Sermon for Year A, Day of Pentecost
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 8, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
What in the world just happened?
And what does it have to do with our celebration of Pentecost today?
Let’s take the first question first. That will naturally lead us to the second question.
The setting is the Festival of Tabernacles -- a major day in the life of the Jewish people.
We have Christmas and Easter;
They had Passover and Pentecost (not quite the same as ours) and the Feast of Tabernacles.
It was primarily a festival that enabled the people to remember their time in the wilderness,
From many generations before --
You know, forty years, a flight from Egypt, Moses and Mount Sinai and the Promised Land.
They would leave town during the festival, go out and build makeshift shelters and sleep in them,
And they would spend time meditating on pretty much one thing:
They incredible ways that God had provided for them in even the harshest of circumstances.
Something worth remembering and giving thanks for:
The water flowing out of the rock that slaked their thirst;
The quail and manna falling from the heavens that curbed their hunger;
The amazing escape from Pharoah through the Red Sea;
And their constant rescue from every form of danger,
Be it scorpion, serpent, heat, or that most dreaded enemy of all -- themselves.
There are a lot ways to die in the desert wilderness; God brought them through all of them.
So they took these days and set them aside to be intentional about that thankfulness.
Now, Jesus’ brothers have specifically invited him to attend the Festival of Tabernacles.
The way they do it makes it pretty clear:
They seem to think they stand to personally gain something out of his being there,
Where people can see him and he can get some exposure. (Charging for a magic show, maybe?)
But he refuses them.
And then, after they leave to go, he follows them to the Festival
And he watches things unfold in secret.
He witnesses as people spread rumors about him, good and bad.
Some say he’s a fine man; others say he’s being deceptive.
And then about halfway through the festival, he throws off his cloak
And he goes up to the Temple and he starts teaching them.
And as surely as these things do, they start to go off-track.
There’s an argument, as there almost always is, about the identity of the Messiah --
About who Jesus is and where he gets his authority.
And then he cries out from the steps of the Temple:
“You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own.
But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.
I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”
He’s talking about the Father, of course, just as he does often in the Gospel of John.
And they want to curtail him for his blasphemous and heretical tongue --
Because no one has ever seen God!
And this isn’t just some small technical point.
It isn’t merely “at variance” with their understanding.
Not even Moses was allowed to see God’s face.
It’s hugely problematic -- so Go on, fetch the Temple Police, we’re going to put this man away.
Then he says, Look, I’m only with you a bit longer, and then you won’t see me anymore.
You’ll search me out and you won’t be able to find me.
And they’re confused about that --
Look, Jesus, if we looked for you long enough, rest assured -- we would find you.
And then! Then, we get him yelling into the crowds the words we just heard today,
There in the shadow of the Temple.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.
As the scripture has said,
‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Well, that’s the translation. “Heart.” The Greek would have us say, instead,
“Out of the believer’s belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Out of the gut.
It’s the last day of the festival: the “great day.”
And it’s important to understand that on this “great day,”
A priest would come and draw water from a big pool using a golden pitcher.
He would then carry it up the long street to the Temple, and would go into the Temple,
And would go to a silver bowl next to the altar, and then pour the water out of the golden pitcher
While choirs and musicans accompanied him, making a wonderful racket.
While the priest poured out the water, he would pray for rain.
So with these things happening, perhaps at that very moment, now from Jesus, we get this instead,
Yelling into the crowd, reinterpreting this old tradition in light of himself:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink;
And the one who believes in me -- just as the scripture says --
From that one’s [belly] will flow rivers of living water.”
Loud. Impetuous. Rude. Callous. Cavalier.
Where does this guy get off? Who does he think he is?
Oh, you can hear them whispering -- it’s an outright scandal.
He’s saying, Look, here, come to me and drink --
The Spirit pours out of me into you,
And it pours out of you into the world.
He’s imploring them to choose him and what he has to offer instead of something else.
