JOHN 7:37-52; 8:12
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Are you led astray, you also? Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed.” Nikodemos, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee.” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Today in the gospel reading we hear Jesus saying, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” He also says that we will become fountains of living water. It is interesting to me that Jesus invites us to become what he is.
While this can sound exciting it can also be daunting. It is a scary thing to be called to be holy as Jesus is holy. The calling to repentance and holiness is scary. We object: I can’t! I can’t do all those things you want me to do. I can’t go proclaim the gospel on the street. I can’t die as a martyr. I can’t keep al the fasts. What do you want from me? It’s unreasonable!
Instead we might choose to focus on the small obeisance, bowing, curtsying. We tell ourselves that is good enough. We might actively resist any deeper knowledge or understanding, hiding behind a belief that only the priest is supposed to go deeper. Behind this mindset is both fear but also distaste. We are both afraid and disinterested at the same time. And so we busy ourselves with that which seems manageable: tiny little rules about where the icon must be placed, when we have to make the sign of the cross, how the prosphora must be baked, when the liturgical color must be changed. But when we hide in the thicket of the minutia out of fear, we end up becoming pedantic liturgical policemen. We tell people, “don’t pray for that person. Don’t show love to that person. Don’t read the bible, you’re not worthy. You’re not allowed or authorized to think or to ask questions.” The more far-fetched, superstitious and unloving the rule is, the likelier we are to adopt it, pretending that the thicket of all the rules will hide our nakedness from God when he comes looking for us in the garden.
Other people rely on their membership card in the Orthodox Church, and spend all their time building it up as a shield against the invitation to actually be like Christ. Their speech is full of pride. They can tell you at length about how wrong the Protestants are. How wrong the Catholics are. I know better. I am better.
I liken this mindset to the city of Jerusalem when it was destroyed. All these big heavy stones that originally fit together to make a beautiful whole are now strewn across ground with weeds growing up around them. And the idea of putting them back together seems terrifying and impossible. They are big heavy stones. It is better to sit on the stone and guard it and make sure no one takes one away. Such a mindset is not creative or useful, simply defensive.
Both of these pictures show a person who is terrified of God. This is a person who has long since forgotten what it means to be a Christian. This is a person who comes to church in order not to lose their membership card. Sacraments become obligations, boxes that must be ticked, strange and indecipherable, odd and senseless ceremonies that one simply must do without ever asking why. Neither person wants to look at their own sin. Neither person wants to learn more than simple memorizable trivia. Neither wants to learn how to follow Jesus because it would cost too much, and they are afraid that they would fail if they tried.
There is bad news and there is good news. The bad news is that simply being right, and knowing all the rules isn’t good enough. It is possible to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and not be closer to God. You might know who is wrong but that does not make you right, much less righteous.
The good news, however is that God is not the mindless and heartless tyrant we imagine him to be. God loves you. Life with God is not a transaction or a test. You don’t have to prove yourself.
And while it is true that you cannot do the works of righteousness, you cannot proclaim the gospel and you cannot become a martyr; while that is true, Jesus can do all those things. Jesus has accomplished all those things, not in order for you not to have to do them, but in order to enable you, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today, to do them together with him. Jesus loves you. Jesus desires for you to have a genuine understanding of the faith. Jesus desires for you to seek righteousness. These are things he desires for you because he loves you, and he wants that to become your reality for your sake, not for the sake of satisfying a petty tyrant of a God. Repentance and discipleship will give you joy and life. Jesus will be with you as you humble yourself and learn. Jesus is with you when you face the reality of your sins.
He puts before you the repentance of the prophet and king, David, as an example. King David wrote for us, “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” Today is the fulfillment of that desire. Today the Holy Spirit comes to create in us a clean heart.
With this repentance, we are able to bring to God the one thing he wants from us. The psalm says, “a sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit, and heart that is broken and humbled, God will not destroy.” That feeling of unworthiness and cluelessness and helplessness that you secretly harbor, that is what God wants from you. Bring it to him. “Jesus I try so hard but I still do not understand how to love with your love.” By embracing repentance, we get rid of the dread of God. We can say together with St. Anthony, “I no longer fear God but love him.”
That psalm, Psalm 50, ends with the words, “Do good, O Lord in thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt.” When we embrace repentance Jesus lifts up those heavy stones and rebuilds the temple through his third-day resurrection. Our faith becomes a way of life, and a love of God which grows inside of us, instead of a rusty old fence to keep out the birds. Our energy is put into creatively spreading the love of Jesus Christ to those around us. Jesus makes us temples of the Holy Spirit. The stones fit together in a way that is beyond our meager strength. The stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. Shine, shine, o new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. Dance and be glad, o Zion, and delight, O pure Theotokos, in the rising of thy Son!