“God’s Proper Work: Living Water for You”
A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, June 4, 2017
by the Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
John 7:37-39 [English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
GOD’S PROPER WORK: LIVING WATER FOR YOU!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
v. 37 “…If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
The Greek verb for thirst is “dipsaó,” which means “I thirst for” or “I desire earnestly.” We might say, “I yearn for” or “I really need” (which is “I really want…”).
Today we celebrate the birthday of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Feast of Pentecost, which was originally a Jewish festival fifty days after Passover. In the Church, Pentecost is always the eighth Sunday of Easter, the end of the Easter season. As we celebrate the Church’s birthday, we remember the Church is the Holy Spirit’s workshop. Here the Holy Spirit works through the Word and the Sacraments to make new Christians in the washing of Holy Baptism and to keep us united to Jesus Christ through the Word and the Sacraments. To say there is no salvation outside of the Church is to simply state the obvious. The Church is the Body of Christ where we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, where we die to ourselves, where our sins are forgiven, and where we become children of God through no merit or effort of our own. The Holy Spirit calls us into the Church where He joins us to Christ Jesus who calls us to give our lives away with Him in limitless service (love) for neighbor.
It is our tradition to celebrate the Confirmation of our 8th graders at the 11 a.m. Eucharist on Pentecost. At this year’s feast, we affirm our Baptisms with Garrison, Jordan, Nathan, Audrey, and Joy and celebrate not only their completion of a three-year program of Lutheran Christian education but also their transition to high school, to young adulthood, and to full participation and greater responsibility in the life of our congregation. We expect them (you) to become leaders in our midst. We expect them (you) to continue to pray daily, worship weekly, read and study the Bible, serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s, to be in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others, and to give of their time, talents, and resources.
This means we expect to see them (you) week after week sharing their gifts in our life together whether singing in the choir, ringing bells, playing instruments, reading the lessons, serving as assisting ministers and communion assistants, serving as crucifers and book bearers, serving as ushers and on the altar guild, serving as church council members, present and engaged in servant activities, and engaged in our life regularly and not just on youth Sundays and for youth events and youth trips. In short, that’s what active Christians are and what they do. If you hear someone say that you’re being the church by doing social ministry in the world apart from your participation in the Church’s worship life, that person (no matter what their position in the Church) is simply wrong! The meaning of the Greek word for Church (“ekklesia”) means being called out of the world to assemble as the Church around God’s Word and Sacraments! We need Jesus!
As confirmed members of Christ’s Church, Garrison, Jordan, Nathan, Audrey, and Joy (and all the confirmed members) are expected to recognize that what they are always truly thirsting for in this life is Jesus, who gives His own True Body and Most Precious Blood to us in the Host and the Cup. Let me be blunt: those who rarely or never get around to receiving Jesus in the Host and Cup are getting their thirst (their earnest desires) satisfied somewhere else. It’s like a husband or wife who claims to be married but keeps going to strangers for love. In short, if we aren’t regularly coming to the altar to receive the real Jesus in the Host and Cup, we are giving ourselves to other gods. And no, it’s not enough to gather with a crowd to sing or pray or study or serve. We need Jesus! It’s fine to sing about Him, great to pray with Him, necessary to learn from Him, and the right thing to serve as He serves, but none of that can replace receiving Jesus at the altar!
The early Church would look at large gatherings of protestant Christians with a sense of bemusement. If they are claiming to be the Church, where is the Lord’s Supper? You cannot be the Church without the preaching of Christ Crucified for sinners and Risen from the dead, without Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and without receiving Jesus in His Meal! In response to the preaching of the Gospel in Acts 2, three thousand Jews repented and were baptized with water. They received the Holy Spirit. They continued to gather with the apostles to be taught, to pray together, and to receive Jesus in the Holy Supper, what Luke calls “the breaking of the bread” (2:42). Small groups of like-minded friends do not constitute the Church even if they eat and drink together!
