Sunday, May 16, 2004

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.

We went on a trip to Scotland a few years ago. It was a fun week of rambling through the rolling hills and exploring the quiet corners of that wild and beautiful place. We did not plan an extensive itinerary; we just woke up in the morning and decided where we wanted to go. This way we could be flexible in case the weather was awful, which many warned us would be the case. Fortunately we had lovely weather and were able to visit many interesting places.

One day we went to Loch Lomond, one of the hundreds of inland bodies of water that are much like a lake, but connected in some way to the sea. We drove around the loch, stopping occasionally to buy souvenirs in the many shops along the shore or to visit the many tourist sights. The loch is twenty-three miles in length and we drove from one end to the other. As we drove further from the sea, the loch became little more than a babbling creek. We knew there was a waterfall somewhere, so we pulled off and took a hike along the creek.

At the end of the creek we found a crystal clear pool created by the Falls of Falloch. These falls were not like the massive waterfalls you might find in a place like Yosemite, but it was a restful, peaceful place. We sat by the side of the pool and enjoyed the cool breeze and the sound of running water. I wished that I had proper attire to take a dip, though the temperature was probably not quite warm enough for a swim.

I’m not sure what it is about sitting near running water that is so calming. I could have sat there for hours and I would love to have such a place easily accessible for prayer. I am not the sort that worships nature, or would give up corporate fellowship for a type of faith that finds God only in the quietness of the fields, but there is something to be said about communing with God in the undisturbed parts of His Creation. By a babbling brook or under the shade of a tree, where there are no distractions of modern life, you can almost hear God speaking in the wind.

We have three separate images of running water in today’s lessons. In Acts, Paul goes down by the river where a group of believers had gathered for prayer. In the alternative Gospel lesson, a disabled man is waiting by a pool for the waters to move so that he might be healed. In Revelation, we see the river of life as it flows through the holy city, its life giving waters sustaining the tree of life.

We need water to live. We can go weeks without food to eat, but we can not live for more than a week without water. We need water to cook and clean. The food we eat, both plant and animal, need water to grow. Fish live in water. Water is also fun. We enjoy recreating at the lake or ocean, or find a moment of peace while hiking near a mountain stream.

In the story from Acts, the women were praying by the river because they had no where else to go. Though Philippi was a rather large town, it was filled with mostly retired legionnaires and other Romans. The number of Jews was so small that they could not have their own synagogue. Paul had been called to Macedonia through a vision. They had to travel over the sea to get there from Thessalonica. Paul planned on staying in Philippi for a few days, so on the Sabbath he sought out a group of believers with whom he could worship.

Outside the city gates was a river and it was there that Paul met Lydia. She was a woman of wealth, a business woman who sold purple cloth and she believed in the one true God. When she heard the words of the Gospel, God opened her heart and she believed in Jesus. She and her household were baptized and she persuaded Paul to accept her hospitality during his stay.

In John 5 we hear another story about water. In Jerusalem there was a pool called Bethesda. There were five porches on which the lame and sick gathered to be healed. It was believed that an angel came down from heaven and touched the water with healing power. When the water moved, the first one to enter into the water would be healed. There was a man who was lying by the pool who had been there for a very long time.

Jesus saw the man at the edge of the water and asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?" The man had little hope, because someone always beat him into the water. He could not walk and he had no family to help him. He probably had to beg for food from those who passed by the pool. His dis-ease affected more than just his physical health. In the world view of that day, sickness was a sign of sin, and those who suffered often were abandoned by their families and communities. They became outcasts, unable to even enter the temple of God because they were unclean in the eyes of the righteous. Healing for the sick meant more than just being able to walk. He would be restored to the fellowship of other believers and to his family. He would be able to work and attend worship. The moving waters would bring life and wholeness to the man. Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." The man did not need the moving waters of the pool of Bethesda because Jesus was the living water of God. Through Him there is healing and peace.

