First Mennonite Church
June 4, 2017
Witnesses of God’s Abundant Life and Joy
Texts John 7:37-39; 8:12
In order to understand the meaning of these words of Jesus, it would be helpful for us to know the context in which he said them. In chapter seven, Jesus goes in secret to the Festival of Tabernacles after his family has gone. He does so to avoid public curiosity, although the people were already looking for him as they arrived in Jerusalem (Jn. 7:10-11).
The Festival of Tabernacles was originally instituted to celebrate the completion of harvest. Eventually, the feast also came to commemorate God’s care and provision during the exodus of Israel from Egypt. By the New Testament times, the festival had developed to an eight-day celebration centered in the Temple courts. During those days of celebration, the Temple courts as well as the streets of Jerusalem were filled with temporary shelters. Each day during the celebration, the priests led a procession from the Temple to the pool of Siloam to draw water for the water libation ritual. The pilgrims followed the priest back and forth singing parts of Psalm 118. It was a joyous experience for the pilgrims that attended. The procession was carried out with music, singing and dancing. It was indeed a happy occasion as its name indicates: Simchat Bet Ha’ Shoevah “happiness of the house of water-drawing.”
It would seem as if Jesus was throwing cold water at the party when he said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 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.’”
These water-drawing processions were part of the joyous celebration. The procession to fetch water was seen as a prayer to God asking him for rain and therefore guaranteeing sustenance to God’s people. But it was also carried out as expressions of thanksgiving for the harvest just finished. The people were happily singing, playing their instruments and waving palm branches as they went to and from the pool of Siloam and the Temple.
Jesus’ words were meant to show that despite the exuberance there was during the procession, it was only a fleeting experience. Once the festival was over, the boisterous revelry would come to an end. Yet for those who came to him and accepted him, the joy would be ongoing like water in a rushing stream.
It was during the same festival where Jesus also declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Jesus made this claim in light of what happened during the celebration at nighttime. Some commentators say that on the second night, while others say each night of the celebration four large lamps were lighted in the women’ court of the Temple. And when the lamps were lighted, the people began to dance with torches in their hands. All about the Temple courts and its adjacent neighborhoods, the pilgrims danced with lamps and torches in their hands. Lighting of the four lamps and dancing with torches in hand were the highlight of the festivities. Therefore when Jesus declares he is the light of the world and that those who follow him will never walk in darkness, he again was comparing the passing joy with the permanent joy he gives to those who believe in him. His light is not confined to the Temple limits, because he is the light of the world. The Tabernacle lights are extinguished at the end of the day, but his light remains for life in those who believe in him.
We live in a dark and thirsty world. Sin is like a cancer that has metastasized. (You know the news of last week’s events). World events give witness of sin and its effects. It takes over the heart of most if not every institution and makes it oppressive and self-serving. Sin also affects all areas of interpersonal relationships. It sets the world on fire, as James, the New Testament writer, says. The force and effects of sin are everywhere. Sin is real. But so is God and also real are his works. The fruit of God’s Spirit are gifts to God’s people. That is, God has given us gifts that the world does not have. Among these gifts are those Jesus also offered to the pilgrims in Jerusalem. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believers’ heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
My dear sisters and brothers, by our being here we all admit our need and thirst for God. You and I have come to the source of living water. But we must drink from it. “Let the one who believes in me drink,” Jesus says. He is the water, but he will not force us to take from him. Drinking is up to us. So let us allow God to refresh our body, soul, and mind. Let us drop down before his cross our worries, if we have any. Let us give thanks for the blessings we have received. Let us ask for forgiveness. Let us give God honor and praise. And let us allow the Spirit of God to restore us—that is, to breathe life in us. It is the promise of scripture that out of you and me, rivers of living water will flow. You and I would be able to refresh the thirsting souls we meet. You and I will be able to share God’s gifts of life, joy, and peace with those who need them.
Jesus also said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” There are many things that make us happy. Students are very happy these days. Some are graduating from school. Others are glad summer vacations are coming soon. Yet, some others are looking forward to a new job or profession. Parents are happy too for their children. There are many other reasons to be happy. But these sources of happiness will fade. Our world is full of sadness, fear, discontentment and even anger. But again, it is only God who can bring light, joy, and peace to our world and the hearts of people. And God wants to show that through you and me. Jesus is the light of the world and we are those who follow him. It is his promise that if we are following Jesus, we will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life in us. Let us follow Jesus as closely as we can. We can stumble as we try to do that. But as we walk in his light let us shine the hope we have in him. Dawn comes after night. Shine the light of God. Speak the peace of Christ to others. Remember to pray for someone you know is having a difficult time.
Christians should reflect the difference Christ makes in the world. How are we known by our friends? Should we care? Some would say yes while others would say no. And both responses can be right. The Argentinian poet and troubadour says, “Doy la espalda al buen comentario, porque el que recibe alago comienza a ser dominado” “I give deaf ears to compliments, because he who accepts praises is giving in to be controlled.” (my free translation).
Sometimes we are tempted to be indifferent to what people think about us. We should not care if it is to show God’s love, righteousness, and holiness, but only if we do so in humility. But if it is to show our own righteousness or to puff up our ego, then we should be concerned about what people say.
Jesus’ words today are a reminder that our lives do reveal if the living water is overflowing from us or if we are bone-dry as those who do not know Christ. Jesus’ words are a reminder that should be a shining light because we are following the one who is the light of the world. Through our conversation and topics of it people should be able to know that we are not in the darkness or promoting the darkness of the world. Through our conversation and attitudes people will be able to see a different way of life, a different spirit dwelling in us.
Let us drink of the living water. Let us be careful to follow Jesus who is the light of the world so that we may never walk in darkness. Amen!