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Sermon

Living Water

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

May 31, 2020

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John 7:37–39 (ESV)Pentecost

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. The words of Jesus often cause my soul to relax. And this is just what I need this week, to relax. I know many within our community could also use a pause and a sigh. In the Psalms there is often a word, Selah that we see. After centuries of research in the language we are still unsure exactly what the word means, but it is regarded as a musical or liturgical term that means pause. Take a breath and let the words that were just uttered saturate your mind for a moment.

Selah. I need that pause this week because it has been filled with stress. As the community moves to reopen from the pandemic and readjust to many of the changes, I am in the middle of all those discussions and enforcement. And to be very honest it is not a fun position to be in. I work in retail security when I am not at the meetinghouse, and during this pandemic much of my job is to stand at the doors to be ready to handle customers that might get upset. And Friends, people are upset. Selah. Pause take a breath. Jesus tells us, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Jesus said these words on the last day of the feast, the great day scripture tells us. For those of us that do not know the holiday cycles of Israel, the feast referred to in this passage is the feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles. This feast is one of the major feasts that required a pilgrimage to the temple. It celebrated the end of harvest and was to remind the people of Israel of the time spent in the desert. They would celebrate by building tents and sharing their abundance with everyone. If you came by a tent you would be asked to join with those already there in a meal. In our American culture the Thanksgiving holiday is supposed to resemble this feast, and as much as I love Thanksgiving we do not know how to celebrate like the people of Israel. We celebrate for a day, they celebrated for the entire week!

They celebrated the blessing of God. The celebrated the abundant harvest. They celebrated life. But there is a portion of this festival that most of us do not understand, because we have not participated and largely because there is not a temple in Jerusalem. A portion of the celebration was the water pouring. In this celebration the priests would carry water from the pool of Siloam, up the pilgrim road, to the temple where it was poured on the altar in the evening. Why were they sacrificing water we might ask? Water is scarce and necessary. Everything that promotes life requires water. The plants that we eat need water. The animals that provide our meat need water. We need water ourselves for personal hygiene as well as keeping our bodies healthy. Water is life. In urban settings we do not always recognize the scarcity of water because very few of us have had to ration our water usage. But what happens when one a pipe supplying our cities ruptures? The city issues a boil alert and suddenly we come face to face with the reality that clean water is hard to come by.

We look at a globe of the earth and we might say how can water be scarce when most of our planet is covered with water? The waters of the ocean will not sustain life on land. The salt in the water will kill plants, and it will drive animals and people mad from dehydration. Water is one of the most abundant resources on earth but only 0.3% is obtainable for use. Water is scarce. The celebration of water was a celebration of blessing. It was a celebration of the rain, and a cry out to God to continue to bless the world with this life-giving fresh water. It was a plea to God to not withhold the rain.

I grew up on a farm in north central Kansas. When the explorers first traveled through the areas that I called home they gave mixed reviews of the land. When the Spanish wrote about it, they called it lush like the lands of Spain, but when others passed through their maps called it the great desert. This is where I grew up, I lived the cycles of abundance and desert. When we had rain the crops thrived, but when the rain was lacking our community lived in poverty. This week in Kansas City we had much rain, and even though parts of our city was under water, I still find it hard to lift my voice to ask God to stop the rain.

The people of ancient Israel were by in large people that made their living in the agricultural trades. Their lives were devoted to feeding one another. It is a noble and honorable life, to provide the food that feeds a society. One of the stresses during this pandemic time frame revolves around getting the food to the people. We have meat shortages; we have hand sanitizer shortages. Both products begin in places like the one I spent my childhood. Grain and fiber products are used to make the alcohol that sanitizes our hands and I raised some of those animals that once graced your table. When there is a glitch somewhere along the line of production the product cannot be found, and shortage occurs. The reality is right now we have the meat, we have the grain, but the processors of the products cannot get them in the stores. But often there is a different problem. Often the shortage of a product due to a lack of water. When there is not water, there is suffering. And when there is suffering, fear and anger mounts, and when fear and anger builds, often death follows.

Ancient people recognized this so many ancient religions celebrated rain and water. The ancient Jews did as well. And Jesus celebrated these water rituals with his community. He prayed for God’s blessing of the earth and he danced with the community as the water was drawn. Water is life.

But what happens when there is not rain? What happens when the things that sustain life are not accessible? What happens? Suffering.

Jesus attended the feast of tabernacles, the feast where everyone shared their abundance, but what if there was not an abundance? What if there was a drought and the fruit of the land was not enough? The feast that should be a celebration of prosperity becomes a spotlight revealing our own fragility. It takes great discipline to share when we lack. It takes great faith to celebrate when the budget is tight. Yet Israel was commanded to celebrate and share through thick and thin, during abundance and lack. They were commanded to remember that it was God that brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. It was God that provided for their families as they wondered through the desert those forty years. It was God that lead them to the land of promise. It was God that gave them the victory over their enemies and handed them a land flowing with milk and honey. It was and is God that provides the rain for the just and unjust. God gives and God can take away, how will you respond?

If you are thirsty, Jesus says, come to me and I will give you a drink. Jesus’s statement is one of relief in times of suffering. If we are thirsty it means we lack water. This lack might simply be that we were exerting ourselves to much as we mow the lawn and failed to stay hydrated in the sun, or it might be something even deeper like the infostructure of our community will no longer support our population. No matter the cause, there is a need. It does not matter how we got to that place, if we are thirsty and do not do something about it, we will suffer. And the longer the suffering lasts the greater the harm. Jesus is saying that he is the source that will ease the suffering, and he is calling all that thirst to him.