The third image of water is in the book of Revelation. Here we see the river of life flowing from the throne of God. This is an image of heaven given to John. He describes the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, as a place without a temple because God is the Temple. There is no light because the glory of God is bright enough to give light to the whole city. There is no night and no evil to be found inside the city. The gates are left open because there is no need to lock out the dark things of this world. There is nothing impure, nothing shameful, nothing deceitful. There is no more sin because Jesus Christ has overcome all that is against God and reconciled the world to Himself.

As we look at this vision, we can see that it is much like it was at the beginning of time. When there was nothing, God spoke and there was light. That light is the light of God’s glory, manifested in time and space in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Eden, before the serpent, there was no shame, no deceit. There was no sin and no reason to lock the gates of the Garden. When Adam and Eve listened to the lie of Satan, it was necessary for God to cast them out into the world and lock the gates behind them. They could not stay in the Garden to eat the Tree of Life and live forever in a broken relationship with God.

In Revelation, we are returned to the Garden, but it is now a city with a river running through it. The Tree of Life is available so that all can eat of the fruit that gives life. The people who live in this city, whose names are found in the Lamb’s book of life, will share in the glory of God for eternity and live in His presence. It is as God intended His creation to be, in fellowship with Him and each other for all time, worshipping God with praise and thanksgiving.

The Psalm for this week is a song of praise like that which will be sung in that day. “Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For thou wilt judge the peoples with equity, And govern the nations upon earth.” This is the way it was meant to be and it is the way it will be. This is the heaven for which we hope, knowing that our own names are written in the book of life. It is not by our works or by our righteousness that we will be remembered, but by our faith in Jesus Christ, the living water. “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee.”

Hope for tomorrow is certainly enough to give us the peace that Jesus promised, but we still live in this world. We do not live in paradise, or in the New Jerusalem. We live in a world filled with evil, shame, deceit – sin. We will suffer persecution, we will face illness. We will be separated from those we love through death of our physical bodies and our relationships. Bitterness, anger, hatred, fear, pain, confusion, uncertainty, doubt and apathy can destroy our lives.

But in Christ we can be healed of all the dis-ease we suffer, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual. He is the Living Water. As we rest by His waters we find peace, we find healing, we find salvation and we find eternal life. For the man by the pool of Bethesda, Jesus was present in flesh to speak healing into his life. For Lydia, Jesus was present in the apostle Paul who spoke the healing words of the Gospel. For John, Jesus was present in the glory, the light and the river of life. The hope of faith is past, present and future.

For us, Jesus is present in the power of the Holy Spirit, manifest in the lives of His disciples throughout the ages. We look forward to tomorrow, to the day when we will live in heaven for eternity with our Father, restored to the relationship that was broken in the Garden. Yet, our salvation is not just a future hope, it is a present reality. But it is not for our personal satisfaction. Jesus Christ saves us with a command, “Get up and go.” Just as Paul was sent to Macedonia to share the Gospel with Lydia, we are called and sent out into the world to bring the light of Christ to the darkness, to give forgiveness and wholeness to all.

In the Gospel lesson for this day, John 14, Jesus told the disciples that the day would come when He would have to leave them, but they would not be left alone. He would send an advocate to continue to teach and reveal God to them. The Paraclete, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would speak on behalf of Jesus to and through the disciples to give them power and peace. He even suggested that they should rejoice that He was leaving. If Jesus stayed, they would never be given the gift of the Holy Spirit by which they have the assurance of God’s promises dwelling in their hearts. Jesus had to go so that they could go on to do His work in this world.

The living water flows from our lives into the lives of others, bringing a little bit of the hope of heaven to the earth this day. The promised Paraclete will speak for Jesus, reminding us of all that He taught and teach us all things. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring the light of Christ to all the nations, so that the earth will yield its fruit and all of creation will sing His praises. This is the peace the Christ promises, the peace that is found in a world that is restored to God and one another, made whole by the mercy of God.

Thanks be to God.

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