   [Ps. 104:29b - 30:a]   We think immediately of Genesis 2:7 the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.   We are alive precisely because of the action / intervention of God.  God gives the breath (life) and takes the breath away (death.)

In the John 20 reading, Jesus breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit.  The immediate consequence of this is Jesus' words, "If you forgive the sins of any...  if you retain the sins of any..."  The "original sin" of Genesis resulted in death.   The ministry of Christ brings about "re-birth" -- or might we not say -- a "re-breathing" of life, which takes place through the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God.  Sin takes away the breath of God (life -- "...in the day you eat of it, you shall die..." Gen. 2:17) The ministry of reconciliation is given to Jesus' disciples. [ 2Cor. 5:18 -- "...and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation."]  It is in this sense that the forgiveness of sin is given to the disciples.  They are the one who minister the reconciliation;  they do not bring it about.

The theme, thus far, is:  "Spirit of God = life"  Without the spirit of God there is no life.

John 7  speaks of spiritual life in terms of living water.  Those who believe in (trust) Christ receive the Spirit - which is "living water."  Whereas sin brings about death, the spirit brings about a renewal of life. The symbols of water and wind (breath of God) call to mind the original concepts of the basic elements as earth, wind, fire and water.  The fire, wind and water are all symbols of the Spirit of God. 

1 Corinthians carries the theme of the Spirit of God to the formation of the Body of Christ.  The Spirit gives life and gives gifts to bring life to the body of Christ.  As the breath of God gave life to "dusty" Adam, so the Spirit also gives life to the Body of Christ.  Jesus' reconciling (life giving) ministry is given to the Body of Christ.

The key that ties all these texts together is the life giving and regenerating power of the Spirit of God.

***

John 7:37-39

* "Let anyone who is thirsty..."   The thirst here is of course, not a physical, but spiritual thirst.  The analogy in this text shifts a bit.  First, the thirsty person comes to Christ to drink -- then the Spirit who will be given, will produce "rivers of living water" from within the believer.  John 4 has an extended discussion of the relationship between physical and spiritual thirst.  See March 7, 1999 to review.  The only other references to thirst which indicate a spiritual or symbolic meaning is in Matthew 5:6, Revelation 21:6, and 22:17.    Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of the emptiness of the people of God without a relationship with God.  "...for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water." There is an "emptiness -- fulfillment" theme here.  Pentecost, as well as giving life to and empowering the church, brings fullness to the Christian's life.  If you find people struggling with a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose in their lives or in the church, some use of our alternate sermon from last Pentecost might be in order.  ( "Whatever Became Of The Spirit?" )

* The setting of this text is dramatic.  It is the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.  Each day during the feast, there is a procession of priests from the pool of Siloam to the temple where the water was poured out as a libation at the altar.  The choir would sing Isaiah 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."  Tabernacles called the soul of the nation back to the time of its wilderness wandering and the joy of "fulfillment" that came with the Promised Land.  One rabbi is quoted as saying, "He that has never seen the joy of the water-drawing, has never in his life seen joy."  [Leon Morris: Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, Baker, 1988]  It is at the concluding celebration of Tabernacles that Jesus stands and cries out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me..."   The timing of Jesus' statement represents an amazing claim and conflict   naturally ensues.  That claim is no less amazing in our own time.  The issue of joy in our spiritual lives might well be addressed through this text, its context and the Isaiah reference.  See Acts 13:52 (Disciples filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit)   If there is not joy in the church and in the lives of Christian folk -- then there is a need for renewal and a new infusion of the Holy Spirit.   Perhaps a genuine Pentecost for some would be an outpouring of the Joy of the Spirit of God in the midst of the people of God.  This passage speaks to me especially when I deal with folk whose personal expression of Christian faith is negative, judgmental and wearisome.

 

John 20:19-23

* The disciples are behind "locked doors" because of fear.  It is into this situation that Jesus comes to them.   There is a significant point to be made in the fact that Jesus comes to them where they are - - in their fear and distress. As you follow the text you note that Christ brings "peace" and "joy" to those who are behind those locked doors.   What is it that keeps you "locked up?"  Pentecost is a community celebration.  It is a time to think about the nature of the church and the power of God that is available to the community.  But -- it may also be that a more personal Pentecost is needed.  You may discern that a number of your folk have heard the traditional Pentecost story many times and are in need of the personal Pentecost that is inherent in this particular reading from John.

