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Edward F. Markquart

Their River Banks are Green 

Pentecost     John 7:37-39

Today I would like you to develop a mental picture, a mental picture of water gushing from a rock.  Do you have this mental image of water gushing out from a rock? From my Oregon days many years ago, my wife, Jan, and I loved backpacking and we always seemed to end up in a place by the Middle Sister, a place called Linton Meadows. Linton Meadows was a great place to camp.  We would place our tent by one of those streams, and the water was ice cold.  We would brush our teeth and our teeth would almost freeze.  We would make Jell-O and the Jell-O would freeze almost immediately in that ice-cold water. One day, I said;  “Let’s hike up to the head of the stream and see if we can find it.” We followed that stream through the meadow and then up into the woods and then climbed some cliffs and climbed farther and farther, until we came to a rock, and there it was.  The head of the stream.  Gushing full forced out of that rock. Fresh, white foamed water, torrents of water, roaring water.  It had been gushing there for thousands of years, and there seemed to be an endless supply of water.  Decades later, it is still roaring.  Do you have the image?  Can you see it, water gushing out of a rock?

Let me give you another example.  The Metolius River Valley in Central Oregon.  The Metolius is one of my favorite places on earth.  I absolutely love it.  In the Metolius River Valley, there is a river about the width of this sanctuary, about fifty feet wide and about four feet deep.  On both sides of this river are Ponderosa pine.  It is about 3500 feet elevation, and it is a gorgeous fly fishing river.  Now, if you drive to the little state park, it is called The Head of the Metolius.  You get out of your car and walk to the head of the river.  It is an absolutely beautiful sight.  Coming out of the side of the mountain is the whole wide river, not five feet wide, not ten feet wide, not twenty feet wide, but the whole wide river, all fifty feet of it, just slips out from the rock, silently, peacefully, flowing from beneath the moss.  It is so quiet.  The river is so quiet, you can’t hear it.  Up above the banks of the river are moss and trees, and then you turn around and it is one of the most beautiful sights you have ever seen.  The meadow is stretched out before you, and standing there in the distance is Mount Jefferson, in all its picturesque glory.  Do you have the mental image?  Do you see the river flowing out of the rock?  Do you have that image in your mind?  Well, such the image that is behind the gospel story for today.  We see the image of water coming directly out of the rock.

We find Jesus in Jerusalem.  It is the feast of the Tabernacles.  The feast is seven days long.  It is a major feast to commemorate the time that Moses was out in the wilderness and struck a rock and water came gushing out of it.  Do you remember that story from your childhood?  Moses was out in the wilderness, hit a rock, and water came gushing out of it.  Well, the Feast of the Tabernacles remembered that event.  To commemorate that event, the priest would go out into the center of Jerusalem where there was a large spring called the pool of Siloam.  The water was bubbling up out of this rock and the priest would dip a pitcher of water.  For seven days, the priest would do this, dip water from the spring, and carry it to the temple where he would pour it.  The people were to remember what God did for Moses in the wilderness when he struck the rock and water came out of it.  One day, Jesus was watching the priest bend down and dip the water that was bubbling out of the rock, that living, cold, fresh water.  Jesus then said:  “When the Holy Spirit comes and lives in you, out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  When the Holy Spirit comes and lives in you, you will know it because out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.

And immediately, my mind flashes.  I see mental images. I see the Metolius River and the water coming out from beneath the cliff ever so silently.  I see the water gushing out of the rock in torrents in Linton Meadows.  I can see that fresh cold water.  I can taste that fresh cold water that froze my teeth in its iciness. I can imagine those streams still flowing decades later with an endless supply of that cool cool water.  I hear the phrase of Jesus and remember it and understand it, “Out of the mountain shall flow rivers of living water.” 

It is Pentecost and Pentecost is the reminder that when the Holy Spirit comes into your life and heart, out from your inner person and heart will flow the living water of God.

You ask, “What is this living water?  What is this living water that is to flow and flow and flow from me?”  The living water is the Spirit of God, the love of God, God’s compassion and tenderness and mercy and kindness and gentleness for all people.  It is the love of God that is flowing out of you.  Out of your mouth.  Out of your lips.  Out of your hands.  Out of your eyes.  The living, love of God, flowing out from you.

Let’s modify this image for just a moment.  Imagine your heart inside of you.  Do you all have a heart?  Imagine your heart inside of you, and now your heart is in the shape of a cup, a big red cup.  It is in the shape of a big red cup, perhaps even a red bowl.  And inside your heart is filled with ice cold living water.  It is the living love of God.  God’s compassion and gentleness and mercy and kindness.  It is a cup overflowing with love.  Now you take this cup and tilt it.  You tilt it.  You tip your heart and out comes the living water.  It begins to flow out of you, endlessly, endlessly, a never ending supply.  Jesus says, “So it is when the Holy Spirit lives in you.  When the Holy Spirit lives in you, your heart becomes filled with living water, the living love of God.  It begins to flow out from your heart endlessly. 

Now, where does this endless supply of water come from?  Where does that living water which is living inside your heart, the cup of your heart, where does that living water come from? Or to ask another question:  when I was standing at the base of the Metolius River and I saw the whole river coming out of the bottom of the mountain, I asked, “Where does that water come from?”  The answer?  There was and is an endless supply way back inside that mountain where there are miles and miles of underground streams.  Where does that endless supply of water come from in you?  From the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit of Jesus, and never ending supply of God’s love.  It is not our love; it is God’s love living inside of us.  We truly do not grasp the depth and the length and the width of the love of God that lives way deep inside of us, so deep inside of us we can’t see it.

