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Called out of the Badlands

John 17:1-11

Rev. Alan Taylor

Feast of Pentecost, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Jun 8, 2014 

Disclaimer: The initial "idea" for the direction of this sermon, as well as, the opening two paragraphs, are from the Concordia Theology website.  Many thanks for the author's help.

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

If you have ever been on a flight that takes you over portions of the west, places like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, you’ve flown over what is commonly called the “fly-over” lands.  Few people, relatively speaking, actually fly to those places.  Instead, they “fly over” them to reach one of the two coasts, which are, of course, the major population areas.

Even if you haven’t flown out west and seen the “fly-over” land, I suspect you’re all familiar with “fly-over lands” in a different way.  They are the memories and relationships in your life that are desolate and filled with tumble weeds and blowing sand.  In those barren places wagging fingers and scorching tongues remind you of sins past.  Desert demons live in those badlands, you know, pointing out your part in the brokenness you feel, your ongoing pride, and your lustful idolatry.  These “fly-over” lands are reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones scattered out over the valley, which could only be described in their deadness as “very dry.” Usually when those painful memories arise you choose to simply “fly-over” them, hoping to get to a better place, a more fruitful and pleasing place soon!

In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus calls you out of the badlands, inviting you to stop denying that your thirst and to come to the only One who can quench your thirst with “living water,” the water of forgiveness and grace. “If anyone thirsts (He says), let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

Even a casual look reveals that a major motif in John’s Gospel is the gift of water.  Jesus’ first miracle, which only John records, was to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  Jesus, again, in an encounter that only John records, spoke to Nicodemus, a man who was confused about the things of God.  To him, Jesus said, “you must be born of water and the Spirit.” Later He healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda.  Demonstrating His authority over water, Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee. Shortly before He was crucified, He washed the disciples’ feet, water serving as a symbol of His cleansing power.  At the cross, Jesus thirsted for water!  And finally, Roman soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and blood and water flowed.

The passage before us this morning takes place in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the many festivals celebrated by the Israelites, which was intended to remind them of God’s faithfulness and to focus their attention on their deliverer, the Christ, who was yet to come.  Tabernacles celebrated their deliverance from Egypt and reminded them that even though they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, “fly-over” lands, if you will, God was supremely faithful to them.  The festival, with its use of water, was very much in keeping with John’s water motif. 

On each of the seven festival days, the officiating priest took a golden vessel at the morning service, and filled it with water from the fountain of Siloam in the Kidron valley.  He then mixed the water with the wine of the drink offering, and poured it into two perforated silver bowls on the west of the altar for the burnt offering, while the trumpets were sounded and praise was sung. The people chanted Isaiah 12:3 'Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the walls of salvation. Out of Zion, salvation should come, and everyone that thirsted should drink with joy.'

Paul, in writing to the Christians in Corinth, connected the Israelites wilderness journey and God’s deliverance of them from that wilderness, with His ultimate deliverance of the world in the sending of His Son.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

This is all by way of context so you’ll understand and appreciate all the more what Jesus said to the people in the Gospel reading this morning.  These people gathered to remember their forefathers wandering in the desert and to remember God’s faithfulness in bringing them out of their bondage.  Strangely enough though, many of the people He was talking to didn’t realize that they were still living the tenuous life of a desert wanderer.  Not literally, mind you, but figuratively.  They were living in the “badlands,” if you will, of un-forgiven sin.  Rejecting Jesus, they were dying of thirst and they didn’t even realize it. 

How can that be, you ask?  How can someone be dying of thirst and not even know it?  Well, I don’t know that I was literally dying of thirst, but last summer, when I went into the emergency room, one of the first things the doctor’s did was hook me up to some IV fluids.  As it turns out, I was dehydrated and I didn’t even know it.  I guess building a huge deck on the back of my house in August wasn’t such a smart plan! 

Well, if you can be thirsty in a physical sense and not even know it, how much more must it be true in a spiritual sense, where we are so adept at denying the symptoms of thirst?  The point is, you don’t drink of the Gospel of God’s forgiveness in Christ unless you’re thirsty.  And you aren’t thirsty unless you’ve walked through those “badlands” of life where wagging fingers and scorching tongues remind you of your past sins.  Where desert demons live, pointing out your part in the brokenness you feel, your ongoing pride and your lustful idolatry.

The Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles.  We celebrate today the Feasts of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit has been poured out into your heart, my friends that you might drink deeply of the water of life. “If anyone thirsts (Jesus says), let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

That you recognize your thirst for Christ and His forgiveness is the Holy Spirit’s work in you.  “When he comes (Jesus said), he (that is, the Holy Spirit) will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Once living in the badlands of sin and death, God has given you life in His Son.  “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Drowned in the water of your baptism, you now live, and from you flow “rivers of living water.” The Holy Spirit moves you to believe and trust in what is unbelievable apart from Him.  The death and resurrection of Jesus, historic events that most of the world questions and even scorns, are the source of your hope, an endless flow of forgiveness and grace that transports you from the “fly-over” lands to a better place. 

“You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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