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“Streams of Living Water”
John 7:37-39


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Pentecost Sunday—May 31, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s message is based on Jesus’ declaration in today’s Gospel Reading: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

As a child, my mother lived through both the Great Depression and the great Dust Bowl on the parched plains of Kansas.  But, mother always says that, although as a child she heard about how bad it was for other people during those terrible years, her family was spared the worst of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.  All around them, crops were failing, and farmers going broke, because of year after year of disastrous drought.  But, my grandparents had a very special blessing that made all the difference. 

There were two wells on their farm.  The one up by the house was a typical well for that part of Kansas, brackish water with a very high mineral content that made it almost undrinkable.  And this well was also shallow and unreliable. I remember staying there during summers as a teenager, helping out with harvest, and my uncle’s family who lived there then had a system for their water a lot like Oliver and Lisa Douglas had for electricity on the television show “Green Acres.”  You had to be careful not to run two things at the same time, the shower and the sink, or the washing machine and the toilet, because, if you did, the well would run dry.

But, out by the garden on that farm was the other well, and that well was a real rarity on the parched plains of Kansas.  It must have tapped into some deep source, probably the Eqqus Beds, a vast underground ocean beneath several states.  The water in this well was pure, fresh, and, most importantly during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, this well was inexhaustible.  All through the “dirty 30’s,” and just as bad droughts later in the 50’s, as long as there was wind to power the windmill, that well never stopped pumping, and never ran dry.  My grandparents had a huge garden and orchard, and plenty of water for their animals.  That well made all the difference.  It made their farm an oasis in the midst of the Dust Bowl, and spared them the worst of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years. 

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  The Bible often uses the imagery of drought and desert, contrasted with life-giving water.  The Bible lands, of course, include some of the hottest, driest deserts on earth.  Our nation’s soldiers who are currently in that part of the world routinely endure temperatures over 120, even 130 degrees. 

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus was speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles at the Temple in Jerusalem.  If I were to take you to Jerusalem during their summer season and plop you down without water in the desert, just about 40 minutes from where Jesus was speaking, you would be dead within hours.

So, the desert was a very apt symbol for death, doom, destruction.  The desert in the Bible often symbolizes sin, and the consequences of sin: hell and damnation.  You’ll remember that as punishment for their rebellion against the Lord, the Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years.  As punishment for our sins, we all deserve damnation in the desert of hell for eternity.

The theme verse for our church’s water garden is from Psalm 105: “He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert.”  That is the other, contrasting imagery in the Bible: God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and eternal life, symbolized by life-giving water, miraculously flowing in the desert.

For the people back in Bible times, there could be no better imagery of God’s mercy and love and salvation, and heaven itself, than an inexhaustible supply of water. The coming of the promised Savior was often symbolized by the miracle of water in the desert.

“As the deer pants for streams of water,” say the Psalms, “so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. . .  Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the desert.”  Isaiah says, “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. . .  the Lord will satisfy your soul in a sun-scorched land . . . With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  “On that day,” Zechariah says, “living water will flow out from Jerusalem.”

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, from the Greek word for “fifty,” because it falls on the fiftieth day after Passover.  In the Old Testament, it was originally called the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the feast Jesus was celebrating at Jerusalem in today’s Gospel Reading, probably during the second year of his ministry, the year before the Passover at which he was crucified and rose again. 

For us, the Feast of Tabernacles would be better called for us the “Feast of Tents,” because it commemorated the Israelites living in tents as they wandered in the wilderness.  For one week each year, they would again live in makeshift tents or “tabernacles,” to remind them of how their ancestors wandered in the wilderness.  The last day of the feast was called the “Festival of Living Waters,” because it commemorated God’s miraculous gift of water in the desert when Moses struck the rock and water came gushing out.  On that last day of the festival, water would be poured out on the altar at the Temple, while trumpets sounded, and the people sang from Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” 

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’”

Jesus was proclaiming, in a very dramatic way: “I am the fulfillment of this festival.  All of this symbolic imagery of life-giving water points to me.  For, just as God in his mercy miraculously opened a rock in ancient times to provide water for his people wandering in the desert, I have come that you may escape death in the true desert of hell.  I have come to give you the true water of eternal life.”

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  “Living water” is what is called a “double entendre,” a play on words with a double meaning.  Geologically, living water means not a stagnant source, like that shallow, brackish well at my grandparents’ farm, but a living source from a steady supply, like their deep well.  And, symbolically, living water also means water that is life-giving, that rescues you from death. 

Jesus intends both meanings of this double entendre when he describes the salvation he brings as “living water.”  His forgiveness is not shallow and temporary, like that well on my grandparent’s farm that often failed and ran dry.  God’s love for you will never fail or run out, but, like a deep well of continuously flowing living water, he washes all your sins away forever.  Paul puts it this way in 1st Corinthians, after giving a long list of very serious sins, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

And the salvation that Jesus brings is “living water” because it rescues you from death and gives you eternal life.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins. . .  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  Of course, this flowing water of life, and this drink which quenches your spiritual thirst, also symbolize the Sacraments, which are the “wells of salvation” though which God pours out his love upon you.

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  Faith in Christ is like that deep well on my grandparents’ farm.  Life in his world is often like a drought in a dreary desert.  For, in this world, we endure sorrows and struggles, like the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. And, often our individual lives in this world can be our own personal Great Depression, as we endure our own sorrows and struggles.

Yet, in the midst of it all, we have an oasis, an inner oasis of peace.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. . .  because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus. . .  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are bringing us to an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

“Whoever believes in me . . . streams of living water will flow from within him.”  Like my grandparent’s well-watered oasis in the midst of the Dust Bowl, those who trust in Jesus are tapped in to the inexhaustible well of God’s love, and, in the dreary desert of this world’s sorrows and struggles, find an inner oasis of hope and peace.  In Philippians, Paul describes it as, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”  Jesus put it this way at the Last Supper: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Amen.

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