God’s Love Flows
Sunday, February 20, 2022
Pastor Arne Bergland
I grew up along the Mississippi river in Winona. Over the years my friends and I graduated from time on the water with parents to days with friends waterskiing the waters from Lock and Dam 5A to Trempealeau. One summer day we were in unfamiliar backwaters. A friend, a German foreign exchange student, was skiing behind us. We passed a dock where three older gentlemen were fishing. They waved at us. we thought they were friendly. As it turned out they were warning us, and we were too confident to heed the warning. A hundred yards or so past that dock the boat was stopped in its tracks by three feet of thick Mississippi sludge that was hidden by just enough water that we didn’t know it was there. Our friend catapulted headfirst into that smelly, putrid mud. The boat was stuck, the fishermen on the dock were laughing, we had made their day. We all had to get out and push and pull the boat into enough water to free it and make our escape.
Bodies of water fascinate me. They have provided me with many good memories and better experiences I might add than the one I have recalled for you. When I think of rivers I love the words of Norman Maclean from his book, “ A River Runs Through It;” “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” Bodies of water are ancient, and they are new, they are clear and certain, and they are deep and mysterious.
Along with the Mississippi I have lived along the Missouri, the Yellowstone, and the Clark Fork of the Columbia. I spent a year living on the Cook Inlet in the Gulf of Alaska. I also lived near the Puget Sound and the beaches of Southern California. These days I cross the Minnesota to get to church. From a river in winter, the warm waters of summertime with dragonflies skimming the surface, the crashing waves on a beach or the rising tide, these places are places of life, ever changing, ever new, ever mysterious.
Jesus speaks to the crowd in our Gospel lesson today, he says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.”
Jesus was preaching during Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, a yearly event he would have been required to attend. All Jewish males would have been there. Along with their families they say that there could have been 200,000 people in Jerusalem . it was a time when they remembered their 40 years in the wilderness. The setting of our Lord’s words is key to understanding what Jesus is saying. In the Old Testament, the Feast of Booths lasted seven days. In the New Testament the Feast of Booths lasted eight days. It was a thanksgiving Feast.
At the heart of the feast was a daily procession. Priests carrying golden pitchers would lead a parade through the city to the pool of Siloam singing the words of Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The great crowd of people would parade back to the Temple and the Priests would pour the water from the pool of Siloam down upon the altar and the people would shout and wave palm branches. It was a prayer to the God who gives life.
This procedure went on for seven days, but on the last day the procedure was repeated with two significant exceptions. First, when the parade of people returned from the pool of Siloam, the Priests would march around the altar seven times commemorating Joshua’s victory at Jericho. Secondly, the Priests would raise the golden pitcher over the silver funnels as they had done each day previously, but this time there was no water — only an empty pitcher. This signified the disobedient generation that died in the wilderness. Those who had abandoned God. Now, instead of a shout and the waving of palm branches as the people had done each day, they now stood in silence.
Using this water of life, the ceremony became a source of great joy for those who witnessed it. So great as a matter of fact that it became a proverb: “He that has not seen, the joy of the drawing and the pouring of the water has not seen joy in his life.”
John’s Gospel includes commentary on the words of Jesus. John 7:39 tells us that Jesus’ statement about “rivers of living water” is a reference to the Holy Spirit.
We need water, it is a source of life. Jesus tells us that we need the Holy Spirit, it is a source of life.
Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts…” Thirst will kill faster than hunger. One can go weeks without food, but only days without water.We thirst for water, we thirst for all sorts of things, we thirst for God’s love and yet Jesus did not promise a trickle or a stream or a flow…He promised a river. The Holy Spirit is like a mighty rushing river…a life-giving river.
If you have walked across the Mississippi river where it begins in Lake Itasca you will not be much impressed. It is nothing more than a shallow stream. But as that water flows it gains a momentum. It is joined by the Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and the Red River of the South. From a trickle it flows 2340 miles to the Gulf of Mexico becoming a mighty river
Jesus did not promise a trickle or a stream or a flow… He promised a river. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”
If you have ever spilled your beverage during a meal you know what happens to liquid. It spreads out indiscriminately searching for its lowest point. God’s love search’s us out. It does not rest until it finds us even at our lowest point. As the water spilled over the altar during the celebration of the feast of booths covering the altar so Gods love spills over all the world bringing life and salvation.
In the mountains west of Helena Montana there is an artisan well that flows year-round for all to use. The water is pure and refreshing We kept water jugs to collect that water. Every other month or so we would make the trek to the well to renew our supply.
Christ is a well spring of God’s love, abundant, refreshing, overflowing. He satisfies our thirst for love, justice, compassion, and understanding. He hydrates our spirit and offers us life.
God invites us to drink deeply from the life-giving source of God’s grace,
We thirst… and yet God washes over us with a mighty river of love and grace.