Without the Lord’s Supper at which Christ Himself is both Victim and Priest, you have to ask what’s going on with these people and what is it they are thirsting for? Are they earnestly desiring for someone to tell them what to do or how to be happy? Are they earnestly desiring to be part of a big crowd and to have an emotional high by singing songs with a good beat that you can dance to? Are they earnestly desiring to fit in somewhere – to have a sense of belonging? Are they just wanting to be affirmed in what they already think, feel, or believe? The problem with crowds, crowd mentality, and affirmation is you are probably thirsting for and earnestly desiring for more than Jesus!
There are preachers flying all over the world in private jets or in first class seats who are exporting themselves and their own spiritual worldview rather than the Crucified Jesus who does His Father’s good and gracious will in the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than the fellowship and teaching of Jesus’ apostles, rather than Baptism with water into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and rather than serving Jesus in the Host and the Cup! The early Church would look at such preachers and call them heretics and false teachers.
When I was a young pastor on the south side of Dallas TX, I would see folks once or twice after they had moved down from Midwestern or Eastern cities where Lutheran churches were larger. Then they would end up in large protestant churches, because they were used to a big crowd with large church resources. In other words, they were religious consumers looking for the Big Box store. They were not thirsting to receive Jesus. Luke’s description of the founding of Christ’s Church in Acts 2 does not describe speakers teaching people how to have their best life now. The only feelings in the crowd that Luke describes is some were amazed and perplexed (v. 12), some mocked the disciples (v.13), and many were cut to the heart by the message that they had crucified God’s Son (v.37). Luke doesn’t describe people saying, “Wow! These apostles have a great band with music we like.” Luke doesn’t mention light shows, smoke machines, or people swaying back and forth as they share a “spiritual experience.” In Acts 2, there’s the preaching of Christ Crucified and raised from the dead; the call to repentance and Baptism; and finally the newly baptized continuing to fellowship with and be taught by the apostles, to gather for the prayers at Temple and to receive the Lord’s Supper (“the breaking of the bread”).
Decades ago, Lutherans began to have large Lutheran youth gatherings as a way to show Lutheran kids there were a lot more of us than we knew. At the outset, they were traditional, but increasingly they were hijacked by those with a leftist agenda. Ironically, Martin Luther taught us to teach the young, but he would never approve of the kind of teaching and practice pushed by most of the speakers and leaders at our big youth events.
Why spend so much time talking about what’s wrong with Christians in America? Because at the heart of what is often purported to be Christian, there is little or no thirst to receive Jesus in the Host and Cup. There is thirsting to be part of something big. There is thirsting to be affirmed in what I think and feel. There is thirsting for power, wealth, and influence by leaders. There is thirsting to say and do something new. But little thirst to receive Jesus in the Host and the Cup and to die to ourselves with Him in Baptism!
I warn our youth constantly about marrying someone just because you thirst to love or be loved. Unless you marry someone who already thirsts to receive Jesus and who already dies daily to her or himself in Baptism, you risk heartache, and having your kids learn another way from an unbelieving parent, and finally being drawn into another story than the old, old story of Christ crucified for sinners, raised from the dead, pouring out the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and giving Himself regularly in the Host and the Cup. To our adults and older youth, I say again: If you are not thirsting to receive Jesus in the Host and Cup every week, then you are thirsting for something else. And you know what it is!
This Pentecost Sunday we are affirming our Baptism with Garrison, Jordan, Nathan, Audrey, and Joy. These youth will publicly renounce with us the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises. They will publicly confess faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They will promise with God’s help to continue in the covenant God made with them in Baptism by regularly gathering for God’s Word and His Holy meal, by regularly proclaiming the Good News of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead in their words and deeds, by following the Lord Jesus in lives of limitless service unto death striving to do God’s good and gracious will in daily life and work. And they will again hear God’s promise that His Holy Spirit is at work in them, as living water, to give them a deep thirst for Jesus and to shape them into His servant likeness.
May our confirmands and we be found faithful when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead! May we not be found thirsting for someone else at the last!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA