The Day of Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
We’ve got this one drinking fountain here at St. John’s that’s different from all our other ones. A few years back, one of our oldest fountains finally gave out, and we replaced it with a hands-free unit. If you’re thirsty, you don’t even have to touch it: just bend down to get a sip, and the water starts flowing! And while it sounds great to be able to get a drink without continuously pressing on a bar or button, this new fountain hasn’t worked out quite the way we’d planned. People have a hard time using it – partly because it’s mounted at a more kid-friendly height – and I’ve seen how folks get frustrated when they can’t get the water they want. When you see somebody try to use this drinking fountain for the first time (usually adults), they come up and press in on the front side, expecting the water to flow. And if you’re taller, like me, bending down to the level of the faucet can move you just out of the unit’s proximity sensor so it won’t turn on. While this drinking fountain would offer a free stream of cool water to anyone who wants it, people often just end up doing things that keep the fountain from flowing! Well, water and wind are flowing today.
The color red adorns the sanctuary as we celebrate Pentecost. The ancient feast of Pentecost, the Greek name for the “Feast of Weeks” observed by the Hebrew people after God brought them out of Egypt, came fifty days after Passover. This special celebration remembered God’s provision for His people. They offered the first fruits of their crops in thanksgiving at Pentecost, and devout Jews from all over would travel to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. This Pentecost that we hear about in Acts 2 is the first one following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. On that day, the disciples were probably wondering about how they would set about the mission that Jesus gave them before he was taken up into heaven only ten days earlier.
But in our Gospel text today, none of that had yet happened. Jesus is in Jerusalem at another feast, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). It took place later in the year, in September or October on our calendar. Like Pentecost, it was a festival that celebrated God’s provision for His people: the end of the fruit harvest, in this case. Devout people would build and live in temporary shelters during this time as a reminder of their ancestors’ time of wandering in the wilderness. Water played a big role in the observance of the Feast. At some point in the previous centuries, a ritual had developed as part of the Feast of Tabernacles. The high priest would take a golden flagon (a large, ceremonial pitcher) and draw water from the pool of Siloam there in Jerusalem. He would then lead the people in a procession to the temple and then around the Lord’s altar, where that water would then be poured out. This happened on each of the seven days of the Feast proper, recalling both God’s provision of water for the Hebrews as they journeyed through the wilderness and His gift of the rain which allowed their crops to grow.
With so much water flowing during the Feast of Tabernacles, then, Jesus amazes the people by calling for the thirsty to drink from the water that he offers. Back with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), Jesus has also spoken of the living, that is, flowing water that he has to offer. And here he adds that those who have that drink from him will not only find what they need, but that this living water will then flow out from them! In writing his Gospel account, John makes it clear: the water Jesus will provide is the Spirit.
Jesus’ promise was powerfully fulfilled on Pentecost. You’ve heard how the Holy Spirit came as a mighty rushing wind and was poured out on the disciples ten days after Jesus’ ascension. Just as the Feast of Weeks celebrated God’s provision for His people in the wilderness, this Pentecost proves that point again. The Holy Spirit has come to Christ’s disciples so that they would not be left alone. God did not leave his people in their desert wanderings, nor does he abandon them in this time in between Jesus’ departure and his return.
Celebrating Pentecost today, we remember God’s provision. He dwelled with the people of Israel in the wilderness. He now dwells with you. The Holy Spirit flowed out on Jesus’ disciples on Pentecost and continues to do so today. By God’s grace, you who know Jesus as your Savior, you have the Spirit!
So what now?
You might be wondering what the point of all this Pentecost stuff really is. Why did Son send the promised Spirit? Why does that Holy Spirit continue to “call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth,” as we hear in Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed? Both the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Weeks celebrate God’s providing for His people, giving them water. Why did God do that? So that they might live. And so it is for us.
God didn’t offer the Hebrews in the desert stagnant pools and puddles; He gave them flowing water which poured out, even from dry rocks. He sustained the people of Jerusalem and Judea with rains from the heavens and bubbling springs. Sitting, stagnant water would not meet the people’s need; it would not keep them alive. Just as God provided living water then, the Holy Spirit is flowing today to meet our need and make us alive – and we get to share this living water of God’s Spirit with our thirsty world.
Pentecost, both then and now, is about proclaiming the awesome truth of Jesus the Messiah and the resurrection. It’s awesome because God had done it all for us, and in Him, we have life, life which cannot be defeated by death. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Feasts of Tabernacles: he has given the living water of the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit dwells with us as we journey through the thirsty wilderness of our world, continuing to provide for our need. But Jesus did not just send the Holy Spirit for the benefit of his disciples on that first Pentecost after his ascension. He offers this living water to all who thirst. You can’t keep that to yourself!
Your faith, by its very nature, is not stagnant. It is living. It is meant to flow. By God’s grace, your faith is not something to be contained or blocked up. But the world wants it shut off. It heaps rocks and pebbles of trouble and doubt down on you to try to cut off the flow to the world. You might even want to hold back the water from pouring out, afraid of how the people around you might react to a life that is different from what the world expects. If you keep trying to shut off that stream or distance yourself from it, you’ll begin to dry up and waste away as your thirst grows and grows.
But the Holy Spirit will continue to flow: He’s at work even now to make the reality of the resurrection known in and through you. His gifts come in and go out, never stagnant but flowing with the needs that you encounter. He has come into your life to journey with you as a companion in each and every day. You can’t be God’s people all on your own, but that’s the thing: you don’t have to! God the Holy Spirit will be at work in you as He connects you with your Savior and his Church. The Holy Spirit will continue to flow. If you’re coming to the Lord’s Supper today, you’ll receive the gift of living water from the side of Jesus crucified, risen, and ascended, poured out for you and for all who thirst.
Pentecost is a festival of remembering God’s provision, particularly the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on Jesus’ people. Pentecost is about who God is and what God does, in you and through you, His people. to share life with our thirsty world. The Holy Spirit is here today. Now. Flowing. By God’s grace, you who know Jesus as your Savior, you have the Spirit!
other sermons in this series