Weekly Seeds: Flow Out from Within
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Seventh Sunday of Easter| Year A
Flow Out From Within
Living Water, in your glory, flow in us and through us. Amen.
John 7:37-39 CEB
37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted,
“All who are thirsty should come to me!
38 All who believe in me should drink!
As the scriptures said concerning me,
Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.”
39 Jesus said this concerning the Spirit. Those who believed in him would soon receive the Spirit, but they hadn’t experienced the Spirit yet since Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.
All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30 • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21 • John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
How is your hydration level? Are you thirsty?
What biblical stories featuring water resonate with you?
How do you perceive the connection between water and Spirit?
What rituals using water resonate with you?
What rituals may you be inspired to create?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
Waters flow. The joining of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen creates this molecule that sustains life for us. Only oxygen is more imminently vital for our continued, physical existence. People have been known to live weeks on air and water alone. And, isn’t it interesting that the part of air that we need to breathe in also serves as a building block for the substance we need to drink and that comprises the majority of our physical being?
Water as a prominent biblical image makes sense. The reference to water greets us at the beginning with the Spirit or face of God hovering over the primordial waters as the creation act begins. There are the waters that God sends to refresh, renew, and restart the earth in the days of Noah. Moses and his people pass safely through the parted waters of the Red Sea as they begin their journey as a liberated people learning to be free. In his ministry, Jesus turns water into wine, reveals himself to be the Living Water with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and washes the feet of his disciples. Reflecting on these examples illustrates how central the element of water is to the biblical narrative.
Faith communities have long understood this centrality and captured the connection through ritual. Baptism is probably the most known and experienced, but there are others. Jesus institutes foot washing as a rite that countless Christian communities have adopted as an annual observance associated with Maundy Thursday worship. The incorporation of holy water into the worship space is a staple in some Christian traditions. Using water as an element in blessing rituals in retreats or ceremonial acts is not uncommon either.
In the gospel passage, Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem. As Adele Reinhartz reminds us, “John 7 takes place during yet another pilgrimage festival, Tabernacles. During this harvest festival, families and communities are required to live in booths reminiscent of the temporary dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their forty-year wandering in the desert.” Jesus is teaching in the temple in one of those long discourses the Johannine text is known for. This text is a snippet from that longer exposition.
His teaching seems to be spirited. Jesus exclaims. He shouts. This is not a sedate, dispassionate, or even calm Jesus, but a teacher on fire with a message of hope and glory. Not only that, Jesus identifies himself as divine in a way that is explicit and unique to John’s narrative.
The narrative builds toward the climax of 7:37b–38, where Jesus issues the invitation to all who are thirsty to come to him and drink, so that believers would, once the Spirit had been given, become sources of “streams of living water.” Thus, in keeping with the theme underlying Tabernacles, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3), the prophetic vision of Isa. 58:11 would be fulfilled.
Andreas J. Köstenberger
The text informs us that it is now the last and most important day of the festival. The observance has been building to its climax, and Jesus has energy to match the significance of the day of remembrance and celebration.
It is now the last and greatest day of the festival. Every day during Tabernacles, priests marched in solemn procession from the pool of Siloam to the temple and poured out water at the base of the altar. The seventh day of the festival, the last day proper (Lev. 23:34, 41–42), was marked by a special water-pouring rite and lights ceremony (m. Sukkah 4.1, 9–10). This was to be followed by a sacred assembly on the eighth day, which was set apart for sacrifices, the joyful dismantling of the booths, and repeated singing of the Hallel (Ps. 113–18). Hence, by the first century, many Jews had come to think of the Feast of Tabernacles as an eight-day event.
Andreas J. Köstenberger
Water, then, was a critical element in the festival observance. Daily pouring of water onto the altar in the processional builds to the special water and light ritual of the last day. Light also holds special significance in John’s narrative as Jesus is portrayed as the Light that comes into the world offering redemption, restoration, replenishing, and revelation.
Further, John’s gospel is highly Trinitarian in nature. In this text, the coming of the Spirit is foreshadowed. Remember that these events happen well before the Passion event. This moment signals to the gathered assembly, beyond the disciples, who he is and what will come. At the same time, it is a message of reassurance to the church facing persecution and uncertainty toward the end of the first century. His words remind them of the essence of who they have come to follow and what life with Jesus, through the Spirit, offers to a church that is committed and weary, passionate and pursued, despairing and hopeful.
This brief passage, while revelatory, is primarily invitational. Jesus invites not only his followers, but also all gathered in the assembly, into a life-giving relationship with him. It is a consistent theme in the gospel according to John:
Through his discourse about a suffering God who offered Self as a sacrifice, John could have eloquently explained away the paradoxical truth of life. The flesh of Christ, who is God, is nailed to the cross, a wooden frame of death. To abandon oneself to God is to accept abandoning life. There would be no longer any paradox about life. However, for John the cross is none other than the tree of life. John readily sees the flower of the resurrected life blooming on the cross, the frame of death. This perspective enables us to be truly loyal to life, to obey its order to go on living. When one accepts this order, all individual fears, dreads, and pains become secondary. Like a nameless wildflower that blooms in a field, it is possible to live to one’s fullest as long as one has breath, without care from anyone, however feeble, vain, and fragile life may seem. Perhaps John came to grasp this nature of life in the midst of the painful persecution and trauma he endured as part of an ostracized group. Maybe he is declaring that no matter how hard and painful the tests, one must recognize that one’s life, however individualized, is directly in touch with nature, with the universe, and with the life of God. Being in touch with the life of God in this way requires that we live on against all odds.
Followers of Jesus, The Way, live on with exhortation of the One who came to us invites us to come to Them. Our thirst will be quenched. Our needs–physical and spiritual–will be met. “Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.” Jesus points back to the prophecy of Isaiah and says, I am He. John, making an editorial note, informs the reader that Jesus was also talking about the Holy Spirit. The One is She. In this Trinitarian declaration, we note that They are the Living Water–the Voice of God, the Body of God, and the Spirit of God, as they were together as Jesus stood in the baptismal waters.
It is the flow of that water that perpetuates life abundantly. From those waters, we may draw our strength for the perilous journeys and deepest moments. Those waters transform our celebrations and remind us of who we are. Those waters cleanse and refresh, hydrate and repair, transport and restore. Those waters flow out from the Holy One and flow into us.
And as they fill us to overflowing, and we continually draw deeper and deeper from them, those waters begin to flow out from within us. Jesus, in his divine-human connection, was both the vessel and the element of those waters in the world. Molded in the divine image, we receive the invitation to come to the Living Water, to be filled and renewed, and to become a vessel pouring out in the world what we have received from the Spirit.
May we never run dry as those waters flow out from within.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“God’s vision for his people is not for the elimination of ethnicity to form a colorblind uniformity of sanctified blandness. Instead God sees the creation of a community of different cultures united by faith in his Son as a manifestation of the expansive nature of his grace. This expansiveness is unfulfilled unless the differences are seen and celebrated, not as ends unto themselves, but as particular manifestations of the power of the Spirit to bring forth the same holiness among different peoples and cultures for the glory of God.”
― Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope
For further reflection:
“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” — St. Teresa of Ávila
“Without Pentecost the Christ-event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.” — Henri Nouwen
“Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us.” — Robert Baer
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (firstname.lastname@example.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
About Weekly Seeds
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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.