Sermon Text: John 7: 37-39
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
I love these words from Jesus and they’ve been in my head all week, painting a picture in my mind.
Honestly, my first thought was this is why we don’t read scripture literally, because if Jesus’ words were literally true then we’d all be in big trouble, drowning to death with waterlogged chest cavities. So yes, this is a metaphor. A really good metaphor that captivates the imagination. But admittedly, this first thought of mine is beside the point.
My second thought: I thought of headwaters, these ever-flowing sources of water, like Big Spring at Camp Sequanota or Roaring Spring down the road in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. These abundant sources of water are gushing with life. This is what the Holy Spirit will do for us, it is a source of living water flowing from our hearts like a river.
It’s such a good metaphor that I want to stay here for just a little while and riff on the imagery. I wonder, if we have rivers of water spouting from out hearts, how far do we allow that river to flow before that living water hits resistance? Does it spill forth like white water tumbling down the side of a mountain, or do we dam it off behind concrete and form a lake or reservoir for ourselves—our own personal Canoe Creek State Parks—and if the Holy Spirit is lucky a little will be released over the spillway?
In scripture we commonly hear reference to the hardness of our hearts—like Pharaoh in Egypt. What rocks surround our hearts and sequester this living water of the Holy Spirit?
May latest COVID-19 social distancing undertaking has been a series of National Geographic geology lectures on our National Parks. Once again, I know how boring that sounds, but geology rocks, right? As a kid my family visited dozens of national parks and I have this undying love for them. Seriously, if this whole ministry thing doesn’t work out, I’m trading in my clerical collar for the big brown hat of the park ranger, I swear it.
This series has been interesting, and there’s theme that pops up throughout the national parks—a theme that we can witness everywhere around us: there is always a geological battle between water and rock, and water always prevails. It may take millions of years of very gradual erosion, but water always wins.
I wonder if that’s how the Holy Spirit works in us? Try as we might to harden our hearts through self-destructive behavior, self-righteousness, judgment, hate, cynicism, indifference, materialism, perfection, acquisition, success, addiction, or any other idol we can substitute for God, the Holy Spirit, pouring forth from our hearts like a river, will cut a path and flow free. It may take a lifetime, but the living water of the Holy Spirit will always find a way, just like the water that shapes our natural world always finds a way.
Once that living water is free, on the move, and uninhibited, who knows where it will go? What new life it will lead?
As I think on it, the Holy Spirit that we celebrate on this festival of Pentecost is the perfect person of the Holy Trinity that we need right now. Every time I try to do some medium or long range planning, whether it’s personal, like vacation plans, or for our collective life in ministry as a congregation, I get a little frustrated and a little befuddled, because everything is fluid. I have no control. This continues to feel chaotic. That is where we are in this pandemic as we attempt to transition into some semblance of normal life. It is frustrating. It is frightening. It is uncharted territory.
Of course, that is the perfect place for the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit, depicted in scripture as fire, as wind, as a dove, as living water—all things that are free, unpredictable, untamed, and full of life. That is the power of God that we need right now. Something that can adapt, flow, and lead us into the unpredictable future. That’s exactly what the Holy Spirit will do for us as individuals and as the church as we live into the future.
Come Holy Spirit. Flood our bodies and our souls. Cut a path through the hardness of our hearts. And lead us forward, to where you need us right now to be God’s people. AMEN