Feast of Pentecost
12 June 2011
St. John’s, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the beginning, there were Rivers of Living Water. The earth was full of perfect, holy life, as the Lord GOD had designed it. Eden had a river, and from it flowed four others. The Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, flowed out of Eden’s River and watered God’s garden.
How utterly devastating for Eve, our first mother, as she was driven from that garden and that river. The perfect, living waters that nourished the new creation were now marred by sin, and drought as well as flooding riverbeds became a part of life on earth.
Some 1650 years later, the rivers of the world swelled and were joined by the waters of the deep and by the waters above in the Flood. In the most violent destruction the world has ever known, the Lord permitted unimaginable amounts of water to devastate the earth, ridding it of the unbelieving millions, while preserving the entire Church – the eight members of Noah’s family.
One thousand years after that, the River Nile comes to mind. While many Hebrew boys died at the hands of Egyptian soldiers, the Lord floated the infant Moses to safety in his little ark. Eighty years later, the Lord provided Moses to led the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground, while drowning the unbelieving Egyptian army.
Another forty years, and Joshua led the people on dry ground as they crossed the Jordan River, bringing them into the Promised Land.
Naaman washed in that humble river centuries later. Stepping into the stream as an unbeliever, the Lord changed him. His flesh was cleansed and made like a newborn, and Naaman was given the gift of faith.
But wait! All this talk of water? Today is Pentecost. It's about fire, right? Well, yes, the Holy Spirit used tongues of fire that day to bear witness to His presence, but more often He uses water in His actions.
Pentecost is a day of celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to you in Baptism. Imagine the amazing scene of these immense crowds listening to the apostles preach, and then 3,000 were baptized!
In this wonderful gift of living water, the Holy Spirit does His work. He brings about your birth, He enlivens you. He is the living water flowing from Jesus' side. He gives and builds faith in Christ, and then gushes forth in the life of the Christian.
Even as the living waters of the mother’s womb protect the baby, and are part and parcel with the child’s birth, so also, the waters of Holy Baptism are what attend your birth to Holy Mother Church, at her font, as the Spirit washes you into rescue and new life, flowing from new birth!
And remember: elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus says, "whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and He has.
In fact, THAT is what today is all about! If people start focusing only on the Spirit Himself, they are missing the point. The Holy Spirit does not want the spotlight. He is not the center of attention. He is always pointing to Christ. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit in today's Gospel lesson, and in the reading from Acts, He does.
The danger that we face is losing the focus on Christ. That can get pretty easy on Pentecost. If you are not careful, as you sing praises to God the Holy Spirit, and get wrapped up in the miraculous events of the first Pentecost that followed the Resurrection, you can be distracted from how Jesus-centered this is. You can look for God in amazing, science-defying miracles, rather than look for Him in the daily miracles of His Church. You can get distracted by the power and abilities of the Holy Spirit, apart from Christ, and completely miss the point.
Beware. If you separate the Spirit from the Word and work of Jesus Christ, you grieve them both, and offend God. The wind, the fire, and the languages are all amazing gifts, but they are not ends in themselves. And they are in no way to lead us to look away from Jesus, to focus on the Spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is not about sitting around and thinking about tongues of fire, foreign languages, and rushing wind. It is about the Holy Spirit delivering Jesus. The preaching of St. Peter and the apostles was the Spirit bringing Jesus to the multitudes. The 3,000 baptisms were the Holy Spirit bring Jesus into those lives with His forgiveness, rescue, and salvation.
Just 50 days earlier, Jesus had been glorified in His death and resurrection. Now that His work was complete -- finished -- the Holy Spirit was bringing that glory of Christ to His Church. He was delivering the forgiveness, life, and salvation won on the cross and bursting from that empty tomb. He brings Jesus!
Dear friends in Christ, rejoice! On this Pentecost Day, and always, the Holy Spirit still is working miracles! He is keeping you in the living water of your Baptism. He is gifting you with the Gospel, quenching your thirst, bringing the forgiveness of Christ to you. He is delivering the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. And in all this, He is giving and nourishing and sustaining faith, that you may be gathered into the ultimate "Upper Room" with our Lord when you depart this life.
The water that wells up to eternal life is a wondrous, unique gift from God. And unlike the fountain of youth in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, receiving life from this water does not take it away from someone else! The Lord causes it to spring forth from the font, and carry you along through this world, until you join Him in eternity.
And so today, as our summer begins, the Holy Spirit carries you along, saying, "Come on in, the water's fine!" Amen.