* "If you forgive the sins..."   Important to note that this is a statement made to the community -- not to an individual.  "If you (plural) forgive the sins..."  Of course there is no forgiveness without the Body of Christ -- because there is no proclamation of forgiveness and new life without the witness of the Body.

* It is significant that this particular reading appears in the lectionary for both Easter and Pentecost readings.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, the cornerstone of the fact that death (which is the consequence of life denying sin) is overcome.  The presence of the Risen Christ in the gathering of these disciples is the affirmation that the Spirit within the believing community is present to give forgiveness of sin -- and thus new life.    Resurrection and reconciliation are conjoined in this text.

I Corinthians 12:3b-13

* Here the issue is the unity of the people of Christ.  Corinth was seriously in the grip of division and factions were fracturing the Body of Christ.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit gives, a common confession, diversity of gifts and a common body.  Though diverse, the Holy Spirit has immersed us "baptized" us into one body.  This text along with the Acts passage could provide a message on unity in the Body of Christ if that is a need in your church.   Here Paul is saying it takes all parts of the body to have a whole body.  We think "community" -- not "rugged individual".  That flies in the face of a lot of Western world thinking. "I Did It My Way," makes a great song -- but it is terrible theology.  In the Body of Christ it's "We did it His way"

Acts 2:1-21

* This passage from Acts comes up each year of the lectionary cycle and may qualify as one of the top ten, "Most Familiar - Least Understood" passages in the bible.  What happens here?   The Holy Spirit energizes and empowers common, ordinary people of the rank and file to take God's message of reconciliation to every possible person who will hear it.

* The reaction is important!   Some who hear the result of the Spirit's empowerment are amazed and impressed.   Others, however, are moved to scorn.  "These guys are drunk!"   The last verse (21) affirms that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved -- but conversely, those who do not call upon the name of the Lord will not be saved.  The message of Pentecost unites -- but it only unites those who "call upon the name of the Lord."  Nevertheless -- from 1 Corinthians, it is essential to understand that those of us who do embrace the Messiah and the message are bound together in a single body.  Mark it down:  "The Spirit of God is the authentic source of unity in the midst of diversity."  Without unity, we do not have the credibility to bring the message to our world.  Without diversity, we do not have the ability to bring the message to our world."  Only Pentecost -- the coming of the Holy Spirit to our community can create the fusion of diversity and unity we need.

The Wall Street Journal carried an interesting article on the issue of cultural diversity and what that means for the church.  The issue of diversity and unity in the text might well speak to the church's attempt to relate to this diversity around us. The article is guaranteed to generate some opinion and might offer a few "quotable lines."  [ Check It Out ]


 

Worship Helps

 

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 104 )

Leader:   Come O Lord, our Lord and fill us with your Spirit,
People:  You alone are the giver of life and restorer of souls!
Leader:   Apart from you Spirit there is no life, nor joy,

People:  Except you fill us, we are empty!
Leader:   As long as we have breath, we will sing praise to you,
People:  And while we have breath, we will rejoice in you!
               Blessed are you, O God!   Glory to you O Christ!
               Reign in our hearts, O Spirit of God!  Amen!

 

A Prayer Of Dedication

For the fullness and the glory of the earth around us we give you thanks
O Lord.  For the abundance of your love in Jesus Christ we praise your name.
For the overflow of your Spirit in our hearts and in this place we rejoice.  Yet,
most of all, dear God,  we are amazed that you who give so much, should
condescend to receive these gifts from us. We stand humbled as we bring
our offerings to you.  Amen.

A Pastoral Prayer

O lord of life, the sometimes hectic pace of our living, the demands of the
daily grind and the struggle to make ends meet, often leaves us empty.
It sometimes feels as though our lives are living us instead of us  living
our lives.  It is so easy to loose sight of the things that truly count.

We come before you dry and thirsty hearts today.  O renew us Lord!  May
we experience the joy of the "rivers of living water" your Son Jesus offered
to those who would trust in him.  Let the peace of your Holy Spirit clam our
hearts, strengthen our tired spirits and soothe our anxious minds.

O Holy Spirit of Pentecost --  come to us and fan the flames once again!
Bring new life to our faith, renew our vision and energize our mission
for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Speak to us Lord.

As we wait upon you.

And listen for your Spirit.

Speak to us Lord.

Amen.