Lisa Jensen, the grandmother of Philip, who will be baptized in a few minutes, asked me to favor her by using water from Crooked Lake for her grandson’s baptism as a way of honoring the roots of his family tree first planted generations ago by that body of water. I smiled and agreed and then reminded her that because of the water cycle on earth, if we had used water from the tap in the sacristy instead, there still would have been hundreds of water molecules that had spent at least some time in Crooked Lake, just as the gallon of water she has brought from Crooked Lake contains dozens of water molecules that were in the Jordan River the day that Jesus was baptized as well as many molecules, in light of today’s gospel, which takes place on the last great day of the Jewish festival of Tabernacles, that were brought in a golden pitcher for seven consecutive days from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, a pitcher much like the one I will use to transfer her gallon of water from Crooked Lake into our baptismal font.
The feast of Tabernacles is not altogether out of place on this day when we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, because, like Pentecost, it is, in part, a harvest festival, the final harvest in the fall, in contrast to Pentecost, which is the first harvest in the spring. The feast of Tabernacles also celebrates the time when God and the Israelites lived in tents, or tabernacles as they were called back then, as they made their way from their deliverance at the Red Sea through the wilderness to their permanent home, where they were finally able to rest from the trials and temptations they had faced rather unsuccessfully along the way.
I promise to get back to the feast of Pentecost, but first I must explain that our gospel today takes place on the eighth and final day of Tabernacles. It was intended to be a day of rest in anticipation of that great and glorious day when water will no longer be brought in a golden pitcher because it will no longer be necessary to fetch water because in God’s perfect kingdom that kind of arduous labor would no longer be required.
In an effort to figure out how that might be accomplished, some Jews speculated that some of the more righteous gentiles would be permitted to enter the kingdom to serve as their water bearers. Jesus, however, corrects this idea today by promising that anyone who comes to him will tap into streams of living water which will ten flow out of them. In effect, everyone will become a kind of mobile water fountain. There will no longer be any distance separating the spring outside the city walls of Jerusalem, the pool of Siloam, and God’s Temple. The living waters of God’s presence will flow from the spiritual depths of every person who comes to Jesus.
Pentecost celebrates the day when Jesus initiates this outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, an outpouring that Jesus announces on the feast of Tabernacles that will flow forever.
Luke describes the day of Pentecost, not with the symbolism of living water, but with a mighty breath of God, who on this day breathes new life into a sinful and dying world, just as he first breathed life into Adam at the beginning of creation, a new life, now available to everyone in the world, made possible through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus.
The tongues of fire that rest on the twelve apostles are the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy that the one who is greater than he would baptize them with fire and the Holy Spirit. This fire of the Holy Spirit also reminds me of the fire of that burning bush on Mount Sinai that was not consumed, that place of God’s presence where Moses received the Law fifty days after the Passover in Egypt. Luke wants us to understand that the fire of God’s Spirit now rests upon the apostles, gathered together in the upper room, and upon all those who are in fellowship with them throughout the world, and not just in a burning bush on top of Mount Sinai.
And the fact that the apostles are given the gift of speaking in other languages so that everyone in the world can now hear and understand what God has accomplished through his Son, Jesus: this fact represents a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel, where God confused the language of those who sought to become gods on their own collective terms rather than in cooperation with God and as stewards of a world that belongs to him and not to you and me to do with as we please.
So this morning we find ourselves between the Feast of Pentecost, which was fulfilled over 2000 years ago, and the Feast of Tabernacles, which will be fulfilled when Christ returns to bring in the final harvest the precious grain of souls and to burn with unquenchable fire, as John the Baptist prophesied, any chaff that has no place in his granary.
Peter explains to the crowds who are astonished at the ability of the apostles to speak in their native languages that this is a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, who promised that there would be a day when everyone who calls upon Jesus as Lord will receive his Spirit for their salvation, whether young or old, male or female, slave or free.
Paul explains to the Corinthians that the Spirit is given to each believer for the benefit of us all, much like a hand or a foot profits every other member of the body when it does what it is uniquely gifted to do.
We don’t yet know what gifts Philip will receive from the Holy Spirit this morning, but we celebrate his new birth today, not only because God adopts him as his son, but also for the sake of what his new life will mean for the rest of us as the newest member of Christ’s Body, the Church, the family of God. Perhaps he will be gifted with wisdom, or knowledge, or extraordinary faith, or the power to heal, or to work miracles, or to deliver a direct word from God, or to discern whether or not it is the Holy Spirit or another spirit that is inspiring the thoughts, words and actions of others, or to speak in other languages or to interpret what those languages mean.
Whatever combination of gifts Philip receives, we know he will receive a Spirit that will quench his thirst for God and all of us who come to know him as our brother in Christ until he returns on that great, eighth day of total refreshment and rest initiated today with water from Crooked Lake, creating a living and breathing fountain of God’s grace. AMEN.