Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our story today starts in the middle of Jesus’s visit to Jerusalem for a festival. First, let’s look at what festival Jesus is attending. This is the Festival of Tabernacles, or Booths. This was a fall pilgrimage festival celebrating the harvest and commemorating the Israelites time in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.
There were three important pilgrimages each year when people were required to come to Jerusalem. The one we are most familiar with is Passover. And there was Pentecost, or the Festival of Weeks, which was a celebration of the spring harvest. The festival we hear about today is the festival of tabernacles, or booths. This festival celebrated the fall harvest and remembering God’s provision of water and food during their time in the desert.
To get a better idea of today’s story, we need to look back to the beginning of Chapter 8 when Jesus’s brothers tell him to come with them to Jerusalem for the festival. But, typical of brothers, they mock him for thinking he is so important. If you want to be famous, come to the festival so people can see what you can do! Jesus refuses to join them, since they don’t believe in him. He is also trying to avoid the religious leaders who are looking for a reason to arrest him.
But Jesus changes his mind and ends up going anyway. This morning’s gospel begins with Jesus teaching at the festival. Jesus had been teaching and preaching for a few days. Even though he was saying disturbing things, the religious leaders held back from arresting him.
This day, the day our story is told, was the most important day of the festival, the day when the people celebrated God’s provision of water in the desert, by pouring water around the altar. Water was vital to survival both in the wilderness, and also to when the people settled in Israel. The lack of enough rain would be disastrous for people who lived from harvest to harvest.
In the midst of this celebration, Jesus stands up and shouts, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 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.’ ” If Jesus was trying to keep a low profile, he just blew it big time. His statement definitely stirred up trouble! The people are celebrating that God provided water for their ancestors in the desert. “Who is this guy to say he is the provider of living water to those who believe in him? We know it is God who provided us with water in the desert!" The misunderstanding we see here is the type of water Jesus is talking about. In the festival, the people are celebrating the water that allows the crops to grow and provide food to them and their families. Jesus is talking about the water of the Spirit, which will allow those who believe to grow in faith and share God’s love with those who are longing for connection with God.
Last week we baptized Thor, and as I poured water on his head, I said these words, “You are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Affirming what we already have been promised, the Holy Spirit has and will continue to be with him, and all who follow Jesus, always assuring us of God’s love for all and empowering us to share the Good News.
So, in what ways can we share God’s Good News of love for all people? Jesus tells us to follow the greatest commandment! Love God and love our neighbor. We share God’s story of love through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus in what we say, and what we do for others: working to bring peace among all people, showing kindness to all people. We care for those in need as we did last Sunday when we gathered food for the food pantry through Souper Bowl Sunday. At Christmastime, we gathered gifts and coats for the women of the Walter Hoving home, where women are helped to get back on their feet and return to their families. We do many things here with our funds to help those in need and support people in disasters.
But we also realize there is so much more we can do. This is why we gather in-person and online—to support each other, to worship together, to encourage each other, to follow Christ in everything we do, and to receive the living water flowing out to us as followers of Jesus. Amen.