Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014 Year A
Acts 2.1-21; 1 Cor. 12.3b-13; John 7.37-39
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who is the wellspring of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
About 3 years ago Shera and I visited the men’s state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, SD. We went there to learn about the church called, St. Dysmas, which gathered for worship inside the locked facility. The church was almost entirely comprised of inmates and occasionally they had people from the outside who came to worship with them. After the service was over our group had some time to visit with the people. One of my conversations was with a man I’ll just call “Greg.”
Greg told me that he was a “lifer.” He never told me what he did but he said he deserved to carry out his sentence of life in prison until he died. He proceeded to share with me how hearing about Jesus completely transformed his life.
“I was depressed,” he said. “I did not take ownership of my crimes and I was angry at the world. Then I decided to sign up to come to worship one day and I heard about Jesus. I heard about how he loved others, how he offered them forgiveness and new life. For the first time in my life I forgave everyone and myself and realized that God still loves me. Now, even though I’m never going to be free of these walls, I feel freer than I ever have in my life. God has given me purpose and meaning in this place to share the Gospel with all the men who come through here, to encourage and help them, and to be a leader in my congregation, St. Dysmas.”
Then looking and pointing up he said, “When I die I’m floating up straight out of here to heaven to be with my Lord, but until then I have work to do in this place.”
What surprised me about Greg was how full of life he was, especially for someone who would have every excuse in the world to turn in on himself, and how easily he shared with me how knowing Jesus had changed his life. He had so much joy in him, purpose and meaning, even hope.
Jesus cries out in our Gospel reading: “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.”
As Greg spoke to me I felt as if the rivers of life were flowing through him and out of him as he witnessed to what Christ had done for him in his life. I will never forget my encounter with Greg because he strengthened my own faith through the outpouring of the new life he had been given.
Greg was thirsty…thirsty for meaning when he would never be physically free again; thirsty for forgiveness after a life-time of being hurt and hurting others; thirsty for community and belonging in a place that strives to keep everyone separate and compliant. Greg heard the invitation of Christ to come to him and drink of the life-giving water he offers to all.
What are you thirsty for? Healing? Sobriety? Forgiveness? Love? Belonging? Salvation? An end to poverty and hunger? Peace in the world? God? To get out of here?
We are all thirsty for something and our human tendency is to quench our thirst with things that do not satisfy: money, possessions, power, popularity, food, narcotics. technology, Busy-ness.
I have recently heard about a study that says that the longer people spend on the internet with “facebook” friends and other virtual realities, the lonelier they become. We are more “connected” than ever before and yet people are more lonely and isolated.
These things that do not have the power to give life dry us up and will always leave us wanting and empty, never giving us the meaning in life we long for.
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, a day in which we remember the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon the believers of the Gospel, the Good News for all people. Pentecost stories, especially ones like our reading in Acts, can seem way out there and too wild to be true to happen to ordinary people like us who gather in Hope Chapel for worship on a weekly basis.
The miracle and the point of these stories is not so much the flaming tongues of fire, but rather the people’s ability to proclaim and hear the Good News of God in Jesus Christ for them and for the world. This has always been the real miracle of Pentecost and Pentecost is happening here in this place and all around us all the time.
Today’s Pentecost is faith that is lived and shared in ordinary people in ordinary ways, just like Greg spontaneously sharing with me how Christ had made his life new.
Greg had tried all kinds of things in his life that never satisfied until Christ became real to him. He understood that even though he would be locked up for the rest of his life, for the first time he was truly free. I experienced him as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a channel of living water flowing forth from deep within him. It was his and yet it was also mine because he shared it with me.
Theologian Steven Eason has said, “We do not have to understand the Holy Spirit, we just have to understand that we need the Holy Spirit (Feasting on the Word, p. 24).” Without the Spirit we are left dry and wanting. What if you and I were to thirst for the Spirit of God, for Christ to be present with us always, to believe and to be channels of living water for the world?
The Spirit is given to people for the sake of purpose. It’s not just so I can believe and have assurance of going to heaven when I die; it is given so that I might proclaim to a world that is thirsty. Jesus doesn’t simply quench our spiritual thirst; he gives us the ability to become rivers of living water for others as well, participating in the life of God and the life of others.
The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is to move inward faith to outward faith. The Gospel spreads through people being the Gospel in the world through: verbally sharing with others what Christ has done for them, through taking soup to someone who is sick, through visiting people in the hospital, through sitting with someone who is sad, through pronouncing forgiveness to someone who feels the bondage of sin, through writing poetry and sharing it, through loving someone who is hard to love.
I could go on and on. The point is that everyone can share Jesus in some way through the help of the Holy Spirit.
When in our Gospel reading it said, “For as yet there was no Spirit,” doesn’t mean that the Spirit did not exist yet; it means that Jesus had not yet died, been resurrected and ascended into heaven; it means that Pentecost had not yet happened. In places like Acts 2 and John 20, Pentecost did happen and it is happening today.
Many throughout the ages have risked everything for the sake of the Good News they were given to share. Their proclamation was not, “Believe in Jesus or you are going to hell.” Their proclamation was and continues to be through each one of us: “Your sins are forgiven. Christ died for you. You are given new life here and now. You are offered eternal life and death will not keep you in your grave.”
The Spirit of God has been blowing through the lungs of people throughout the centuries to proclaim Christ who gives life, proclaim God who is love, proclaim mercy and forgiveness to a world and people who are thirsty and desperate to hear a word of grace.
What good news do you need to hear today? You are forgiven! You are loved! You are not alone! You are not a mistake! With the help of God you can overcome addiction!
This is the good news in Christ for all of us in this house of worship today. The Spirit helps us proclaim it. The Spirit helps us hear it and actually believe it for ourselves. It does not do us any good to simply hear, “you are forgiven, you are not alone”…ask the Spirit to take these words and move them from here (the ears) to here (the heart). Take the words and the Spirit of Christ into yourself in order that you may become a channel of living water that flows through you and out to a thirsty world.
Theologian Thomas Long writes: “The shock of the Christian life is that the glorified Jesus has once again, through the Spirit, become flesh in the lives of believers, and the result is not that Jesus has become confined in the small space of believer’s hearts, but that the lives of believers have become like his—large and life giving, “rivers of living waters.” (Feasting on the Word, p. 25).
May you be rivers of living waters as Christ fills you and loves you in your way through life and death, and into eternal life. Amen.