A sermon on John 7:37-39
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
May 31, 2020
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
It is one of those destinations that you will never just happen upon by accident. You have to be intentional about going there and have good directions if you are going to find it because it is not close to…well, anywhere really. The place that I am talking about is a small resort called Shatley Springs. It is an inn and restaurant located in the western mountains of North Carolina not very far from the Virginia border. The locals can tell you all about it. The restaurant features a bountiful country breakfast with all the trimmings. The meal is served home-style at long tables. The food and service is the stuff of legend. (Having visited the restaurant on two occasions, I can vouch for both the excellent quality and the generous quantity of the food that is served…!) Curiously, it does not seem to be very well-known outside of the surrounding area. If you find yourself in the area at meal time, it is well worth seeking out…
The story of Shatley Springs goes back some one hundred thirty years. On a warm summer day in 1890, a man named Martin Shatley was passing through the mountains of western North Carolina when he came across a cool mountain spring by the side of the road. There he paused to refresh himself and to dip his hands and face in the water to soothe his hot, blistered skin. In addition to seeking relief from the heat, Shatley had been suffering from a painful skin disease and various other ailments for seven long years. Despite consulting with several doctors and offering a reward of one hundred thousand dollars to anyone who could cure him, no one had been able to offer him any relief from his illnesses. His agony was so great that, at times, he testified that he even considered taking his own life in order to put an end to his misery.
But after washing his face and hands in the spring, something remarkable happened. Within a few hours, the symptoms of his disease had begun to miraculously disappear. So Mr. Shatley excitedly purchased the farm land surrounding the spring and began to bathe regularly in its waters. As a result, he became much healthier in a short amount of time. His seemingly interminable pain eventually vanished. And in his own words, he was soon healthy and able to work as hard as any man ever had.
Soon rumors spread about the miraculous healing powers of Shatley Springs. People began to converge from near and far seeking relief from various skin diseases, stomach ailments, rheumatism and nervous disorders. By the 1920’s, a small resort had grown up around the spring that included cabins
1 The title of the sermon is taken from Henry Williams Baker’s hymn/paraphrase of Psalm 23, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
and a tea room. The tea room eventually grew into a full service restaurant featuring the best of country-style cooking.2
Today people still come to Shatley Springs. They come to stay at the inn and to dine at the restaurant. In addition, many people bring empty plastic gallon milk jugs and fill them with the healing waters from the original spring. Bottles of water from the spring are available for purchase in the gift shop. But if you bring your own containers, the water is free of charge and available to all who want it…and lots of people do…
Today begins the season of Pentecost. This is the day on the church calendar when we commemorate and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in power among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. The classic text for use on this day is from Acts 2. This is the passage that was read in your hearing earlier in the service. The disciples were filled the Holy Spirit and went out into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim the message of Jesus in all the native languages of those who were present from all across the Mediterranean world. In Acts 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit is likened to “the rush of a violent wind” and tongues of fire which rested over the heads of all of the disciples. Consequently, wind and fire are two of the most often used images associated with the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But today’s reading from John 7 gives us a different symbol. Here, Jesus describes the coming of the Spirit as “rivers of living waters…”
John sets the scene for us in chapter seven by telling us that the events described in the passage occurred during “the last day of the festival, the great day.” So what is he talking about? What is the festival to which he is referring?
The festival to which John is referring is known as “The Feast of the Tabernacles.” This was a kind of harvest festival in which the people gathered in Jerusalem to bring their offerings of thanksgiving for the harvest. It was a seven day festival as outlined in the Old Testament law, with an eighth day that was the climax of the celebration.3 During this final day, there were sacrifices in the Temple of a calf, a ram, seven lambs and of a young goat as an offering of thanksgiving to God on behalf of the people of Israel.
What is significant about the festival for our purposes this morning is that part of the festival was given to thanking God for the gift of rain. Rain, of course, is vital to any agricultural endeavor. Without rain, nothing much is going to grow. Whatever crops do manage to grow despite a lack of rain will be of poor quality. But with adequate rain, the farmer can expect a bountiful harvest of food to eat and also of produce to sell. So the ancient Hebrews recognized that rain was a gift from God. And because of that, they gave thanks to God for the rain during this annual harvest festival.
2 Info from www.ShatleySprings.com/our-history (Accessed May 26, 2020)
3 See Deuteronomy 16:13 and Leviticus 23:36.
That’s one of the things that makes the timing of Jesus’ words in John 7 so significant. Jesus calls out to the people—in the middle of a harvest festival thanking God for water—and 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.’” And then John tells us that Jesus said these words about living water in reference to the Holy Spirit, who had not yet been given to the disciples…
As has already been noted, water is vital for the farmer to produce crops. But you all know that water is vital for our human bodies as well. Without adequate water, our bodies will cease to function and eventually we will die. It is no exaggeration to say that practically every function of the human body is dependent in some measure on water. It is water that is necessary for living. It is water that maintains life. Now we all know that food is important to maintain a healthy life. One can go for days—and weeks if need be—with a minimum of food to nourish and replenish the body. Not so with water. We are told that our bodies can only live at most three—or at the max—five days without water.
