Scripture: John 7:37-39
I know I am not alone in this, so there is no judgement here, but for the past couple of months I have been watching a lot of stuff on Netflix. So a few weeks ago I watched a Netflix original with my son called The Main Event. This is a child-focused movie that uses a formulaic plot. In the movie a socially awkward but likable eleven year old acquires an old luchador mask that instantly amplifies his strength, dexterity, and confidence. He then uses the mask to enter a pro-wrestling tournament where they prize money will help with his family’s financial troubles so they do not lose the house. This is all established in the first ten minutes of the movie, and as soon as it was established I made a knowing nod. My son saw this and asked “what?” I told him I know exactly how this movie is going to end. He did not believe me and insisted I tell him. I told him at the end of the movie the main character is going to be in final match and somehow lose or not have the mask. Despite not having the magical mask, he is going to discover his true strength comes from within and it was with him the whole time. Just in case The Main Event was at the top of your Netflix queue, I will not spoil the details . . .but I was absolutely right about the ending.
My son wanted to know how I knew the ending at the beginning of the movie, and it is because I have seen my share of movies. Tropes are storytelling devices that come up again and again. As soon as the Main Event started I recognized the “it was within you the whole time” trope. The reason why tropes get used so much they become easy to guess formulas is because the tropes touch on stories we like. We like the idea that a person’s real power comes from within them and not from the enhancement of a magic mask or the act of holding a magic feather. However, for people who follow Jesus this should be a bit more than a story. It should be our reality. We should regularly find ourselves accomplishing feats beyond what we thought possible. This does not occur because we have a certain ritual, say a certain prayer, or follow a certain seven step program. It should be happening because as followers of Christ we are promised by Jesus himself to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that is not a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power. If we cultivate a relationship with the one who lives within us, then we will truly transform the world and we will discover the power of God was there our whole faith journey. This morning’s scripture informs us just what the living water is, and it reminds us it is already in us.
In this social distancing life we are all living I know that the days, weeks, months have kind of ran together. However, if you are an observant long time church goer then you have probably figured out that today is Pentecost by the fact that this morning’s scripture mentioned the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the High Holy Day where we celebrate the reception of Holy Spirit by the first disciples, and it tends to be one of the few days in the life of the church that we focus on the Holy Spirit. This morning’s scripture though is a little bit off the beaten path. Often the Pentecost scriptures are from Acts chapter 2 where the Holy Spirit comes down like tongues of fire; or later in John when Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will come and be an advocate or comforter; or from Paul’s writings where he explains the Spirit’s role in spiritual gifts or spiritual fruit.
Those are all great scriptures, but I think this morning’s scripture can help shine some light on the Holy Spirit for us. Which we need, because if we are being honest we do not understand the Spirit like we should. In his book Forgotten God Francis Chan pointed this out when he wrote: “ While no evangelical would deny [the Spirit’s] existence, I’m willing to be there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their life over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.”
This morning’s scripture is helpful in bringing us to a better understanding of the Spirit in our lives because it frames the Spirit in the context of a spiritual analogy that we tend to be comfortable with: The idea of living water. Water imagery in relation to our faith comes naturally, we seem to instinctively get it. This is clear in Christian music. For instance, if you turned on a Christian radio station right now, then within the hour there is a good chance you will hear the song Holy Water by We Thee Kingdom. Not that long ago the same thing could be said for the Song Oceans by Hillsong United. There is something about water imagery, the necessity of it and the purifying aspects of it, which just instantly connects with our faith understanding. I hope the metaphor of living water can also help us better understand the working of the Spirit in our lives.
This morning’s scripture comes from a time when Jesus was in Jerusalem for the festival of Tabernacles and he was preaching in the temple courts. He makes his declaration about living water, and then John, the gospel’s author, is the one who gives the explanation that by living water Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit. This is actually really important news that John gives us, because this is not the first time in his gospel that Jesus uses the phrase living water. We also see this is John chapter 4 where Jesus meets the woman at the well. As Jesus converses with a woman at a well under the hot sun, their conversations quickly turns from getting water out of the well when Jesus says in John 4:13 “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This scripture hits a bit different when we realize that the living water that Jesus is referring to is the Holy Spirit.
