Pentecost Sunday message: ‘More on Living Water’

Editor’s note: A link to our pre-recorded worship service video is below, including a message from Interim Pastor David Mueller, Scripture, prayers and music. Also participating in today’s service are John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Judy Stadler, worship assistant. Musicians include this week’s Virtual Choir — Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell — along with vocalists Fred and Jan Meckley and Teresa Stebner.

Just below the video of the worship service is an additional brief video message from Pastor Mueller, addressing the issue of racism and the protests and demands for justice that continue nationwide.

The text of Pastor’s sermon is included below the videos.

“More on Living Water” (John 7:37-39, alternative Gospel)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

Back in the Lenten Season, we read in John 4 about the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, a long and powerful story about many things. In this encounter, Jesus offered the woman “living water.” “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14b)

Next Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The appointed first reading, from the Hebrew Scriptures, is the whole creation account from Genesis 1 and a portion of 2. We will not be reading that lesson next Sunday; it is just far too long. Near its beginning, however, we read this: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Here at the very beginning wind and water go together.

In the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus shared with him: “… no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (3:5) Here again, water and Spirit go together. As I tend to prefer, water and wind, for the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. The Church has historically associated water and Spirit or wind with Baptism.

Today as we celebrate the “Birthday of the Church” with the advent of the Holy Spirit, let’s begin with prayer:

Gracious, merciful, loving and empowering God, in the name of Jesus Christ your Son and our Savior, allow the Holy Wind to blow among, over and onto us — each of us — today in a powerful yet peaceful way. We are not gathered in one place, but appropriately separated as a precaution due to what we may rightly call an “evil wind,” a microscopic beast which is wreaking havoc and death all over the planet. Keep us safe these days, O Lord, but not just safe. Keep us believing and empowered for Your worship and service. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

It has been my honor to have traveled well over a dozen times to Palestine/Israel, mostly to lead pilgrimages but also to study at St. George’s College, attend weddings of friends and celebrate the dedication of Dar Alkelima, a facility in Bethlehem designed by Lutheran Christians there to promote health and peace.

Each and every time there, I have been struck by the spiritual as well as physical significance of water. The litany of stories about wet places and circumstances is long. Some stories are sad. Saddest to me is the dramatic receding of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet at 1,300 feet below sea level. Some stories are fascinating — as in the incredible lengths to which ancient peoples went to assure a supply of water in a siege. Water in that part of the world has been relatively scarce, making the stewardship of water absolutely essential.

For at least 25 years, every baptism I officiated at Concordia Church was with water from the Jordan River. That did not make it any more of a baptism but it usually held special feelings for the parents and congregation.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cried out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink…. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37, 38)

The Festival of Booths noted here is one of several festivals the Hebrews were to keep in the course of a year or after a number of years. Interestingly, this festival had an association with the number 50. We remember that Pentecost, which is yet another festival, fell 50 days after Easter. Within the Festival of Booths offerings were presented by fire. We associate Pentecost with the fire of the Spirit. I bring up all of this, to show how so many of our Christian practices find their roots in the history of the Hebrew people.

In Isaiah 12:3 we read: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name….’”

Please notice that embedded in this festival and the others is thankfulness and joy. The people of God were to stop at various times during the year to consider anew their relationship with God as one in which to know and celebrate joy and thanksgiving. Here in John 7, we note that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit not yet received by believers for that could not happen until Jesus was glorified in his death and resurrection.

OK, folks, we are two millennia on the other side of the first Advent of the Christ and all that it has meant. The Holy Spirit (Wind, Breath) has been granted to the Church of Jesus Christ, that power source we need to accomplish the ministry and mission assigned to us.

Within the lifetimes of most of us, we have not experienced a desert the likes of which we are now in. I am not speaking of the virus and its devastation, but of this time when membership in the churches is rapidly declining with young people especially leaving the flock in droves, leaving we graying folk behind. It is sadder than the receding of the Dead Sea. What we need to reverse the trend is not just ingenuity, creativity and renewed commitment, but power.

The images of wind, water and fire are all of Spirit power. Early Christians were powerless until Pentecost. “Spiritual” renewal needs now to take place for we, too, are powerless. Many or most of us may be afraid of a personal and corporate Pentecost. We don’t wish to end up behaving in odd even if productive ways.

Please let me share a couple things. First of all, the image of the Holy Spirit taken from the Baptism of Jesus himself is that of a dove. Power can be calm, quiet, and gentle rather than boisterous and brutal. I always need to go on to suggest that a dove is not a buzzard. Empowerment is to enliven the heart and not eat it.

We spoke early on today about the Wind moving over the waters and of how important and essential water is to life, especially in the Middle East where it can get scarce. The Scriptures are in a real sense soaking wet with water images, which, with the exception of the Flood, tend to be positive.

Many people fear the images of the Book of Revelation, which is one of the reasons some of us are studying an early portion of it in our Zoom class on Sunday mornings. Listen to how the Revelation ends (22:17): “The Spirit and the bride (Church) say ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

My prayer as your Interim Pastor is that we drink of the Spirit together and regardless of age or other circumstances, become empowered together for renewal, revival and rejoicing.