Physicians and scientists tell us that water has many functions in our bodies. This is why water is so critical to good health. Among other things, Water is plays a vital role in nearly every bodily function. That is why water is essential for good health. Water regulates body temperature. (Imagine what it would be like to run your car without any water in the radiator. You certainly would not get far before the engine seized up. That is similar to what happens in our bodies when we do not get enough water into our system.) Water promotes healthy skin. Our skin is said to be the largest organ of our bodies. Water is necessary for it to thrive. Water is a natural lubricant for joints. Without enough water, our joints can become stiff and not work properly. Water moves nutrients around in the body. It is vitally necessary for proper digestion and also for proper nutrient absorption. Water removes waste from our bodies, allowing toxins to be removed and preventing diseases for occurring.4
The ancients, of course, did not have access to all that information. They only had a limited knowledge of how the body works and its need for water. Yet, they knew enough to know that water was an essential element in living a happy, healthy life. And so Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit is like water in the way that it nourishes and takes care of the body. The same could be said about the importance of the Spirit in the life of the believer. In John 10:10, Jesus told his disciples that he had come and had come to bring them and abundant life. The abundant life that he promised is dependent upon the work of the Spirit in the same way that an abundant physical life is dependent upon sufficient water…
4 www.detoxifynow/health-functions-and-properties-of-water (Accessed May 29, 2020)
But not just any water. Jesus likens the work of the Holy Spirit to “rivers of living water.” LIVING water. That is a critical distinction that our Lord makes…
I confess to you that I am not much of a fisherman. Never cared much for it really—although I know that in some circles, holding such an opinion is something akin to heresy…
But when I was a grade school kid growing up in northwest Georgia, my buddies and I would sometimes go fishing. Not too far from our neighborhood was a series of three small ponds. To a nine year old boy, they seemed to be pretty big, I guess, though they were probably quite small. A couple of times during the summer, we would gather up our cane poles, dig up some worms from the back yard and walk the short distance to the ponds. You could tell that you were getting closer to the ponds as you were walking towards them. There was a particular and distinct odor that they gave off. It is hard to describe it exactly to you—but I can tell you that it wasn’t very pleasant. There were cattails and other vegetation around the ponds that gave some hint of life. But more often than not, the water had a kind of greenish, muddy tint to it. It certainly didn’t look or smell healthy.
The main thing that we were fishing for was a fish that the older boys in the group called “Mudcats.” I guess that they were some species of catfish and we usually caught a few when we were there. The fish was a nondescript looking fish and they were never very big—maybe 6”-8” long. But there was one rule that we all followed: we never took the fish that we caught back home. The guys said that they were no good for eating. In fact, they said that eating one of the fish could actually make you very sick. So, on the few times I managed to catch one of the mudcats, I just tossed it back in the pond—just like everyone else did. And I wondered why the other guys said that the fish were not to be eaten…
After a few years, I figured out why. These ponds were little more than stagnant pools. The water that they had in them came from a tiny spring or two that flowed into them. That, and whatever water collected when it rained, was all the water that was in them. That was it. And there was no outlet where any of the water could flow out. None. Consequently the water was filled with waste from the fish (and whatever else may ever have lived or died there). That’s what gave the water the strange color and the disagreeable smell that it had. Those were three little ponds filled with dead water where very little could grow in them…
Jesus said that “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Jesus likened following the Spirit to drinking from a river of living water…water that is on the move…water that is fresh…water that is in constant motion. The Spirit’s work in our life is not static…nor is it stagnant. The “same old same old” is not the Spirit’s agenda. When we invite the Spirit into our lives…when we cooperate with the Spirit’s leading, the Spirit will lead us into new directions.
God does not give us the Holy Spirit simply to make us feel good. He does not give the Spirit to provide ecstatic experiences. The Spirit comes into our lives to hope and to heal—to teach us the ways of Jesus—to give us the power to resist the siren song of the world—to give us new purpose, a new agenda, a new way of understanding ourselves and of understanding the true nature of the Kingdom of
God. The key word there is NEW. The Spirit knows nothing of a life grown stagnant by the retracing of old steps. The Spirit disrupts stale expressions of faith to lead us into new areas of faith…and…growth…and practice. The Spirit lives in us to disturb us when we get complacent in our spiritual journey.
Not unlike the physical waters of Shatley Springs that brought wholeness to a man named Martin Shatley, the Spirit comes into our lives as well to bring us spiritual wholeness and healing…true life and moving us closer to God. As the sermon closes this morning, the question is asked, “How has the Spirit been working in your life? What difference has the Spirit made?” Jesus said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow streams of living water.” So…let the Holy Spirit of God roll down like waters among the all of God’s people everywhere. And let the waters of the Spirit flow like an ever rushing stream through the hearts and lives of every member of First Baptist Church.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.