Text: John 7:37-39
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “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.’”
To be honest, when I think of Pentecost this is not exactly the kind of Scripture reading that comes to mind. When we think of Pentecost we think more about fire than we do about water. Fire is what appears over the heads of the disciples, not water. The altar paraments are red today because of the fire theme. Not much about Pentecost reminds us of water. But, in our Gospel reading today that is where Jesus takes us. We might not think of the Holy Spirit right away when we hear Jesus talking about this “living water,” but John tells us here that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.
This reading is helpful for us on Pentecost because it helps us think about who the Holy Spirit is for. We could very easily read the Pentecost story from Acts 2 and feel like it really has nothing to do with us. Have any of those things that happened in Acts 2 ever happened to you? Has your home ever been filled with a loud rushing wind caused by the Holy Spirit? I doubt it. Have you ever had tongues of fire appear over your head and stay there? Doubt it again. Have you ever started speaking languages that you don’t even know while telling people the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead to win salvation for everyone who believes in Him? Again, I doubt it. These things have never happened to you and probably never will happen to you. Does that mean that the Holy Spirit is not for you? Absolutely not.
The beauty of what Jesus says in our Gospel reading today is that it makes it abundantly clear that these kinds of things don’t need to happen to you. Jesus lays out for us very clearly who the Holy Spirit is for. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink,” Jesus says. If anyone is thirsty let him come, Jesus says, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Anyone who is thirsty, that is who the Holy Spirit is for. If you are thirsty this living water, the Holy Spirit is for you. Jesus invites you to come to Him, to drink, and be satisfied.
But what does it mean to be thirsty? We obviously aren’t talking about literal thirst like when you’ve been working outside on a hot day and need a drink. This is a different kind of thirst. This is a thirst for something that we don’t have and can’t have on our own. This is a thirst for forgiveness, for new life, for God to come and dwell with us and in us.
The best example of this kind of thirst in the Bible that I can think of is Psalm 51. Aside from Psalm 23, Psalm 51 might be the most well-known psalm. It’s the “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” psalm. It’s a psalm of David. A psalm that he wrote after he had done some terrible things. He had taken another man’s wife, he had lied to try to cover it up, and he had had her husband killed. Afterward, when the guilt, shame, grief, and sorrow caught up with him he wrote Psalm 51 and prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Right after the “create in me” part David prays, “Cast me not away from your presences and take not you Holy Spirit from me!” This is thirst. This one of the most tragic scenes in the whole Bible. David, the boy who had been chosen by God to be king of Israel, who with the Lord’s helped downed Goliath with rocks and a sling shot, under whom the Lord had built a glorious kingdom, is now left begging God not to take the Holy Spirit from him. David is thirsty for forgiveness, thirsty for God’s love and mercy, thirsty for the Holy Spirit.
When you feel this kind of thirst, when you feel guilt over something you have done or something that you haven’t done, when the weight of years of mistakes starts to pile up and become overwhelming, when you feel that pang in your conscience over something you have done, when you start to think that God could not love, forgive, or accept a person like you, Jesus’ words are for you. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.”
The Holy Spirit that Jesus pours out on Pentecost as living water is for thirsty people. The Spirit is for people who are thirsty and know that they cannot do anything about their sin on their own. People who know that by all rights God should have nothing to do with them, but desperately want to have His Spirit dwell in their hearts. Like David, the living water Holy Spirit that Jesus promise is for people who are left with nothing else other than begging God for His forgiveness. “Take not your Holy Spirit from me!” David cried and Jesus answered, “Come to me and drink. I will fill you with the Holy Spirit. Anyone who believes in me out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
We might underestimate what a precious gift this is sometimes. We take the living water of the Holy Spirit for granted. But if we look in the book of Revelation we see something that puts this all in perspective. There, in the last chapter of the book, John writes this: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
Here John is talking about the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the place that Jesus Christ has prepared by His death and resurrection for everyone who believes in Him. At the heart of this city, this image of heaven that John sets before us, is a river. Flowing, bubbling, splashing right down Main Street through the centre of town is the river of the water of life. It flows out of God’s throne and gives life to all who live there. From this living water the tree of life that was there back in the Garden of Eden (not the bad one, but the one that they couldn’t eat from anymore after they ate from the bad one) grows. Everything, every creature great and small, gets its life from these living waters that flow through the city.
When Jesus offers up living water He is offering to you and me this same water that flows through the heavenly city. Jesus offers to have this water flowing in and through you, pouring out of your heart into the world around you. It’s a glorious gift and it is free.
An amazing little detail caught my attention this week as I read over the Pentecost story. I had never noticed or paid attention before to what the disciples of Jesus were doing when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. In fact, I had never even realized that what they were doing even gets mentioned. Luke tells us there that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them the disciples were sitting in a house.
If you’re like me then you might be inclined to think or feel that in order for something as fantastically significant like the sending of the Holy Spirit to happen the person to whom the Spirit is going to be sent would have to be doing something significant or meaningful, not just sitting around. You’d think that this kind of thing would only happen when they had prayed a particularly powerful prayer or something. Or maybe the Spirit would only come after they had done some particularly generous act of love and charity. Or maybe the Spirit would come when they had studied the Scriptures with an extra degree of attention and focus. You’d think they would have to be doing something right for this to happen, but all it says here is that they were sitting, waiting, doing nothing.
What we see happening here in the Pentecost story and in the rest of our readings is that Jesus pours out His gifts, His Spirit, His living water not on people who have earned it or worked for it, but on people who are just thirsty, people who are lacking something, people who are in need. Jesus pours out His gifts us not because of who we are or what we are doing, but because of His love for us.
Jesus has poured out His life giving, living water Spirit on you. The life giving water that flows through the heavenly city which our God has prepared for those who love Him now flows in and through you. The Spirit is for you. The water is for you. New life is for you. Forgiveness is for you. Eternity is for you. “Let the one who is thirsty come,” Jesus says a little later in Revelation 22, “let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” It is all yours, freely given, because Christ died for you. In Jesus name. Amen.