I want us to let that soak in for a moment, like a slow rain shower soaks into our lawns. If thirst is suffering, Jesus’s mission is to ease the suffering. Over the past few weeks, I have mentioned that if we love Jesus, we will continue his commission or follow his commandments. This means that if we are disciples of Christ, if we are Friends, or if we are just people that claim the name Christian our purpose of being here is to join Jesus in his mission. That means that our mission is to help ease the suffering around us.

How are we doing in that mission? One of my favorite authors is the classic Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I know it seems odd that I would love the writing of someone from Russia, but his writing is amazing. In one of his books, he says that we are not only responsible for our sin, but we are responsible for everyone’s sins. When I first read that I laughed. I considered it the musing of a lunatic but the though worked its way into my mind and kept drawing me in. What it means is we are responsible for their sin because we allowed the possibility of that sin to occur. Dostoyevsky would say that this is where the church failed. He wrote these words before the Red Revolution, but he did not support the revolutionist movements, because he believed that the church should be the ones to ease suffering. We should ease the suffering of the world, we who call ourselves people of Christ.

Jesus goes on by saying, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”[1] The waters that were drawn during the feast of Tabernacles were considered living waters, or water of creation. It is a weird concept, but it is moving water that is provided by God through nature. A well is not considered this type of water, but only surface water. And surface water is supplied through rain or a spring where the water under ground is so plentiful it flows out of the soil. Living water is fresh, it is constantly being replenished from the source. When water stands still it becomes stale and undrinkable. The concept here is the living and the dammed. Or blessing and the damned, however you want to think of it. Are we letting things flow or are we stopping that flow?

I want us to think of moving undammed water and our responsibility of the world’s sin. It is when we stop the flow that water becomes stale, the same occurs in people. When we stop our involvement in the easing of suffering, we dam up the potential of blessing to flow through us. The result is both stagnation in our lives and the lives of those around us. When we dismiss the concerns of other and focus only on our personal wellbeing, we dam the flow of blessing through us and we no longer quench the thirst of those who might need a drink. When we stop sharing or fail to consider the mutual profit of our community we contribute to the potential sins of the world.

Take a moment and think of what you personally feel are the greatest problems in our world today? Income inequality, abortion, race relations, climate change, unemployment, war, drugs? There is a great list and every day it seems to get worse. What are you going to do about it? When we look at all the problems of our society we can be overwhelmed. I cannot solve the riots in Minneapolis as much as I would like to, but I can listen to those that see the situation from a different perspective. And by listening I can quench the thirst just a bit. I cannot prevent all the abortions from occurring in our nation, even though I would like to, but I can listen and encourage one person that might have to face that decision. We can protest and make laws all we want but it will not change one thing unless we ourselves see that we are responsible. It is my fault because I allowed people to live in fear to the point they snap. It is my fault because I was not willing to assist my neighbor with food. It is my fault because I did not teach my children to respect that of God in all people. But there is hope.

Jesus came into a world that was a mess. He lived in a messed-up community. He suffered injustice when he was whipped and crucified even though he did not commit a crime. Jesus came into a messed-up world, and he said if you are thirsty come to me. He said if you believe out of you will be rivers of living water. Jesus lived in a messed-up world filled with corruption, greed, inequality, prejudice, famine, and disease and he took it all on himself and encourages us to follow him.

Are we able to see it? Are we able to smell the rain, the source of life? Jesus came and made it his custom to worship with his community in the synagogues. Jesus withdrew often to isolated places to pray. And he ministered to the needs within the community. Jesus showed us the holy rhythm of life, he showed us what the true abundant life looks like. And he is calling each of us to join him in that life. The abundant life is the feast of tabernacles. Where people are invited to the table to share in the abundance, or to share in the suffering. The abundant life is not the wealth of the world, but it is the health of our community. It is each of us listening to the call of God and living it with those around us.

I really wish I had all the answers. I wish I could with one word fix the problems we all face. The reality is often my words cause more problems. You see that is the problem, I. So often we only think of I. We cannot get away from it. Even the most socially conscience person is often thinking of I instead of the community. And that is another problem when we are not thinking of I, we are thinking of them and trying our hardest to fix their problems. How about we think of us. Jesus said the greatest commandment is simple, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It is not about I or them, but us in relation to each other and in relation to God. If there is a problem in the community it is my problem and I need to work to ease the suffering and fear. I need to lead by example and sacrifice myself so that my neighbor can live. I need to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others. I need to come to Christ to quench my thirst so that I can become a blessing to others. I cannot help them without first taking care of myself and I cannot fully care for myself unless I am thinking of those around me.

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today we celebrate the Spirit of God with us. Today we celebrate that we are not alone but have a helper with us forever. Today we celebrate because Jesus is glorified, and the Spirit has come and is active even today. Today we can join with Christ in his commission to ease the thirst of our world by embracing the sprit of truth and listening to that call. Will we listen? Will we become rivers of living water, or stagnate pools of damnation? Let us enter this time of open worship in a spirit of honesty, with full knowledge that we contribute to the sins of this world because we often do not listen. And let us repent and turn to Christ so we can go out this week and become the people our world needs us to be.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 7:38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.

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