Another aspect of this morning’s scripture worth noticing is that Jesus says “Whoever believes in me as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Since Jesus referenced scripture that means he is referring to something in the Law or prophets of the Old Testament. What is interesting is that biblical scholars are not 100% sure which scripture Jesus is referring to here since that exact phrase does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament. It is likely that Jesus was not proof texting the scripture but was rather summarizing a scriptural point. It is likely that Jesus was pulling from numerous scriptures here from places like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Zechariah. All of these old testament scriptures have a common theme. They are from when the prophets talk about restoration after the exile, about the coming of the Messiah, and about how God is going to redeem and restore. In these scriptures this water imagery is often about living water flowing out of Jerusalem and transforming the world. This imagery of a restored Israel that is flowing with living water is all over the Old Testament, and in this morning’s scripture Jesus explicitly ties that imagery to The Holy Spirit. In his commentary on the gospel of John noted biblical scholar F.F. Bruce states plainly the point being expressed in this morning’s scripture. Bruce wrote: “It is from no earthly Jerusalem that the living water goes forth; it is from the dwelling place of God in lives that are consecrated to him, in believing hearts where Christ has taken up his abode.”
As we consider the full context of what it means for Jesus to refer to the Holy Spirit as living water, we can really begin to get an idea of just how the Holy Spirit is supposed to function in our life and our faith, and it is not insignificant. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that quenches the great thirst of our hearts. All people have an innate desire for belonging, for grounding, and for meaning. So many people chase fame, fortune, and power to fulfill these thirsts, only to find all of the hard work, scheming, and wealth cannot give us what we are looking for. It is the Spirit within, the comforter and the advocate, which fills us with an assurance. It is the Spirit that washes over our hearts and souls with the knowledge that we are forgiven, that we are drowning in an ocean of mercy, and that our sins are washed away for ever and ever. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us an assurance that the longings of our heart have been met in Christ and our cup is forever overflowing. Just like we daily need water for our bodies to survive, we daily need the assurance of the Spirit’s holy water to live into eternally changed lives.
More than that though Jesus said that the living water of the Holy Spirit will flow like living water from within people. So the spirit quenches our need for a connection with God, but it is not meant to stay within us, it is meant to flow out of us. Remember, Jesus specifically tied the Holy Spirit with the Old Testament imagery of living water that brings live and transformation to a dry and barren landscape. Jesus makes it clear that those Old Testament prophets were not talking about literal water hydrating the deserts of Israel, but rather a spiritual water, a living water that parches the spiritual wasteland of a fallen world. The Holy water the scripture promises is water that brings life to dormant souls, repairs broken hearts, and brings second chances out of lost hope. The Living water introduces hearts to Christ and nourishes them in a renewed connection with God. Where ever the living water flows hope is restored and lives are regenerated. In other words, fellow United Methodists, the living water talked about in the scripture, the living water that is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, makes disciples of Jesus Christ and transforms the world.
Our mission, the mission of the United Methodist church, is to let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit is meant to do. I am fairly confident that every church, this one included, wants to make new disciples and wants to make the world a better place. There are no shortage of fancy programs that have been put together to help churches to do that. They might give ten steps, seven keys, or three truths to fulfilling one’s mission. Some of these programs might even be successful, but it is not the program that make a difference. Like the wrestling mask from the movie I watched with my son or Dumbo’s magic feather, those programs help us discover what is already within us: The Spirit of God, a living water that makes disciples and transforms the world.
Now I sincerely believe with all my heart, that North Judson United Methodist Church is in this community because we have a God given mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world. However, I am also convinced that we are not up to the task on our own. On my own, I barely have the power to convince my kids to put their shoes on when it is time to go someplace, much less convince someone to surrender their heart and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. However, I am not, we are not meant to do this on our own. We are to be conduits, pipelines, for the living water to bring new life and transformation to the world.
Water is one of the most powerful forces on the earth. Water has the power to bring life out of the ground and it has the power to carve away mountains. Living water is such a great analogy for the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is THE most powerful force on earth. It is the very power of God, it is the power that defeated the grave and raised Jesus out of the tomb, and if you truly know Jesus then that power is in you. We cannot change the world on our own, but flowing through us there is nothing the Holy Spirit cannot accomplish.
If we want to be serious about fulfilling our mission, if we want more people of this town to know the person of Jesus Christ, if we want to transform our community into a more loving kind and just place then we MUST rely on the unstoppable power of the Holy Spirit. We must cultivate a relationship with the one who lives within us. Church, I challenge you to do that. Seek the Holy Spirit in your life, discover how the Spirit is the living water that refreshes your soul, and discover how the Spirit can flow out of you to bring life and transformation into the world. May Pentecost not just be an archaic tradition we pay lip service to, but may it be the day that we celebrate the Living water, the Spirit of God, the power of God within us. May the Holy Spirit so empower us and equip us to share the love of God so that we bring life to our community as if we were holy water.