The Gospel Lesson Is All Wet

After Jesus’ ascension*, his followers gathered in an upper room. There, fire stunned them. Maybe the holy flames were literal; maybe metaphorical. But the factual or mythic fire reported in Acts was life transforming.

Pentecost Sunday (last official Sunday of Easter) – for June 12, 2011

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

No water allowed. Nor booze! After all, the disciples, flame-fueled and able to speak unexpected languages, were accused of drunkenness. Not a chance, said Peter, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning.” I smile when I read that. I smile, even after a thousand readings, of the morning spirit that had nothing to do with a champagne buzz.

Odd then, in the lectionary, that the gospel lesson chosen to compliment Pentecost is all wet. Quoting from Zechariah, In John 7:37-39, Jesus declared, Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

Another example of "Living Water": Clear Creek Canyon in the Grand Canyon...

Almost always our talk about the Holy, of the ways known and unknown of how God works, use the most basic elements—fire, water, wind—to prop up our inadequate reporting. So it doesn’t surprise me, on fiery Pentecost, where the spirit dazzles, that the Gospel lesson happens to be all wet.

The elements of fire, water, and wind are fearsome and necessary, healing and horrible. Have you preached or heard a Pentecost sermon after someone’s home was burned or, on a larger scale, a wildfire raged and hundreds were forced to flee? Have you baptized a child while the national news reported the flooding from Katrina or when, on an international scale, a devastating tsunami killed thousands? Pentecost arrives this year twenty-one days after the Joplin, Missouri tornado. How will the survivors of that furious windstorm receive the breezy “good news” from the gathered disciples?

Suddenly, the “safe” scriptural metaphor is dangerous. More awful than awesome.

And yet, dangerous as it is, and all Pentecost flames considered, some of my life-changing, spirit-filled moments were born from “living water.” Wild water. No known flames were nearby.

This I know, we humans are 78% water. 70% of Earth is covered by water. However 97% of the surface’s 70% liquid coverage is seawater. Which means 3% (or less) is fresh water. And—more wet math—about 2/3 of the 3% is “trapped” in the polar ice caps.

H2O is precious. I’ll drink to that!

What’s the best water I’ve ever tasted? Over three decades ago, on a backpack in Kings Canyon National Park, I gulped water from Bubbs Creek. Below me, Bubbs Creek drained into the mighty Kings River. Above me, it was birthed from mountain peaks teasing the sky. Those were the days before backpackers were warned to filter water, to eliminate nasty, naughty parasites like giardia. I was tired, there were still miles before camp, and I knelt by that creek, snow-fed, spring-fed, with sweat and grit encrusting my body, and drank.

Oh, how I drank. The water was sweet. It tasted of wildflowers and wonderment. Pure. It dazzled. Spirit filled? I think. I believe. That moment was forever etched in my memory. It was living water, where what I needed most was literally a hand’s reach away. And I reached, completely satisfied.

Holy water it was. Living water. John Muir wrote, “The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

How about you? Where is your holy water? Where have you felt undeserved, and delightful renewal?

There are more moist memories, but, for now, only one other holy example. It was when I walked on water.

To this day, my wife and I believe a young adult group at a church I served conspired to bring us together. That sneaky group thought—since of course their pastor only worked an hour on Sunday—that he (known as me) had lots of free time. My wife was then a student getting her Master’s Degree…and had a flexible schedule. We were just getting to know each other. And we were the ones “encouraged” by the young adult group to leave early, and together, to prepare a rental cabin for a church snow retreat. For hours, before others arrived, we were alone.

There we discovered we enjoyed cross-country skiing. After our chores were done, we headed outside, and under a night sky, stars a’glitter, we glided across frozen water. Both of us, each divorced, scared enough of what a new commitment might mean, fell in love. On ice and snow and hope. We walked on water.

Holy water it was. Wild and living water.

How about you? When did you last walk on water?

The elements are fearsome. Fire. Water. Wind.

Faith is never safe. The rivers—literal and metaphoric living water—flow not past, but through us.


(*Did Jesus bodily “ascend” to “heaven?” I don’t believe so…but how or when Jesus “departed” is far less important than the ascension’s lively truth about the early Christian community before and after Jesus.)

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