But what happens when that river of love begins to flow out of you?  What happens when that love of God begins to flow?  What are the consequences?  What happens to those who are touched by this wonderful, wonderful stream of love? Immediately, my mind flashes to the Metolius River.  The riverbanks of the Metolious are always green.  The riverbanks that you know are always green in the growing season.  So it is with the wonderful, wonderful moving stream of love flowing out from your life.  Your riverbanks are always green.  Whatever the water of love touches is good; whatever the water of love touches brings life and brings goodness.

Let me give you three brief dramatic examples of this river of love.  I think of Mother Teresa, living in Calcutta, India.  She is our St. Francis of Assisi; she is the St. Francis for our generation.  People will remember our century because of her name. Mother Teresa simply goes and finds the starving people in the gutter; she finds people who have been discarded and appear to be worth nothing. Mother Teresa brings them to her home, feeds them, brings them back to life, or helps them dye with dignity and love. What does Mother Teresa say about America?  Those who live on the streets of America are starving for love and affection.  Wherever Mother Teresa goes, her riverbanks are green.  Her loving water brings new life.

Another dramatic example is or was Father Damian of Hawaii.  Father Damian’s life was featured recently in a national magazine.  Certain people in Hawaii were hording the lepers of Hawaii into leper colonies where nobody could see them.  These leper colonies were rotting hell, a hell on earth, if there ever was one.  Father Damian went to live with these people, these lepers, ultimately became a leper himself and then died.  But before he died, he had taken this hell hole in the earth and created it into a paradise of steep green valleys here on this earth.  Lepers loved each other with a special love. His valley became an oasis. Father Damian’s riverbanks were lush green.  The riverbanks of love are always green.  You can always tell a person who lives near a riverbank of love; there is life and growth and goodness.

Another famous person of history whose riverbanks were green was Dr. Albert Schweitzer.  Dr. Schweitzer is another one of those classic people and stories.  He left his grand career of fame and medicine and music in London and went to central Africa where he buried himself in his work at his hospital called Lambarene. His riverbanks were green.  With the help of others, they overcame the disease, diphtheria, in that part of the world.  I cannot emphasize it enough:  those living near the riverbanks of love are always green and growing.

But Mother Teresa, Father Damian and Albert Schweitzer are the classic examples, the heroes of faith, and are beyond reach of us mere mortals.  But here in our congregation are also flowing streams.  There are little rivulets running through our congregation; there are all kinds of rivers of love among us. My mind flashes to remember these people as quickly as my mind flashes to remember the river banks of the Metolius and Linton Meadows. I immediately think of the quilting ladies on Thursday morning, twice a month, who make quilts year after year, decade after decade, chatting and sewing thousands and thousands of quilts through the years, sending these quilts all over the globe to strangers who are in need of warmth.  Or my mind flashes to the faces of people who have taken care of Eva Bender who has Huntington’s Currea.  I think of people like Helen and Marilyn and Vally.  I think of Eva’s husband, Neal, and the great tender love that this man has for his wife.  I quickly think of Fred Dakin who is sitting here today, who goes out to visit the elderly. I think of Oscar Ringdahl who calls on his wife in a nursing home everyday as she lives and dies with Alzheimer’s. I think of Harold who brings a handicapped person to church every week, folding the wheelchair into the trunk.  I think of Norene who has taken care of her husband who was fallen by a stroke.  My mind races, and all these people come to mind.  Their riverbanks are green, plush green, verdant green, living green, loving green. Jesus said:  “When the Holy Spirit lives in you, out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

The supply of this water never dries up.  God’s love never dries up.  Our love dries up; my love dries up; your love dries up; but God’s love, the Holy Spirit alive in us, keepings flowing and flowing like the Metolius River has been flowing for a thousand centuries.

This living water, this living love of God, the river of love within, is not only for your mother and father and your husband and wife and your friend and neighbor.  Such love as this is called in the Greek language, “storge,” which means family love; or it is called “philos” which means friendship love.  But the love that we are talking about this morning is “agape” love.  It is agape love for the suffering, the hurting, the deprived people around us and around the globe.  In other words, this living water always flows towards the desert, the parched land, and where the desert is the greatest and the human needs are most painful, the living water always finds its way there.  The stream of living water and living love finds its ways to the parched, brown land of human suffering. The green riverbanks are always more pronounced and noticeable in a desert.  You can see the green banks more clearly in the desert than in a forest.  You can see the results of living agape love more easily in places of suffering such as I mentioned above.

Today is Pentecost.  Today is a great feast day of the church.  Pentecost does not recall the feast of the Tabernacles and Moses striking the rock and water coming forth from it. Rather, Pentecost remembers the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church, when the fountains of God were turned on, when the fountains were opened and the waters of God came gushing forth, not trickling like a barren stream. The mighty rivers of God suddenly flowed into the people; that is what Pentecost remembers.  And today, our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to flow upon us.  Pentecost is not a liturgical holiday that commemorates the past.  Rather, our prayer today, is:  Lord, turn on your fountains.  Open up your faucets. Turn on at full power the faucets in our house; the faucet in our bathtub, the faucet in bathroom sink, the faucet in our kitchen, the faucet in our washing machine, the faucet on our outside hoses.  Lord, turn on the faucet full, with full power, and let your water flow into us and through us. Jesus said:  “When the Holy Spirit flows in you, out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  So on this day, we pray:  flow, flow, flow into our hearts that our riverbanks may be green. Amen.

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