On the Sunday of Pentecost


Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, June 4, 2023

Gospel: John 7:37-52, 8:12

Good morning! I would like to begin this morning with a story:

Once upon a time, after their escape from Egypt, the Hebrews became lost in the desert, and so Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water poured forth saving the tribe of Israel from death. Eventually, they made their way to a land filled with “milk and honey” flowing with springs of water. The Great Day of the Feast in today’s Gospel refers to the Feast of Tabernacles as a reminder that water was given to their fathers from a rock in the desert in their time of need. On each of the seven days of the festival, a golden pitcher was carried in procession. But on the last and great day, they celebrated the entrance into Palestine with all its springs and rivers. And it was in such a setting that Christ promised, not just symbolically, but in reality, living water. Abundant, satisfying and overflowing. This is the context for his words, “if anyone thirst (like the Hebrews lost in the desert or the Samaritan Woman at the well), let him come to me and drink. “He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water. He said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive.”  Of course, Jesus meant his living water to refer to the Holy Spirit revealed at Pentecost, which had not yet been given.

Jesus offers the assuaging of our own thirst, the satisfying of our needs, of all our proper desires, of all our spiritual longings, but better by far, he promises that through him, we shall be a strength and inspiration for each other, no longer a stumbling block, no longer something that must be explained away if God is to have a chance with us, but a proof that Christ can point to, and claim, “show me anything like that apart from me.” In Christ, we are called to service. However innocently and cleanly we pass through this needy world, so full of desperate straits, if we are self-absorbed and unsympathetic to the plight of others, then our faith is a self-deception and a sham. We will not receive the fullness of spiritual blessings until we cease to regard Jesus as merely a teacher, a prophet, an example, or a friend, and begin to glorify him by accepting him as our savior and the Lord and ruler of our hearts.

The temple officers were ordered to bring Jesus in, but they claimed, “no man ever spoke like this man.” The Sanhedrin convened a meeting in which Christ was to be interrogated, hence their anger when the temple officers returned without him. The officers were so impressed by Jesus, they couldn’t bring themselves to lay hands on him. “No one has ever spoken like him before,” they cried.

There was nothing judicial about the Sanhedrin: only a fierce prejudice against the accused, and an anger toward those who had been impressed by him. Could they have been open to conversion? To love truth means to pursue it with an earnest, conscientious, and unflagging zeal. It means to be prepared to follow the light of evidence even to the most unwelcome conclusions, to labor to emancipate the mind from prejudice, to resist the current of desire and the influence of the passions, and to be ready, if need be, to exchange calm assurance for all the suffering of a perplexed mind.

But only Nicodemus stood up among them and spoke in honest and indignant protest against animosity and forgone conclusions, only to be assailed by personal abuse, so Christ was left undefended.  

This process of encounter, confusion, and dissension was repeated again and again during Paul’s missionary journeys. He would come to a city, ask to speak in the local synagogue, and invariably there would be some (often God-Fearing Gentiles) who were intrigued and interested in learning more about Jesus, but the established leaders of the synagogue would invariably kick Paul out of the city and have him beaten or imprisoned for making trouble. Every time, some would see the light, while others would remain in darkness.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” No man ever spoke like this man. There is nothing like this statement anywhere else in the history of the world. Not from Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammad, none of whom claim to be God. . Jesus is different because in his humility, he still claimed equality with God the Father. “Before Abraham was, I AM,” he says. Jesus Christ is still the light of the world, and whoever follows him shall not walk in darkness, but can see to find his way. We must always look to him and absorb his Holy Spirit. With such a sure guide, it is odd that we have not made more progress than we have in the world. Too often, we prefer darkness. Jesus’ teaching seems to ask too much, clashes with our comforts and wishes, so we resent it, we resist it, and we thrust it away. Though the light shines straight in our face, we seem not to see it. Christ called himself the truth. If only we could keep our eyes fastened steadily on the light that shines from our steady guide, and steer ourselves straight toward it, we could make our way through any terrible sea and meet any difficulty that confronts us.

Thanks be to God.