Each and every time we pray, whether it’s in here or out on our own,
We are faced with a stark choice:
Either engage in an empty and lifeless ritual, or be open to the Spirit flowing through us --
Flowing from Jesus through us --
And, in turn, be open to the Spirit flowing out of us, into the world.
The world is desperate and hungry for such things; who are we to hoard it or cut it off?
Hoarding it? That’s what John’s Gospel would call unbelief.
What, then, is belief?
Week by week and day by day,
We confess belief in one God who is three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
St. Thomas Aquinas in his work Summa Theologica says that each Person of the Trinity
Acts in its own fashion, yet they always act together in creating the universe.
Surely this is worth pondering!
Aquinas says it is like an artist -- applying intelligence and love in creating art.
The Father is the one who fashions the creation;
The Son is revelation and wisdom;
The Spirit is love and union.
Thus, he says, everything that has ever been points back to the artist who made it -- the Creator.
Everything looks like the Trinity because everything bears the mark of the Trinity upon it.
The Father is the creating beginning -- the mysterious charcter, equally Mother in like measure.
The Son demonstrates the supreme intelligence and articulation of God --
The Son, Jesus Christ, is the logos, or breath, or word, of God.
The Spirit is the bearer of spiritual gifts and is the power of the new and of renewal in our lives.
In fact, Leonardo Boff says that the Spirit “updates the memory of Jesus the Liberator.
[The Spirit] never allows Jesus’ words to remain dead;
Whenever they are reread, they gain new meaning and produce new practices.”
We could feast on these teachings for days and explore them in much greater depth;
As Romans 11 says, “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”
But perhaps it is enough, for now, to affirm that this is at least part of what we mean
When we say that “We believe in one God.”
That, perhaps, and this: the Trinity is not the static and unchanging life of God,
But rather the dynamic, ever-changing, everpresent interrelationship of these three Persons:
The continuous revelation of God taking the form of eternal, loving relationship.
No matter the name you grant God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer:
Shepherd, Helper, Refuge:
The Sovereign God, the True God, the Wonderful Counselor:
The Law, the Light, the Liberty:
Ruler, Root, Refiner:
Living God, Living Bread, Living Water --
By whatever name you call God -- and the list is endless --
These three Persons dance, active and whirling, creating, loving, redeeming.
They call the creation to itself -- calling the believer to drink,
And to open up to that life flowing from the belly of the believer into the thirsty world.
Little hints of the eternal and the cosmic are contained within these small words.
Little glimpses of heaven itself.
God is moving and active in countless ways at all times.
Today the Son bids us to come and receive the Spirit, and to join in on this dance.
And we must say, He is quite the provocateur, Jesus is;
Having chosen this moment in the shadow of the Temple,
As the priest pours out the water and prays for rain --
He certainly has chosen this highly provocative moment to beg us to come to him --
Not to engage in an empty and lifeless ritual one minute more,
But to take our part in the divine dance in the full totality of the unfolding life of God,
And receive the water we need to keep going.
And now there is an unceasing flow of joy in the hearts of his followers.
The flow moves like a thread from this moment under the Temple
To the shock of the assembly on the morning of the Pentecost.
There is a flame of love and revelation and an outpouring of Spirit
As the Spirit allots just as it chooses, to all in the room:
Phrygians and Pamphylians, Egyptians and Libyans,
Romans, Cretans, and Arabs.
(Leeds, Morningside, Riverside, North Side, South Sioux City, North Sioux City,
Iowans, North Dakotans, South Dakotans...)
The blessed life of the Trinity flows out of the belly of each believer
As they recognize the presence of the risen Christ in one another.
Flows out and into the world.
They speak, they listen, they are amazed.
They remember Jesus’ promise to them:
“I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me
Will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing,
And will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Indeed, as Peter says, they are not drunk;
But in coming to Christ, they have all tasted the sweet living water of the life of the Trinity;
The Spirit rests upon them each and all.
They are in the flow of the divine dance.
It has now become these witnesses’ driving force to give the rest of the world to drink.
Behold the only Wise God!
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!
Behold the animating Spirit!